The Lord is a jealous God, filled with vengeance and rage. He takes revenge on all who oppose him and continues to rage against his enemies! The Lord is slow to get angry, but his power is great, and he never lets the guilty go unpunished. [Nahum 1:2-3 (NLT)]
When God sent Jonah to the Assyrian capital of Nineveh, it was to warn the people that they would be destroyed for their sins. While we tend to focus on the miracle of Jonah and the sea creature, the real miracle in the Book of Jonah is the city’s response to the prophet’s message—Nineveh immediately repented of its sinful ways. Some forty years later, however, the Assyrians were once again back to their old behavior: rejecting God’s authority and worshipping idols. Around 740 BC, they attacked northern Israel and, in 722, they invaded the remaining kingdom and took Samaria, just as both Hosea and Amos had prophesized they would. The northern kingdom’s population was resettled elsewhere in the Assyrian Empire and Samaria became the center of a new Assyrian province.
Nineveh was located along the eastern bank of the Tigris River at what now is Mosul, Iraq. With a circumference of about 60 miles, it was an “exceedingly great city.” With over 1,500 towers and both an inner and outer wall, Nineveh was considered impregnable. That inner wall was over one hundred feet tall and thirty feet wide—an expanse that meant three chariots could ride side by side on it. Believing themselves invulnerable, the people of Nineveh put their faith in the city’s walls instead of God and fell back into their sinful ways. No matter their size, however, neither towers nor walls can protect us from God’s judgment!
Sometime between 663 and 612 BC, the Judean prophet Nahum pronounced God’s anger against Assyria and its capital city Nineveh. By this time, Assyria was the most powerful nation on earth with a reputation for brutality, torture, and oppression. Nahum warned that the Assyrians were being judged for their idolatry, pride, deceit, rebellion, cruelty, slaughter, and injustice. God had given them a chance, but now His patience was exhausted. He was not about to allow Nineveh’s evil to continue. “What sorrow awaits Nineveh, the city of murder and lies!” declared Naham. [3:1]
In 612 BC, Nineveh was attacked by the Medes, Babylonians, and Scythians who drove the Assyrians out of the city. The city was completely destroyed—literally flattened to the ground and so thoroughly destroyed that archeologists didn’t even discover and identify its remains until the 1840s. The Assyrian empire came to an end and the Medes and Babylonians divided its provinces between them. Indeed, Naham’s prophetic words that, “You will have no more children to carry your name. … There is no healing for your wound; your injury is fatal,” were true. [1:14,3:19]
In Psalm 86:12, we read, “But you, O Lord, are a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness.” Indeed, God is slow to get angry and will always give His people a chance to repent and change as He did in Jonah’s day with the forty days He gave Nineveh. Let us not forget that Scripture also tells us that God will not let evil go unpunished. Nothing can protect us from His judgment. As Jonah learned, there is no place we can hide from the Lord and, as the people of Nineveh eventually learned, God will settle all accounts. Sin will not go unchecked forever and judgment will come. I don’t know about you, but I’d rather learn God’s lessons from the Bible than from personal experience!