John 3:17 For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved.
For the next week or so we'll be looking closely at the life of Jonah the prophet. Jonah was told to "preach against the city of Nineveh", that was in the ancient kingdom of Assyria. Nineveh was a major city on the banks of the Tigris River about 500 miles north and east of where Jonah was; located on a contemporary map in modern Iraq, about 300 miles north of Baghdad. Archaeologists have found the ruins of ancient Nineveh right outside the Iraqi city of Mosul.
When God said Nineveh was wicked, he wasn’t kidding. Nineveh was the capital of Assyria, the most powerful empire in the world in that day. The Assyrians had a reputation for cruelty that is hard for us to fathom. Their specialty was brutality of a gross and disgusting kind. When their armies captured a city or country, unspeakable atrocities would occur. Things like skinning people alive, decapitation, mutilation, ripping out the tongues, making a pyramid of human heads, piercing the chin with a rope and forcing prisoners to live in kennels like dogs. Ancient records from Assyria boast of this kind of cruelty as a badge of courage and power. Sad to say, the saying – "History repeats itself", truly fits in this case!
So we ought to remember this context when we consider God's command to Jonah, and the prophet's response. Suppose God spoke to you today, "Go and preach against the Islamic State!" Think you might respond, "Ahem God – they're terrorists! Let's nuke 'em; send 'em right where they belong!" But the heart of God is merciful. He wants to bring people to repentance so He can forgive, rather than bring judgment. He desires to save...even the most wicked and hardened individuals!
So here's what I think: There’s a little Jonah in all of us and a whole lot of Jonah in most of us. We're praying for the Christians fleeing Syria, Iraq, and Turkey – but what about the wicked terrorists who are killing, torturing, and persecuting them? Do you have an "Assyrian" in your life? Is someone truly worthy of your hatred? Rather than pray for him, you'd be glad for him to meet God face to face today? Our Heavenly Father rebuked Jonah the prophet for his own hardness of heart and lack of compassion. So the story of Jonah is about the heart of God, who desires all men to be saved. He wants us to have the same heart.