Thursday, August 11, 2022

Should Not I Spare Nineveh? (Jonah)

We’re now switching back to the Northern Kingdom of Israel, about 40 years before their destruction by Assyria.  The capital city of Assyria is Nineveh.


READ Hosea 10:1-2, 6-7

Who does Hosea prophesy will enslave Israel and kill its king?



READ Jonah 1:1-3

Why does the Lord command Jonah to preach against the wicked Assyrians?

To either prick their hearts so that they might repent and be saved.

Or to condemn them to a just destruction, as they would have been warned by one saying “thus sayeth the Lord”.

Why does Jonah flee to Tarshish (in Spain, the furthest western point from Nineveh in the known world)?

Either, he is scared to go to Nineveh because they may kill him.

Or, he believes Hosea’s prophesy and wants Nineveh to be destroyed by the Lord before they can destroy his country of Israel – he doesn’t want them to repent and be saved.


READ Jonah 1:4-5 ,7 ,10

What is the consequence of Jonah’s fleeing from the Lord?

It is not without consequence; Jonah had committed to serve the Lord and was now turning his back on Him.

The Lord calls up a hurricane.

The innocent men he is sailing with are in danger.

The sailors lose all of their cargo, trying to save the ship and passengers.

Jonah is called out (by casting of lots) as the cause of the storm.

Jonah is thrown overboard, at the direct command of the Lord through him (see v 15).


READ Jonah 1:11-15

Why do the sailors not want to throw Jonah overboard?

It is a death sentence.

They do not want to be murderers.

What is the initial response of the sailors?

They try to row to land (must have been close enough to see it) but they can’t get there against the storm.

They are actually endangering themselves by doing this as the ship could be dashed against the rocks and all aboard drowned in the surf.

They try to extend mercy to Jonah.

Why are they not able to extend mercy to Jonah?

It is not the Lord’s will.


READ Jonah 1:17 and Jonah 2:2-10

What happened to Jonah?

Either he was swallowed alive by a whale or…

He drowned and his body was swallowed whole by a great fish or whale; alternatively, he drowned and his body was “swallowed” by the sea for three days, after which he was “vomited” back to shore by the waves.

After he died, he repented in the spirit world (“hell” is a translation of “Sheol” or the spirit world).

The Lord had mercy on him and his spirit was sent back to his body to continue his earthly mission.

What does “I AM cast out of thy sight; yet I will look again toward thy holy temple” mean?

He is dead, in the spirit prison, away from God’s sight.

He is vowing that if the Lord will extend mercy to him, he will look again toward the holy temple or throne of God, i.e. he will look to God and live or in other words, he will follow God’s will (remember the physical temple was in Jerusalem, his enemy’s land).


READ Jonah 3:1-3

What did Jonah do when he received the will of the Lord the second time?

He immediately went and did it.

He had learned his lesson – at a remedial level, at least.


READ Jonah 3:4-5 and 3:9-10

What was Jonah’s message to the Assyrians?

You will be destroyed in forty days.

Notice there is no “unless you repent” clause – did the Lord not give one or did Jonah forget that part of the message?

How did the people of Nineveh react to this prophet of their enemy declaring their coming destruction?

They discerned the Holy Spirit within the message – that it was sent from the living God.

They repented in the hope that the Lord would spare them.

How did the Lord react to their repentance?

He forgave them and spared them.

He is no respecter of persons. 


READ Jonah 4:1-5

How did Jonah react to the Lord’s mercy?

He became very angry with the Lord.

Regardless of what the Lord had just told him, he went up above the city on the hillside to wait the forty days so he could watch the Lord destroy the city.

Why had Jonah really gone to Nineveh?

For ensure justice was served.

To condemn them to death for their sins – past, present and future (i.e. destruction of Israel).

To give some context, Assyria were the type of the aggressive, brutal “terror of the North” – think Hitler’s Germany or Genghis Kahn or the USSR (as opposed to Egypt’s type as the sexually permissive, cultured, economic “world power of the West”) – Nibley called Assyria the “Nazi’s of the Near East”).

Jonah went to Nineveh to preach destruction to them, knowing that they wouldn’t repent.

And even if they did, their sins were so bad they should be destroyed anyway – it would only be just.


READ Jonah 4:11

Should not the Lord spare Nineveh – is it “just” to save them?

It is not just (it does not serve justice given their past sins) to save them but it is merciful, as they don’t really seem to warrant saving, even with the repentance in sackcloth.

Nineveh is still sinful – or to put it differently, there are still Assyrians living in the city who have not repented in their hearts (sowing the seeds of the eventual destruction of Israel 40 years later via invasion).

Nineveh is a danger to others (i.e. Israel).

But, to not spare Nineveh, Jonah is asking that he not be saved himself…

Does Jonah “deserve” to be saved?


He sinned when he ran from the Lord and was disobedient to His commandments.

He was a danger to others when the sailors lost all of their cargo and possessions, and almost lost their lives.

What is justice?

Receiving exactly what you deserve – blessings and punishment; no less and no more.

What is mercy?

Not getting the punishment that you deserve.

What is grace?

Receiving a blessing that you don’t deserve.

What do you need to do to deserve mercy?

Nothing – by definition; none of those who receive mercy warrant it – it is by definition unfair (as is grace).

Mercy cannot be earned by your works or attempts at righteousness.

What is Jonah’s refusal to allow God’s mercy for Nineveh?

It is completely hypocritical.

He is seeking to damn and destroy a people while asking for mercy for himself with regards to the same kinds of sins.

While we cannot earn mercy, we can disqualify ourselves from it, as taught in the Parable of the Unmerciful Servant.  The first servant had asked his master to forgive a $2.2-billion-dollar debt, which the master did, then the servant turned around and took his peer to court and jail for late payment on a $10,000 debt (see Matthew 18:21-35).


READ Matthew 18:32-35

How must Jonah forgive Nineveh its trespasses against him?

From his heart.

It is not to be done begrudgingly.

Alternatively, what sins are Jonah committing against Nineveh?

Hoping to have a hand in destroying their entire civilization by cursing them and taking pleasure in it, too.

Damning them all to hell.

Why does the Book of Jonah end with an open question – “should not I spare Nineveh?”

Because the question is really for us.

The Lord is trying to help us to see that we will be forgiven to the extent that we forgive others; we will be judged by the exact standard we judge others.  If we leave all judgement to God, we will be safe – as He will either extend mercy and grace to us or, in His love, He will walk with us in the valley of the shadow of death, which will be for our experience and good. 

What is the biggest deterrent to our own salvation: failing to extend mercy to those who have sinned against us or forgetting the mercy that others have extended to us when we have sinned against them?

Trick question – they both come from the same place: self-righteous, hard-hearted, narcissistic pride.

What is the chiasm in the Book of Jonah?

A.       The Lord commands Jonah to preach against Nineveh (Jonah 1:1-2).

B.       Jonah sins, not wanting Nineveh to be saved (Jonah 1:3-17).

C.        Jonah repents, and the Lord saves Jonah (Jonah 2:1-10).

C.        Nineveh repents, and the Lord saves Nineveh (Jonah 3:1-10).

B.       Jonah sins, not wanting Nineveh to be saved (Jonah 4:1-10).

A.       The Lord asks Jonah: “Should not I spare Nineveh?” (Jonah 4:11).

The center statement in a chiasm is the true point of the story. The middle of the chiasm of the Book of Jonah is Jonah 2:8 = “They that observe lying vanities forsake their own mercy” and “regardless of your past sins, no one is outside of God’s reach to save if they will truly repent and come unto Him.”

What is the true point of the story of Jonah?

Jonah sits in his “booth” or lean-to above Nineveh, looking down on the city; he has forgotten his own prior sin of running from the call to preach repentance to the city; he has forgotten the mercy extended to him by the sailors, he has forgotten the mercy of the Lord who saved him from the fish (perhaps bringing him back from the dead to do so).

He is blind to how much like the people of Nineveh he is.

Failing to see the mercies he has received and failing to see the mercy he still now needs, looking down with hate and judgement on the people of Nineveh, he is completely blinded to his own situation; he is looking at Nineveh and seeing himself but he doesn’t realize it or won’t admit it.

All he can see is that he is “right” – even though he has never been so wrong.

Observing lying vanities (lying to himself and to the Lord about his own righteousness - and the justification about how he “earned” the mercy he had been extended, which is impossible by definition - compared to Nineveh’s wickedness), he is in danger of losing the mercy he had received from the Lord; without extending mercy to others, he is locked in a state of hatred, despair and darkness.

Escape from despair is all about extending mercy (by definition, undeserved) to others.


Due to some recent work and life changes, I'm taking a hiatus from the weekly blog.  I will leave the blog up for anyone who would like ...