When we look at the book of Jonah we see a man who refused to do the will of God out of utter contempt for his enemies (Assyrians). He appeared to struggle with the “orge” anger in Ephesians 4:31 in which his natural disposition towards the Assyrians was hatred. Orge means “to swell” and denoted an anger that was fully ripe. Properly, it is a “settled anger”. There are a few factors that I believe contributed to this. First, the Assyrians were known as the most brutal and barbaric nation during this time, and they took pride in their malevolent acts towards other peoples, including Israel. Secondly, there are biblical prophecies about the destruction of Nineveh that Jonah more than likely knew about. I believe this also to be a contributing factor to Jonah’s disobedience. With that said, let’s look at the Assyrian malevolence first.
The Assyrians had many inscriptions about their conquests and the brutality with which they treated their enemies. They took pride in their cruelty as they sought to stoke fear into the hearts of any that opposed them. Here are some examples documented in history:
“One inscription from a temple in the city of Nimrod records the fate of the leaders of the city of Suru on the Euphrates River, who rebelled from, and were reconquered by, King Ashurbanipal (884-859 BC):
- ’I built a pillar at the city gate and I flayed all the chief men who had revolted and I covered the pillar with their skins; some I walled up inside the pillar, some I impaled upon the pillar on stakes.’ Such punishments were not uncommon. Furthermore, inscriptions recording these vicious acts of retribution were displayed throughout the empire to serve as a warning. Yet this officially sanctioned cruelty seems to have had the opposite effect: though the Assyrians and their army were respected and feared, they were most of all hated and the subjects of their empire were in an almost constant state of rebellion. (Simon Anglim, Fighting Techniques of the Ancient World, p185-186).”
When you see “flayed” that means that they cut the skin off the person’s entire body. They became masters of skinning people and were not shy about their wickedness. They were Satanic to the core.
One of the things I learned about the Assyrians is that their inscriptions/annals never pictured an Assyrian defeat or even a soldier wounded. To me this was one of the earliest forms of propaganda to make their enemies cower and to build up the pride of their people and soldiers. The annals always pictured their king as a victorious warrior who had the approval of the gods.
Here is an inscription from Salmaneser III (859-824 BC):
“I filled the wide plain with the corpses of his warriors…. These [rebels] I impaled on stakes. …A pyramid (pillar) of heads I erected in front of the city.” (Daniel David Luckenbill, Ancient Records of Assyria and Babylonia , 2 vols. (Chicago Univ. of Chicago Press, 1926–1927), vol. 1, secs. 584–585.)
Here is one from Tiglath Pileser (745-727 BC):
“Nabû-ushabshi, their king, I hung up in front of the gate of his city on a stake. His land, his wife, his sons, his daughters, his property, the treasure of his palace, I carried off. BitAmukâni I trampled down like a threshing (sledge). All of its people, (and) its goods, I took to Assyria.” (Luckenbill, p599)
One of the things I studied was how the Assyrians impaled people and put them on stakes. This is a bit gross, but necessary to understand the barbarism. The Assyrians were the originators of crucifixion and had a distinct method for hanging people on stakes. They usually impale their victims alive (Grayson, p124). They would strip a person naked and take a wooden pole/tree the height of a man and sand down one of the ends to where it was blunted so that there was no sharp edge. They would take the pole and stick it into the anus of the victim. If the pole did not fit, they would make an incision with a knife and cut from the anus up towards the genitalia a few inches to create a larger opening to fit the post. They would insert the post into the person and then erect them and plant them in the ground. The blunted post would begin to push up against their internal organs causing great pain as they hung. The stake would slowly make its way up through the organs damaging them severely. Blood would flow down the post from their anus and entice all types of insects to go into the person and feast on them. The post would eventually reach the lungs if the person was still alive and asphyxiate them. Any impaled person would last between 1-3 days before they died.
If this wasn’t enough for you to stomach, here is one more account from one of the most brutal king’s, Sennacherib (705-681 BC).
“I cut their throats like lambs. I cut off their precious lives (as one cuts) a string. Like the many waters of a storm, I made (the contents of) their gullets and entrails run down upon the wide earth. My prancing steeds harnessed for my riding, plunged into the streams of their blood as (into) a river. The wheels of my war chariot, which brings low the wicked and the evil, were bespattered with blood and filth. With the bodies of their warriors I filled the plain, like grass. (Their) testicles I cut off, and tore out their privates like the seeds of cucumbers.” (Luckenbill, vol.2, p254)
Their brutality is unparalleled, but could certainly be challenged by the Babylonians and Huns.
Assyrian power and brutality is consistent throughout its history until the reign of three brothers consecutively who were considered by historians as the weakest in the line of kings. There was a rebellion of 27 cities in 826 B.C. which included Nineveh under Shamshi-adad V (824-811). When he finally crushed the rebellion in 820 BC the Assyrian empire was severely weakened and was now open to more acts of rebellion from the peoples it had conquered. This was the start of a roughly 80 year decline where the bottom fell out under the reign of these three brothers:
Shalmanesar IV – 783-773 BC
Ashur-dan III – 772-755 BC
Ashur-nirari V – 755-745 BC
Jonah’s revival happened somewhere around circa 760 BC meaning that Ashur-dan III was the king during the revival. Multiple rebellions were happening under the reign of these three kings. Not only did Ashur-dan have to deal with rebellions, generals/dignitaries challenging his power, but also two plagues that swept through Assyria. One was in 765 BC and the other in 759 BC. Many times God will use adversity to humble an unbeliever so as to open their ears to the Gospel. This appears to be one of those times as he prepared their hearts for Jonah’s arrival.
What I have found truly interesting is that there isn’t any information on these three kings conquests. Of all the Assyrian kings before and after them there is plenty of recorded history of conquests, brutality, propaganda, etc… Yet, literally nothing for these three. When Jonah came to Nineveh in chapter 3 we see that all the people, the king (Ashur-dan III) and his nobles, repented of their sin as they were redeemed by God. I believe this includes Ashur-dan’s brother Ashur-nirari who would have residence in the city being part of the royal family. What is even more interesting is that when Ashur-nirari came to power, instead of practicing the Assyrian custom of going out to war every year, he abstained from the practice for his first four years of rule. This was viewed as weakness. Some historians believed that he chose not to abide by this custom because he wanted to protect his power from the Assyrian dignitaries who had grown strong in the empire. If anything, in my opinion, not obeying Assyrian custom to go to war every year would do more to jeopardize his power with the dignitaries and the people of Assyria. Little do the secular historians know (or want to acknowledge) is that a revival took place in Nineveh and it just might be that Ashur-nirari as a believer refused to go to war. There are literally no obelisks or records showing any conquests of Ashur-dan or Ashur-nirari amongst Assyrian kings. War, conquests, and brutality were a thing of pride amongst Assyrians. Just to re-state, here are four observations that I believe show that these two kings were believers.
- Jonah 3 tells us that the king, people, and the nobles (which most likely included Ashur-nirari) repented.
- These two kings strangely had no recorded military conquests which goes against the Assyrian war culture. The history of Assyrian kings recorded brutality and victories stops around these 3 brothers and then picks up after Ashur-nirari dies. This halting in hostilities in my mind shows the leaders had a change of heart because they repented of the evils they once held.
- Ashur-nirari violated the Assyrian custom of kings going out to war every year. He did this for at least 4 years, but through my limited study I could not find that he went out to war in any year of his reign. As I read an Assyrian Eponym list (most list name of kings/magistrates, dates, and history) I noticed that Ashur-dan III was recorded in one of them as not going to war in 757/756 or 756/755 BC. Could this be fruit from a converted heart? I think it may.
- Ashur-nirari was murdered and the entire royal line exterminated by the usurper Tiglath-pileser. Assyria was not the ravenous war machine that it once was and Tiglath-pileser sought to remedy that. Under his reforms (for time’s sake I will not go into), he restored Assyria back to its barbaric and warmongering ways and began expanding the nation’s borders again. If you kill the shepherd the sheep will scatter. When Tigleth-pileser murdered Ashur-nirari (whom I believe to be redeemed), then the sheep scattered just as the apostles did when Christ died on the cross. To refrain from evil would be a cause for suspicion.
As you can see here, the revival of Nineveh was short lived. If you do the math you will see that it lasted about 16 years. Nineveh may have repented, but the rest of the Assyrian empire did not. The great act of God’s mercy and grace was short lived. The royal line was assassinated, a brutal ruler became king, while fear and forgetfulness probably set in the Ninevite hearts.
From a prophetic prospective there is a lot said in Scripture that relates to Assyria, especially as the tool God uses to defeat and disperse the Northern Kingdom. There are also prophecies about God’s judgment on Assyria for their wickedness. My desire is to walk through some of these prophecies and show you how some of them may have had a profound impact on Jonah.
There are five prophets that I have found that speak about Nineveh/Assyria. They are Amos, Micah, Nahum, Hosea, and Isaiah. Of these, Jonah, Amos, and Hosea were all contemporaries.
- Jonah served Israel (Northern Kingdom) during the reign of Jeroboam II (793-753 BC).
- Amos served Israel (Northern Kingdom) during the reign of Jeroboam II (793-753 BC).
- Hosea served Israel (Northern Kingdom) until its eventual fall to Assyria in 722 B.C. to which he may have been one of the remnant left behind per Amos 3:12. He served from circa 755-710 B.C.
With this said, I am going to focus specifically on the prophet Amos.
“Therefore, thus says the Lord God, ‘An enemy, even one surrounding the land will pull down your strength from you and your citadels will be looted.’” Amos 3:11
The context of Amos 2:4 – Amos 3 deal with the judgment of Israel (Northern Kingdom) and Judah (Southern Kingdom). The Lord pulls no punches here as he addresses Israel and condemns them for:
- “They sell righteousness for money and the needy for a pair of sandals.” Amos 2:6b. They had become greedy and were ruthless to the poor.
- Greed is lust, and as such, sexual immorality stands right along side of it. “A man and his father resort to the same girl” (Amos 2:7b) meaning they are sleeping with the same woman which would indicate that they were sleeping with prostitutes. They had no regard for marriage.
- In ancient times clothes were used as currency. We see this demonstrated at the cross where the Roman soldiers are casting lots for Christ’s garments. We see this in Judges 14 where Samson propounds a riddle to the Philistines with a wager of 30 sets of clothing. In Exodus 22:26-27, God instituted a law that if you took your neighbors garment as a pledge for a loan that you would give it back at the end of the day (sundown). Amos 2:8a says, “On garments taken as pledges they stretch out beside every altar”. Israel was not obeying this. Instead, they were keeping the garments and using them to make themselves comfortable as they reclined at feasts, further showing that the rich had no regard for the poor.
- So bad was the extortion of the poor that Amos writes, “They drink the wine of those who have been fined.” Amos 2:8b. “Fined” (anash) carries the idea that a fine is laid on a person for some type of wrong doing. The implication is something that is punitive. The wealthy in Israel were extorting money from the poor who could not defend themselves. The poor were subject to the extortion of these fines, and the wealthy would take the fines and buy wine. You could clearly see what Israel was worshipping and it was not God.
So thoroughly and utterly evil was the Northern Kingdom that Amos 5:21-22 says:
“I hate, I reject your festivals, nor do I delight in your solemn assemblies. Even though you offer me up burnt offerings and your grain offerings, I will not accept them; and I will not even look at the peace offering of your fatlings.”
The Northern Kingdom was still “religious” in that they were doing their customary offerings to the Lord. The grain offering recognized their gratitude for God’s provision and the burnt offering was an offering where the blood on an unblemished animal was killed (symbolic of Christ, the lamb of God) as atonement for their sins. Why were these disgusting in His sight? The Israelites external worship was merely outward ritual. There was no gratitude for what God had given them in the way of His provisions, nor did they have contrite hearts over their sin. They loved their sin.
As I thought about this, they were no different than antinomians in the sense that they enjoyed the mercy and grace of God because it allowed them to sin as much as they wanted. All they had to do is offer their burnt offering and their sin was cleansed, right? Wrong! They were unbelievers because their actions in how they treated their neighbor reflected an evil heart. They hated God’s precepts. I am going to be honest here for a minute with an example. If you are someone who goes to church every Sunday and serves in some capacity like the choir or with children, gives to the church regularly, helps the poor and needy, but then goes out to a bar and gets drunk, speaks crassly, and tries to find people you are attracted to so as to take them home for the night, you are no different than Israel. God hated their offerings because they were mere rituals they thought would get them into heaven. Your regular attendance in church, giving, and serving will afford you no place in heaven because the requirement is perfection. Those who have been redeemed are given Christ’s perfect righteousness so that when they stand before God they will be allowed entrance into heaven. They will grieve over their sin when they commit it and flee from it by the grace and mercy of God. The Israelites celebrated their sin and faced God’s judgment.
We now have the context for Amos 3:11 so that you understand why God was bringing the house down on Israel. The Lord had enough. His long-suffering Israel had run out. His prophets were ignored which would mean that His sovereignty was denied. Israel did not listen to His voice to repent, so now God will take His mercy to a pagan nation. The prophecy stated that God would use an enemy that surrounded the land. That enemy would be Assyria which was the most powerful nation in the world at the time. Why would God ordain the most ruthless and barbaric of nations to topple Israel? Because most of Israel was apostate. They were worthy of destruction like every man on earth running towards the gates of Hell as fast as they can unless God steps in. God preserved a remnant as He always does in Israel (See Amos 3:12), including today with those whom He has redeemed.
In Amos 6:14, God says, “’For behold, I am going to raise up a nation against you, O house of Israel,’ declares the Lord of hosts, ‘And they will afflict you from the entrance of Hamath to the brook of Arabah.’”
More from Amos:
“The Lord God has sworn by His holiness, ‘Behold, the days are coming upon you when they will take you away with meat hooks, and the last of you with fish hooks.’” Amos 4:2
This is referring to the Northern Kingdom’s destruction as it speaks to the deportation of Israel. The meat hooks and fish hooks are meant to represent the utter helplessness of the people, just as a fish that has been caught is carried away with no ability to free itself.
Jonah, being a contemporary of Amos’ in the Northern Kingdom would more than likely have known about this prophecy of Israel’s destruction, not to mention that he probably had a good idea of which nation would carry it out. Jonah knew from Scripture that Nineveh was built by the Satanically inspired Nimrod. He knew of Nimrod’s barbaric fruit that was passed down to the Assyrian rulers and people. He knew of the false gods that propagated from Nimrod when he built Babel which were the foundation of the Assyrian culture. He knew of the Assyrian brutality and the attempts by Assyria to take the Northern Kingdom. With an awareness of Israel’s impending judgment God now commands him to go to the nation that will destroy his home and call them to repent and turn to God. Keep in mind that prophets in Israel only served within the kingdom. They never went outside of Israel’s or Judah’s boundaries. This command from God was to do something that had never been done, that is, to go to another nation and call them to repent and serve God.
Lastly, there is one more piece to the puzzle that I believe is completely relevant to Jonah’s hatred, and it relates to not only going to Nineveh, but that the Lord might redeem Nineveh. I want to credit Pastor Tim Dunn who provoked my thinking on this when we discussed it on Twitter. After the city was redeemed and spared of God’s judgment Jonah had a temper tantrum in chapter 4. He says:
“Please Lord, was not this what I said while I was still in my own country? Therefore in order to forestall this I fled to Tarshish, for I knew that You are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abundant in lovingkindness and one who relents concerning calamity.” Jonah 4:2b
This is an indictment on Jonah. The first implication is that Jonah appears to have pleaded with God while he was still in Israel to not send him. The second implication is that he expressed to God that he knew He was “gracious and compassionate”, “slow to anger”, “abundant in lovingkindness, and one who relents concerning calamity.” Jonah knew that God was going to save Nineveh. This statement makes it crystal clear that there was no question in his mind that God would redeem the city. He is being commanded to preach a message of repentance to the Ninevites whom he knows will repent. This is the very nation that will destroy his country and take his people helplessly into captivity like a fish on a hook. This means that the reason for Jonah’s disobedience was so God would destroy his enemies. Can you imagine the conflict within him? “Lord, you want me to go to Nineveh so that you can redeem these heathens who have persecuted us and will eventually destroy us?”
With all of this said, can you see why it might have been hard for Jonah to love his enemies? He was commanded by God to go to a city built by a Satanically inspired man (Nimrod), whose brutality in warfare was most certainly mimicked in each generation. This pagan nation has committed countless atrocities against the surrounding nations, including Israel, and takes pride in their malevolence. This same nation will one day be used as a tool for God’s judgment against the Northern Kingdom. Yet, God in his grace has chosen to redeem the vilest of people. This wicked city of Nineveh God has predestined to salvation. Make no mistake, no one in Nineveh was seeking after God. Romans 3:10-18 makes it clear that there is no one who seeks after God and Nineveh could not be a better example.
Jonah reveals to us that God’s commands expose the state of our hearts (“Arise, go to Nineveh the great city and cry against it, for their wickedness has come up before me.” Jonah 1:2). It is the whole of Scripture that convicts and condemns humanity in our sin. Man’s hearts are exposed with the light of Scripture, and God’s command to Jonah was no different as it showed a fierce hatred in one of His servants. Because God loves His children He will not tolerate willful sin in our lives because He is holy. He will seek to remedy us for the better when we stray just like He did Jonah. It is painful to our rebellious hearts, but when God’s work is done we will praise Him for it.
My next blog post will start the exegesis of Jonah in Chapter 1.