Jonah obeyed the word of the Lordand went to Nineveh. Now Nineveh was a very large city; it took three days to go through it.
Friends of ours recently called to ask advice about what to see on a three day trip to Copenhagen. I am married to a Dane, and my wife and I have enjoyed several visits to our family in Denmark, including bicycling around Copenhagen, the beautiful capital city of Denmark. I gave our friends my top-ten list of “must-see” places in Copenhagen, more places in that great city than our friends could possibly experience in three days.
Around 760 BC, Jonah also went on a three day tour to a very large city, the capital of the Assyrian empire, the ancient city of Nineveh. Located on the eastern banks of the Tigris River in modern day Iraq, the ruins of the ancient city of Nineveh are just across the Tigris from modern day Mosul, Iraq. During the seventh century BC, just after Jonah’s time, the ancient city of Nineveh covered approximately three square miles of land along the Tigris River. Compared with modern day Tokyo, Japan, a city of over 37 million inhabitants, ancient Nineveh is a modest sized town. But at the time of Jonah, it was the largest city in the world, with an estimated population of 150,000.
In 627 BC, Nineveh suffered from a protracted civil war lasting over a decade. Then in 616 BC, the capital city was attacked by a collection the Babylonians, Persians, Medes, and Chaldeans. In the fateful year of 612 BC, ancient Nineveh was sacked by the allied exterior forces, who went house to house, neighborhood to neighborhood, destroying it inhabitants, leaving that “very large city” abandoned and ruined, never to be rebuilt.
To this ancient city, God called Jonah twice. “The word of the Lord came to Jonah” (Jonah 1:1; 3:1). With the first call, Jonah ran away in disobedience and fear. With the second call, Jonah obeyed and went to Nineveh.
I’m not sure how the word “obey” hits your ears, but commonly today, people dislike the idea, as it cuts into personal freedoms and choices. The idea that we are to obey the call of God, to many in our post-modern world may seem archaic, even dangerous. Indeed, obedience is dangerous. The lives of those who obey change dramatically.
The real question behind the call to obedience is who is calling, and can that person be trusted and loved. Most people today have no problem with the concept of a young child obeying her parents, of a football player obeying his coach, or of soldiers obeying their commanding officer. We just have a problem of laying down our will to obey, including obeying God. When we begin to see the greatness of God’s love and compassion for all, we can take steps of obedience to go and love others with God’s great love.
I love the way Jesus talks about obedience. “Anyone who loves me will obey my teaching. My Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them. Anyone who does not love me will not obey my teaching. If you keep my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commands and remain in his love. I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete.” (1)
Jesus unites obedience to love and joy. Love precedes obedience. Joy follows. Those who love, obey. Our obedience is an expression of our love. God’s love calls us to obey God’s instructions. If we do not love God, of course we will not want to obey God’s teachings. The more we week to remain in God’s love, the more we will find the power to keep God’s commands, even it that means going to Nineveh. The way of obedience leads us into a life of joy. Jesus tells us to love and obey God’s teachings so that our “joy may be complete.”
God calls Jonah to go to Nineveh so that Jonah’s joy may be completed by seeing his hated enemies becomes friends with God. Only when we let go of our hatred and unforgiveness, only when we are reconciled deep within our soul to God and to our neighbors and enemies, only then will our joy become complete. Jesus went through overwhelming suffering, enduring the cross and shame “for the joy set before him,” (2) to free us from our unforgiveness and hostility, and call us to go out into the very large cities of planet earth, bringing God’s Word of love, obedience and joy.
2 Hebrews 12:2.