An Errand of Mercy to Nineveh

Nineveh was capital of the Assyrian Empire. The Assyrian Empire was a World-Empire for about 300 years (900-607 B.C.). It began its rise to world power about the time of the Division of the Hebrew Kingdom at the close of Solomon's reign. It gradually absorbed and destroyed the Northern Kingdom of Israel. Assyrian kings who had to do with Israel and Judah were:

  • Shalmaneser II (860-825 B.C.). Began to "cut of Israel."

  • Adad-Nirari (808-783). Took tribute from Israel. Jonah's visit?

  • Tiglath-pileser III (747-727). Deported most of Israel.

  • Shalmaneser IV (727-722). Besieged Samaria.

  • Sargon II (722-705). Carried rest of Israel captive. Isaiah.

  • Sennacherib (705-681). Invaded Judah. Isaiah.

  • Esar-haddon (681-668). Very powerful.

  • Assur-banipal (668-626). Most powerful and brutal, Nahum?

  • Two weak kings (626,607). The giant empire fell (607 B.C.).

Thus Jonah was called of God to prolong the life of the enemy nation which was already in the process of exterminating his own nation. No wonder he fled in the opposite direction, in patriotic dread of a brutal and relentless military machine which was closing in on God's people.

Jonah was a native of Gath-hepher. He lived in the reign of Jeroboam II (790-749), and helped to recover some of Israel'i lost territory (II Kings 14:25). Thus Jonah was a famous Statesman, as well as Prophet.

ls the Book Historical?

Naturally, because of the fish story, the unbelieving mind rebels at accepting it as factual. They call it fiction, or allegory, or parable, or prose poem, etc., etc. Jesus unmistakably regarded it as an historical fact (Matthew 12:39-41). It takes considerable straining to make anything else out of his language. He called it a "sign" of his own resurrection. He put the fish, the repentance of the Ninevites, his resurrection, and judgment day in the same category. He surely was talking of REALITY when he spoke of his resurrection and the judgment day. Thus Jesus accepted the Jonah story. For us that settles it. We believe that it actually occurred just as recorded; and that Jonah himself, under the direction of God's Spirit, wrote the book, with no attempt to excuse his own unworthy showing; and that the book, under the direction of God's Spirit, was placed among the Sacred Writings in the Temple as a part of God's unfolding revelation of Himself.

The Fish. The word, wrongly translated "whale," means "great fish," or "sea-monster." Many sea-monsters have been found large enough to swallow a man. However, the point of the story is that it was a MIRACLE, a divine attestation of Jonah's mission to Nineveh. Except for some such astounding miracle the Ninevites would have given little heed to Jonah (Luke 11:30).

Archaeological Confirmation. As far as we know, there is no record of Nineveh's repentance in the Assyrian inscriptions. There are, however, traces that Adad-Nirari made reforms similar to those of Amenophis IV in Egypt. And, under the reigns of the three kings following Adad-Nirari there was a let-up in Assyrian conquests. In this period Israel recovered lost territory (II Kings 14:25). There are hints that Jonah's influence on Nineveh was profound, in this Old Testament Suggestion of World Missions.

God's Purpose in It

For one thing, it may have postponed the captivity of Israel, for lust of conquest was one of the things repented of (3:8).

Mainly, it seems to have been intended of God as a hint to His Own Nation that He was also interested in Other Nations.

Further, Jonah's home was Gath-hepher (II Kings 14:25), near Nazareth the home of Jesus, of whom Jonah was a "sign."

Further, Joppa, where Jonah embarked, to avoid preaching to Another Nation, was the very place which God chose, 800 years later, to tell Peter to receive men of Other Nations (Acts 10).

Further, Jesus quoted it as a prophetic picture of his own resurrection on the "third" day (Matthew 12:40).

So, all in all, the Story of Jonah is a grand historical picture of the Messiah's Resurrection and Mission to All Nations.

Chapter 1. Jonah's Flight

"Tarshish" (3), is thought to have been Tartessus, in Spain. Jonah was making for the utmost bounds of the then known world.

Chapter 2. Jonah's Prayer

He must have been used to praying in the words of the Psalms, so like this beautiful prayer. His return landing may have been near Joppa, and may have-been witnessed by many.

Chapter 3. Nineveh's Repentance

Jonah, in his preaching, no doubt told his experience with the fish, with witnesses along to verify his story. Speaking in the name of the Cod of the nation whom the Ninevites had begun to plunder, they took him seriously, and became terrified.

Chapter 4. Jonah's Disappointment

He had come, not to seek their repentance, but to announce their doom. but God was

pleased at their repentance, and deferred punishment, much to Jonah's chagrin. (See further under Nahum.)

We think the most beautiful touch in the book is in its last verse: God's compassion for littel children. God was influenced to stay the destruction of the city because His own heart rebelled at the thought of the slaughter of innocent babes. Jesus was very fond of children, and child-like dispositions in adults.


Nineveh proper was 3 miles long and 1 1/2 miles wide. Greater Nineveh included Calah 20 miles to south, and Khorsabad 10 miles to north. The triangle formed by the Tigris and the Zab was included in the fortifications of Nineveh.

Calah, south outpost of Nineveh, covered 1000 acres. Here Layard and Loftus, uncovered palaces of Assurnasipal, Shalmaneser and his Black Obelisk, Tiglath-pileser and Esarhaddon.

Khorsabad, north outpost of Nineveh, was built by Sargon, who destroyed Israel (721 B.C.), and whose palace, second to that of Sennacherib, was most magnificent of all.

The "Jonah" Mound. The second largest mound in the ruins of Nineveh is called "Yunas." "Yunas" is the native word for ''Jonah." The mound covers 40 acres, and is 100 feet high. It contains the reputed tomb of Jonah. This was one of the indications to Rich that these were the ruins of Nineveh, and led to their identification. This tomb is so sacred to the natives that no large scale excavation has been permitted in the mound. Layard uncovered the ruins of the palace of Esarhaddon. It is hoped that some day the secrets of this palace may be explored.