Thursday, January 22, 2015

Extending mercy to your Nineveh

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Jonah 1:1-17

TO CHEW ON: "Now the word of the Lord came to Jonah, the son of Ammitai, saying, 'Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and cry out against it; for their wickedness has come up before me.'
But Jonah arose to flee to Tarshish from the presence of the Lord." Jonah 1:1-3a

Nineveh was the capital city of Assyria—Israel's longstanding enemy. Various times in the Old Testament we see the Assyrians raiding Israel, ravaging the countryside, and taking its citizens captive. There was no love lost between Israel and Assyria.

Jonah, nationalist that he was, was obviously aghast at God's assignment. Perhaps his reluctance was tinged with fear for his own well-being. The Assyrians were not noted for their humane treatment of enemies.

But one gets the sense that he was mostly outraged that God wanted to share any part of Himself with his nation's rank enemy. That he, Jonah, would be an instrument in bringing such an intention to pass was, to him, unthinkable. And so he ran the other way.

It's worth stopping here and asking, but wouldn't God's righteousness and justice demand that the Assyrians be punished for their harsh treatment of Israel—the apple of God's eye? However, God, thankfully for us all, is not only just and righteous but also merciful. He wanted to give the Assyrians of Jonah's time an opportunity to repent.

It's easy to shrug off the story of Jonah as one of another era and so irrelevant to us. But wait. Is it really?

I'm reminded of Corrie Ten Boom, the Dutch women who, years after her imprisonment in a German concentration camp, came face to face with one of her former captors—her Nineveh, so to speak. That day God asked her to extend mercy and forgiveness to him. She did, and came to a place of new freedom and understanding of God, who is not only just and righteous but also merciful.

I ask myself, what is my Nineveh? What is yours? Will we answer the call of God's heart to extend His mercy to it?

PRAYER: Dear God, thank You for Your mercy to me. May my heart echo the merciful thrum of yours as I interact with those who have treated me badly. Amen.

MORE: Man Overboard by David Denny

California poet David Denny has written a wonderful book of poems about just this story. Man Overboard: A Tale of Divine Compassion (Wipf & Stock, 2013) does a wonderful job of exploring God's compassion (on Nineveh, the Assyrians and Jonah), and Jonah's outrage. My review of the book is HERE.

Unless otherwise noted all Scripture quotations are taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

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