You may already know the story of Jonah, who refused God’s call and ran in the opposite direction of where God called him to go. But God pursued Jonah and by His sovereign power persuaded Jonah to preach destruction to the wicked city of Nineveh. Jonah was already unhappy with God, but when the people of Nineveh repented and God relented, saving them from destruction, Jonah was furious. Graciously, God was patient with Jonah and taught him an object lesson about his bad attitude.
About one hundred years after Jonah preached and Nineveh was saved, God called another prophet, Nahum, to prophecy concerning Nineveh. This time God’s message was one of certain doom. The seemingly repentant city of Nineveh had turned back to their wicked ways and had come to represent of the epitome of evil. God’s wrath was aroused and He decreed the overthrow of Nineveh.
Some people try to use the prophecies of Jonah and Nahum to point out God’s inconsistency. But the Scriptures teach that God is unchanging: For I am the LORD, I do not change (Malachi 3:6) and Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever (Hebrews 13:8). But how do we reconcile that with the fact that God pronounced judgment upon Nineveh, then turned and saved Nineveh, but one hundred years later He pronounced the sure doom of Nineveh?
G. Campbell Morgan, known as the “prince of preachers” in his day, gave a powerful and clear explanation of what, on the surface, may look like the changeableness of God. Let me share with you a portion from one of the lessons in the Jonah and Nahum study.
“Some look on the surface of these two prophecies and are inclined to think they picture the changeableness of God because at first He spared Nineveh when the people repented, but a century later He says there is no room for repentance and He will destroy Nineveh. Morgan points out that ‘what appears to be change is really due to God’s changelessness. It is because God is unchanging in all the eternal sublimities of His character that He changes in His dealings towards men.’”
“Morgan goes on to explain by using the picture of a weather vane. It may appear that a weather vane is one of the most changeable things on earth because it is always changing its direction in relation to north, south, east, and west. But the change we see is due to the weather vane’s unchangeable principle: it shows the direction of the wind. ‘It is always unchangeable in its adhesion to principle.’ With that in mind, the unchangeableness of God becomes clear. In Jonah’s day, His word was mercy and salvation. In Nahum’s day it was judgment and destruction. But God did not change. It was Nineveh that had changed. Morgan says, ‘God has been the same throughout all His dealings with men, and it is because He is unchangeable that when a repentant nation repents of that repentance and goes back to its sins, He repents again and smites it into dust and sweeps it away.’”
The prophet Nahum seemed to understand this clearly. In chapter one, verse three he wrote, “The LORD is slow to anger and great in power, and will not at all acquit the wicked.” God was certainly slow to anger in dealing with the rebellious Jonah and with the evil city of Nineveh, but when Nineveh disdained God’s mercy, blatantly defied God’s grace, and reveled in her wicked ways in defiance of His sovereign will and power, justice was done. The city of Nineveh no longer exists.
James Montgomery Boice gives us something to think about as we look at the sin and the fall of Nineveh. “We see the fall of others but somehow imagine that our Western world and cities are different. They are not. They are part of the same world ruled by the same unchanging God, and the moral laws that operated in the destruction of….Nineveh will also destroy us unless we repent and seek God’s blessing” (The Minor Prophets, Volume 2).
I hope you have seen, in this blog, that the books of Jonah and Nahum are relevant for our day and have important lessons to teach us. Jonah’s and Nahum’s prophecies are short and they were written long, long ago, but God is unchanging and the important lessons He taught over two thousand five hundred years ago are for our modern world also. If you study Jonah and Nahum, you will see that human nature has not changed so much over the years either.