The book of Jonah ends so abruptly that some of us may have turned the page looking for Jonah’s response to God’s question in Jonah 4:11 (last verse in the book of Jonah): “And should I not spare Nineveh, that great city, in which there are more than 120,000 persons not [yet old enough to] know their right hand from their left, and also many cattle [not accountable for sin]?” (Amplified Bible). If we did – turn the page, that is – we would not have found Jonah’s response to God’s question; rather we would have run head-on into the book of Micah. Maybe Micah is a continuation of Jonah? The first few verses of Micah 1 show that isn’t true. So what’s the rest of the story?!
To get our first clue, let’s go to Matthew 12:38-42. Take a minute to read it. You can use www.biblegateway.com if you don’t have your Bible with you.
In these verses, Jesus first references Jonah. Jonah’s is the only sign Jesus will give to them. “For even as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of a sea monster, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.” (vs. 40). Going into verse 41, we see that Jesus extends the parallel to include Nineveh as well. “The men of Nineveh will stand up with this evil generation and condemn it” (vs. 41, emphasis mine). Two things struck me in this verse. (1) I started wondering about the word “condemn.” It seemed strange to me that people spared from punishment would be so quick to condemn others. Hmm…
Let’s take a quick trip over to Matthew 25:31-46 – another passage talking about the judgment. This one says that Christ will separate His sheep from the goats (vs. 32-33). When the sheep are welcomed into the eternal kingdom, they don’t stick their tongues out at the goats. They don’t even do a victory dance. We’re told instead that they wonder aloud why they have been granted such a privilege. The goats on-the-other-hand protest their sentence of punishment (vs. 44). Can’t you just imagine it? When Jesus doesn’t say, “You’re right, it was a tricky test. Come on in.”, the herd would have started pointing fingers (or hooves) at each other, comparing crimes … how one wasn’t nearly as bad as the others!
Back to Matthew 12 and the second thing that struck me in verse 41... (2) Nineveh (and for that matter the queen of the South, vs. 42) would “stand up with this evil generation.” With Matthew 25 fresh in my mind, I keep picturing a courtroom and hearing the phrase, “Would the defendants please rise.” The words of condemnation from the people of Nineveh don’t come out of a place of righteousness [right standing with God]; rather they seem more and more to be a desperate attempt at mercy in the heavenly courtroom – mitigating circumstances, if you will.
I know there are some of you out there saying, “But God spared Nineveh. The book of Jonah says so! You said so!" Does it? Did I? Before you sign-off (never to return again), let’s finish Jesus’ teaching in Matthew 12. Please read verses 43-45. Jesus transitions from talking about Nineveh (and, yes, the queen of the South) to an illustration of an unclean spirit leaving a man. The unclean spirit leaves (presumably by eviction), and everything gets tidied up. The problem is that the space the spirit occupied is left empty. After a while, the spirit does a drive-by – maybe for old times’ sake. Seeing that nothing/no one has filled the vacancy, it breaks in; this time with friends. “And the last condition of that man becomes worse than the first.” (Matt 12:45).
I submit to you that that is exactly what happened with Nineveh. The fasting and mourning (Jon 3) evicted the unclean spirits from the city, but when nothing filled the void, they were like foreclosed homes just waiting for squatters.
I ask you today, Are there areas in your life from which you have driven unclean spirits (addictions, attitudes, behaviors, etc.)? If so, the spaces have to be filled with God’s Word. The sword of the Spirit is the only weapon that can keep those things from coming back (Eph 6:17)!
Next week, we’ll be talking about what we know (beyond my hunches discussed today) about Nineveh’s fate. The final words of Jonah 4 were so close … and yet so far.
(Chad, how’s that for a teaser?!)