A rousing declaration of duty begins the book of Jonah. This rousing beginning of the book of Jonah sets the tone for the entire book. Nothing is passive in the book of Jonah. Actions in it are earnest, pronounced, aggressive, and dramatic, whether they are good or bad actions. The book of Jonah is definitely not a dull book!
The subject of duty, which is the focus of our first study in our book about Jonah, is a subject not only readily seen in the first few verses of Jonah; but it is also seen frequently throughout the book of Jonah. Calls to duty for Jonah as well as calls to duty for others—even a fish—are found in the book. The consequences of the various responses to these calls of duty are also recorded in Jonah. And these consequences are recorded in a manner which strongly warns us against disobeying our calls to duty and greatly encourages us to obey our calls to duty.
Though very important, the subject of duty, however, is generally not the "rousing" matter to mankind that God makes it in His declaration of Jonah’s duty in the first verses of Jonah. Though duty is a vital subject, it does not interest man very much. Man is more interested in his rights than his responsibilities. He is concerned about his privileges, but seldom his precepts. He thinks more about his wages than his work. Preach to him that he is entitled to some right, and he will petition the powers that be and march the streets to get it. But preach to him about some duty he should fulfill, and he will turn away in indifference. God, however, places a high priority on duty—the book of Jonah attests to that fact. When we get our priorities straight, duty will be a high priority for us, too.
To examine in detail this rousing declaration of duty which God gave to Jonah as recorded in the first two verses of the book of Jonah, we will consider the source, servant, specifics, and support of the duty which God assigned to Jonah.
A. THE SOURCE OF DUTY
"Now the word of the Lord came unto Jonah" (v. 1). The source of Jonah’s duty was the Word of God. It is the source of our duty, too. Either by precept or by principle, the Word of God tells all mankind their duty.
From this statement revealing the source of Jonah’s duty, we want to note three important truths about the Word of God and duty; namely, the Word of God is the basic source of duty, the best source of duty, and a blessed source of duty.
1. Basic Source of Duty
The Word of God is the basic source of our God-given duty because, as the book of Jonah attest, it is the prerequisite for discerning our duty and has the priority in determining our duty.
Prerequisite for discerning duty. Before Jonah could know his God-given duty of going to Nineveh, the Word of God had to come to him. Jonah had to first know the Word before he could ascertain his duty. We, too, must first know the Word of God before we can ascertain our Divine duty. If we, however, do not know the Word, we will walk in ignorance of the most important responsibilities of life. Society does not hesitate to tell man what his duties are; but society has great difficulty determining and, thus, declaring true duty; because society invariably leaves out the Word of God. The will of God, which is what our duty is all about, is never apart from the Word of God. Therefore, if we want to know our Divine obligations, if we want to know what God wants us to do, if we want to know our calling, we must first know the Word of God. Ignorance of the Word is ignorance of the duty that matters the most in life. Keep the Word from people and you keep people from the will of God—which is exactly what Satan wants.
Priority in determining duty. God ranks above all others. Therefore, duty which comes from His Word has top priority. No duty has an equal or higher claim than duty which comes from the Word. Thus, Jonah’s duty, because it came from the Word of God, must have precedence in his life. Jonah must make everything subservient to God’s Word if he is going to do his God-appointed duty. But as we will note in later studies, the Word did not always have priority in Jonah’s life; and when it did not, he failed miserably in doing his Divine task and, as a result, generally made a mess of things.
If one wants to do the will of God, he must give priority to the Word of God. Cultural habits, contemporary trends, natural reasonings, and fleshly passions often demand first place in life; but the Word of God must be honored above all these things if the will of God is going to be done.
2. Best Source of Duty
Nothing is a better source of duty than the Word of God. One of the things which makes the Word of God the best source of duty is that it is always so very practical. It never prescribes a duty that is impractical. The "word of the Lord" about Jonah’s duties was certainly practical, fitting, and needed. The Word of God was likewise most practical for Nineveh. It certainly fit Nineveh, and it was certainly needed by Nineveh.
Critics of the Word of God in our day often argue that the Word is antiquated and, therefore, has little, if any, application for our modern day. But this is not the case! The Word can always be depended upon to know what is needed for every person, in every situation, and in every age. Any duty prescribed by the Word will always be appropriate, proper, and fitting for the occasion. The Word is never out of touch with life’s situations. It is always practical. It always prescribes the right duty. As the book of Jonah emphasizes, nothing is more practical than God’s Word—which is one reason why it is the best source of duty.
3. Blessed Source of Duty
"Now the word of the Lord came unto Jonah"-(v. 1). The best source of duty for men is also a most blessed source of duty, for how blessed it is for God to give to man (e.g. Jonah here and Nineveh later) the Word of God. Yet, we often read over a statement like our text about the Word coming to someone without thinking of it in terms of great blessing. The carnal mind especially will miss the fact of blessing in the statement, for the carnal mind does not put much value on spiritual things. But whether men realize it or not, one of the greatest blessings that can ever come to them is to be given the Word of God.
This is especially evident in regards to Nineveh. The greatest blessing that ever came to Nineveh was the great spiritual awakening recorded in the book of Jonah. It came because the Word of God was given to Jonah and then to the Ninevites via Jonah. Had the Word of God not come to man, Nineveh would have lost its greatest blessing. The Apostle Paul spoke of the Word as being the great blessing and advantage for Israel, too. In Romans 3:1 and 2, he asked, "What advantage . . . hath the Jew?" Then he answered, "Chiefly . . . unto them were committed the oracles of God." Why was the Word of God such a blessing to Israel and to Nineveh and to Jonah? Because it told them their duty. It told them the will of God for their lives.
Count it a superior blessing to know the will of God. On the other hand, count it a terrible curse to be ignorant of the will of God. While giving mankind the Word is one of the greatest blessings God can give to man, taking away the Word is one of the worst judgments God can bring upon man. No action removes blessings like that action. The Prophet Amos warned his people of this peril when he said, "Behold, the days come, saith the Lord God, that I will send a famine in the land, not a famine of bread, nor a thirst for water, but of hearing the words of the Lord" (Amos 8:11). God takes the Word away when people refuse to honor it. This is happening in our churches today. People have too long demonstrated a disinterest in a church program that is centered around the Word. So now our churches are plagued with a great dearth of good, solid Bible preaching and teaching. God is removing the blessing; because it was not respected and loved. But if the church and pastor want a ministry that provides superior blessings to mankind, then they must major on preaching and teaching the blessed Word of God.
B. THE SERVANT OF DUTY
God had a task to be done. The people of Nineveh needed to be warned about their sin. So God chose, from among His servants, "Jonah the son of Amittai" and gave him the duty of warning Nineveh. To get better acquainted with Jonah, we will consider his name, his office, his home, his record, his times, his preparation, and his opportunity.
1. His Name
The name Jonah means "dove." The meaning of Jonah’s name will suggest some important lessons when it is associated with the meaning of the name of Jonah’s father Amittai which is "truth of God." A dove is often a symbol of peace. Taking the idea of peace and associating it with "truth of God," we have at least two significant lessons.
First, we learn you cannot have peace (Jonah) without truth (Amittai); just as you cannot have a son (Jonah) without a father (Amittai). Man ever thinks he can lie his way out of trouble; but turmoil, not tranquility, is the result of dishonesty. Truth before peace is also seen in the Gospel formula. If a soul wants peace with God, he must receive Jesus Christ as Savior. Who is Christ? He is the "Truth" (John 14:6). So there is no such thing as peace with God without first receiving Christ as Savior.
Second, another lesson here in the meaning of the names concerns the character of the servant of God. Rowland said, "It has been wisely said by a great Puritan divine, ‘I would that truth were every preacher’s father.’" In name meaning Jonah could claim that fact. Would that all preachers could claim that fact in character. But today many who claim to preach the "Truth" are often very guilty of deceit and dishonesty in their message, methods, money accounting, and multitude-size reporting.
2. His Office
Jonah was a prophet. The book of Jonah never explicitly says this, but it is obvious in his call. However, we are not left to mere conjecture in determining his office. 2 Kings 14:25, the only other place in the Old Testament where Jonah is mentioned, states plainly that he was a prophet. "According to the word of the Lord God of Israel, which he spake by the hand of his servant Jonah . . . the prophet."
It is instructive to observe that Jonah is also called a "servant" as well as a "prophet" in the II Kings text. And note that "servant" comes before "prophet" in that text. This is the way it is in experience. Before you become a prophet, you must first become a servant. If you are unwilling to be a servant, then you will not be a true prophet. "Servant" speaks of sacrifice, labor, and humility. "Prophet" speaks of position, privilege, and status. Many in church want to be prophets who do not want to be servants. Such folk want the esteem and benefits of office but not the cost required for faithful performance. The Apostle Paul, in speaking of qualifications for church office, said that before anyone is given an office "Let these also first be proved" (1 Timothy 3:10). We need to practice Paul’s command in our churches. We need to first prove that a person can be a servant before he or she is made an officer. Practicing this in choosing church officers will give a church much help in eliminating the unqualified from consideration for church office. Failure to be willing to be a servant disqualifies from God’s service. Jesus spoke of many being called, but few chosen (Matthew 20:16); and so it is in God’s work. He calls many to serve, but few are chosen, for only a few demonstrate a willingness to be a servant.
3. His Home
In the II Kings text, we are told that Jonah was from the town of "Gath-hepher." This town was located in the tribal territory of Zebulun in north central Palestine. We can more easily identify this location by noting it was approximately 3 to 5 miles northeast of Nazareth in Galilee, where Christ spent much of His first thirty years on earth.
Being in Galilee, Jonah’s home town location is a strong rebuke for the arrogant unbelief of the religious leaders of Christ’s day who were so critical of Christ. In an effort to discredit Christ, these critics said, "Search, and look; for out of Galilee ariseth no prophet" (John 7:52). Wrong! Jonah, one of the famous prophets of the Old Testament, came out of Galilee territory; but unbelief ignored that fact.
Unbelief has a habit of ignoring the facts; therefore, we must be careful we do not let the haughty discrediting of our faith by unbelief intimidate us out of our faith. Do not, however, be afraid to do what the critics said to do here, namely, "Search, and look" (John 7:52); for that will not hurt your faith; rather it will only help it. The critics’ problem was that they did not follow their own advice.
4. His Record
We look at 2 Kings 14:25 again to see what sort of record of performance is recorded of Jonah in Scripture. This is the only performance recorded of him outside the book of Jonah in the Old Testament, but it is a most commendable one. This text said he predicted that Jeroboam II, King of Israel (northern ten tribes), would reclaim some territory for Israel which had been lost under previous administrations—and it happened as he predicted it would. "He [Jeroboam II] restored the coast [border] of Israel . . . according to the word of the Lord God of Israel, which he spoke by . . . Jonah." So Jonah passed the prophet’s test of Deuteronomy 18. He was proven to be a true prophet.
Again we are back to truth and its vital place in our duty and service. We noted this lesson earlier in regards to Jonah’s name, now we see it here regarding his message. He was a true prophet as he spoke the truth. The reason he spoke the truth was that his message was "according to the word of the Lord God." Be faithful to the Word of God, and you will always preach the truth. But embrace the current philosophies and practices of the day, and your message will lack integrity.
5. His Times
As the II Kings text indicates, Jonah ministered during the time of Jeroboam II, the king of Israel, which was during the 8th century b.c. This makes Jonah one of the earliest of the writing prophets of the Old Testament, and it makes him a contemporary of such prophets as Amos and Hosea, for both of their books mention they also ministered during the reign of Jeroboam II. Jonah could also have been a contemporary of Micah and, if he lived to an old age, of even Isaiah.
Politically, Jonah lived when the upcoming world power was Assyria, of which Nineveh, the city of Jonah’s assigned duty, was the main city, the center of the government. Morally and spiritually, Jonah’s times were very bad. Israel, under Jeroboam II, whom the Bible characterizes as one, who "did that which was evil in the sight of the Lord" (2 Kings 14:24), wallowed in the muck and mire of depraved living and worship. Judgment was inevitable; and though Israel had had much of her land restored, yet God eventually made Assyria "the rod of mine anger" (Isaiah 10:5) to chasten Israel into captivity. It was a time for prophets to denounce sin. It was not a time to preach the "I’m OK; you’re OK" philosophy. Jonah’s times were very much like our times; therefore, preachers today need to be busy denouncing sin, for there is plenty that needs denouncing.
6. His Preparation
God prepares His servants for the duty to which He calls them. So it was with Jonah. 2 Kings 14:25 will show us this fact. This text is much more related to the book of Jonah than one might suspect in a casual reading of it. It gives us much background for the book of Jonah, even though it is just one verse. In that verse we are told, as we have noted earlier, that Jonah predicted Israel would have land restored to it which some of their previous kings had lost. Now this restoration of land was not done because Israel was walking obediently with the Lord; and, therefore, the Lord was duly blessing them for their obedience by restoring the land. No, the land was restored simply out of grace. Israel did not deserve it, for they were living in disobedience, and their king was an evil man. So Jonah, in making the prophecy of land restoration, was certainly given a first hand acquaintance with grace. This really prepared him for going to Nineveh; for the mission to Nineveh was a mission of Divine grace, too. Warning the Ninevites of their sin could wake them up to their need of repentance—which would open the door to escape from deserved judgment. Nineveh certainly did not deserve the warning. They were a very wicked people. But grace prevailed; and so Jonah was sent to them; and when he finally went, they repented and escaped judgment.
Now it was this knowledge of grace, believe it or not, which was at the bottom of Jonah’s reluctance to go to Nineveh. Jonah told us this when, after the great revival in Nineveh, he complained to God. He said, "I fled before unto Tarshish; for I knew that thou art a gracious God, and merciful, slow to anger, and of great kindness" (Jonah 4:2). Yes, indeed, Jonah "knew" much about grace because of his involvement with the prediction of the land restoration to Israel. But that was grace for Israel, Jonah’s people. Nineveh was Israel’s enemy and a threat to Israel’s very existence as a nation. Jonah did not want them to also experience grace. He wanted them destroyed. When the call of duty came to go to Nineveh, Jonah knew full well the nature of his ministry to Nineveh—it was one of grace. So in spite of the fact he was well prepared for his Divine duty, he had considerable trouble getting to Nineveh to do his duty because of his selfish spirit.
Few of us can throw stones at Jonah. We all have more of this selfish spirit in us that we would like to admit. We all like grace when we benefit from it, but to see our enemies or our competitors experience grace is another story. Much service which we ought to do and which we are qualified to do is often not done because of this selfish spirit. We will serve if it will benefit ourselves or our friends, but we will not serve if it will help those we do not especially like.
We will spend more time on this subject in later studies. But what we particularly wanted to note here is that Jonah was well qualified for his duty of going to Nineveh because of his knowledge of God’s grace.
7. His Opportunity
The duty God gave Jonah opened to Jonah a tremendous opportunity to preach to thousands and to win thousands to the Lord. Jonah had the opportunity to conduct probably the greatest meetings any minister has ever conducted. But he almost missed it. Opportunity and duty go hand in hand; and when Jonah spurned his God-given duty, he forsook his opportunity.
Jonah is not alone in this experience. All who forsake duty forsake opportunity, and more opportunity than most realize or could imagine. Opportunity seldom comes in a fancy wrapped package, but generally it is wrapped in plain paper—and that plain paper is often duty. Duty seldom looks exciting but usually appears drab, boring, inconvenient, and not infrequently distasteful. But do not ignore it, for therein lies opportunity. Many folk who complain about lack of opportunities in life, especially opportunities in serving the Lord, are often only confessing their failure to give duty proper attention. Your duty may not seem as special as Jonah’s duty of going to Nineveh; it may be some seemingly obscure task instead. But do not underestimate the amount of opportunities packed into that apparent small duty. Do that duty well; for the better you attend to your duties, the greater will be your opportunities.
C. THE SPECIFICS OF DUTY
Divine duty is never a complex, confusing, capricious command. It is, however, always a command. But the command will be plain, easy to understand, and most consistent with the holy character of God. All of this is evident in the first two verses of the book of Jonah. Duty was ever so plainly declared by God for Jonah. The declaration did not require a seminary graduate to understand it and see that it was valid. We can be thankful Divine duty is given this way. It is only sin which makes it seem vague, too complicated to know or figure out, and contrary to God’s character.
The specifics of Jonah’s duty are found in, "Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and cry against it" (v. 2). We note four details of Jonah’s duty: his waking ("Arise"), his walk ("go to Nineveh"), his ward ("Nineveh, that great city"), and his warfare ("cry against it").
1. His Waking
The first word in the command God gave to Jonah was "Arise." This word was a rousing call to action. God was ready to warn Nineveh; and so He notified Jonah in a way that said, "Let’s get going!"
The word "arise’’ will be too strong for those whose spiritual inertness makes them opposed to any call to energetic action. Many folk in the church are like this. They love status quo. They have heard of Christian soldiers but not of "Onward Christian Soldiers." They want to sit and do nothing. Any forward moving plan or program which requires active, energetic participation will be voted against by these folk. But wars are not won by sitting lethargically in one place. There comes the time when we must charge the enemy. A fierce spiritual war was going on in Jonah’s day, like that going on in our day; and God wanted His servant to charge to Nineveh and wage an attack against evil.
2. His Walk
"Go to Nineveh" meant a walk of 500 to 600 miles for Jonah, depending on how direct his route would be. No airplanes, trains, cars, busses, or super highways were available for Jonah. He had to go to Nineveh by feet-express, for he had to walk. This would take time, and it would be laborious and even boring. But every duty has the walking part. It is the long, lonely hours of preparation which are necessary to fulfill one’s duty. Once Jonah gets to Nineveh the excitement will begin. But he must first make the long walk before he gets there.
All of this instructs us about the necessity of putting great effort and attention into fulfilling the walking part of our duty. You cannot skip the walk if you want to get to the Nineveh of fulfillment and success. Some people try to skip the walk, but they never succeed. Duty has its glory and excitement, but first there is the long and necessary walk. Missionaries, as an example, must spend months, even years, in deputation before that exciting day comes when they arrive in their Nineveh place of service. Preachers must spend long hours in prayer and Bible study if they are going to preach well in the Nineveh pulpit. Musicians must spend hours and hours of practice before they can perform well in the concert at Nineveh. And students must spend many hours in study before they reach their Nineveh of graduation. Every duty in life has its walking part.
3. His Ward
Jonah’s assigned ward (we could also call it his parish, the Catholics would say it was his diocese) was Nineveh. This was where God sent him to preach. It is the spotlighted city of the book of Jonah. Nineveh, as we noted before, was located in Assyria and was the main city of Assyria and the seat of the Assyrian government. Assyria was located northeast of Israel and was in Jonah’s time a great threat to Israel. This threat had an influence on Jonah’s obedience, as we have previously noted and will note more about later. Eventually Assyria did take the northern ten tribes into captivity. This occurred a generation or so after Jonah passed from the scene.
Nineveh was located on the Tigris River about 75 miles south of the border of present day Turkey and about 200 miles north of Baghdad in Iraq. The boundaries of today’s Iraq include ancient Nineveh.
God called Nineveh "that great city" in our text. Three more times it is called "great" in Jonah 3:2; 3:3; 4:11. Nineveh was "great" in a number of ways. We note some of these ways.
Nineveh was great in antiquity. We learn of its beginning way back in Genesis 10:9–12 where it is associated with evil Nimrod (a grandson of Ham, one of Noah’s sons) who founded the city. The KJV says "Asshur" built Nineveh, but very few Hebrew language scholars maintain this rendering. Most of them render "Asshur" as "he" which refers to Nimrod. Contextually and grammatically "he" is the more preferred rendering.
In this Genesis text, Nineveh is also referred to in terms of "a great city" (v. 12). The KJV in this verse makes "a great city" seem to apply only to "Resen," a city near Nineveh; but it is better to understand that "a great city" applies to the four cities mentioned in Genesis 10:11,12, namely, Nineveh, Rehoboth, Calah, and Resen. Leupold says, regarding this "great city" application, "Of course, this refers to Nineveh and shows what component parts went to make it such an outstanding city or city state." Keil, in supporting this same view, tells us that archaeologists’ discoveries indicate "that the name Nineveh was used in two senses: first, for one particular city; and secondly, for a complex of four large primeval cities including Nineveh proper." This, of course, is not a new thing to us. All our large cities are this way—a city proper and then a city in general which includes all its various suburbs. Hence, we learn from this Genesis text that Nineveh was a great city even from its beginnings in antiquity.
Nineveh was great in area. As we just noted, being composed of suburbs as well as city proper, Nineveh covered much area. Archaeologists tell us it could have included as much as 350 square miles. Even Babylon was not that large. The largest estimates for Babylon are in the 200 square mile range.
Nineveh was great in assembly. Her population is estimated by archaeologists to have been 600,000 to a million. The last verse of the book of Jonah says Nineveh had 120,000 inhabitants who could not discern between their right hand and left hand which means the 120,000 were very young children. That many young children gives much support to the estimations of great population by the archaeologists.
Nineveh was great in architecture. Diggings by archaeologists have turned up evidences of great palaces and buildings. Also, diggings have put the city’s walls in the "great" category, too. Evidence of city walls 100 feet high and wide enough for three chariots to ride abreast have been found.
Nineveh was great in academics. It possessed a famous library of which over 16,000 clay tablets and fragments have been found. These findings represent some 10,000 texts which covered a wide variety of subjects. These facts may not impress today’s librarians; but in Jonah’s day, it was quite a library.
Nineveh was great in acclaim. It was, as we have previously noted, the leading city of Assyria; a nation that in Jonah’s time was the rising star of Gentile nations. So Nineveh was the city of cities as far as much of the world was concerned in that day.
Nineveh was great in animals. Perhaps to some readers this seems like a strange "great" to note, but the book of Jonah notes it in "much cattle" (Jonah 4:11). The people of that day would readily value this "great" feature of Nineveh, for it would make Nineveh self-supporting in food supply. Being self-supporting in food supply was especially valuable should an invading army surround the city walls and thereby keep the city from getting out to obtain food. With its food supply protected, a city could not be starved into surrender—a tactic common in Jonah’s day. The great land area of Nineveh would give much room for pasture, crops, "much cattle," and other animals which would give Nineveh considerable food production ability. This would be a great plus for the city.
Nineveh was a "great" city indeed, but all this greatness paled into insignificance when their great spiritual need was considered. God is much more concerned about the spiritual need of man than anything else. All of Nineveh’s greatness materially was no substitute for their spiritual lack. As Jesus said, "What shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?" (Mark 8:36). So in spite of its greatness, Nineveh had a very great spiritual need; and God assigned Jonah this "great" city as Jonah’s place of duty to address this great need of Nineveh.
4. His Warfare
When Jonah arrived in Nineveh, he was to "cry against it." That meant he was to wage war against evil in Nineveh. "Cry" means to cry out. It is the same thing the prophet Isaiah was told to do regarding his people: "Cry aloud, spare not, lift up thy voice like a trumpet, and show my people their transgression" (Isaiah 58:1).
To "cry" against sin requires great spiritual energy, something few people have. Most folk can walk into a desperate spiritual situation, look around, and at best mumble a few words of concern. "Cry against it," however, requires a lot more spiritual action than that! Sin will never be opposed successfully until we get really upset about it—upset enough to cry out earnestly, forcefully, passionately, and dogmatically against it. Of course, such a reaction to sin is often very unacceptable to the multitudes. Would that Nineveh’s reaction was always the norm. But it is not. Today, a great many, even in our church congregations, look disdainfully on any such outcry against sin from the pulpit. Uncouth, undignified, fanatical, offensive, uncultured, and unloving are some of the labels the critics give to "cry against it." But often these same critics will attend a sporting event and yell themselves hoarse when someone hits a ball, runs with a ball, or puts a ball through an iron rim. Spiritual zeal, in contrast, gets excited about things of true importance—such as crying out against sin. However, few folk in our churches are excited about opposing sin. But Joseph Parker said, "What is your call in life? To go wherever wickedness is and cry against it . . . Every child of God is to be a protesting prophet."
Christ vigorously opposed evil wherever He went. Once He took a whip and attacked sin in the Temple. That certainly upset things and literally, too; for He turned over some tables in the process. His disciples, looking on during the occasion, were reminded of a text from Psalms which says, "The zeal of thine house hath eaten me up" (Psalm 69:9, John 2:17). Most church goers today have not been nibbled on by this kind of holy zeal, let alone been eaten up by it. But "cry against it" is still the command; and any other attitude towards sin is compromise, spiritual sickness, and unfaithfulness. The warfare against sin will never do well if we are unwilling to cry out forcefully against sin.
D. THE SUPPORT OF DUTY
God does much to encourage us to do our duty. In Jonah’s case, God gave two very good reasons to support the duty He assigned to Jonah. He told Jonah his assignment was to "go to Nineveh . . . and cry against it," and then He supported the assignment with "for their wickedness is come up before me" (v. 2). "For their wickedness is come up before me" gives Jonah two very good reasons to do his duty. They are the character of Nineveh and the character of God.
1. The Character of Nineveh
Bismarck said, "Great cities are great sores on the body politic." That statement certainly fit Nineveh. "Wickedness" is how God describes Nineveh’s character. Both Biblical and secular accounts give abundant evidence that Nineveh was a very wicked city and, therefore, a great sore on the body politic.
One cannot find a better summation of Nineveh’s evils than that given by the Prophet Nahum. The book of Nahum is all about Nineveh. Though it was written some time after Jonah, secular accounts have confirmed that the description Nahum gave of Nineveh will also describe Nineveh in Jonah’s day very accurately, too. The sins of Nineveh in Nahum’s time were simply the revived sins that were so prevalent when Jonah was sent to Nineveh. Nahum says of Nineveh, "Woe to the bloody city! It is all full of lies and robbery; the prey departeth not; the noise of a whip, and the noise of the rattling of the wheels, and of the prancing horses, and of the jumping [bouncing] chariots. The horseman lifteth up both the bright sword and the glittering spear; and there is a multitude of slain, and a great number of carcasses; and there is none end of their corpses; they stumble upon their corpses. Because of the multitude of the whoredoms [harlotries] of the wellfavored harlot, the mistress of witchcrafts, that selleth nations through her whoredoms [harlotries], and families through her witchcrafts" (Nahum 3:1–4).
Morally, Nineveh lived in the cesspool of licentiousness. Spiritually, Nineveh was given over to witchcraft which always breeds cruel practices. Militarily, Nineveh was very barbarous to their enemies. In describing the barbarous military character of the Assyrian, J. Sidlow Baxter quotes a Professor Sayce who said, "The barbarities which followed the capture of a town would be almost incredible, were they not the subject of boast in the inscriptions which record them . . . pyramids of human heads marked the path of the conqueror, boys and girls were burnt alive or reserved for a worse fate, men were impaled, flayed alive, blinded, or deprived of hands and feet, or ears and noses [the actions of present day Iraq, the main land of ancient Assyria, against the people of Kuwait in 1990–91 was of similar cruelty—the people of the Assyrian area have not changed much in nearly three millennia]." Yes, Nineveh’s wickedness was certainly great; so much so, that when Jonah finally got to Nineveh the city had but forty days before God would destroy it if they did not repent. Jonah’s duty to "cry against it" was greatly justified and supported by Nineveh’s character. And the character of our land likewise calls for nothing less. The beastly barbarities of abortion, the homosexual plague, the gambling craze, and many other sins all justify "cry against it" (v. 2).
2. The Character of God
The holy character of God Almighty was also great support for Jonah to do his duty. In Jonah’s orders God said, "The wickedness of Nineveh is come up before me." The obvious and strong implication in those words is that the character of God cannot tolerate such wickedness. God is infinitely holy. This makes Him super sensitive to sin, for the more holy the character the more sensitive it is to sin.
If we can tolerate evil, we are only confessing to a lack of holiness. Of course, perverted minds and hearts will argue that tolerating sin is simply being kind and loving. And some will claim, it is being open minded; that is, they have "seen the light" and now realize that what society used to condemn is simply a legitimate variation in lifestyle. All of this nonsensical talk to justify the toleration of evil only shows how a lack of holiness perverts love and messes up the mind. It is what Paul spoke of in Romans when he said that men "changed the truth of God into a lie," and "For this cause God gave them up unto vile affections" (Romans 1:25,26). God’s command is: "Be ye holy; for I am holy" (1 Peter 1:16, cp. Leviticus 11:25). No greater support could Jonah have for his "cry against it" duty than God’s holiness.