And should not I spare Nineveh - In Jonah 4:10; it is said, thou hast had pity on the gourd, חסת אתה attah Chasta ; and here the Lord uses the same word, אחוס לא ואני veani lo Achus, "And shall not I have pity upon Nineveh?" How much is the city better than the shrub? But besides this there are in it one hundred and twenty thousand persons! And shall I destroy them, rather than thy shade should be withered or thy word apparently fail? And besides, these persons are young, and have not offended, (for they knew not the difference between their right hand and their left), and should not I feel more pity for those innocents than thou dost for the fine flowering plant which is withered in a night, being itself exceedingly short-lived? Add to all this, they have now turned from those sins which induced me to denounce judgment against them. And should I destroy them who are now fasting and afflicting their souls; and, covered with sackcloth, are lying in the dust before me, bewailing their offenses and supplicating for mercy? Learn, then, from this, that it is the incorrigibly wicked on whom my judgments must fall and against whom they are threatened. And know, that to that man will I look who is of a broken and contrite spirit, and who trembles at my word. Even the dumb beasts are objects of my compassion; I will spare them for the sake of their penitent owners; and remember with the rest, That the Lord careth for oxen.
The great number of cattle to which reference is here made were for the support of the inhabitants; and probably at this time the Ninevites gathered in their cattle from the champaign pasture, expecting that some foe coming to besiege them might seize upon them for their forage, while they within might suffer the lack of all things.
No doubt that ancient Nineveh was like ancient Babylon, of which Quintus Curtius says the buildings were not close to the walls, there being the space of an acre left between them; and in several parts there were within the walls portions of cultivated land, that, if besieged, they might have provisions to sustain the inhabitants.
And I suppose this to be true of all large ancient cities. They were rather cantons or districts than cities such as now are, only all the different inhabitants had joined together to wall in the districts for the sake of mutual defense.
This last expostulation of God, it is to be hoped, produced its proper effect on the mind of this irritable prophet; and that he was fully convinced that in this, as in all other cases, God had done all things well.
From this short prophecy many useful lessons may be derived. The Ninevites were on the verge of destruction, but on their repentance were respited. They did not, however, continue under the influence of good resolutions. They relapsed, and about one hundred and fifty years afterwards, the Prophet Nahum was sent to predict the miraculous discomfiture of the Assyrian king under Sennacherib, an event which took place about 710 b.c., and also the total destruction of Nineveh by Cyaxares and his allies which happened about 606 b.c. Several of the ancients, by allegorizing this book, have made Jonah declare the divinity, humanity, death, and resurrection of Christ. These points may be found in the Gospel history, their true repository; but fancy can find them any where it pleases to seek them; but he who seeks not for them will never find them here. Jonah was a type of the resurrection of Christ; nothing farther seems revealed in this prophet relative to the mysteries of Christianity.
In conclusion: while I have done the best I could to illustrate the very difficult prophet through whose work the reader has just passed, I do not pretend to say I have removed every difficulty. I am satisfied only of one thing, that I have conscientiously endeavored to do it, and believe that I have generally succeeded; but am still fearful that several are left behind, which, though they may be accounted for from the briefness of the narrative of a great transaction, in which so many surprising particulars are included, yet, for general apprehension, might appear to have required a more distinct and circumstantial statement. I have only to add, that as several of the facts are evidently miraculous, and by the prophet stated as such, others may be probably of the same kind. On this ground all difficulty is removed; for God can do what he pleases. As his power is unlimited, it can meet with no impossibilities. He who gave the commission to Jonah to go and preach to the Ninevites, and prepared the great fish to swallow the disobedient prophet, could maintain his life for three days and three nights in the belly of this marine monster; and cause it to eject him at the termination of the appointed time, on any sea-coast he might choose; and afterwards the Divine power could carry the deeply contrite and now faithful prophet over the intervening distance between that and Nineveh, be that distance greater or less. Whatever, therefore, cannot be accounted for on mere natural principles in this book, may be referred to this supernatural agency; and this, on the ostensible principle of the prophecy itself, is at once a mode of interpretation as easy as it is rational. God gave the commission; he raised the storm, he prepared the fish which swallowed the prophet; he caused it to cast him forth on the dry land; he gave him a fresh commission, carried him to the place of his destination, and miraculously produced the sheltering gourd, that came to perfection in a night and withered in a night. This God therefore performed the other facts for which we cannot naturally account, as he did those already specified. This concession, for the admission of which both common sense and reason plead, at once solves all the real or seeming difficulties to be found in the Book of the Prophet Jonah.
Should I not spare? - literally “have pity” and so “spare.” God waives for the time the fact of the repentance of Nineveh, and speaks of those on whom man must have pity, those who never had any share in its guilt, the 120,000 children of Nineveh, “I who, in the weakness of infancy, knew not which hand, “the right” or “the left,” is the stronger and fitter for every use.” He who would have spared Sodom “for ten‘s sake,” might well be thought to spare Nineveh for the 120,000‘s sake, in whom the inborn corruption had not developed into the malice of willful sin. If these 120,000 were the children under three years old, they were 15 (as is calculated) of the whole population of Nineveh. If of the 600,000 of Nineveh all were guilty, who by reason of age could be, above 15 were innocent of actual sin.
To Jonah, whose eye was evil to Nineveh for his people‘s sake, God says, as it were, “Let the “spirit” which “is willing” say to the “flesh” which “is weak,” Thou grievest for the palm-christ, that is, thine own kindred, the Jewish people; and shall not I spare Nineveh that great city, shall not I provide for the salvation of the Gentiles in the whole world, who are in ignorance and error? For there are many thousands among the Gentiles, who go after 1 Corinthians 12:2. mute idols even as they are led: not out of malice but out of ignorance, who would without doubt correct their ways, if they had the knowledge of the truth, if they were shewn the difference “between their right hand and their left,” i. e., between the truth of God and the lie of men.” But, beyond the immediate teaching to Jonah, God lays down a principle of His dealings at all times, that, in His visitations of nations, He Psalm 68:5, “the Father of the fatherless and judge of the widows,” takes special account of those who are of no account in man‘s sight, and defers the impending judgment, not for the sake of the wisdom of the wise or the courage of the brave, but for the helpless, weak, and, as yet, innocent as to actual sin. How much more may we think that He regards those with pity who have on them not only the recent uneffaced traces of their Maker‘s Hands, but have been reborn in the Image of Christ His Only Begotten Son! The infants clothed with Christ Galatians 3:27 must be a special treasure of the Church in the Eyes of God.
“How much greater the mercy of God than that even of a holy man; how far better to flee to the judgment-seat of God than to the tribunal of man. Had Jonah been judge in the cause of the Ninevites, he would have passed on them all, although penitent, the sentence of death for their past guilt, because God had passed it before their repentance. So David said to God 2 Samuel 24:14; “Let us fall now into the hand of the Lord, for His mercies are great; and let me not fall into the hand of man.” Whence the Church professes to God, that mercy is the characteristic of His power; ‹O God, who shewest Thy Almighty power most chiefly in shewing mercy and pity, mercifully grant unto us such a measure of Thy grace, that we, running the way of Thy commandments, may obtain Thy gracious promises, and be made partakers of Thy heavenly treasure. ‹“
“Again, God here teaches Jonah and us all to conform ourselves in all things to the Divine Will, that, when He commandeth any work, we should immediately begin and continue it with alacrity and courage; when He bids us cease from it, or deprives it of its fruit and effect, we should immediately tranquilly cease, and patiently allow our work and toil to lack its end and fruit. For what is our aim, save to do the will of God, and in all things to confirm ourselves to it? But now the will of God is, that thou shouldest resign, yea destroy, the work thou hast begun. Acquiesce then in it. Else thou servest not the will of God, but thine own fancy and cupidity. And herein consists the perfection of the holy soul, that, in all acts and events, adverse or prosperous, it should with full resignation resign itself most humbly and entirely to God, and acquiesce, happen what will, yea, and rejoice that the will of God is fulfilled in this thing, and say with holy Job, “The Lord gave, The Lord hath taken away; blessed be the Name of the Lord” Ignatius had so transferred his own will into the will of God, that the said, ‹If perchance the society, which I have begun and furthered with such toil, should be dissolved or perish, after passing half an hour in prayer, I should, by God‘s help, have no trouble from this thing, than which none sadder could befall me.‘ The saints let themselves be turned this way and that, round and round, by the will of God, as a horse by its rider.”
Carefully and solemnly those who received the message came up to the time when they hoped to meet their Lord. Every morning they felt that it was their first duty to secure the evidence of their acceptance with God. Their hearts were closely united, and they prayed much with and for one another. They often met together in secluded places to commune with God, and the voice of intercession ascended to heaven from the fields and groves. The assurance of the Saviour's approval was more necessary to them than their daily food; and if a cloud darkened their minds, they did not rest until it was swept away. As they felt the witness of pardoning grace, they longed to behold Him whom their souls loved. GC 403.1
But again they were destined to disappointment. The time of expectation passed, and their Saviour did not appear. With unwavering confidence they had looked forward to His coming, and now they felt as did Mary when, coming to the Saviour's tomb and finding it empty, she exclaimed with weeping: “They have taken away my Lord, and I know not where they have laid Him.” John 20:13. GC 403.2
A feeling of awe, a fear that the message might be true, had for a time served as a restraint upon the unbelieving world. After the passing of the time this did not at once disappear; at first they dared not triumph over the disappointed ones; but as no tokens of God's wrath were seen, they recovered from their fears and resumed their reproach and ridicule. A large class who had professed to believe in the Lord's soon coming, renounced their faith. Some who had been very confident were so deeply wounded in their pride that they felt like fleeing from the world. Like Jonah, they complained of God, and chose death rather than life. Those who had based their faith upon the opinions of others, and not upon the word of God, were now as ready again to change their views. The scoffers won the weak and cowardly to their ranks, and all these united in declaring that there could be no more fears or expectations now. The time had passed, the Lord had not come, and the world might remain the same for thousands of years. GC 403.3Read in context »
The experience of the former year was, however, repeated to a greater extent. A large class renounced their faith. Some, who had been very confident, were so deeply wounded in their pride that they felt like fleeing from the world. Like Jonah, they complained of God, and chose death rather than life. Those who had built their faith upon the evidence of others, and not upon the word of God, were now as ready to again change their views. The hypocrites, who had hoped to deceive the Lord as well as themselves with their counterfeit penitence and devotion, now felt relieved from impending danger, and openly opposed the cause they had lately professed to love. 1T 56.1
The weak and the wicked united in declaring that there could be no more fears or expectations now. The time had passed, the Lord had not come, and the world would remain the same for thousands of years. This second great test revealed a mass of worthless drift that had been drawn into the strong current of the advent faith, and been borne along for a time with the true believers and earnest workers. 1T 56.2
We were disappointed, but not disheartened. We resolved to submit patiently to the process of purifying that God deemed needful for us, and to wait with patient hope for the Saviour to redeem His tried and faithful ones. 1T 56.3Read in context »