Having already covered all the ground in the Book of Jonah, this closing chapter draws from biblical study and reflection. It also sets the stage for the next books in The Jonah Cycle.
Let’s get back to interpreting dreams, or better put, Jonah’s ministry. Nahum opens Chapter 26 by reminding readers of an overlooked truth – that some Nineveh residents remained believers in the Lord long after the Dove’s passing.
Does this mean Jonah succeeded in his mission? Does it change how you look at his story?
What sort of life do you suspect those believers had in Nineveh? We have few clues, as Nahum found himself pulled around much of the known world at that time, ever an Assyrian slave or servant. But what he witnessed suggests believers in the heart of Assyria had a difficult time, with little hope for support or improvement. For as Nahum tells us, all those years later, “Nineveh is more decadent now than in Jonah’s time. It will perish, as the Dove foretold. The Lord shows me such signs each day.”
Jonah may have feared and foreseen the results of his Nineveh mission, but Nahum had to witness how those fears became harsh realities. “That was my greatest nightmare, seeing that vision of death come to pass,” he tells us. “I watched the siege of Samaria, and as a flesh-burner of Assyrian victims, I witnessed that capital’s collapse. My heart bled as the proud citizens of Israel fell captive, a whole tribe scattered and lost to make room for vagrant Assyrian peasants and nobility. I almost buckled under that burden the Dove had feared, the guilt of ministering to Nineveh. I have carried that guilt all my life.”
Nahum then asks the question readers may also wonder: “Why then was the journey of the Dove necessary at all? Are there limits to the Lord’s forgiveness?”
How would you answer that?
Nahum reminds us that Jonah’s ministry was not just to Nineveh, but to Israel. Having more than 2,000 years to reflect upon, modern readers should realize this rather quickly – after all, having the Book of Jonah included in the Bible is a pretty good giveaway – but Benjamin grasped this during their journey, as did the Dove. Yet even with the gift and witness of their visions, both of these prophets looked at their efforts in terms of preserving Assyria as a hand of God, so that the Lord could use it to punish the Hebrew people. Nahum speaks eloquently of this purpose.
But as he endures a life of trials and misery, Nahum remembers the people who came to believe in God through Jonah’s testimony, and how that ministry spread. “These Gentiles repented! Truly repented!” Nahum reminds us, overlooking the rebellious Tiglath-Pileser III and his works. “Yet when Amos spoke against Bethel and Samaria, we Hebrews laughed. When Elijah confronted our heathen priests, when God made water burn before our eyes and drew rain from dry air, we looked away. Why? Why did we turn from the One who had led us out of bondage? Why do we ignore the many, many miracles in our lives?”
Could the same accusations be made against us? We have the miracles of creation ever before us, the gift of salvation and grace always available through Christ, and the ever-present comfort of the Holy Spirit. Each of these represents miracles in their own right. Why do we so often ignore them?
Such thoughts lead Nahum to seek answers through his visions of the cross. “For only with such great sacrifice can our Lord God topple these walls we have built between Him and us,” he reminds readers. “And even that will human philosophy fight, as I saw in Jonah.”
Pondering this leads Nahum to foresee the resistance his Hebrew people will have toward Christ’s ministry: “For I now know the offering to Nineveh was to prime the theological well the coming Messiah must draw from – and Jonah the nationalist, Jonah the supremacist, wanted nothing to do with offering salvation to Gentiles.”
In a way, his logic mirrors the “faith vs. works” debates Christians still engage in today. “Nineveh illustrates that acceptance of the Lord is not enough,” Benjamin tells us. “The Assyrians failed to act on their faith, to live in His spirit. They will be punished. But the central truth remains, that God, in His love, granted even these evilest of souls a chance to change. They had a choice.”
What do you think?
Benjamin caps this with a bold statement: “Soon so shall we all.” What does this mean to you?