Now the word of Jehovah came unto Jonah the son of Amittai, saying, Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and cry against it; for their wickedness is come up before me.Jonah 1:1-2 ASV
The word Jonah means “dove,” the same “being a symbol of Israel,” and thus a most appropriate name for one whose life in this record must be seen as a typical prophecy of the future fate of Israel.
The word “Amittai” means truth. This word comes from the root of the Hebrew term which gives us “Amen”; thus, “Jonah son of Amittai means `mourning dove, son of truth.'”
This command in verse one, points to the prophetic conception of the Lord as the Ruler and Controller of all history, who had power over Nineveh just as he had over Jerusalem.
This verse also shows that God is angry with wickedness.
The present day conception of God as a mild, indulgent father-image of one who loves everybody no matter what they do, and as one who will never actually punish anyone, is a gross perversion of the truth.
Abel’s blood still cries to God from the ground (Genesis 4:10); Sodom and Gomorrah; Tyre and Sidon; the whole antediluvian world; and many other wicked civilizations were wiped off the face of the earth by divine judgments against their wickedness; and it is no contradiction of the love and justice of God who will surely spare the penitent, that he will also ultimately overthrow and destroy the wicked.
“Nineveh that great city …”
Nineveh, the capital of the Assyrian kingdom, and the residence of the great kings of Assyria, was founded by Nimrod (Genesis 10:11), and by Ninos, the mythical founder of the Assyrian empire, according to Greek and Roman writers who repeatedly referred to it as “that great city.”
The size of it is given as “three day’s journey” (Jonah 3:3); and this agrees with the writings of the classical Greek and Roman writers who called it the “greatest city in the world at that time.
Upon its walls 100 feet high, flanked with 1,500 towers, each 200 feet high, four chariots could drive abreast.
It filled, together with the adjoining suburbs, the whole space between the rivers Tigris, Khosr, the Upper, or Great Zab, the Gasr Su, and the mountainous boundary of the Tigris Valley on the east.
We need not be concerned with the speculations of writers who are intent upon discrediting the Biblical record, affirming that, its area was at most not more than three square miles!
The smaller dimensions of the city are actually founded upon excavations dating back to Sennacherib who fortified the city more than a hundred years after the times of Jonah; and the lesser dimensions of those fortifications should be applied to the inner citadel alone, and not to the whole city.
Nineveh comprised its occupied area and the surrounding territory, including the neighboring villages under its control. In Genesis 10:11,12, Rehoboth, Calab, and Resen are mentioned with Nineveh as `that great city.’
The Encyclopaedia Britannica gives the reason why so many cities were grouped together, the country is fertile and prosperous wheat land, which no doubt accounts for so many ancient cities so close to one another.
The wickedness of Nineveh was a scandal in the whole ancient world. The city was widely known as a center of fertility cult worship, and for its cruelty to the victims of warfare.
For twenty years, New York City’s Metropolitan Museum of Art exhibited friezes from the palaces of Ashurnasapal and Ashur-banipal, (later than Jonah) in which the numerous human figures were depicted with all of the muscles and tendons of the body articulating separately and exposed with almost surgical accuracy, indicating that the Assyrian artists were more familiar with the human body without its skin than they were with its normal appearance.
Nineveh did not survive after Jonah long, only about 200 years passing till it was utterly and completely destroyed, showing that their repentance was partial and incomplete.
Yet, significantly, God’s purpose in using Nineveh as his razor to punish Israel was made possible by the greater power and glory that came to the great Assyrian city after their brief period of repentance and seeking the blessing of God.
The city fell in 612 B.C.
About 612 B.C., the city was destroyed by a coalition of armies from Babylon and Medo-Persia. It happened exactly as the prophet Nahum predicted it.
Its destruction was so complete that its size was forgotten.
When Xenophon and his 10,000 passed by 200 years later, he thought the mounds were the ruins of some Parthian city; and when Alexander the Great fought the famous battle of Arbela near the site of Nineveh in 331 B.C., he did not know there had ever been a city there.
Thus it was no empty warning that the prophet uttered against this great center famed for its terrible sins.