Why did Assyria repent with Jonah’s half-hearted message?

Posted: July 9, 2011 in Christian

I am a detail oriented person and I discover the more details I can work out, the more I understand the text. I have always believed that the scripture means what it says, and says what it means, but Proverbs also teaches God hides jewels within the text for us to search out and discover.

Proverbs 25:2 [It is] the glory of God to conceal a thing: but the honour of kings [is] to search out a matter. (KJV)

The following topic is one of those personal discoveries of mine that I believe will support further research. This type of subject, basically bores my wife to tears, but I find it fascinating.

Why did Assyria repent when Jonah told them they had 40 days?

One of my favorite prophets is Jonah. I wrote a synopsis of the book previously and something that has been in the back of my mind since I wrote it is this. Why did these Assyrians that worshiped different deities, primarily a fish god, so completely and so swiftly, turn from their normal practices and suddenly fear a foreign God to the point they even dressed their farm animals in sackcloth and ashes to make sure they were covering all bases in showing their abject remorse. Why did they, as a gentile nation that had attacked and dominated the whole region, including Israel, for decades, fall before the mercy of The Lord when a sullen Jew suddenly comes storming through Nineveh spewing a message of destruction in forty day unless they repent and show remorse? I think I have the answer.

I have been listening to a verse by verse commentary on the books of I & II Kings by Chuck Missler of K House, and I started thinking about some of the events surrounding the Northern Kingdom of Israel and some the different times that the Northern Kingdom of Israel was threatened or attacked and how that their obstinance, ingratitude and unfaithfulness toward The Lord led to their eventual domination by the Kingdom of Assyria. For example, one of the neighbors of Israel was Syria. In I Kings chapter twenty, the King of Syria*1 gathers his superior forces together (along with the forces of thirty two allied kings) to attack Israel which was being ruled by Ahab, one of the most wicked and one of the most paganistic kings of Israel that has been recorded. Even though The Lord’s blood pressure skyrocketed, in my mind at least, every time Ahab and his administration sunk to a new low (which was often), The Lord protected Ahab and his people up north until He was ready to punish them. So The Lord sent a prophet to tell Ahab that he would win the day against his adversaries. I’m sure King Ahab was stunned at this grace of The Lord, but he did as he was told and they tromped a superior Syrian alliance. The Syrians recognized the victory over their forces was the work of The God of Israel, only they didn’t understand just how powerful he actually is, for in I Kings chapter twenty verse twenty-three they decide it was just a tactical disadvantage that caused the route that day.

I Kings 20:23 And the servants of the king of Syria said unto him, Their gods [are] gods of the hills; therefore they were stronger than we; but let us fight against them in the plain, and surely we shall be stronger than they. (KJV) This seemed to rile The Lord for He basically said, “God of the Hill, huh! I’ll show them a hill or two”, in some following verses.

I Kings 20:26-29 And it came to pass at the return of the year, that Benhadad numbered the Syrians, and went up to Aphek, to fight against Israel. And the children of Israel were numbered, and were all present, and went against them: and the children of Israel pitched before them like two little flocks of kids; but the Syrians filled the country. And there came a man of God, and spake unto the king of Israel, and said, Thus saith the LORD, Because the Syrians have said, The LORD [is] God of the hills, but he [is] not God of the valleys, therefore will I deliver all this great multitude into thine hand, and ye shall know that I [am] the LORD. And they pitched one over against the other seven days. And [so] it was, that in the seventh day the battle was joined: and the children of Israel slew of the Syrians an hundred thousand footmen in one day. (KJV) After that, the king of Syria put on sackcloth and fell on the mercy of Ahab and the formed a treaty which lasted for several years. So here we see the beginning of understanding of the neighboring gentile nations of the power of The God of Israel. The people of the region may have heard and possibly remembered the legends of the exploits of God in bringing the nation of Israel out of Egypt, but that would have been almost five hundred years in the past and would have been just that, legends.

These military successes by God struck a note in the mind of the Syrians, for in II Kings chapter five we find the story of the Commander-In-Chief of the Syrian army, Naaman who was afflicted with some form of leprosy, which reigned as one of the most feared diseases throughout the ages. Naaman finds out about a prophet of God named Elisha and ends up traveling to see Elisha to request he ask The Lord of Israel to heal him, which demonstrates the belief of the power of Our Lord, even among the gentile nations. In II Kings chapter six, once again we find a King of Syria who didn’t do his homework, attacking the Northern Kingdom of Israel, and once again, the king of Syria finds his forces dominated, though they were more humiliated, rather than defeated this time by The Lord which reinforced the exclusive dominance of The Lord of Israel over whoever chooses to go against Him. All these events would not only have been recorded in the royal chronicles and annuls but would have spread by word of mouth from household to household in every country within the region .

Following all this, we see rising on the horizon, the Empire of Assyria which first overruns Damascus, then they attack Samaria, the capital of Israel and creates a vassal state out of the nation of Israel. Because Assyria had control over all the nations of the region, they had access to all the significant documents of the different kingdoms and therefore they would have seen the records of repetitive miraculous victories by an inferior force over substantially superior forces which would have been attributed to The Lord God of Israel*2 and how He showed his might over all the other gods. This, I’m sure, would have stayed with the Assyrians and would help explain why they repented on spec when Jonah went rushing in with his prophecy of doom.

God Bless, Jim

7-9-11

*1  Not be confused with Assyria…Syria was a country to the north-east that occupied a portion of the land in present-day Syria and Damascus was it’s capital. Assyria was even further away to the northeast in present-day Iraq and it’s capital was Nineveh.

*2  All nations relied heavily on their gods and whenever there was a totally lopsided victory, eventually they would understand that The God of Israel was behind it and was more powerful than their deities, therefore they would give him deference. God seemed to make a believer out of everyone in the region except for the Nation of Israel, which is just bizarre in my mind.

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