The prophet Jonah lived in the city of Gath-hepher (four miles north of Nazareth) in the reign of Israel’s king, Jeroboam II (2 Kings 14:25). Jonah was instructed by the Lord to go to Nineveh, a thriving city 500 miles to the east. There, he would proclaim the destruction of that metropolis on account of its wickedness.
Nineveh was the capital of Assyria — the nation that God had chosen to invade the northern kingdom of Israel (cf. Hosea 11:5; Amos 5:27) because of Israel’s many sins. One might think that Jonah would have relished delivering this message of doom to a national enemy. However, the prophet knew there was a possibility that Nineveh might repent, and if it did, surely the gracious and merciful Jehovah would lift the sentence and spare the nation (cf. 4:2). So Jonah felt it was best to disregard the divine commission and thus go elsewhere. The rest of the story is history.
There are two points here worthy of consideration.
- The fact that Nineveh was viewed as “wicked” demonstrates that they were accountable to divine law — even though they were Gentiles (see Romans 4:15; 1 John 3:4).
- God’s concern for these wayward people indicates that Jehovah was an international God even at that time, and it surely hints of the universal scope of the Messiah’s kingdom.