New Life Church | Daily Devo – Mark Davis

Cultural context of the book of Jonah: Assyrian Empire.

JONAH’s CALL to Nineveh: 760BC. In order to understand the magnitude of God’s grace and patience with Ninevah, we must understand what God is being gracious and patient about. “The Assyrians were a fearsome society. Nineveh’s violence is particularly singled out in the book of Jonah (3:8) and by the prophet Nahum. Assyria had the most efficient charioteers of the day. Reliefs depict chariots with two to four armed men. Once a city was defeated, they were known to torture captives. King Asshur-banipal, in his annals, brags about ripping out tongues of blasphemers, smashing people under statues, and slicing bodies into chunks of meat for the animals. They used torture and mutilation as a political tactic to warn countries who might want to war against them. They would commonly skin captors and wrap columns with the skin. It was horrific. It was well known that if a city was under siege and about to fall, the people within the city would choose suicide over the torture they would endure at the hand of the Assyrians.

Nineveh was the capital city of Assyria. It was home to about 120,000 citizens at the time of Jonah (3:3; 4:11) and was located in what is now northern Iraq across the Tigris River from the modern city of Mosul. Palaces and gardens decorated the city. In addition, it was one of several centers for the Assyrian army’s military. Troops would be equipped, trained, and dispatched from there. Despite its prominence, several events close to Jonah’s prophetic message might have contributed to the people’s readiness to repent. Assyria was experiencing a famine, and a total solar eclipse occurred in June of 763 BC. Pagan religious beliefs held that calamity came from offending one of the deities. Consequently, it is possible that their repentance was not a complete turn to the Lord but rather a pagan response to a divine oracle. If this is true, readers would be even more amazed that God still temporarily held back His judgment in His grace. God’s judgment eventually did fall on the city. A combined army of Chaldeans and Medians destroyed Nineveh in 612 BC.”