THE ANCIENT CITY OF NINEVEH
First mentioned in the Bible in Genesis 10:11, the city of Nineveh was the capital of the ancient Assyrian Empire. It was located on the east side of the Tigris River (in the area of modern-day Iraq). We further read about Nineveh in seven additional Bible books: 2 Kings, Isaiah, Jonah, Nahum, Zephaniah, Matthew, and Luke. Having knowledge about that ancient city has the potential to help us understand and appreciate the Bible’s message.
The Ninevites may have had a sense that their city was impregnable. The city’s walls were huge, said to have been about 13km/8 miles long, some 9.75 meters/32 feet thick, and 23.2 meters/76 feet high. Yet, as mighty and intimidating as the city appeared to be, it was destroyed in 612 B.C. by the combined forces of Babylon and Medes.
For a long stretch of history, though the Bible has numerous references to Nineveh, because no non-biblical source was known to verify the city’s existence in the past, guess what some scoffers did? They reasoned that if Nineveh is mentioned only in the Bible, then those biblical references are not credible. Men continued to scoff at the idea that in the past there was a city called Nineveh which served as Assyria’s capital. With the passing of time, such foolish doubting of God’s word was shown to be just that – foolish. What occurred? In 1843-1845 A.D., archaeologists Botta and Layard discovered proof of the existence of Nineveh and the ancient library of the Assyrian king Ashurbanipal.
So, as it turns out, the Bible was correct after all in declaring that there was a city called Nineveh. No surprise there, because God’s word is inspired (2 Timothy 3:16). Brothers and sisters, because the Bible is inspired, it must be accurate not only in what it says about salvation, but its record of historical matters must be correct and reliable as well. Time and again the biblical-related findings of historians and archaeologists have demonstrated that the Bible’s message about people, places, things, and activities is accurate through and through. The Bible is God’s truth (John 17:17), and it does not need humans to find some artifact to verify that reality. However, it is amazing to observe that the Bible’s message, including what it says about Nineveh, is in harmony with verifiable history and archaeological findings. Doubters come and go, scoffers rise and fall, but the Bible marches on.
How is Nineveh connected to the history of the Bible and God’s scheme to save us through Jesus? In chronological order, the book of Jonah has the first direct reference to Nineveh since Genesis 10. And what is said about Nineveh in Jonah’s record (about 780 B.C)? Jehovah sent Jonah to Nineveh. He sent him there to preach His message (Jonah 1:2; 3:1,2). In the end, Jonah did that, and the people of Nineveh “believed God” (Jonah 3:5) and “turned from their evil way” in repentance (Jonah 3:10). Jesus confirmed that the Ninevites repented (Luke 11:32). Here is a brief look at some lessons that we can learn from the book of Jonah about Nineveh and its inhabitants:
– The huge city was known for its wickedness (Jonah 1:2). It stunk in the nostrils of God.
– Because the Lord counted the Ninevites as guilty of practicing wickedness, that means that they were under the law of God – there can be no sin/ transgression where there is no law (Romans 4:15). The people of Nineveh repented. Of what? Of sin. Yes, the Gentiles of the Old Testament era were obligated to serve Jehovah.
– City-wide repentance took place when Jonah preached God’s word (Matthew 12:41). Sometimes those whom we would least expect humble themselves and turn to God in faith and repentance.
– The people of Nineveh received God’s mercy and lovingkindness. How? He spared the city after He saw the change in their ways (Jonah 3:10; 4:2).
The book of Nahum (between 663 and 612 B.C.) has even more to say about Nineveh. In fact, the theme of this short book is “the burden against Nineveh” (Nahum 1:1), stated again as, “Nineveh is laid waste!” (3:7). Nahum clearly foretold the coming fall of Nineveh in B.C. 612. Here is a brief look at some lessons that we can learn from the book of Nahum about Nineveh and its inhabitants:
– When Jonah preached in Nineveh, the people forsook their evil ways. Over 100 years later, when Nahum wrote about the same place, the city once again was filled with ungodliness. This reminds us that the righteousness of one generation, family, or person cannot be transferred to another. People change. So do places and environments.
– Nahum described Nineveh as “. . . the bloody city! It is all full of lies and robbery” (3:1). What a reputation! Let us not forget: “A good name is to be chosen rather than great riches” (Proverbs 22:1).
– When Nineveh conspired against the Lord (1:9,11), it earned and heard this awful message from Him: “I am against you” (3:5). No one who is thinking properly wants to hear those words. Ever.
– Nineveh’s desolation did not come about by accident. The Babylonians and Medes are the humans who did the fighting against the city, but it was Jehovah God who said “I will” do it (2:13; 3:5,6). He Who raises up rulers and nations is also the One Who brings them down. Are we listening?
Oh, Nineveh the great, where art thou?! Thou art nowhere to be found. Why? Because those who lift themselves up against the true and living God cannot stand. Yes, the lessons from Nineveh live on.
— Roger D. Campbell