Ellen G. White Writings

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The Review and Herald

October 18, 1906

“Nineveh, That Great City”

Mrs. E. G. White

“Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and cry against it; for their wickedness is come up before me.”

This is the special message that God bade his servant Jonah bear in the ancient and populous city founded by Asshur, the son of Shem, who “went forth” from “the land of Shinar” about the time of the dispersion from Babel, “and builded Nineveh” along the fertile bank of the Tigris, over two hundred miles to the northward from Babylon.

Jonah was bidden to “cry against” the city, but he was averse to bearing any such message. Instead of obeying, he “rose up to flee unto Tarshish from the presence of the Lord, and went down to Joppa; and he found a ship going to Tarshish“: so he paid the fare thereof and went down into it, to go with them unto Tarshish from the presence of the Lord.”

God in his providence taught Jonah, by severe affliction, the lesson of obedience that enabled him to fulfil God's purpose in behalf of the inhabitants of Nineveh. The record of his experience, as given in the first and second chapters of Jonah, is worthy of most careful study.

“The word of the Lord came unto Jonah the second time, saying, Arise, go unto Nineveh, that great city, and preach unto it the preaching that I bid thee. So Jonah arose, and went unto Nineveh, according to the word of the Lord. Now Nineveh was an exceeding great city of three days’ journey, ... and he cried, and said, Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown.

“So the people of Nineveh believed God and proclaimed a fast, and put on sackcloth, from the greatest of them even to the least of them. For word came unto the king of Nineveh, and he arose from his throne, and he laid his robe from him, and covered him with sackcloth, and sat in ashes. And he caused it to be proclaimed and published through Nineveh by the decree of the king and his nobles, saying, Let neither man nor beast, herd nor flock, taste anything: let them not feed, nor drink water: but let man and beast be covered with sackcloth, and cry mightily unto God: yea, let them turn every one from his evil way, and from the violence that is in their hands. Who can tell if God will turn and repent, and turn away from his fierce anger, that we perish not?”

As the people of Nineveh humbled themselves before God, and cried to him for mercy, he heard their cry. “And God saw their works, that they turned from their evil way; and God repented of the evil that he had said that he would do unto them; and he did it not.”

But Jonah revealed that he valued the souls in that wretched city less than he valued his reputation. He feared lest he should be regarded as a false prophet. The compassion shown by God toward the repentant people “displeased Jonah exceedingly, and he was very angry.” “Was not this my saying,” he inquired of the Lord, “when I was yet in my country? Therefore I fled before unto Tarshish: for I knew that thou art a gracious God, and merciful, slow to anger, and of great kindness, and repentest thee of the evil.”

When Jonah saw the Lord exercising his compassionate attributes in sparing the city that had corrupted its ways before him, he should have co-operated with God in his merciful design. But he lost sight of the interests of the people. Again he yielded to his feelings, and, as the result, he was not grieved over the thought that so large a number must perish because they had not been taught to do right. He felt as if he would rather die than live to see the city spared; and in his dissatisfaction he exclaimed, “Now, O Lord, take, I beseech thee, my life from me; for it is better for me to die than to live.

“Then said the Lord, Doest thou well to be angry? So Jonah went out of the city, and sat on the east side of the city, and there made him a booth, and sat under it in the shadow, till he might see what would become of the city. And the Lord God prepared a gourd, and made it to come up over Jonah, that it might be a shadow over his head, to deliver him from his grief. So Jonah was exceeding glad of the gourd.”

Then the Lord gave Jonah an object-lesson. He “prepared a worm when the morning rose the next day, and it smote the gourd that it withered. And it came to pass, when the sun did arise, that God prepared a vehement east wind; and the sun beat upon the head of Jonah, that he fainted, and wished in himself to die, and said, It is better for me to die than to live. And God said to Jonah, Doest thou well to be angry for the gourd? And he said, I do well to be angry, even unto death.

“Then said the Lord, Thou hast had pity on the gourd, for the which thou hast not labored, neither madest it grow; which came up in a night, and perished in a night: and should not I spare Nineveh, that great city, wherein are more than sixscore thousand persons that can not discern between their right hand and their left hand; and also much cattle?”

Our God is a God of compassion. With long-sufferance and tender mercy he deals with the transgressors of his law. And yet, in this our day, when men and women have so many opportunities for becoming familiar with the divine law as revealed in Holy Writ, the great Ruler of the universe can not behold with any satisfaction the wicked cities, where reign violence and crime. If the people in these cities would repent, as did the inhabitants of Nineveh, many more such messages as Jonah's would be given.

Of the disobedient, God now declares: “Although they have been cumberers of my ground, I will forbear with them as long as there is a possibility of their repenting. Toward those who will choose to leave the ranks of the transgressors of my law, and to stand under the blood-stained banner of Prince Emmanuel, I will show mercy and forgiveness. But the end of my forbearance with those who persist in disobedience is approaching rapidly.”

Ought men to be surprised over a sudden and unexpected change in the dealings of the Supreme Ruler with the inhabitants of a fallen world? Ought they to be surprised when punishment follows transgression and increasing crime? Ought they to be surprised that God should bring destruction and death upon those whose ill-gotten gains have been obtained through deception and fraud? Notwithstanding the fact that increasing light regarding God's requirements has been shining on their pathway, many have refused to recognize Jehovah's supreme rulership, and have chosen to remain under the black banner of the originator of all rebellion against the government of heaven.

The forbearance of God has been very great,—so great that when we consider the continuous insult to his holy commandments, we marvel. The Omnipotent One has been exerting a restraining power over his own attributes. But he will certainly arise to punish the wicked, who so boldly defy the just claims of the decalogue.

Not long ago, in the visions of the night, I was in a large assembly, where the sacredness of God's law was being pointed out. With solemn earnestness a speaker read the one hundred and nineteenth, the one hundred and twenty-sixth, and the one hundred and twenty-seventh psalms. He declared that the wickedness of the world has reached a point where the Lord will certainly interfere. These words were repeated: “The Lord is slow to anger, and of great power, and will not at all acquit the wicked. The Lord hath his way in the whirlwind and in the storm, and in the bowels of the earth, and in the clouds wherewith he hides himself.”

By studying the story of the Amorites, we may learn a lesson regarding God's dealings with the transgressors of his law. God promised Abraham and his posterity the land of Canaan; but centuries passed by before this promise was fulfilled. One reason given was that the iniquity of the Amorites was not yet full. Though practising idolatry, they had not yet reached the full measure of guilt that was to bring upon them the vengeance of God. Finally, when their period of probation was ended, the command was given for their destruction.

God allows men a period of probation; but there is a point beyond which divine patience is exhausted and the judgments of God are sure to follow. The Lord bears long with men, and with cities, mercifully giving warnings to save them from divine wrath; but a time will come when pleadings for mercy will no longer be heard, and the rebellious element that continues to reject the light of truth, will be blotted out in mercy to themselves and to those who would otherwise be influenced by their example.

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