A Question I Was Asked:

Is It Clear Whether Or Not God Destroyed Nineveh?

I am trying to work out whether or not God destroyed Nineveh. I am comparing Jonah 3:4 with Jonah 3:10.

UK Apologetics Reply:

This is not a difficult question.

After many years of Bible study and of frankly considering difficult Bible questions, I have no doubt that the Bible - when properly understood - NEVER contradicts itself. However, on a few occasions, one can form this impression, this is often due to one or more of the following:

On the Nineveh question, the last two points especially comes into play. My questioner compares two Bible verses but seems unaware of others and is not taking into account the fuller context. So let's look at those verses (which my questioner quotes), but immediately broaden it out to look at the fuller context:

1. Then the word of the Lord came to Jonah a second time: 2. "Go to the great city of Nineveh and proclaim to it the message I give you." 3. Jonah obeyed the word of the Lord and went to Nineveh. Now Nineveh was a very large city; it took three days to go through it. 4. Jonah began by going a day's journey into the city, proclaiming, "Forty more days and Nineveh will be overthrown." 5. The Ninevites believed God. A fast was proclaimed, and all of them, from the greatest to the least, put on sackcloth. (Jonah 3:1-5, NIV throughout).

Okay, this seems clear enough but now let us pick this up from verse 6:

6. When Jonah's warning reached the king of Nineveh, he rose from his throne, took off his royal robes, covered himself with sackcloth and sat down in the dust. 7. This is the proclamation he issued in Nineveh: "By the decree of the king and his nobles: Do not let people or animals, herds or flocks, taste anything; do not let them eat or drink. 8. But let people and animals be covered with sackcloth. Let everyone call urgently on God. Let them give up their evil ways and their violence. 9. Who knows? God may yet relent and with compassion turn from his fierce anger so that we will not perish." 10. When God saw what they did and how they turned from their evil ways, he relented and did not bring on them the destruction he had threatened. (Jonah 3:6-10).

Here our solution is simple and clear. The people of Nineveh repented on a large and quite impressive scale. This repentance caused God to turn from the punishment which He was about to bring upon this huge ancient city. We can read of this general principle in Jeremiah:

7. If at any time I announce that a nation or kingdom is to be uprooted, torn down and destroyed, 8. and if that nation I warned repents of its evil, then I will relent and not inflict on it the disaster I had planned. (Jeremiah 18:7-8).

So, in this case, a wider knowledge of the Bible shows that we should not be surprised that God relented from the punishment against Nineveh which He had planned. So we see that because of the warning which Jonah preached in that great city, Nineveh repented, this led to God turning from the destruction which He had earlier declared.

Footnote: What Later Happened to Nineveh?

Somewhere around 150-250 years after the time of Jonah, Nineveh was finally destroyed by an army of Medes and Chaldeans in 612 BC. Whether God later judged it to be worthy of destruction, or whether He simply allowed historical events to take their natural course we don't know.

Related Question: Did God Destroy Pompeii?

This example shows that there are times and places in which God may decide to intervene in a society and destroy it because of exceptionally great evil. We certainly know that this happened with the old world (prior to Noah), to Sodom and Gomorrah, and there is also strong evidence that God destroyed Pompeii because it had become an evil and corrupt society (the evidence of archaeology is very strong here). Apparently God used an eruption of Mount Vesuvius to do this. Vesuvius (on Italy's west coast) remains the only active volcano on mainland Europe. The eruption in A.D. 79 destroyed the cities of Pompeii and Herculaneum.

How About Hitler's Germany and Soviet Russia?

There is also no question that God eventually totally destroyed Hitler's Germany, He did this through the armies of USA, Britain, Russia and their allies. God can use earthquakes, great floods, volcanoes, meteorites, famines, armies, or other catastrophes to destroy any society which has plummeted to the depths of evil. In similar manner I have no doubt that it was God who destroyed the old Soviet Union. The great Russian writer Alexander Solzhenitsyn, imprisoned by the Soviets, converted to Christianity whilst in prison; he later wrote of the utter wretchedness of a society in which lies had become normal, nobody daring to speak the truth; the state itself was worshipped; hatred and coldness had become virtues. God acted. No, it wasn't the West who "won the cold war" (as we have all heard), it was - in my honest opinion - God who brought judgement upon the old Soviet empire; in this case, no major loss of life was involved in its demise. Officially atheist, it was later found that Christianity had been quietly surging ahead in Russia.

So God plainly allows for sinfulness among peoples but He reserves the right to dramatically intervene where any society becomes wretchedly evil to the core.

Robin A. Brace. January 29th, 2017.