Prayers for the Nations
“Righteousness exalts a nation, but sin is a reproach to any people.” (Proverbs 14:34)
“Now the word of the Lord came to Jonah the son of Amittai, saying, ‘Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and call out against it, for their evil has come up before me.’…When God saw what they did, how they turned from their evil way, God relented of the disaster that he had said he would do to them, and he did not do it.” (Jonah 1:1-2; 3:10)
Nineveh was a great city filled with wickedness and godlessness. “The Assyrian empire was unusually violent. It slaughtered and enslaved countless people and oppressed the poor. It was renowned for its injustice, imperialism, and oppression of other countries…the text shows that the impulse toward exploitation and abuse was also eating away at the fabric of Nineveh’s society. It wasn’t merely that the Assyrians as a nation were oppressing other nations, but individuals were violent toward one another, poisoning social relationships.” (1)
God sent Isaiah, Jonah, Nahum, and Zephaniah to Nineveh to call its citizens to repentance (Isaiah 37:37; Jonah 1-4; Nahum 3; Zephaniah 2:13). God would not allow the people to continue in their rebellious ways, but he was gracious to give them many warnings. The response of Nineveh’s king led the way for the city to be preserved, at least temporarily (Jonah 3:6-9). “While [Scripture] says they “believed God” (Jonah 3:5), there is no indication that the Ninevites came into a covenant relationship with the God of Israel…There is no mention of the residents of Nineveh forsaking their gods and idols…This is why almost all commentators agree that Jonah did not successfully convert the Ninevites. What, then, was really happening?… the biblical text does not tell us that God sent Jonah with the purpose of converting the populace into a saving, covenant relationship with him. He was warning them about their evil, violent behavior and the inevitable consequences if they did not relent and change. Though the people of Nineveh do not forsake their idols and sacrifice to him, God in his mercy relents from his threat to destroy the city. For the time being, he expresses favor in response to the city’s intention and effort at social reform.” (2)
Eventually, Nineveh fell, but the people’s response to Jonah’s warning of their injustice will be remembered for all eternity. Jesus Christ admonished those who rejected him by recalling Nineveh’s repentance. “An evil and adulterous generation seeks for a sign, but no sign will be given to it except the sign of the prophet Jonah. For just as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth. The men of Nineveh will rise up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it, for they repented at the preaching of Jonah, and behold, something greater than Jonah is here.” (Matthew 12:39-41)
We are all blessed when a nation, a state, a city, or a community rejects oppressive, unjust treatment of its residents. When kings, presidents, governors, representatives, and mayors recognize the need for integrity and justice for all citizens, God is glorified by his common grace to reflect his image, in which we are all created. The Christmas season is an excellent time to pray for increased integrity and ethical morality in our communities and nations, for more than nostalgic acts of kindness. And every day is a good time to pray for people to know God’s special grace in Christ and his righteousness for repentance that leads to citizenship in heaven.
(1) Keller, Timothy, “The Prodigal Prophet: Jonah and the Mystery of God’s Mercy,” page 80-85, Jonah 3:1-10, Penguin Publishing Group, Kindle Edition.