Jonah, Mosul, and ISIS: Lessons for Us All

August 12, 2014

by Dr. David L. Allen
Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary

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Rabbi Benjamin Blech’s article in the July 31 edition of the Wall Street Journal, “Destruction of the “Tomb of Jonah” in Mosul (Ancient Nineveh),” is worth your time to read. Blech is a Talmud Professor at Yeshiva University in New York.

He laments the recent destruction of the “Tomb of Jonah” in Mosul by ISIS. Mosul, the second largest city in Iraq, is the modern site of ancient Nineveh, the capital of the Assyrian empire, a world power in the 8th century.

Anyone remotely familiar with the Bible knows that the Old Testament prophet Jonah preached in Nineveh, warning of God’s impending judgment unless the people repented of their sinful ways.

Interestingly, Jonah was the only Old Testament prophet sent by God to preach to the Gentiles. 

Blech points out that in the Quran, Muhammad himself described Jonah as “a righteous preacher of the message of God.” Muhammad apparently once warned that “One should not say that I am better than Jonah.”

The book of Jonah is a favorite Old Testament book among Christians. Jonah also is accorded a high position in Judaism today.

Rosh Hashanah, the celebration of the Jewish New Year, begins a 10-day period of repentance, also known as the Days of Awe, which concludes with Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement. Jewish tradition requires a recitation of Jonah’s four chapters as the concluding biblical message of the day in every Synagogue around the world.

Blech notes that the

“Talmudic rabbis felt that the book of Jonah captures the quintessential message for Yom Kippur because it is a story that reminds us that God judges the whole world—not only Jews but also the people of Nineveh as well as the rest of all mankind.”

What do we learn from Jonah?

We learn that God is the judge of all the earth and he will punish sin.

We learn that God does not desire the death of the wicked, but rather desires their repentance. “God is not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9)

We learn that repentance is possible.

We learn that God accepts a repentant heart. The people of ancient Nineveh were spared the wrath of God because they heeded the Word of God from the prophet Jonah.

In the swirling mayhem of the Middle East conflict, we all need to be reminded that one far greater than Jonah, Jesus Christ, once said in Luke 13:3: “Unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.”