This year I am teaching through the Minor Prophets. That study has caused me to see the news differently than I would have before. A recent article caused me to reconsider a group of people living in that ancient land today. We know them as ISIS.
Jonah was sent to Ninevah, the capital of Assyria. Ancient Ninevah is across the river from Mosul, the headquarters for much of what ISIS is accomplishing today. When Jonah was asked to go to this region he ran the other way. After a few days in the belly of a fish, he chose to walk straight into Ninevah and preach God’s warnings. Jonah had come to realize that nothing was as important as obedience to God’s call. And the word of God, more powerful than any sword, brought the Assyrians to their knees.
The repentance that Jonah witnessed didn’t last long. About 80 years after Jonah preached to the people of Ninevah, Nahum wrote his prophecy against the people of that land. Nahum 1:14 says, “The Lord has given a command concerning you, Nineveh: “You will have no descendants to bear your name. I will destroy the images and idols that are in the temple of your gods. I will prepare your grave, for you are vile.” Ancient Ninevah was destroyed by the Babylonians and is still dirt and ruins today. A recent news article reports that many of the people dwelling in that region today have, once again, become vile. We need another Jonah.
USA Today ran the article on the second page, telling the story of a 17-year old girl who showed up at a hospital in Northern Iraq on February 10th. She had escaped her captors, the soldiers of ISIS, during a recent airstrike. She had to leave her sisters behind and was almost dead when she arrived at the hospital, but she has survived to tell her story. Nareen Shammo, a journalist, is determined to share her story, and the stories of many others with the world.
Shammo is now a target of ISIS. She has interviewed and helped as many women as she can who have escaped from ISIS and suffered their evil. She told USA Today, “Girls, some as young as 13, awarded as prizes to Islamic State fighters; some forced into marriage. Women routinely raped, sold in slave markets and passed around as playthings. She heard accounts of forced conversions, suicides and babies ripped from mothers’ arms.” She also said that the women were often used to provide blood transfusions for injured ISIS soldiers. Another article in the same edition of the paper reported that mass graves have been found containing bodies that had vital organs removed, supposedly for use on the black market. The Assyrians have become ISIS and are once again a people who are hated and feared.
Nareen Shammo represents the group of people that ISIS has determined should be cleansed from the land. They are known as Yazidi. The Yazidi people are predominantly Kurdish and have a religion that is a combination of Judaism, Christianity, Islam and Zoroastrianism. ISIS believes them to be infidels and therefore believe they are justified in whatever evil treatment is given.
Jonah ran from God’s call to preach to Ninevah. The Assyrians were the most hated and feared people of his day. Most of us feel the same towards the people of ISIS. Jonah didn’t want to die, and he surely didn’t want to die by the tortuous methods the Assyrians were known for. But I believe there was an even greater aversion in Jonah’s soul. Is it possible that Jonah didn’t think the evil people of Assyria deserved to know his God? Is that why Jonah sat on a mountain and prayed, “Isn’t this what I said, Lord, when I was still at home? That is what I tried to forestall by fleeing to Tarshish. I knew that you are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abounding in love, a God who relents from sending calamity. Now, Lord, take away my life, for it is better for me to die than to live.” But the Lord replied, “Is it right for you to be angry?” (Jonah 4:2-4).
In a sense, Jonah watched ISIS repent before God and go unpunished for the evil things they had done in the past. God forgave the ISIS group of that day and his unchanging nature would suggest that he wants to do the same thing today. God is slow to anger and abounding in love. Is he relenting from sending calamity? Does that make us angry? Are we like Jonah?
I think I am going to pray for the salvation of ISIS. I know it seems impossible but it was no different in Jonah’s day. I know it feels like ISIS should pay for their heinous crimes. Jonah felt the same way. Nothing is impossible for God, so shouldn’t we pray for the impossible? Will you join me? What if God’s people prayed for the leaders of ISIS every time we heard them mentioned in the news? How would God honor those prayers? Would the news reports begin to change?
We need another Jonah. There are many that need to be saved physically and spiritually from all that ISIS represents. Our Bible shows us that their repentance and salvation is possible. Let the news prompt you to pray. God has a plan for the people of that land today just like he did in Jonah’s day. Will they repent and be saved, or will he bring judgment on them for their sins? One thing is certain, God will respond.