How amazing is the title 'great city which the Lord gave to Nineveh! The Lord repeated it twice to Jonah: "Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city" (Jon. 1:2 & 3:2). This expression was repeated a third time by the Divine Inspiration when we read:
"Now Nineveh was an exceedingly great city, a three day journey extent" (Jon. 3:3). This title was repeated for the fourth time at the end of the Book when the Lord said: "And should I not pity Nineveh, that great city, in which are more than one hundred and twenty thousand persons who cannot discern between their right hand and their left, and also much livestock?" (Jon. 4:11).
How wondrous that the Lord calls it four times 'great city' whilst it was a gentile and ignorant city whose people could not discern between their right hand and their left. It deserved the prophet's warning of destruction, being wicked, whose wickedness had come up before the Lord. As far as spiritual criteria are concerned, it had no aspect of greatness whatsoever!
Was it a condescension from God in using human expression, so He called it great being a capital city and having more than one hundred and twenty thousand persons?
Or did God behold it in its oncoming greatness in repentance, being a gentile that would reproach the Jews, as the Lord said of it: " The men of Nineveh will rise in the judgment with this generation and condemn it, because they repented at the preaching of Jonah; and indeed a greater than Jonah is here" (Matt. 12:41).
The title 'great city' which the Lord gave to Nineveh is a beneficial lesson to those who walk by the letter and are meticulous in their usage of terms so that they complicate matters and subject the spirit to the literal meaning of words!
God commanded Jonah to cry out against Nineveh's destruction, yet at the same time He was disposing salvation for its people, and we have discussed this issue before here on st-takla.org in other pages. He loved them and wanted to save them, without them asking.
The Book of Jonah gives us a comprehensive idea of how God detests sin and yet at the same time has compassion on sinners and seeks their salvation.The saying of Nineveh gives us an idea of how God cares for the gentiles, because the Jews thought that God was only for them, and that it was only they who followed and worshipped Him, being His people and His flock. God showed them in the story of Nineveh that he had other sheep not of that flock. In the same way that He reproved His servant Jonah through the faith of the gentile mariners, He also reproved the Jews through the faith of the Ninevites and their repentance; that repentance which was indeed great in its depth and in its efficacy.
H. H. Pope Shenouda III
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