The first mention of the ancient city of Nineveh appears in Genesis 10:9-12. We are told that Nimrod, whose name means "we shall rebel," went to Assyria to build Nineveh. The book of Jonah calls it "the great city." It was known for its evilness, but in God's eyes, there is no one that cannot be redeemed. In His mercy and grace, He decided to send the prophet Jonah to Nineveh, the capital of the Assyrians, to preach against the wickedness of the people. As we know, Jonah had judged the people of this city and wanted no part of God's desire to redeem them. God demonstrated the extraordinary lengths to which He will go to bring us back to Him. He orchestrated a violent storm so that Jonah would be thrown into the sea and swallowed by a huge fish. After three days and nights in the belly of that fish Jonah became willing to speak to the people of Nineveh. The fish "vomited Jonah onto dry land," (Jonah 2:10), the shores of his destiny. He was now prepared to deliver a powerful message that had been formed through God's intervention and backed up with a mighty testimony.
"Jonah obeyed the word of the Lord and went to Nineveh. He proclaimed, 'Forty more days and Nineveh will be overturned,' When the news reached the king of Nineveh, he rose from his throne, took off his royal robes, covered himself with sackcloth and sat down in dust." (Jonah 3:3-6) The king decreed that neither man nor beast could eat or drink and that all should urgently call on God and give up their evil ways. (Jonah 3:7-9) As a result of their actions, God had compassion and did not bring destruction upon them. The repentance of the Ninevites may have lasted about 100 years; however, they eventually returned to their evil ways. God sent another prophet, Nahum, to tell Judah that their days of oppression would come to an end and that the Ninevites would be destroyed.
The plains of Nineveh and their surrounding cities are located in modern day Iraq. In the many years since the days of Jonah, there has been a Christian remnant. Franklin Graham, leader of Samaritan's Purse, wrote about the "historically Christian cities on the Nineveh Plains" in his most recent newsletter. Here is what he wrote when comparing his visit from last year and this year: "Neighborhoods had become battlefields, churches were charred, and all the families had fled. Even though ISIS was losing battles, it looked like the terrorists might have won their war to drive out Christians from Iraq. What a difference it was this Easter! In the largest Christian town of Qaraqosh, the cleaned-up streets were decorated with olive branches and filled with joyful Believers who celebrated the resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ along with the rebirth of their city."
Samaritan's Purse is investing in the future of the Iraqi towns that were once Christian. A gentleman named Yousif, whose home was rebuilt and is now the project manager for the Samaritan's Purse rebuilding project, gave his opinion: "This is the only thing you can do to keep Christianity here. Christianity is in danger now. Believers have been persecuted. They feel that there's hate and that they're unwanted. The only thing to connect them with their country is their homes." Franklin reports, "One pastor told us, 'When the evil one comes, it may look like he has the victory, but that's not the end of the story. The cross is. We stand firm in our faith. Why? Because our Lord says, ‘If God is for us, who can be against us?' (Romans 8:31 - NKJV) With God's help, Samaritan's Purse will do all we can to lift up the cross of the Lord Jesus Christ on the Nineveh Plains."
Amid their suffering, the people of the Nineveh Plains are lifting up the Cross as their testimony of God's faithfulness. We should do likewise. "We wait in hope for the Lord; He is our help and our shield. In Him our hearts rejoice for we trust in His holy name. May your unfailing love rest upon us, O Lord, even as we put our hope in You." (Psalm 33:20-22)
Joan E. Mathias