Its Wickedness Has Come Up Before Me

The word of the Lord came to Jonah son of Amittai: “Go to the great city of Nineveh and preach against it, because its wickedness has come up before me.” (Jonah 1:1–2, NIV)

Nineveh, that great ancient city, was not so great in Jonah’s eyes. Rather than visit it as God’s appointed voice, our petulant little prophet beat feet in the opposite direction of God’s chosen course… but God corrected him before it was too late.

To say that this rebellion caused Jonah some trouble (and his shipmates some trouble!) would be an understatement. But it could have cost the Ninevites their lives! What did Jonah know about them that made him flee? Fortunately, it’s not what Jonah knew that counted; it’s what God knew… and God is always watching. Wickedness comes up before him as an unsavory aroma… and God will not tolerate assaults on his holiness forever.

“How long, Lord, will the wicked, how long will the wicked be jubilant? They pour out arrogant words; all the evildoers are full of boasting.” (Psalm 94:3–4, NIV)

We who try to follow God’s precepts often wonder, why does God allow the wicked to even live, let alone prosper? But the fact that he allows evil does not mean that he is happy about its particulars. It just means that he is longsuffering. He waits before exacting judgment — and this is a boon to the unsaved! So take heart; longsuffering has length… but it also has a terminus… so let’s not forget the process: “Its wickedness has come up before me.” God does not sleep, and eventually, all accounts come due.

We are focusing on Nineveh today, but let us not forget how God has dealt with the wickedness of his own people, Israel. He has dealt with them in famines, captivities, and dispersion (… apparently, the ungodly have not cornered the market on wickedness) … and we Christians know first hand that carrying God’s torch does not cancel out the effects of our free will.

So, when God sniffs the air for a sweet smelling savor, he may encounter the foul smell of sin — sin which has come up before him for judgment. When the time is right, he will do what his holiness demands. But in the case of Nineveh, he sent Jonah to give them one last wake-up call.

The glorious part of the story is that this wicked nation repented and saved itself from a Sodom and Gomorrah type of destruction… although Jonah was not particularly pleased with that outcome. I think that God was, though, since he stayed its destruction.

By way of contrast, Sodom did not make the cut. Beyond Lot’s family, not one element of righteousness could be found in that city. But in Nineveh, enough sense of God’s holiness and power remained. So, the people — and this included their king — put on sackcloth and ashes, and the nation was spared. You see, Nineveh turned God’s “delay” of judgment into repentance. That’s how salvation works. “Now” is the hour of salvation (2 Corinthian 6:2)… but “now” is different for different people.

You’ve heard it said that God’s ways are not our ways (Isaiah 55:8). Well, one of the ways this is true is that his timing is not our timing. Aren’t you glad that God had not exacted the price of wickedness from you before you fled to Christ?

Jesus’ death on the cross was the ultimate sweet-smelling savor to God — and the only one offered for salvation. Fortunately, the offer is also universal. “For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.” (Romans 10:13) — but beware! It’s is a limited time offer… and the Lord could have you stand for inspection today.

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