Mention the word “Nineveh” and you may get a variety of reactions. Some people may be very familiar with what it is. Others may scratch their heads and think, “Where have I heard of that name before?” However, if you speak in regards to “Jonah in the belly of the whale” almost everyone will immediately recognize this event as being connected to Nineveh. 

In Jonah 1:2  God told Jonah to “Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and cry out against it.” Nineveh was a city and the capital of the Assyrian Empire. Ancient historians believe that it was once the largest city in the world.  God directed Jonah to go to it because He felt that the city needed to repent of its  sins and wanted Jonah to preach to the citizens. Initially, Jonah did not obey God but instead fled to another city called Tarshish by way of a ship headed in the opposite direction from Nineveh. Jonah ended up in the belly of a whale due to his disobedience to God’s command. God caused a great storm to arise which put the ship and its crew in peril as it made its way to Tarshish. During the storm, Jonah voluntarily agreed to be tossed overboard so that the ship might be spared once the sailors discovered that he (and his disobedience to God) was the root cause of their problems. Once Jonah was tossed overboard, God prepared a great fish to swallow him. Jonah spent three days and three nights in the belly of the fish (Jonah 1:17). Jonah begged God for His mercy day and night until he was finally released from the fish. Jonah then boarded a ship to Nineveh in order to preach to its people as God had originally directed (Jonah 3:1-3).

You may be wondering what all of this has to do with you. You’re probably thinking, I’m not going on any deep sea fishing expeditions to Nineveh or any place else, so the likelihood of getting swallowed by a fish is small to none. Must you literally be going to a city and be swallowed by a whale before “Nineveh” is applicable to you? Or is “Nineveh” a place of vulnerability for us all?

I remember wrestling with my own “whale” several years ago after God directed me to “go to Nineveh.” I was working at the time as a therapist for an organization that contracted with a local school district to provide therapy to at-risk teens and their families. I loved my job helping teens and respected the people with whom I worked. I felt so fortunate to be working with great teachers and school staff who seemed to really care about their students. It was during this time that I began to feel prompted to leave my position. I couldn’t believe it. Why would God want me to leave such a great position? I felt that I was making a positive impact on the students and worked well with the school staff in accomplishing my therapeutic goals. 

At first, I ignored God’s promptings as something I had just misinterpreted. When they didn’t go away, I began to ignore them intentionally even though I was confident that God was directing me to leave. Due to my disobedience, like Jonah, I ended up in the belly of my own “whale” that I created. The more I ignored God, the less I began to enjoy my job. 

I had always been someone who couldn’t wait to get to work. I usually arrived hours before everyone else so that I could meet with parents, collaborate with teachers, and prepare for the day ahead. Soon I began to find it increasingly difficult to get to work in the morning and the extensive paperwork that had never bothered me before became a complete drudgery. Part of my position also required that I type progress notes for each client that I saw in therapy. It was imperative that these notes were done in a timely manner. My notes were always done on time and I used to do them with ease. However, after ignoring God for almost a year, I remember that it got to a point where I could hardly type a progress note at all. I felt that each stroke of the keyboard required more and more effort that I no longer seemed to have. As God had corrected Jonah by creating a “great storm,” He had also done so with me, fortunately on a much smaller scale, but with similar impact. God was getting my attention by allowing what I had loved to be turned into something I dreaded. I finally relented and obeyed Him by leaving my job. Something, as with Jonah, I should have done when I initially was prompted to go.

Some Bible scholars have pondered the question as to why Jonah would have refused to listen to God and not travel to Nineveh when he was first directed to do so. There are a variety of theories. Jonah may have felt it to be too difficult a task; he could have been ridiculed or even killed. Others believe that Jonah wanted the Assyrians in Nineveh to be punished for their sin and not to be saved as God ultimately allowed. There may be other reasons as well. It could also have been the same reason why I didn’t leave my job when God first told me to do so. In short, I didn’t want to be put in a place of vulnerability and I lacked faith. I would be leaving a salaried position that I had been at for four years. I was secure in my position, well-respected by the teachers with whom I worked, and there was no end in sight. I was good at what I did and didn’t want to give that up. Most likely, I could have worked in that position until I decided I wanted to leave. Why give up security for the unknown? I didn’t have to be vulnerable, rely on faith, and ultimately trust God because I was “comfortable.” As with Jonah, God was not interested in me “being comfortable.”

God didn’t share with me what my future would be. He wanted me to just “arise and go to Nineveh” trusting that He knew what He was doing and that my obedience would be in my best interest. He was right! Leaving my position and opening an office in private practice has allowed me to serve more people than I ever could have at the school. Additionally, I can now freely speak about God to those clients seeking Christian-based therapy. This was something that I was not permitted to do in a public school setting. I have also found that as a Christian Therapist I can better serve those who want to come to know God and those who want to enhance their relationship with Him. Like Jonah, when I decided to listen to God and travel to my place of vulnerability, or “Nineveh,” He was able to work through me to reach more people.

All of us have a “Nineveh” in our lives. We are all human and don’t like feeling vulnerable. Having faith is not always easy, especially when we’re well-entrenched in our comfort zone. We typically seek comfort rather than risk the unknown. Listening to promptings from God can leave us feeling uncomfortable and insecure. However, it is in the unknown, discomfort, and insecurities that God can use to help us fulfill His plan for us. It is during these times of vulnerability that we can grow in our relationship with God if we choose to go to “Nineveh.”

Susan J. Calloway Knowles is a Licensed Christian Marriage & Family Therapist and former practicing Family Law Attorney. She is also a Christian music Songwriter. Susan’s songs can be found at www.worshipsong.com. Her website is www.susanknowles.com.

Publication date: December 4, 2012