South Sydney Anglican Church


30 July 2023

Bible Passage: Jonah 3:1-10

Jonah Obeys God and Nineveh is brought to Repentance

Intro:  Well morning friends and visitors. My name is Matt Johnson and today we continue our study of Jonah. Last week, we considered THE MIRACLE of Jonah and the whale. This week we consider THE MIRACLE of the whole city of Nineveh repenting and turning to the Lord. Can such miracles actually take place?

PRAYER:  Well this week, in our STAFF PRAYER MEETING we were reading Jonah 3 and Seti said it reminded him of the story of TONGA. As many of you will know Tonga is a very Christian country. But it has not always been this way.

Prior to Christianity – the islands were broken up into different tribal groups – that were constantly killing each other. It was quite brutal and violent. There was also some weird transgender stuff going on – where little boys were being turned into girls called Fa’afafini. Fa’afafini are kind of gender fluid or transgender people. Like many indigenous cultures the religion behind this way of life was very animistic – with the people worshipping all sorts of spirits and even objects. This made the islands all very dark – spiritually.

But this all began to change in the late 1700’s when ten Christian missionaries from the London Missionary Society (CMS) arrived in Tonga. Shortly after this, in the early 1800’s a couple of Methodist Missionaries also arrived in Tonga and they were able to evangelize one of the most powerful and brutal tribal chiefs. (His name was Tāufaʻāhau). He heard the gospel, became a Christian and over a relatively short period great change started to take place in Tonga. All the warring chiefs began to acknowledge Taufa’ahua 1 as a good and proper leader and he became known as King George Tupou.

According to tradition, King George Tupou dedicated the Kingdom of Tonga to God at his baptism in 1831. King George Tupou then called the islands to repent of their animism, accept Jesus as Lord and practice the beliefs of Christianity. This led to great, tangible change in Tonga and they became a unified Christian country in 1852.

Each year on the 1st July – Tongans celebrate the coming of Christianity to the islands. It is called ‘the coming of light’ against the po’uli’ (which means darkness). So can the faithful preaching of God’s word bring real change to whole cities and nations? THE ANSWER is yes? God did it, not that long ago, with the islands of Tonga. Such miracles are possible. So today we are going to look at 1) what Jonah does, 2) then how Nineveh responds and 3) then what God decides…

Point 1:           Jonah preaches God’s Pending Judgment for Sin

Show:             Jon.3:1-4 (READ)

Explain:          Well as you can see – Jonah now obeys God. These opening verses are largely a repeat of what Jonah was told in chapter 1. The wickedness of Nineveh has come up before God and Jonah is told to go and preach against the city. The first time around – Jonah ran for the hills – because the Assyrians had a nasty habit of castrating their enemies. So, Jonah ran away.

But after his 3 days and 3 nights in the whale (or in Sheol, the place of the dead) – Jonah is a little more compliant. Jonah is beginning to see that running away from God does not end well. So Jonah decides to go to Nineveh and do what God says…  But Jonah is not the only being or person in Nineveh with a three day and three night story in the underworld. The highest “god” in Nineveh was ISHTAR OR INNANA who has a similar story (Slide 3). So a little bit of background. Now you may think this ancient god has nothing to do with us in Sydney today. Well… (Slide 5-9).

Now friends it even gets a bit weirder. In the early 1900’s a Scottish Presbyterian – claimed that the word EASTER gets its name from ISHTAR. Ishtar-Easter. Now whether the two words are linked etymologically (like many people claim on the internet) is uncertain. But here’s where it gets messy (and undeniable). Ishtar has a 3 day and 3 night – death and resurrection story that was celebrated in Nineveh every year – on the Spring equinox about the same time as Passover and Christian Easter. This is historically verifiable. ISHTAR is also one of the oldest known god’s of archaeology. According to Sumerian texts – Ishtar is in a Garden of Eden type story with a serpent. ISHTAR is also in the Epic of Gilgamesh, (an alternate Noah and the flood story) and it’s her rainbow shaped and coloured necklace that supposedly forms the sign of protection in the sky. Now by the time of JonahIshtar or Innana (and her partner Tammuz) were corrupting the true worship of God in Israel. Let me show you just a few references…

SHOW:          (Slide 10; Jer.7:18 & Slide 11 – Ezek.8:14)

Now why are the women of Israel mourning for Ishtar’s husband – Tammuz? Well, the MOST FAMOUS STORY of Ishtar is called “Innana’s descent into the Underworld.(Slide 12).

NOW THIS MYTH tells how Ishtar/Innana went to the place of the dead and then came back alive. Now while Ishtar is the underworld all sexual activity on earth stops – because she is the god of sex. This causes GREAT GRIEF on earth because there is no sex. So after 3 days and 3 nights (explicitly stated in the myth) another god – ENKI sends two transgender people called “GALA” to help Ishtar. We are specifically told they are not male or female… (Now we’ll come back to this part of the story in a little while…). But the demons of the Underworold agree to let Ishtar return to the land of the living if she hands over to them A SUBSTITUTE in her place. When Ishtar returns to the land of the living she has to give the demons a kind of substitute in her place. This is kind of a reverse gospel. So Ishtar (enters a covenant with death) agreeing to sacrifice someone else to save herself (Isa.28:15). Now when Ishtar rises from the grave – she finds everyone mourning, fasting and weeping in sackcloth (a little like the Jonah story) – because they are without sex and without Ishtar. So everyone is in mourning.

Except Ishtar finds her own husband Tammuz – dressed in his normal clothes, eating and drinking and enjoying himself. So she gives Tammuz to the gala and they take him back to the place of the dead. Ishtar or Innana then restores sexual activity (which is celebrated in a giant orgy) and she is worshipped in Nineveh and Assyria as the supreme god (of both the living and the dead).[1]

Now interestingly, the phrase that Jonah was inside the fish for THREE DAYS AND THREE NIGHTS is the exact same language of Ishtar being in the underworld for THREE DAYS AND THREE NIGHTS. And according to Jonah chapter 2 – Jonah went down to Sheol – the place of the dead – just like Ishtar. What is going on? Well, first of all, I think the Jews (who are the main readers of this book) are meant to see that Jonah didn’t have to give up his spouse, or sacrifice someone else to get out of Hades. THE GOD OF THE BIBLE simply had the power to save Jonah from Hades because God is more powerful than Ishtar or Tammuz. But I think there is also a character issue…

Apply:            As Christians, we know the reason Jonah could escape Hades (and all of God’s people can escape Hades) is because in the end God sends a Jewish Messiah to save his people. This Messiah (Jesus); the King of Heaven dies on a cross and goes to Hades so that his people can be set free. The KING OF HEAVEN sacrifices Himself and goes to Hades to save others. The Queen of Heaven sacrifices others (even her husband) to save herself from Hades. This is not just a superior God, but a superior gospel.

Now whether you think THE TRUE GOD A) sacrifices self to save others or B) sacrifices others to save self – ultimately determines how you live. Nineveh became a city of great violence, deception and back-stabbing because following the example of Ishtar – everyone was willing to kill, betray, sacrifice others (even closest family and children) in order to save self. It was like Sydney today – where self-love was more important than loving others. So Jonah gave people 40 days to repent…

Point 2:           The Ninevites Believed and Repented of their Sin

Show:             Jon.3:5-6 (READ)

Explain:          Well as Jonah calls the people of Nineveh to repent, they actually listen. When word gets to the King of Nineveh he issues an official decree telling everyone in verse 8 to give up their evil ways and their violence. And incredibly everyone complies. This is truly miraculous (and if God has done this before) he could do it again.

Now the King calls people to repent of their 1) evil ways and 2) their violence. Now the word EVIL – is the same word used in Genesis for the tree of good and evil. EVIL is the opposite of good. But EVIL is also the perversion of what is good. In the Bible evil is regularly tied to immorality, and especially sexual immorality. And in Nineveh there was a lot of sexual immorality. Remember, how sex on earth was supposedly  lost – while Ishtar – was in the underworld. Then thanks to a couple of transgender people called “gala” – sex was restored? Well, this belief system led to some pretty, wild, crazy sexual perversity. What we believe tends to shape how we live…

There are a lot of historical records about Assyria and Nineveh’s spirituality. 1) Shrine prostitution, 2) transgenderism and 3) homosexuality were all part of worshiping Innana or Ishtar. In a poem to Ishtar called “Lady of the Largest Heart” it says (Slide 14) After giving up marriage and her husband – Ishtar became a kind of gender-fluid Mardi-Gras god – who some people in the lgbtqia community are beginning to honour. Let me tell you about the lgbtqia of Nineveh.

(Slide 15) In Nineveh there was a group of people called the “GALA” (who like the two gala who helped Ishtar) – were people who didn’t identify as male or female. They considered themselves gender fluid or gender ambiguous. Then, there was another group called the ASSINU – who were passive, effeminate, homosexual men. And in the worship of Ishtar – heterosexual men were expected to sometimes have sex with “Assinu” – to get special blessings from Ishtar.

So really everyone was becoming BI-SEXUAL. Finally, there were a third group called the “KURGARRU” – who were men who were castrating themselves and dressing like women. (Who said there is nothing new under the sun. Oh, that’s right God). Anyway, with such activity taking place AND being celebrated publicly – GOD GIVES THE CITY forty days to repent (or reap the whirlwind).

The second thing Nineveh is called to give up (in verse 8) is the VIOLENCE. This word is always linked to sin. It is not the sort of violence that comes from natural disasters. It is the violence that comes from lawlessness. The Assyrians were known for brutality in their conquest of other nations. They had no respect for the sanctity of life. You may recall Jesus summed up the Old Testament law as love God with all your heart and love your neighbour as yourself. Well this word – “VIOLENCE” speaks of the brutality that begins to emerge in society when the value of human life stops being respected. Things can get nasty very quickly. Of course, THE WORSHIP OF ISHTAR – kind of destroyed respect for life. Ishtar sacrificed her husband to death and hell – to get what she wanted. So the Assyrians were not only sexually perverse, they were also a brutal and violent people…

Apply:             This is the moral evil and violence that was present in Nineveh 750BC. But, just as God showed Jonah mercy and gives him another chance, so God now shows Nineveh mercy. They have 40 days to change their ways. Of course, FORTY DAYS has all sorts of biblical significance; the flood, Moses on Mt Sinai, Jesus in the wilderness etc etc.

But 40 days was also very significant in the worship of Ishtar or Innana. Remember, I said, Ishtar or Innana was the god of VENUS. And every 18 months Venus goes through a process called the VENUS RETROGRADE that last exactly 40 days. For various astronomical reasons the planet Venus gets smaller and smaller in the night sky and it looks like the god Ishtar is withdrawing. Then Venus bounces back.

This process of Venus withdrawing and then returning (every 18 months) became linked with Ishtar’s death and resurrection. The idea of the 40 days of the Venus retrograde – was examine your life and repent where necessary otherwise when Ishtar returns she might send you to hades, like she did with Tammuz.

Now this astronomical process is actually happening right now in the night sky. Here is the Australian Daily Mail from yesterday (Slide 15). Notice the date. Yesterday. Notice the headline? “Will Venus retrograde make you leave your other half…Now why might the Venus retrograde cause you to get a divorce? Well it all goes back to Ishtar leaving Tammuz. He was found to be an unfaithful spouse – so he was sent to hell. It is perhaps against this backdrop of Venus fading in the night sky over 40 days – that Jonah calls Nineveh to repent of sin – because the true God is not happy with them. And incredibly they repent.

Point 3:         God sees their Faith and Repentance and extended Mercy

Show:         Jon.3:9-10 (READ)

Explain:         Well instead of giving Nineveh it’s just desserts for gross sin – God shows mercy and compassion. NINEVEH IS SAVED – well, at least for 100 years. As it turns out Nineveh’s repentance was only skin deep and before long they went back to their wicked ways. The book of Nahum in the Bible tells how Nineveh is eventually destroyed (about 100 years later) by Babylon. But what can we learn from this story?

Well yesterday, the more I studied the history of Nineveh and Ishtar, the more I had to conclude some sort of strange OLD TESTAMENT ANTICHRIST thing is taking place. We know A) Jonah’s death and resurrection experience in the fish is kind of B) a picture of Jesus’ death and resurrection. BOTH JONAH AND JESUS die and go to Sheol (the place of the dead) before coming back to life like ISHTAR. But there are some big differences. FIRST; JONAH dies and goes to Sheol because of his own sins, whereas JESUS dies and goes to Sheol because of our sins. Like Jonah, Nineveh etc – we have all sinned against God and we deserve to die and go to the underworld. But the Messiah – the King of Heaven is so good – that He came into this world, died on the cross and descended into Hades to set his people free. In love, Jesus willingly took our place in Hades to set us free. In the Bible Jesus is called the GROOM who lays down his life (and goes to Hades) to save His BRIDE. This is true love.

Whereas Ishtar or Innana is like a false Christ. Yes, she has a death and resurrection type of experience (a kind of coming out of the closet) that brings her glory. But Innana achieves her resurrection by sacrificing her husband. Now I wonder what type of spouse you would prefer – one like Ishtar or one like Jesus? I wonder what sort of God you would prefer – Ishtar or Jesus. The God of the Bible is showing us – a counter cultural path to immortality and eternal life. THE TRUE PATH TO LIFE is not by A) sacrificing others to save self. But B) sacrificing self to save others. The question is have you realised this?

Jesus (the ultimate Jonah who came to us) died and went to hell to save you. Right now, he is giving 40 days to repent and align your pattern of life with his, before he returns? Yes, Jesus may be fading at this point on the world stage (a bit like the Venus retrograde) but when he returns and he will return will you be ready? If not (at that point) A GREAT DIVORCE will take place. Jesus’ true bride – who has repented and loved her King – will be saved. But those who have played the harlot (like Ishtar) will be sent to hell…

SECOND, I think we learn that God can turn the most wilful, sinful and immoral cities to Himself, when his servants find the courage to speak. Yes, Australia, America and much of the West may be fast becoming like Nineveh. Perhaps, Ishtar (as some sort of real, evil spiritual entity) is even making a spiritual comeback. But whatever is going on – God has given us a message to speak. Jesus is coming back to judge the living and the dead. WE MAY NOT KNOW whether that is forty days, forty years or 400 years, but we need to have the courage to call sin, SIN and tell people that God’s judgment is coming unless they repent. Of course, we need to do that humbly. But we also need to do that confidently – knowing that God can bring whole cities like NINEVEH and whole countries like TONGA to repentance and faith.

THIRD, I think we need to see that in the Old Testament – God does not just bring judgment on Israel when they sin. God also brings judgment on other nations when they sin. There is a zenith for sin – where God says enough is enough. God did this in the days of Noah. God did this in the days of Sodom. And God did this in the days of Nineveh. There comes a point where 1) self love, 2) sexual perversion and 3) violence becomes such a stench in God nostrils that He must act. And I think, Sydney of today is not much better than Nineveh of yesterday. We may not be able to say 40 days more and Sydney will be overthrown. But I think that under such circumstances we should see that the days are perhaps getting short.

A) Not only must we speak. B) Not only must we preach the gospel of Jesus and call people to repent. I think C) we need to start speaking with A CERTAIN URGENCY – because 40 days – may be all we have. If God was right to ONLY give Nineveh 40 days to repent – why should he give Sydney more. The same god Ishtar AND the same sins of immorality and violence seem to be alive and well around us. So, what is the difference? If the situation is getting urgent – how should you speak? Instead of 1) running for the hills OR 2) speaking like Jesus may return may happen some day (like in a millenia or two) perhaps we need to start speaking like 40 days may be generous. Did it ever occur to you that maybe the world only has 40 more days?

Perhaps if we spoke AND we spoke with 1) a little more courage and 2) a little more urgency people might reflect, repent and a few more people might be saved.

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