By Richard Bewes | First Published: January 13, 2016
First in a yearlong series, “Centered on Christ.”
Right up to the jihadis of today, the tides of history show the astonishing inability of violent, power-mad men to learn from the past.
“Only with guns,” wrote Chairman Mao, “can the whole world be transformed” (Mao’s Thoughts, page 61). The jihadis, too, have fallen to the lie, oblivious to posterity’s verdict that resorting to violence to win your case is a candid admission that you have already lost the argument.
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In Isaiah’s time it was the Assyrians, with their capital city fortress—Nineveh. It was defended by a surrounding wall of 7.5 miles, interspersed by 15 massive gates and reckoned to be impregnable. The supreme weapon of the Assyrians was terror, inspired by their distorted religious beliefs. This went hand in hand with mocking derision of every other culture and way of life. By enslavement and exile, butchery, mutilations and beheadings, the aim of the Ninevites was universal domination. Yet—despite the “blast” threatened by their unremitting violence—Isaiah predicted that this would eventually come to nothing when pitted against the “wall” that represented the stronghold of God’s rule (see Isaiah 25:4 above).
And so it proved. Assyria’s capital, Nineveh, was taken in August 612 B.C. by a coalition of Babylonians and Medes. Babylon in turn was to suffer her own “writing on the wall” fate 73 years later.
As for Nineveh, the vivid Book of Nahum had prophesied her downfall at least 20 years earlier in amazing detail, as was confirmed later by 19th century archaeologists. Nahum foresaw the coming disaster as the judgment of God, in the words “I will leave you no prey on the earth” (Nahum 2:13, NIV).
A hundred years earlier, Nineveh had been given time—in a divine Second Chance—following her citywide repentance under the preaching of the Prophet Jonah. But over the years, the reprieve had been studiously forgotten. When the final judgment fell, all that would be left of the city was a vast barren mound, now known as Tell Kunyunjik, “The mound of many sheep.” On Sept. 20, 351 B.C., Alexander the Great would pass by the buried site, unaware that under his feet lay the hub of a fallen empire.
No totalitarian empire that lives by terror can last. The Caesars of the Roman era seemed all-powerful. Yet one was killed by his own son, one went mad, one went blind, one was drowned, one was strangled. Two committed suicide, five were assassinated and eight were killed in battle. When Rome finally fell, it was destroyed in a single day, on Aug. 24, A.D. 410.
A scholar of Greek times, Thales the Milesian would have been about 12 when he learned from his teacher about Nineveh’s fall. Asked once what he thought to be the rarest phenomenon in the world, Thales replied, “To see a tyrant live to be an old man.”
Those who live violently usually die violently. Most in today’s terrorist groups are young—and they die young. The final destruction of their evil may seem slow, but it is the very patience of Heaven that enables as many as possible still to repent (see 2 Peter 1:13). It was an African, Stephen Lungu of Malawi, who described his conversion to Christ as taking place at the very Gospel meeting he had gone to in order to blow it up with explosives.
Yet nothing can stop the solemn process. Friedrich Von Logau in the 17th century eloquently expressed the severity of divine judgment in his poem Retribution:
Though the mills of God grind slowly,
Yet they grind exceeding small.
The Nineveh site was eventually to become known as Mosul—a modern city that today’s jihadis have battled to make their own. Exactly as with Assyria, their weapon is terror, derision, and—in this day—the sword, the suicide vest and gun.
There is, of course, the perceived necessity of civilization at certain times to meet unprincipled violence with measured force. Yet, the greatest underlying weapon by far is prayer by God’s people to Christ, the long-prophesied Son of Man. The New King James Version gives the true reading of Isaiah 32:2 in words that point unmistakably to Him, the Man of the Ages: “A man will be as a hiding place from the wind, and a cover from the tempest … as the shadow of a great rock in a weary land.”
Pray then! Back in 701 B.C., one of Judah’s earlier kings, Hezekiah, had received an insulting letter of threats from King Sennacherib of Assyria (2 Kings 19:9-34). Going to the temple with the letter, Hezekiah “spread it out before the Lord.” A little later he could boldly reply to the Assyrians that the Man they were insulting was none other than the divinely anointed “Holy One of Israel” (2 Kings 19:22). The terrorists would eventually have to “return by the way [they] came” (2 Kings 19:28).
God’s people always grieve when violence is visited on citizens, whether of Europe, Africa, Asia or America. But learn from the prayers and granite faith of those old-time prophets! They unfailingly point us to the Man Christ Jesus, who is the Hiding Place and Rock when the storm beats against the wall.
“It is prayer,” wrote Jacques Ellul, “and prayer alone that can make history.” D ©2015 Richard Bewes
Scripture quotations marked NKJV are taken from The Holy Bible, New King James Version. Quotations marked NIV are taken from The Holy Bible, New International Version.
Richard Bewes is a preacher, broadcaster and hymn writer. He serves on the board of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association in the United Kingdom and is the former rector of All Souls Church Langham Place, London.