Take for example the story of Jonah. To him, it seemed that the continued existence of one city- Nineveh- was the end game. Thus, he was willing to cast that away, bidding to escape God's call and condemn a city to destruction. And we in the hindsight of history can understand the feelings of Jonah. But do we see what TRULY motivated Jonah? Up to Jonah's day, Nineveh, capital of Assyria, had been a savage neighbor to have. But the days of Assyria's true wrath- the days of Sennacherib, Esarhaddon, and Assurbanipal- were more than a half-century in the future. What Assyria HAD done would be nothing compared to what it WOULD do in terms of war and slaughter and terror. Makes you wonder if God had revealed this all to Jonah, and THEN told him to go save the city. This would take him from being asked to do a distasteful task to seemingly being complicit in mass murder, and make his flight all the more understandable.
Especially if you go forward 100 years to the days of the prophet Nahum. Here, Assyria was at its peak of evil glory, and God proclaimed through the prophet its impending destruction- which would come true so completely that people thought the city was a myth for over a millennium.
So what was going on here? Why was God wanting to save the city then, at that moment, in Jonah's time? To know that, we need to understand a bit more history. Nineveh at this point was ruled by a king called Asshur-Dan. Dan was not having an easy time of things to say the least. His city has just faced a major plague, then a terrifying solar eclipse that seemingly heralded the end of the world, followed by another plague. And when he wasn't fighting off disease, he was fighting off rebellions. It truly seemed that their entire civilization was ready to fall apart at the seams. And then, here comes Jonah, preaching, "Yet 40 days, and God will destroy this city for its wickedness."
And so you have a willing audience for Jonah's preaching. And thus, Nineveh became a repentant, loving city, and the course of Assyria's history was changed- for less than 40 years. So what was the point?
It might seem confusing if you are caught like Jonah was, in the thought that the city's actions towards others was their sin they were being judged on. But take a closer look at the prayer Jonah plead from the belly of the fish:
Jon 2:8 All who worship worthless idols turn from the God who offers them mercy.
Jon 2:9 But with shouts of praise, I will offer a sacrifice to you, my LORD. I will keep my promise, because you are the one with power to save.
The sin God saw in Nineveh is the one that ALWAYS makes Him the most wrathful- worshipping something other than Himself. That is the one sin WE are judged on as well. The glory of God didn't demand the city be saved physically- or my computer, or my car, or my employment situation, or bringing back my lost loved one, or curing my cancer. The glory of God demanded He be worshipped. And that's what God wanted Jonah to preach.
But to achieve that, Jonah would have to bring the 120,000 people IN the city to faith in God. It was never the physical city, the past, or the future, that Jonah was to save- just 120,000 people who were ready to repent, ready to believe, if only someone brought them the message.
So God's endgame was to save, out of 350 years of Assyrian villainy, 120,000 people in one certain time frame- no matter what happened once they passed from the scene. Asshur-Dan didn't live out the decade after Jonah's visit, and it's easy to see God's victory as a minor, passing one. Keep in mind the lesson of Sodom and Gomorrah- God would have been happy if TEN people out of that 120,000 truly repented. But if God told you that you could put in three days of work and save from hell the population of a city the size of Fort Wayne, wouldn't YOU do it?
And that's my point here. We get caught up in a lot of what I call "soap opera faith"- if You, God, save little Joey from this dread disease, if You get me that car I need, that job I need, give me back my computer, I will do thus and so. But God's not into "saving the city". His endgame is saving the SOUL.
And the sin isn't the day to day wickedness- even the Priest can forgive that. It is the SIN- the lack of worship of God- that Christ died to take away. The message is simple, and here I'll give it once again.
Adam and Eve were the closest to perfection in humanity God ever made. When they fell, when they put themselves ahead of God in line, they proved that not only anyone of us could do it, but EVERY one of us WOULD do it. Our imperfection was exposed. We were no longer fit to spend eternity with a Holy God. Our attempt to do it on our own will be met with the same success they had back then- the evil swept away in God's wrath.
God gave the Law to Moses to prove to us that we could not live a perfect enough life to get in good with God again ourselves. So a facet (so to speak) of Himself- the God/Man, Jesus- was manifested as a human to die FOR us, being eligible to take our place since He was both Human AND perfect. By His blood, our way back to God was paid.
But now, we need to hear the message, and obey the message. And not to expect God to change our circumstances, but to use them- to use our rebellions, our plagues, our "evil omens"- to lead us to OUR endgame, which is bringing us back to Worshipping Him.
Did the people of Nineveh expect, in turning back to God, a return of their "good old days?" I don't know, I expect not, or else it wouldn't have counted as repentance. Jonah was disappointed in God because he never focused on the endgame. And if you pray for nothing more than a return of the good old days, you may be disappointed too. Pray for salvation first- "Seek ye the Kingdom of God, and His Righteousness, and all this will be ADDED unto you."