November 27, 2007
I asked the basic question in my first blog, “Does God care about cities; and even if he does, can he and will he do anything about the deteriorating state of many of our cities in America?” I believe he does care, and one of the many reasons I believe that is because of the example of how God dealt with ancient Nineveh.
Remember the story of Jonah in the Old Testament? God gave him an assignment one day that was the one assignment he hoped he would never receive. Jonah knew better than anyone that Nineveh was one of the most violent and wicked cities on the face of the earth at that time. As far as Jonah was concerned they deserved the judgment of God, and the sooner the better. The last thing he wanted to do was help them escape that. So he tried to escape from God. That of course didn’t work, and eventually reeking like fish guts, he agreed to be God’s mouthpiece to this troubled city.
The good news is Jonah agreed to obey God. The bad news is he never felt about them the way God did. And when they to his utter surprise and dismay responded to his message, he grew very bitter and sullen. At the end of the book God is found still trying to help Jonah see them the way God does, and this is what God says to him, “And should I not have compassion on Nineveh, the great city in which there are more than 120,000 persons who do not know the difference between their right and left hand, as well as many animals?”
The fact is God had great compassion on one of the most wicked cities ever to dot earth’s landscape. It doesn’t mean he ignored their wickedness. But his judgment was overridden by his mercy for a time at least.
What I have concluded from this and many other passages is that God loves and has compassion on the people of the world’s cities. And that he is more than willing to help them with their overwhelming problems and challenges.
One of my favorite books in the Old Testament is the book of Proverbs. Someone has said that whereas in the book of Psalms (which comes right before the book of Proverbs) you find man on his knees or in public worship with God’s people; in the Proverbs you find man in the marketplace. Proverbs is full of extremely practical stuff on how to succeed in your marriage, family, business, community, nation, etc.
I’ve read Proverbs for many years, but it was only in the last few that I have begun to notice how many times God invites the leaders of cities to look to Him for the wisdom they need to lead their cities forward. Let me share a few of them with you with some comments interspersed: “Wisdom shouts in the street, She lifts her voice in the square; (for many of us in the church we have foolishly believed the only place God speaks in a church meeting) At the head of the noisy streets she cries out; At the entrance of the gates in the city (my emphasis), she utters her sayings: (Wisdom is personified as a person in many of these writings, but a thorough reading of the book makes it clear that God is the giver of wisdom, and He isn’t stingy with it). Prov. 1:20,21
“Does not wisdom call, And understanding lift up her voice? On top of the heights beside the way. Where the paths meet, she takes her stand; Beside the gates, at the opening to the city (my emphasis), At the entrance of the doors, she cries out: To you, O men, I call, And my voice is to the sons of men. (“men” is often used in a generic way in the scriptures – the context of the passage is usually the key to know if it is just speaking of the male gender or not). O naïve ones, discern prudence; And, o fools, discern wisdom.” Prov. 8:1-5 (see also Prov. 9:1-6, and Micah 6:9 “the voice of the Lord will call to the city..”).
A crucial question at this point is how can we hear the voice of God or how can we recognize and receive this wisdom? I will grapple with that in a subsequent blog. For now I want to say to the leaders of our cities – whether you have an official title or not – Get a hold of a contemporary version of the Bible if you do not have one, and get familiar with the Proverbs. They were written for you and your cities.