Summary: God spoke to Jonah, calling him to go and cry against Nineveh. Foolishly, Jonah thought he could flee the presence of God. However, God intended for Nineveh to hear a warning, and He intended Jonah to deliver that warning. It is futile to try and flee God's presence!
A Futile Effort
Jonah 1: 1-10
Having considered the introduction for Jonah, I want to remind us of the major theme of the book. Most tend to focus solely on Jonah’s miraculous deliverance from the belly of the great fish, but that is just one scene from this account in Scripture. In fact, that miraculous event is not the focus of the book of Jonah. The sovereignty of God in pursuing men unto Himself is the theme of the book. Jonah reveals the love of God, shown through His unmerited favor to those who are undeserving. The Ninevites were wicked, and Jonah purposely disobeyed God, but in His grace and mercy, the Lord continued to pursue them.
As we begin in this short, yet powerful book, we find the opening scene – God’s call for Jonah to go to Nineveh, and his futile attempt to avoid that call. There is much we need to learn from this opening passage. God is always righteous, and His divine character dictates His dealings with men. God had every right to abandon Jonah because of his disobedience. He could have judged the sin of Nineveh without question. However, God had a plan, and He was determined to see His plan fulfilled. Any effort to resist the Lord and His sovereign plan will prove futile at best.
As we examine the details of this encounter, I want to consider the thought: A Futile Effort.
I. The Reluctance of Jonah (1-3) – As we are introduced to Jonah, we immediately discover his reluctance to submit to God’s will for his life. Notice:
A. The Commission (1-2a) – Now the word of the LORD came unto Jonah the son of Amittai, saying,  Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and cry against it. We discovered in our introduction that Jonah was a prophet of the Lord, called unto the Northern Kingdom of Israel. He was from Gath-hepher, located in Nazareth, west of the Sea of Galilee. The word of the Lord came unto Jonah, calling him to go and cry against the city of Nineveh. No doubt this was viewed as an unusual request, with Jonah being aware of the brutality of the Assyrians and their desire to conquer the world. However, God did not ask Jonah for his consideration or approval of the task. God called Jonah to go and cry against the city.
We tend to be critical of those within the Bible who are skeptical or disobedient to the call of God, but we too try and rationalize particular acts of service. We know that the Lord desires the Gospel to be shared with all people, but at times we act as if the Great Commission is reserved for someone else, and we are immune to the call. We are called of the Lord to proclaim the Gospel unto the nations, calling them to repentance and faith.
B. The Motivation (2b) – for their wickedness is come up before me. We will discover that God sent Jonah to preach a message of repentance to the people of Nineveh. God could have judged their sin, utterly destroying the city and its inhabitants; but through His mercy and grace, He wanted to provide an opportunity for them to repent of their sin and turn unto Him. It is estimated that the population of Nineveh at that time was between 600,000 and 1,000,000. God wanted Jonah to warn the people of the judgment they faced apart from repentance.
The brutality and wickedness of the Assyrians is almost incomprehensible by civilized people. They were notoriously violent in their dealings with those they conquered in battle. Often their captives were beheaded, or had their throats slit. The young men and women were often burned with fire. Some captives were impaled on poles as a display of Assyrian might and brutality. The Assyrians were also known to flay the skin from some of the more prominent captives, and hang their skins upon the city walls. All of this was done to intimidate and strike fear in the hearts of those they came against in battle. Their wickedness was known of God, and He desired to deal with them in grace rather than the judgment they deserved. (Aren’t you glad the Lord didn’t deal with us according to our sin, but offered grace instead?)
C. The Rebellion (3) – But Jonah rose up to flee unto Tarshish from the presence of the LORD, and went down to Joppa; and he found a ship going to Tarshish: so he paid the fare thereof, and went down into it, to go with them unto Tarshish from the presence of the LORD. Here we discover the rebellion and disobedience of Jonah regarding the call of God. While I would never condone disobedience, one can see why Jonah might have been skeptical, being sent to such a barbaric people. Consider: