Summary: Jonah exibits free will when he runs from God. God will not make you do anything, but he will encourage you.
A Test of Will
For the past couple of weeks we have been taking some of the Bible stories that we normally think of as children’s stories. We looking are at them from an adult point of view. Today we are picking up with Jonah.
What do we know about Jonah from this scripture? From all we can tell Jonah was already a prophet to Israel. His first reaction is not a fear of how God is speaking to him. He gets a message from the Lord. It seems that getting the message is not new. When we have been introduced to other prophets they speak of their unworthiness or poor speech.
Jonah means Dove and his father’s name Amittai means truth. That seems to be an appropriate name and family connection for a prophet.
If he was already a spokesman for God, I would guess that he had a good understanding of the nature of God. He pretty much knew that he had to do as God directed. I believe that he had a better understanding of the nature of people. I will bet he saw a whole lot more rejection of the message than acceptance. As a prophet in Israel, he was comfortable to go out and give his message to repent. To go around to the cities and countryside and tell the people how they must change or God would punish them.
If you will think back through the history of the other prophets, Israel never really got the message. Sometimes they were a bit harsh on how they treated the messengers of God.
In this case he is now being called to preach to people outside his homeland. To take the message of repentance to pagans. The unwashed and uncirmsusied gentiles.
I wonder how effective he was? The punishment had not come from God as far as we can tell. That might make him appear to be a false prophet in the eyes of the folks he preached to.
At the beginning of this book we are hearing the only OT story of the only prophet of God to be sent to people other than Jews. This story is a big change in tactic by God.
God has told Jonah to go about 550 miles east of where he is and tell these wicked people that God is going to destroy them. The message is fairly normal, but the people he is to give it to is radically different. These Assyrians are bad folks. Their empire is huge and they are known to be fierce. They have taken over vast areas of the known world. The Israelites are willing to make a deal with them to keep them from invading, which is against God’s direction.
Niviniah was the capitol city of the Assyrian empire. Some historians estimate that it was 48 miles across the city, that is a long way to walk. They say it had over 1000 watch towers around the stronghold or fort in the middle of the city. They took the heads of captured enemies and placed them on spikes around the edge of their territory as a warning.
Niveniah is not exactly a vacation spot. It would be pretty easy for any prophet to want to avoid going there to tell them they will be destroyed. But I don’t think that is Jonah’s only problem.
In the first chapter of the book of Jonah, we are not given a reason why, he does not want to go on this assignment. All we know is he heads to Jappa (the port) to catch a boat. Instead of going North to save a couple of hundred miles on foot he goes and buys a ticket to Tarshish which is due west by a few miles. It was actually in the place we now know as Spain . Now we don’t know if he has family there and thinks he can get a new start or the ticket was cheap. I sort of think that he was in a hurry.
I wonder if he thought that he could our run or get away form God. Maybe he thought God was only in Israel. So he starts by faking him out, I will take a boat as far as Tarshish Don’t complain, just get up and head to the port where you could get a ride to about anyplace. Ok what is the first boat outa here. Tarshish, I will take it. I think he believes that he can avoid his assignment by getting as far from the location as possible. Perhaps God will choose some other poor sap to do this job, someone closer.
Today we are talking about free will. I think we are under the impression that God will not mess with our free will. But today’s scripture gives us a picture that perhaps that is not exactly true. Have you ever tried to avoid some action that God asked you to do. Personally, I have a couple of times. I did not run away like Jonah. In a way I just sat there. I really felt like I should have acted. I guess it can happen to anyone. Perhaps we are not absolutely positive that we should do “it”. Personally I have found that the only way to know God’s voice is to try some of the things that I am not sure about. Some of the most spiritual people I have ever known have been people that scare me a little. It really was not anything about their personality that frightened me. It was the things that they did and were willing to do. These people that gave their whole life, time, money and complete trust to their inner voice.