Summary: First of four message from the book of Jonah
Ever run away from home? I did more than once -- in my mind at least. I was maybe 5 or 6 at the time. And I played with the idea a lot. There was a problem, though -- when you live in Western Kansas like I did, you have a long way to go before you reach civilization, so when you decide to run away you have to sort of worry about surviving!
I read a story about a 5-year old who decided to run away. His neighbor lady saw him go, as she worked in her garden. There he trudged down the sidewalk, past her house, hauling a little suitcase in his red wagon. He disappeared around the block. A few minutes later, he reappeared and went past her again. Again, he circled the block. The third time, she finally asked: "Whatcha doing?" He answered, "I’m running away from home!" “So” she said -- “why do you keep circling the block?" He answered timidly, "cuz I’m not allowed to cross the street!!"
We’ll spend the next few weeks with the prodigal prophet -- God’s Runaway. Jonah writes in the third person; as he does, he puts his life under the microscope and dissects his experience so we can learn from him. What we’ll see is Jonah isn’t just a story of a rebel, or the fish who gulped him down and then spit him up 3 days later; it’s the account of the God who was resolved to get hold of Jonah’s heart and use the man -- therefore God pursued him.
Like the little boy, Jonah had had enough, and he fled. His running was a lot more serious than the little boy’s. Because he was God’s man, he was running from God. But, like the little boy, he had trouble getting very far. If we pay close attention to Jonah’s story, God’s will speak to more than one runaway.
Maybe even you. Would running from God describe your life right now?
You heard Marty read the first chapter. Let’s begin with what I call
Jonah’s fugitive response. What are the common components of running from God?
First, 1. He disregarded God’s word. (1:1, 2)
Our story opens with God commissioning His prophet. Verses 1 and 2 don’t describe how Jonah got the word God. What is clear is that God revealed His desire to him, it says: the word of the Lord came to Jonah, the son of Amittai. He announced what He wanted His man to do. Go to the great city of Nineveh annd preach against it, because its wickedness has come up before me, God says. When the God of Heaven spoke to His prophet, the prophet therefore had divine authority when he relayed God’s message.
Nineveh was East of the Tigris River, 550 miles northeast of Samaria. It’s in modern-day Iraq. It would have taken Jonah a month to get there. The city was second in size only to Babylon. It was built by Nimrod. After Jonah’s time, it became the capital of the Assyrian Empire under Sennacherib.
God calls Jonah to go to Nineveh to preach against it. When you see that phrase preach against in OT prophecy, it means to announce the doom of God’s coming judgment. God says the city’s wickedness has come up before Him -- that means the people were absolutely relentless persisting their sin. The king will later confess that his people’s ways were evil and violent. Another prophet, Zephaniah will record these people were carefree and thought they were invincible. Nahum prophesied against the same evils.
Nineveh was infamous in its time for brutal torture and atrocities against prisoners of war. I read things about their practices that would make some of you physically ill if I read them aloud. Besides their other evil, the city was also know for its idolatry. It had temples to Nabu, Asshur and Adad. The Ninevites also worshiped Ishtar, the goddess of love and war.
God’s call was for Jonah to announce judgment was soon to fall. The Holy God has had enough. The full measure of His anger toward their sin is about to be unleashed. That’s Jonah’s message. That’s God’s word to him.
God’s is at work in this large, distant, pagan, city. He wants Jonah to become His mouthpiece where He’s at work. The problem was, Jonah’s nationalistic pride got in the way; after all, these were hard-core pagans; they had nothing to do with his God or God’s chosen people; they were enemies; therefore He wanted nothing to do with them.
So Jonah chose to ignore what God said. When you and I run, we ignore God’s clear word in similar ways. We avoid exposure to Scripture. Avoid time with other believers who will challenge us scripturally. Or we practice selective reading or listening. Just read the encouraging parts and forget clear passages that would take our obedience to radical levels.