Summary: Jonah flees
June 24, 2012
We’re going to study through Jonah, but before we begin I’d like to give a little introduction. What we’re about to read all happened about 750 years before the birth of Christ (793-753 BC).
The place is Nineveh, which is a huge city (at least 120,000) in Assyria. The Assyrians are a lot like Rome would become: they want to bring culture to the world. They’re vicious, but they’re also refined. They have (or would soon have) running water, paved roads, flushing toilets, art, a full alphabet (called Cuneiform), and many other inventions and luxuries.
The man sent to Nineveh, however, is a Jew. As far as he’s concerned, they’re Gentiles. Not only that, but it’s been no more than 90 years since the Israelites paid tribute to them (Jehu paid Shalmaneser III in 841 BC), and it’ll be no less than 70 years before Assyria totally conquers them (722 BC).
So you can kind of fill in the blanks and see why Jonah has some prejudice and why he doesn’t want to cry against them: he knows that “salvation is of the Lord” (2:9) and that God is “a gracious God, and merciful, slow to anger, and of great kindness, and repentest thee of the evil” (4:2).
He didn’t want to go to Nineveh because he knew God would save them! And I think that’s kind of the point of this book. God is compassionate, and God saves. Just think about how compassionate He was with Jonah—it looks more like a Good Shepherd leading His sheep than it does a harsh Judge with a rebel. He teaches him some hard lessons, but He never casts him to the side or even punishes him. The storm is to get him out of the boat and the fish is to get him out of the water, but all of it is to get him where God wants him to be. It makes me think of how God has promised to finish what He started in us when He began conforming us to the image of Christ.
Not only that but He’s compassionate towards the Assyrians. These are people who show no outward signs of even possibly being regenerated. They worship other gods, they’re cruel, and they don’t have any love for God’s people. But God has something else in mind for them according to His mercies. He’s going to save them.
Another theme I think we see here is that God is sovereign. I want you to be sure to note all the times it says something like “and the Lord prepared” or “the Lord sent” something. I mean even the very first words (“Now the word of the Lord came”) shows us that this book is about God’s will. And we’re going to see how over and over and over He makes things happen so that He gets what He wants.
Finally, I think the last major theme is repentance. The Ninevites heard Jonah’s words that they would be destroyed in 40 days and they sought God’s grace (3:9). “Who knows?” That was their only hope.
And I think these themes are still issues today. We need to know that our God saves. We need to be reminded that He is compassionate towards sinners and that true repentance shows itself in powerful ways.
Let’s start in verse one:
Now the word of the LORD came unto Jonah the son of Amittai, saying, 2Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and cry against it; for their wickedness is come up before me.
Now, the gospel as we know it isn’t revealed at this time. And Jonah, he doesn’t even want to preach it. Skip down and look at 3:4: “Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown.” He’s doing the bare minimum. The only thing he’s going to do is cry against the city.
Now God wants him to do this because “their wickedness is come up.” This makes me think of when Abel’s blood cried out from the ground (Gen. 4:10). It’s this picture of their sins being right in the face of God. For a long time it’s seemed like nothing was going to happen, but now the limit’s been reached. It’s time to deal with the Assyrian’s sins.
3But 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.
Now Jonah thinks he’s going to get away. And it’s hard to believe he thinks he can do it because he later confesses that his God is the maker of the sea and of the dry land (1:9). But for now, he’s hoping God isn’t in Tarshish or at least that God won’t be able to get him away from there, and so he hops on a ship and heads out in the wrong direction.