Summary: Despite Jonah's attempt to flee, the LORD had a greater plan for the sailors as well as the prophet Jonah himself. Despite situations that seem hopeless and fruitless, the LORD can bring redemption and His purposes about, because HE IS GOD!
Scripture Reading: Luke 11:29-32
29 And while the crowds were thickly gathered together, He began to say, "This is an evil generation. It seeks a sign, and no sign will be given to it except the sign of Jonah the prophet.
30 "For as Jonah became a sign to the Ninevites, so also the Son of Man will be to this generation.
31 "The queen of the South will rise up in the judgment with the men of this generation and condemn them, for she came from the ends of the earth to hear the wisdom of Solomon; and indeed a greater than Solomon is here.
32 "The men of Nineveh will rise up in the judgment with this generation and condemn it, for they repented at the preaching of Jonah; and indeed a greater than Jonah is here.
(Consult General Outline of Jonah)
Jonah, son of Amittai, was a prophet from the town of Gath-hepher (2 Kings 14:25). Instead of going East to preach to Nineveh (modern-day: Mosul, Iraq) in obedience to God, Jonah went to the port of Joppa and sailed as far West as possible to Tarshish. However, God had different plans for Jonah as well as the great city of Nineveh, despite his disobedience. The mariners now worshipped God. The Ninevites repented, and even a whale obeyed. Jonah, though in close relationship with God, had the hardest time obeying!
Time of Writing: Likely during the time of Jeroboam son of Joash (793-753 BC) or before .
Jonah - "Dove"
Son of Amittai - "My Truth"
Would Jonah be a peace-bringing 'dove'? Before we look in the text and analyze his call to preach to Nineveh, let's pray.
1 Now the word of the LORD came to Jonah the son of Amittai, saying,
2 "Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and cry out against it; for their wickedness has come up before Me."
3 But Jonah arose to flee to Tarshish from the presence of the LORD. He went down to Joppa, and found a ship going to Tarshish; so he paid the fare, and went down into it, to go with them to Tarshish from the presence of the LORD.
Nineveh was a "Great city" - likely refers to the size, though it could also refer to its reputation.
Assyria was a conquering nation, very large, and the way they conquered was ruthless. They would rely on shock-and-awe tactics when it came to torture, and they were known as extremely brutal.
About Assyrian torture, an article was written in Spiegel Online -- one excerpt reads,
"...the Assyrians seem to have been the masters of brutality. They were also extremely verbose about the grisly ends they wreaked upon their enemies. "I will hack up the flesh and then carry it with me, to show off in other countries," exulted Ashurbanipal, an Assyrian king who reigned from 668 to 627 BC. And his heir liked to cut open the bellies of his opponents "as though they were young rams."
(And there's also accounts of skewering individuals via a rounded wooden stake. Ouch.)
Perhaps Jonah was afraid of what could happen to him, or perhaps he knew of others who had been tortured and killed. The call to preach to Nineveh was also a serious task, as they were being taken to task by God for their wickedness.
So Jonah fled. What a horrible disjunctive clause (But Jonah arose to flee…)!
The duty of a prophet is to 'speak for' God and obey. It was usually a difficult thing to do, and for that reason, prophets were not popular in everyone's eyes. However, Jonah fled.
(See Map -- Nineveh's location vs. Tarshish)
Note: Nineveh is due Northeast from Joppa. Tarshish is due West. Some take this to be Tarsus, the same city Paul was from (Southeastern Turkey/Asia Minor, others take this to be a city in Sicily, or even Spain. It's most convincing that Jonah, as he was fleeing, would have gone West as far as possible since his mission was due Northeast.
4 But the LORD sent out a great wind on the sea, and there was a mighty tempest on the sea, so that the ship was about to be broken up.
5 Then the mariners were afraid; and every man cried out to his god, and threw the cargo that was in the ship into the sea, to lighten the load. But Jonah had gone down into the lowest parts of the ship, had lain down, and was fast asleep.
6 So the captain came to him, and said to him, "What do you mean, sleeper? Arise, call on your God; perhaps your God will consider us, so that we may not perish."
Note that the LORD sent a wind. God is sovereign over nature and His Purposes. He wanted Jonah to bring a message of warning to the people of Nineveh, and regardless of the Prophet fleeing, God would bring about His purposes.