Summary: God demonstrates in His dealings with Jonah how great is His grace and patience toward us, and how His sovereignty is over all things.
JONAH CHAPTER ONE
Here’s an old joke!
Three athletes are about to be executed.
One is a short dark haired hockey player; one is a bald headed tennis player, and the third is a tall blond haired soccer player.
The guard brings the dark haired hockey player forward and the executioner asks if he has any last minute request. He replies ‘No’ so the executioner sets him up and then turns and shouts to the firing squad: “Ready! Aim…”
Suddenly the hockey player yells out: “Earthquake!” Everyone is startled and starts looking around, and in the confusion the hockey player runs away and escapes.
The guard brings the next victim along: the bald headed tennis player. The executioner asks if he has any last minute request. He answers in the negative, so the executioner gets him ready then barks his order to the firing squad: “Ready! Aim...”
Suddenly the tennis player yells loudly as he can: “Tornado!” Everyone is distracted and starts to look up at the sky, and the tennis player quickly makes his getaway.
By now the tall blond haired footballer has got it all worked out. The guard escorts him forward and executioner asks if he has any last minute request. He replies ‘No’ and the executioner turns sharply to the firing squad and shouts: “Ready! Aim...”
And the soccer player bawls out: “Fire!”
We’ve all been in situations from which we’ve wanted to escape. I wonder if you’ve ever shot yourself in the foot by your decisions?
In God’s prophet Jonah we see a man who tried to make a getaway because he wanted his own way and not God’s way. As a result he suffered for it, but at the same time God’s measureless grace was displayed as well.
God had given Jonah a task – to proclaim God’s message to the city of Nineveh, capital of the foreign Assyrian Empire. But Jonah didn’t want the job. God said ‘Go’. Jonah said ‘No’. He took off. Instead of heading for Nineveh some 500 miles east of Jerusalem, he went sailing west towards Tarshish in Spain some 2000 miles away.
The question is: why? Why disobey? We can see some answers in the words of God’s command: “Go to the great city of Nineveh and preached against it because its wickedness has come up before me.”
(1) Jonah was afraid. Nineveh was the capital of the Assyrian Empire, a great enemy of Israel. It was great in size and status. It was also a wicked place - evil and opposed to the true God. It was Infamous for being brutal and merciless. ‘What will happen to me, a Jew, walking into that city declaring a provocative message?’
(2) Jonah was prejudiced. His thoughts probably went something like this: ‘These people belong to a foreign and godless nation; they have rejected the true God. They don’t deserve for God to have anything to do with them; why should they benefit? It’s the Jews who are God’s chosen people; the Assyrians have no place with Him.’
(3) Jonah was scandalized by grace. Jonah had enough knowledge of God, sufficient theological sense, to work out that God, by giving the Ninevites this warning, intended blessing for them! ‘God is so gracious that maybe He intends to spare the Assyrians. Yet, these people are Israel’s great enemy – surely it’s best they’re left spiritually dead and buried.’
So Jonah decided he’d run away from the LORD and make tracks for Tarshish. But was he that spiritually naïve to think that he could get away from God? Surely he knew that God was everywhere and had knowledge of everyone and everything?
PSALM 139:11,12 makes the point very clearly: ‘If I say, ‘Surely the darkness will hide me, and the light become night around me’, even the darkness will not be dark to you: the night will shine like the day, for darkness is as light to you.’
Jonah ‘ran away from the LORD’ in the sense that he excluded himself from God’s favour and service. As Gordan Keddie explains: ‘The person who chooses to flee from the presence of God…is refusing to serve God in the task he knows that the LORD has given him to do. The matter is primarily spiritual and only secondarily geographical. This is what we see in Jonah’s case.’
Now if as Christian believers we disobey God and refuse His will, we put ourselves out of God’s presence and the blessings of obedience. Don’t go there. It’s a hard and miserable place. Seek the joy of the obedient son. ‘Trust and obey, for there’s no other way, to be happy in Jesus, but to trust and obey.’
Jonah went to the seaport of Joppa, found a ship heading for his chosen destination and paid his fare. Every thing seemed to fall into place for Jonah but it didn’t change the fact that he had disobeyed God and that meant he’d eventually run into trouble. ‘God’s way of blessing for Jonah was in the east, towards Nineveh, but Jonah went west and into trouble.’ (Gordan Keddie).