Summary: Part 2 of a 5 part series
Running to . . .?
July 26, 2009
Last week we began to take a look at one of the most famous Bible stories, the story about a prophet named Jonah. Most people know him because there is something in the story about Jonah being swallowed by a whale and living. Now, that’s a story to remember, and it’s not a fish story. But we will talk about Jonah being swallowed up next week.
When we last saw Jonah he had been told by God to go to the great city of Nineveh, in Assyria, what we now call northern Iraq. He was told to proclaim to the people of Nineveh that God was going to destroy them if they didn’t repent from their wicked ways of living.
Jonah knew the Assyrians were the strongest nation in the world and they were marching toward Israel and within 40 years would destroy the nation. Jonah couldn’t stand the thought of these people being forgiven, and experiencing the grace and love of His God, so he made his plans to go in the opposite direction, as far away as possible.
So, Jonah planned his getaway, and instead of traveling the 500 miles through the mountains and desert to Nineveh, Jonah traveled to Joppa and boarded a ship to go to a place located on the Southern tip of Spain, a city called Tarshish.
Tarshish was a wealthy Phoenician port city, located about 2,300 miles from Joppa. It was believed it would have taken about 1 year by ship to reach Tarshish. It was as far as Jonah could get from Nineveh.
Tarshish was believed to be at the ends of the earth. Because, if you remember your history and geography, most people thought the world was flat. And if you looked to the west from Tarshish, all you would see is water and more water.
So, Jonah ran and boarded the cargo ship and began to settle in for the long, relaxing trip to the ends of the earth. Thinking there’s no way God will find me there. However, there was a storm, and it wasn’t just a storm, this was the grand daddy of them all.
In verse 4 we read . . . the Lord sent a great wind on the sea and such a violent storm arose that the ship threatened to break up. In Hebrew it literally says the storm was so bad “...the ship itself thought it was going to break up.”
The sailors on the ship were probably Phoenicians, some of history’s greatest sailors. They were well-acquainted with storms and they knew this was a supernatural storm. Verse 5 tells us “All the sailors were afraid and each cried out to his own god. And they threw the cargo into the sea to lighten the ship.”
You see, these guys were so afraid, they cried out, the Hebrew tells us they were screaming wildly, screaming to any god they could pick, hoping somehow their god would have the power to stop the storm. But the storm wasn’t letting up, so they threw some of the cargo overboard, hoping that would give them better control of the ship. But that wasn’t helping.
Let me stop for a moment. Have you ever been in a really bad storm while out at sea? You see, we envision a nice cruise liner taking us out to sea for a great vacation, but this was not what these sailors were encountering. Ever watch Discovery Channel’s “The Deadliest Catch?” That’s what they were facing.
Jonah and his new shipmates were experiencing winds and waves pounding the ship like they had never experienced before. These were the kinds of waves which would cause you to pray.
Now while all this was going on the captain wondered, hey where’s this Jonah dude? Not only could Jonah have helped throw cargo into the water, he could have been praying to his god. Where was Jonah? He was in a deep sleep, like a person who was unconscious. How could he sleep at a time like this? Jonah was so tired from running from God, that he was physically, emotionally and most especially spiritually exhausted. When we disobey God, we are reduced to trudging through this world on our own power. And we can’t make any headway against the storms of life on our own strength.
I believe the deeper issue for Jonah is that he was depressed, and if you’ve ever been in the deepest part of your depression, you couldn’t get out of bed, you struggle to just sit up, let alone get up and fight a storm. And we’ll see this again for Jonah in chapter 4. This prophet of God who was used to relying on God’s strength had been living on his own strength, and it wasn’t working.