Summary: God has a call on our lives. We need to stop running and obey that call.
The Runaway Prophet
Jonah was a prophet of the most-high God. It was his job to listen to the word of God and then communicate it to the people. It is by God’s word through Jonah that Jeroboam II extended the boundaries of Israel in 2 Kings 14:25. Much of what he would communicate would be drawing people back into right relationship with their God. He would have called people to obedience to their God.
But this time it is he that is called to obedience – and he balks!
1 The word of the Lord came to Jonah son of Amittai: 2 "Go to the great city of Nineveh and preach against it, because its wickedness has come up before me."
3 But Jonah ran away from the Lord and headed for Tarshish. He went down to Joppa, where he found a ship bound for that port. After paying the fare, he went aboard and sailed for Tarshish to flee from the Lord .
A little geography lesson: Nineveh is in what is now northern Iraq, as best as we can figure is that Tarshish is a varient of the city Tartessos in southern Spain. It is basically on the edge of the then known world. It was as if Jonah showed up at the docks in Joppa and said “I’d like a ticket for the furthest I can go from here!” He was trying to run from God.
Why run from Nineveh?
Nineveh was the capital city of Assyria. And Assyria was a very powerful and significant nation. Assyria was Israel’s enemy, and Nineveh was the capital city. Have a look at Nahum ch.3. The book of Nahum is a prophecy against Nineveh, Chapter 3 describes the ferocity and the brutality of the Assyrians.
1 Woe to the city of blood,
full of lies,
full of plunder,
never without victims!
2 The crack of whips,
the clatter of wheels,
and jolting chariots!
3 Charging cavalry,
and glittering spears!
piles of dead,
bodies without number,
people stumbling over the corpses-
4 all because of the wanton lust of a harlot,
alluring, the mistress of sorceries,
who enslaved nations by her prostitution
and peoples by her witchcraft.
The Assyrians were a cruel and heartless people - Assyrian engravings depict people being tortured, skulls worn around their necks to show their cruelty. When they took over a town in battle they would take any survivors and they would impale them on stakes in front of the town. After a battle they’d pile up the skulls of their enemies making pillars out of them. Their leaders would often remove the heads of their enemies and wear them around their necks. This is not a friendly nation or a friendly city (not exactly on the top 10 holiday destinations of the day) - in fact this is the nation that eventually invades and destroys Israel in 722BC (you can find that in 2 Kings 17).
And it’s to this group of people, to this great enemy nation, to this enemy city that God calls Jonah to go.
He is probably thinking, “yeah right God, you want me to go and say bad things about Nineveh to their faces so that they can kill me slowly and painfully!”
Instead, he runs the other way to get away from God.
Running from God
Have you ever done that? You know that God is calling you to a specific thing, but out of fear or rebellion, you run the exact opposite direction?
The call on your life might not be to a place as dangerous as Nineveh, but it is a call all the same;
A call to change your behavior – but instead you do everything you can to avoid the topic
A call to be more public with your faith – but instead you keep your light under a bushel
A call to forgive someone for harm they have done to us – but instead you avoid them at all costs in order to keep your grudge.
A call to quietness and prayer – but instead you fill your life with really important busy things
A call to a specific ministry or use of your spiritual gifts – but instead you put it on the back burner until a more opportune time
A call into relationship with God through Jesus – but instead you throw yourself into the things of the world
What Jonah forgets is that you can’t run from God! He knows it in his head – he even tells the sailors on the ship, "I am a Hebrew and I worship the Lord , the God of heaven, who made the sea and the land." (verse 9) If God is the creator of all that there is, it is not like you can leave town on him!