Summary: Jonah’s experience helps us understand God’s grace again. Hiding and running from God never pays, coming home to his will is the only way.
When God calls, which way do you run?
Jonah is a classic Bible story. Someone has pointed out that in the first chapter Jonah ran away from God. In the second chapter, he ran back to God. In the third chapter he ran with God, but in the fourth chapter he ran ahead of God.
Jonah was a runner.
On June 15, 763 B.C. there was a total solar eclipse at Nineveh. Ashur – dan was king of Assyria. It was seen as a sign of warning. Shalmaneser the fourth was dead and Assyria experienced many internal political problems. Things were going from bad to worse for them. It was during this time that Jonah came to Nineveh to preach. The Lord had gone ahead of Jonah to prepare them for this message. But Jonah was not very excited about this calling.
When we take a closer look at this book of Jonah, several things emerge:
1. This is unlike any of the other books of prophecy in that it is a story not a sermon.
2. We see the negative Jewish attitude toward the gentile world.
3. We discover God’s desire for all men to be saved.
4. We find that preaching God’s judgments are effective for evangelism.
5. We learn that the preacher of that message may have the wrong motives, but the message still produces fruit.
We all know the story, but humor me and listen to it again.
The book opens as God calls Jonah to preach against the great city of Nineveh because their wickedness has come up before God.
Notice Jonah’s actions and attitude. Is he afraid? No. Did he get the directions wrong? No. Jonah runs away from God because, as we find out later, he wants the city of Nineveh to be destroyed. He’s glad that their wickedness has come up before God. He can think of nothing better than that Nineveh be burned into ashes and gone for good. Nineveh is a terrible enemy of Israel. Syria and Israel put together are no match for the Assyrians. Last week we studied about Naaman and Elisha. I mentioned then how Israel and Syria were neighbors who had to get along with each other in order to work together to deal with their mutual enemy Assyria to the East just across the Euphrates. Jonah hates the Assyrians. Now God has called him to go preach to them and he’s afraid that they might just listen! So instead of going, he runs away from God.
Have you ever tried to hide from God? Any time we go against God’s word we tend to hide. It’s the age old problem of sin. When parents of young children don’t hear anything from the kids in the next room, one of two things is going on. Either they are sleeping, or getting into trouble. It’s innate that when we do something wrong we tend to want to hide. The wrong in Jonah started with an attitude. He didn’t want to do what God said. So he ran to hide.
God’s word is not always easy. It isn’t always something we want. But, listen, if you want a life of joy and peace, do what God says. To obey is better than sacrifice. Don’t think about how you can break God’s word and get forgiveness later, think about Jonah. He didn’t get away with it. And neither will you.
Jonah ran, but I love the way God works all things together here. Jonah heads for Tarshish on a boat, but God sees and God knows. So God sent a storm and interrupted his trip. Jonah is sleeping in what the Bible says is a deep sleep. The Hebrew word here is “radam” and it is used twice. Sleeping he was asleep. It is the way the Hebrew language emphasized something by repetition. Like Jesus when he would say, Truly, truly, I say unto you. In other words, Jonah was out cold. Even the storm doesn’t seem to bother him. Perhaps he hasn’t slept since God gave him the command to go to Nineveh. Perhaps he has been so tense and upset that he is simply exhausted. Whatever the reason, he’s asleep. The storm is raging and everyone else is praying to their gods. The captain of the ship finds Jonah and wakes him up. “How can you sleep! Get up and call on your god! Maybe he will help us.”
They are desperate. They cast lots to see who may be responsible. Jonah draws the short straw. The inquisition begins. Jonah tells the sailors that he is a Hebrew who worships the Lord, the God of heaven who made the sea and the land. “What have you done?” They ask. Jonah tells them he is running away from God. They ask him what to do to calm the sea, and he tells them to throw him over and it will be calm.