RUN, JONAH, RUN
Good Monday morning. I hope you had a great weekend. Today, we will begin a look into the little book of Jonah. The Book of Jonah is unlike any other book in the Bible. It is a book about a prophet and not a collection of oracles by a prophet. And, it is perhaps the biggest fish tale ever told. No, it's not a story about a man who caught a big fish, it is a story about a fish that caught a man. However, this story is really not about the big fish that swallowed Jonah. Unfortunately, that is what most people know about this book.
"The word of the Lord came to Jonah son of Amittai: 'Go to the great city of Nineveh and preach against it, because its wickedness has come up before me." (Jonah 1:1-2)
Not much is known about Jonah, but 2 Kings 14:25 does attest to the fact that he was a real figure from Gath-hepher. He was a prophet during the reign of Jeroboam II in the eighth century making him a contemporary of Amos. In the story God directs Jonah to go to Nineveh and preach against it, "because its wickedness has come up before me (God)." Now, this is interesting in that it reminds us of the time when the three angels showed up at Abraham's place on their way to Sodom. If you recall the wickedness of Sodom had risen up to God in that story. Is this just another way of saying, "I have seen their wickedness?" Jonah is given quite a task. Nineveh was a major city in Assyria and was known for its hostilities.
'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." (Jonah 1:3)
This scene has been referred to through the years by many preachers who talk about running from the call to preach. They claimed they were just like Jonah, running from the call to ministry. I would argue that Jonah was not running from any call to ministry. No, he was running from the task of going to Nineveh. (This will become more evident as we go.) It was not uncommon for a prophet to resist their initial call from God, but I believe Jonah had a deeper problem. He decides to run the opposite direction than the one God called him to go. He heads for Tarshish. Jonah's destination (Tarshish) was a western seaport believed to have been located in Spain, on the outer edge of the then known world. If this was indeed the location, Jonah intended to go as far away as he could to get away from God. However, Jonah was about to learn that you can not get away from God's presence.
"Then the Lord sent a great wind on the sea, and such a violent storm arose that the ship threatened to break up. 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. (Jonah 1:4-5a)
Jonah's flight from the presence of God is described in a series of descents. He went down, down, down... Notice the sailors each have their own god. They cry out to their gods, but where is Jonah? Who does he cry out to? He "had gone below deck, where he lay down and fell into a deep sleep." (Jonah 1: 5b) Interesting. In the New Testament during a storm Jesus went to the bottom of the boat and fell asleep. His disciples went to him and basically asked: "How can you sleep during a time like this?" Now, for the interesting part. They told Jonah to call on his god, so that just maybe his god would rescue them all. They then cast lots to find out who was responsible for their predicament. It was Jonah. They want to know why. He explains to them: "I am a Hebrew and I worship the Lord, the God of heaven, who made the sea and the land." (Jonah 1:9) How interesting. We are told that somewhere along the way he had told them he was running from this same God. Can one worship God and be running from God at the same time? Now notice: They ask Jonah what they can do to make the sea calm down. He tells them: "Pick me up and throw me into the sea." (Jonah 1:12) Really? He would rather die than do what the Lord told him to do? So, this tells me that he was not afraid to go to Nineveh. He was ok with dying. There was another reason he did not want to go to Nineveh. Also, notice they had asked him to call on his god so that maybe he would spare them. Did he? Nope! Instead of them throwing Jonah overboard they tried to row safely to land. They could not. What do they do? "They cried to the Lord." (Jonah 1:14) Yes, they cried to Jonah's God. Then they threw him overboard. Basically, they asked God for forgiveness ahead of time. You know: "Lord forgive me for what I am about to do." Once they threw him overboard the sea calmed down and the men worshipped and feared the Lord.
"But the Lord provided a great fish to swallow Jonah." (Jonah 1:17) Notice, it does not say "Jonah was swallowed by a whale." Nope, "whale" is one of those words that we insert, just like the apple that Eve did not eat, but we often use the word "apple."
Tomorrow, we will discover some very interesting things that we have perhaps not ever realized about this story. You won't want to miss it. Join me tomorrow. -Pastor Rick