Jonah’s story is not that different from mine and yours. No, I haven’t been eaten by a fish (though I still have pain from a fight with our dog once), and you haven’t either. But, really, that’s not the point of the story. Sure, we teach our kids about “Jonah and the Great Fish” (or “whale” from a mistranslation of Matthew 12:40), but that’s really such a small part of the story.
In chapter 1 we are introduced to the main character and find out some things about him and ourselves.
The Lord said to Jonah son of Amittai, “Go immediately to Nineveh, that large capital city, and announce judgment against its people because their wickedness has come to my attention.” Instead, Jonah immediately headed off to Tarshish to escape from the commission of the Lord. (Jonah 1:1-3)
To be honest, most of the time I wish that God would just speak up and talk to me like he did Jonah. In my mind, I would be eager to obey, not run. What was Jonah’s problem?
Well, first, he was probably scared out of his mind. The Assyrians were violent, nasty people. For hundreds of years they practiced a form of torture and execution called impalement. (If the picture doesn’t do it for you, click on it for detailed information about this horrific procedure. It will open in a new window.) He could imagine what would happen if he walked in and starting announcing their demise. And it wouldn’t be pretty.
Secondly, although he was probably more than willing to preach condemnation on the Assyrians, he knew too much. By his own admission (Jonah 4:2), he knew that there was a chance (however remote) that the Assyrians would repent because of his preaching. And he knew that if they repented God would forgive. And he knew that if God forgave them, he wouldn’t destroy them. And in his heart, Jonah could not bear the thought of them surviving after all they had done to the Israelite people.
So he ran. And he began to go down. I think of Jonah’s story as a downward spiraling staircase. Watch his descent as the story unfolds.
His first step down was to Joppa. Although it was in the region originally allotted to the Israelite tribe of Dan, the Danites never conquered that area, so it remained in control of the sea-faring Phoenicians (Joshua 19:40-48). In running from God he also ran from God’s people. He didn’t want any reminders of his directive.
One of the first mistakes people make today when running from God is leaving the church, too. We can’t look people in the eye. We can’t sing the songs. We can’t hear the preaching or teaching. The result is that in addition to missing out on God’s plan for us, we also completely disconnect ourselves from anything and anyone that could help us accomplish it.
You may be running from God right now. Maybe you’re scared of what might happen if you obey. Maybe you know too much, and you’re just not willing to go there because of what you know will happen.
If that’s your story, then you have a decision to make. You can either become a fugitive like Jonah – running from anything that reminds you of God – or you can stop running and come back to the only ones who can really help you.
This weekend churches across the world are celebrating Easter – God’s ultimate show of power and forgiveness. If you’ve been running, there is no more appropriate time to come back to him than on the anniversary of his love chasing after you.
If you don’t have a church where you feel comfortable attending, and you’re in the South Bend area, I’d invite you to worship with us at Oak Tree Community Church. It’s time to stop running.
We’ll finish chapter 1 in the next post.
Posts in this series: