A colleague of mine who was ordained after me relates how he tried to run from God’s call. He moved provinces and went to a different Church. He plough his energy into work … but our sovereign God, who calls men into the full time ministry would not let him go. He pastored a Church successfully for many years eventually landing up as lecturer at a Bible College. God will not let those whom He has set apart for ministry get away from His call. As effectual as the salvation call is, so is the call to fulltime pastoral ministry or lecturing at a Theological Institution. Jonah, as a prophet, thought he could run away from God’s sovereign call upon him and his ministry to be an evangelist to the heathen of Nineveh. Let’s read the first three verses of Jonah 1 again.
Jnh 1:1 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.
The call is in place and the mission’s purpose is clearly defined.
1) Jonah hit the highway … as fast as possible to get away from God. Have you heard of a “city god” or a localized god”? Two men whom I have the greatest respect and admiration for … both intentional believers, each told me a story about a localized god. The one was born a Zulu and came from KwaZulu-Natal. He said that there was belief in a god amongst the people of the village he came from. Should they commit adultery or theft (as examples) in another village it was okay because their god could not see there. He was only able to see what happened in their village. The other man lived in the Middle East in a state that tended towards a more relaxed or liberal Islam. He encountered Muslims visiting from Saudi Arabia. They were drinking and womanizing. He asked them if this did not anger their god. Their response was … “Our god is in Saudi and cannot see what we do here.” Did Jonah have this theology of his God? Look at his escape route …
(1) It seems as though he originated from Gath Hepher in the Northern Kingdom (Israel).
2 Ki 14:25 He was the one who restored the boundaries of Israel from Lebo Hamath to the Sea of the Arabah, in accordance with the word of the LORD, the God of Israel, spoken through his servant Jonah son of Amittai, the prophet from Gath Hepher.
To get to the coast he would have traveled further north to the sea port at Acco and boarded a ship for Joppa in the south where he boarded another ship for Tarshish. Tarshish means refinery or smelter. There were many of them situated around the Mediterranean Sea. History tells us that Phoenician traders collected metals around these places. The most likely place that this Tarshish is, is in southern Spain close to where the Guadalquivir River enters the Mediterranean Sea.
Ps 72:10 The kings of Tarshish and of distant shores.
This seems a far and remote region. Get as far away from God as possible. From where Jonah lived and served it was 885.5 kilometers to Nineveh, whilst from where he lives and served to Tarshish was 4025 kilometers. In his day this was almost to the end of the known world!
(2) Why was he fleeing? To get away from God! (to flee from the LORD). At this moment of time in the Book we don’t know why he was running away from God other than he was required to preach to pagan people. Later we read:
Jnh 4:2 He prayed to the LORD, “O LORD, is this not what I said when I was still at home? That is why I was so quick to flee to Tarshish. I knew that you are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abounding in love, a God who relents from sending calamity.”
It is true the mission to Nineveh could be dangerous and life threatening … but he was not afraid to die … see:
Jnh 1:12 “Pick me up and throw me into the sea,” he replied, “and it will become calm. I know that it is my fault that this great storm has come upon you.”
Jnh 4:3 “Now, O LORD, take away my life, for it is better for me to die than to live.”
So death was not the issue … rather the issue is that God is a
Jnh 4:3 gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abounding in love, a God who relents from sending calamity.
The issue from the outset was that he was angered by the fact that God wanted the heathen of Nineveh to repent, believe and be saved. “How could that ever be? They are dirty, stinking pagans. We are Jews. Only we as the chosen people of God can be saved. It’s just not on that you Lord should save them. I won’t go and preach there.” And he ran! He paid for a ticket to get away from God.
2) What was Jonah trying to escape from by hitting the high seas on a 4025 kilometer journey? Consider … God chose Israel to be His people. God revealed Himself to them. God gave them the Law which enshrouded the covenant relationship. God gave them the Land of Canaan. God have them the Aaronic Priesthood. God gave them the Levitical Sacrificial System. God gave them the Tabernacle followed by the Temple … and within the Temple God was present in a special way in the Holy of Holies. Jonah’s thought was something like … “God is ours and we are His.” There was no room to include others … especially the vile pagans! After all God did say … because its wickedness has come up before me … and we are the holy ones! That is the backdrop to Jonah trying to escape being part of the heathen repenting. He might have thought that being out of the way he would not see that “catastrophe” and another prophet would be doing the preaching. Now … is Jonah unique? Is he the only one seeking to duck and dive God’s requirements to reach the lost? The answer is NO! Most of us are guilty too! We run. We try to avoid being part of God’s mandate to reach the lost and grow the Kingdom. Evangelize … who me? No way … I’m not gifted. I don’t have time. I’m too busy. I have a family to care for … after all charity starts at home. My friend you can add many other comments … but … we do run thinking God is localized! Actually, we block the receptive cavity of the brain to prevent hearing that if we have a testimony of conversion, we can share that with a lost soul. That’s evangelism. We won’t learn to evangelize; won’t give time, money and prayer towards evangelism. That’s running! We won’t live the separated life before the family … that’s running.
Our gracious, compassionate God, You are slow to anger, abounding in love. Cause me to have a heart like Yours for lost hell-bound souls. Amen.