“Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and call out against it, for their evil has come up before me.” Jonah 1:2
God’s wrath has been kindled. Just like the angels with Sodom and Gomorrah, Jonah has the task of going to his enemies. This is unique because very few prophets were actually sent out of their country to bring God’s judgement. Most of the prophets delivered their messages from within the safety of Israel. Not Jonah—he was going to be sent directly into Nineveh.
Streets of fire
The Ninevites were known for their cruelty to those they attacked and defeated. For instance, they skinned their victims alive and then impaled their bodies on sharpened stakes. They burned children alive, forcing parents to watch, and then also killed them. Furthermore, they also buried victims to their necks in the sand and left them to die of the elements. Whole cities would commit suicide rather than fall into their hands.
“But Jonah rose to flee to Tarshish from the presence of the Lord. He went down to Joppa and found a ship going to Tarshish. So he paid the fare and went on board, to go with them to Tarshish, away from the presence of the Lord.” Jonah 1:3
And thus we meet the rouge prophet and the running from God begins! Jonah is could not be more opposed to this assignment. Like so many of us, he does not yet understand that God does not call his followers to easy things. Fear sets in, and Jonah boards a cargo ship. Simply put, he runs away.
Racing from the Father’s house
Jonah heads to Tarshish, a very wealthy city located in southwest Spain—over 2,700 miles away from Nineveh! The writer tells us that he was set on escaping “the presence of the Lord,” which is a peculiar phrase. The original Jewish readers knew that God is omnipresent—literally, everywhere all the time—such as David’s proclamations show in Psalm 139:8–10:
If I ascend to heaven, you are there! If I make my bed in Sheol, you are there!
If I take the wings of the morning and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea,
even there your hand shall lead me, and your right hand shall hold me.
Basically, running away from God’s metaphysical omnipresence isn’t possible.
Instead, Jonah runs away from the holy temple, the holy city, the holy people of God in order to escape his holy responsibilities.
Jonah’s actions revealed where his unseen heart already was . . . far from God.
Prone to run
Just like Jonah, we are prone to run from God. We leave the church, we leave Christian community, we run from God’s Word and lie to ourselves thinking, I’ll be okay anywhere but near him and his people, or, He won’t find me, or, I’m totally safe.
In reality, we too are tempted to run from our safety and our security constantly, believing that peace can be found elsewhere.
Have you ever run from God? What was that like? What did he tell you to do? Whom did he tell you to reach out to? Whom did he tell you to love?
What dream, what vision, what assignment did God give you for your life that you just bolted from?
What does repentance and turning to faith in Jesus look like for you today?