But Jonah rose up to flee to Tarshish from the presence of the LORD So he went down to Joppa, found a ship which was going to Tarshish, paid the fare and went down into it to go with them to Tarshish from the presence of the LORD.Jonah 1:3(NASB)
Jonah was chosen by God to be a missionary to the Gentiles. Unlike the majority of Israelite prophets who called the nation to repentance and proclaimed God's great love and faithfulness towards His chosen people, Jonah's message was a warning to pagan Gentiles to turn from their false gods and trust in the true God of heaven and earth Who demonstrates His great heart of compassion, mercy, and grace, for ALL people.
Jonah was a prophet who came from Galilee and lived in a town near Nazareth, the hometown of Christ's childhood. We do not know how or when the Word of the Lord came to Jonah, but he was called by God and commissioned to rise up and go to the great city of Nineveh and preach against its ungodly behaviour, for their wickedness of the city had come up before the Lord.
Nineveh was the most highly populated city of antiquity which indulged in luxuries and boasted of its fine architecture. The inhabitants of Nineveh were pagan worshippers of lifeless idols and false deities. He did not like his assignment and so: "Jonah rose up to flee to Tarshish from the presence of the Lord."
We discover later in the book, that Jonah objected to the Lord's demonstration of mercy and grace towards the Gentiles. He did not approve of God's mercy being extended towards these pagans and so he decided to run away: "Jonah went down to Joppa and found a ship which was going to Tarshish. He paid his fare and went down into the vessel with the rest of the crew, away from the presence of the Lord."
Instead of obeying the Word of the Lord, Jonah chose to run away from God's presence, and he boarded a vessel that was bound for a place far away from Nineveh! Israel were supposed to be a light to the Gentiles and God's eternal purpose was to save all people, not only Israel. It is God's will that ALL men are saved and that all come to repentance. In His wisdom, He purposed that salvation would be fulfilled through the Jewish nation who were given the Law, the Prophets, the Psalms, the covenants, and the promises, and through whom the Messiah of Israel and Saviour of the world was to come.
Jonah is the only person in the Old Testament that refused to obey God's Word and attempted to run away from His God-ordained mission. Indeed, he ran in the opposite direction. Instead of going to Nineveh in the east, he boarded a ship bound for faraway ports in the west. Jonah ran away to escape God's call on his life. Whether he pretended not to hear God's instruction, deluded himself that the ship he boarded was God's provision to use him elsewhere, or whether he displayed open rebellion against the Word of the Lord, Jonah disobeyed his God and, in so doing, he sinned.
Instead of getting up and setting off towards Nineveh to carry out the Word of the Lord, we see that his actions caused Jonah to dig himself deeper and deeper into sin, selfishness, and defiance against God's clear call.
It may seem astonishing to us that Jonah could rebel so brazenly against the Lord, and yet, when the microscope of truth is pointing in our own direction, we need to consider if there are times that we have acted like Jonah! We need to challenge our own reaction to God's call on our life and ask if we have ever closed our ears to His clear call, refused to carry out His perfect will for our life, or pretended that God was giving some alternative instruction that was more to our liking!
Although the story of Jonah is a peep into one prophet's commission which demonstrates God's grace and mercy towards all people, and that His sovereign purpose will always come to completion, it also contains many lessons for Christians today.
The story of the prophet who tried to flee from God may give us an interesting glance into the history of one of the oldest cities of antiquity, but it should also cause us to consider our own position. Are we are ready and willing to hear and obey God's call on our life, or are we like Jonah, trying to manipulate the clear teaching of Scripture to fit in with our own preferred plans and purposes. May we always be ready and willing to say, "Thy will, not mine be done."
Heavenly Father, I fear I am too ready and willing to criticise the behaviour of people like Jonah, who tried to circumnavigate Your Word in order to escape carrying out Your plans and purposes. Forgive me for the times I have turned a deaf ear to Your call, or a blind eye to Your Word of truth. Help me to be ready and willing to go where You would send me, to do what You would tell me to do, and to develop a Christ-like heart of compassion for souls that are lost and bound for eternal separation from You. I pray that many would hear the truth and turn from their sin to faith in Christ’s finished work on Calvary. Help me to be alert to the promptings of the Holy Spirit in my life and to be ready and willing to do only those things that come from You. I ask this in Jesus' name, AMEN.