Jonah 1, Running from God

Intro: Do you know the “dove” stories of the Bible? There are a few.

  • Noah sent one out from the ark and it returned with a branch in its beak. This signaled that the waters of the flood were receding. (good news – image of peace even today.)
  • When Jesus was born Mary offered two turtledoves as the Law of Moses stipulated for new mothers who were unable to afford the sacrifice of a lamb. At Jesus’ baptism John saw the Holy Spirit descend upon Jesus in the appearance of a dove.
  • What about the story of the dove that was swallowed by a fish? I think you do, as the Hebrew word for “dove” is “Jonah”, and you know that story don’t you? Although Jonah was a prophet, his book is not a book of prophecy in the usual sense. It is actually a history of a prophet.
  • Many view this as a myth or folklore that the prophet used as an illustration. But Jesus treated it as historically true; and those who truly believe in God have no problem with the events depicted here.

I. Who was Jonah? Jonah is not your ordinary prophet. Although God chose him to receive His Spirit, Jonah fails in many ways, and is a man of weakness and sin. This book is not so much about God message from the prophet as God’s message to the prophet. Jonah is described as “The word of the Lord came to Jonah the son of Amittai…” (Jonah 1:1). He is mentioned in 2 Kings 14:25; Speaking of Jeroboam II the text says… “He restored the territory of Israel from the entrance of Hamath to the Sea of the Arabah, according to the word of the Lord God of Israel, which He had spoken through His servant Jonah the son of Amittai, the prophet who was from Gath Hepher.” . Jonah was probably contemporary with Hosea and Amos; or possibly he preceded them. He may have been the very oldest of all the prophets whose writings we possess.

A. During the reign of Jeroboam II (ca. 793-753 B.C.) Israel and Judah were able to expand their borders, because of a period of decline in Assyria. It was probably during this period, the period during which Assyria was suffering a decline, that Jonah was commissioned to go to Nineveh. Sometimes called the “missionary prophet” – one sent, not to preach doom to Assyria, but repentance.

B. Nineveh was the capital of Assyria. The Assyrians were noted for their cruelty, especially to prisoners. There was a lot to hate about the Assyrians. As a zealous patriot, Jonah wanted God to punish or destroy them; not forgive them. Jonah’s rejection of God’s mission is at the heart of this book.

C. This short book of “Jonah” easily falls into four sections… (seen in the chapter divisions and the setting of each)

    1. Running from God – chapter 1 (in the boat)
    2. Turning back to God – chapter 2 (in the belly of the fish)
    3. Working with God – chapter 3 (in the city)
    4. Resisting the Purpose of God – Chapter 4 (under the vine) We are not going to be able to study all of the story today. But we will consider this opening chapter.

II. Running from God: Jonah 1:1-3 – Now the word of the Lord came to Jonah the son of Amittai, saying, 2 “Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and cry out against it; for their wickedness has come up before Me.” 3 But Jonah arose 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 down into it, to go with them to Tarshish from the presence of the Lord. This is not how a prophet is supposed to act when he gets the commission to go preach. But Jonah has his reasons for his rebellion, and we need to consider our own resemblance to him.

A. “Arise, Go to Nineveh” – I remember being asked when I first decided to preach, “where do you want to go”? (“I just want to go where I can do the most good. “Wherever God sends me”) Where did Jonah want to go? Any place but Nineveh! Notice that the order was to “go” to Nineveh, that great city. It was not to just cry out against the wickedness of Nineveh while remaining in Israel. Amos and Hosea may have been prophesying at the same time, predicting the coming punishment of Israel. (“Therefore I will send you into captivity beyond Damascus,” Says the Lord, whose name is the God of hosts. Amos 5:27) This was a message FOR the Ninevites, not just ABOUT the Ninevites. What about the gospel? It is about sinners, or for sinners? If it is for them then we must take it to them.

1. Cry out against it – The Assyrians had spread much misery among the Israelites. If something like that occurred along our own borders how sympathetic would you be toward those “enemies” who disrupted your life? Jonah hated Assyria, and that interfered with the job God gave him to do. Does nationalistic spirit, or even hatred for foreigners interfere with the job God has given us.

B. “But Jonah arose to flee to Tarshish from the presence of the Lord.”Jonah decided to go in the other direction. The city of Tarshish was a Phoenician outpost in SW Spain on the edge of the Mediterranean world. It was considered the end of the world to the people of Jonah’s day. When Jonah ran, he really ran! The description that he fled “from the presence of God” does not necessarily indicate that he thought he could physically hide from God. It may simply indicate he was going to live among people that did not belong to God. But, it is true that the false gods of his day were considered territorial, and he may have underestimated the true God. Can anyone hide from God?

1. Read carefully Psalm 139:1-10O Lord, You have searched me and known me. 2 You know my sitting down and my rising up; You understand my thought afar off. 3 You comprehend my path and my lying down, And are acquainted with all my ways. 4 For there is not a word on my tongue, But behold, O Lord, You know it altogether. 5 You have hedged me behind and before, And laid Your hand upon me. 6 Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; It is high, I cannot attain it. 7 Where can I go from Your Spirit? Or where can I flee from Your presence? 8 If I ascend into heaven, You are there; If I make my bed in hell, behold, You are there. 9 If I take the wings of the morning, And dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea, 10 Even there Your hand shall lead me, And Your right hand shall hold me. Jonah was not dealing with just a god of the mountains or a god of the plains. Jehovah is the God. No one can physically hide from Him (leave His presence) and no one can refuse to obey Him without consequence.

2. How does that thought make you feel? God knows. When we act in ways that are sinful or shameful, God is aware. God knows if we love Him, hate Him or if we simply do not care either way. For the wicked that is the most terrifying of thoughts (keep it far from them). But for the faithful, there is comfort in the omniscience of God. God knows what His faithful children go through, and He cares. The faithful simply do not want to hide from God. In fact, they look forward to the day when they will be with Him.

II. “But the Lord sent out a great wind on the sea”Jonah 1:4-5 – But the Lord sent out a great wind on the sea, and there was a mighty tempest on the sea, so that the ship was about to be broken up. 5 Then the mariners were afraid; and every man cried out to his god, and threw the cargo that was in the ship into the sea, to lighten the load. But Jonah had gone down into the lowest parts of the ship, had lain down, and was fast asleep. The remainder of chapter one is about God pursuit of Jonah.

A. It is important for us to see God’s reaction to Jonah’s rebellion.

    • He could have let Jonah go – but He cares sin;
    • He could have sunk the ship – but He cares about the sinner.

1. The storm is not arbitrary or ordinary. It was not a miracle for a storm to arise on the Mediterranean Sea, but wind and storm are ministers of Jehovah, sent by Him to accomplish His purpose. Even the pagan sailors know something is going on here (v. 7). Despite the ferociousness of the storm, Jonah is sound asleep. But God would wake him up. Homer Hailey notes that Jonah was the only atheist on board, as the sailors cried out to their gods, while Jonah ignored His.

2. Jonah 1:6So the captain came to him, and said to him, “What do you mean, sleeper? Arise, call on your God; perhaps your God will consider us, so that we may not perish.” This is ironic and tragic. A heathen sailor rebuking a prophet of God and calling on him to pray! They cast lots to determine the source of the trouble and God led them to Jonah. They immediately begin to interrogate him (v. 8) – what is your occupation, where are you from? Whose god should we pray to?

a. notice also that Jonah was the only guilty one on board, yet many were in danger. Our sin is not a victimless crime, as Satan would want us to think. Our choices impact others. (My neglect or rebellion could cost the souls of my grandchildren).

3. Jonah’s confession and testimony. Jonah 1:9 – “I am a Hebrew; and I fear the Lord, the God of heaven, who made the sea and the dry land.” It is refreshing to see that Jonah does not try to hide anymore. He confesses his nationality and his faith in Jehovah, the God of heaven, land and the Sea. His words put fear in the minds of the sailors, and even they could see the folly of trying to flee from such a God. (v 10)

        • There are times when our choices seem really irrational and incongruous with reality. Jonah was certainly in one of those times here. He KNEW who God was (God of land and sea) and yet he took a boat to get away from him. How often do we do things that are completely contradictory to what we know?

a. For the first time, these sailors understand that the God who has brought the storm is not a local god who can be fled from. He was the God of the sea and the land. Jonah had unintentionally led these pagans to a faith in God. Now notice how this faith is evidenced.

4. The faith of the Sailors: These mariners sought to be obedient to the word of this God, given through His prophet. They did not take it upon themselves to try to please Him in their own way. Jonah 1:11“What shall we do to you that the sea may be calm for us?”

Note – in vs. 12 Jonah makes his first step towards recovery. Jonah 1:12“For I know that this great tempest is because of me.” God is pursuing Jonah so that He can first recognize His own responsibility. This is crucial to our way back as well. God’s words are designed to convince us of our culpability in our predicament. We are sinners. The suffering of your life is the result of sin. It may or may not be your personal sin in view, but sin is the problem, and it is the problem of each one of us.

a. “And he said to them, “Pick me up and throw me into the sea; then the sea will become calm for you. (v. 12) Jonah was now willing to sacrifice himself for these heathen sailors. One commentator called this heroic faith on Jonah’s part. It certainly is a reversal of the sectarian, prejudicial spirit that caused him to run from God.

b. At first they did not like Jonah’s answer. They were not in the habit of throwing people overboard. They attempted even more to row out of it. (v. 13), but the good intentions and efforts of these men could not accomplish God’s purposes for Jonah. The storm got worse.

c. Jonah 1:14Therefore they cried out to the Lord and said, “We pray, O Lord, please do not let us perish for this man’s life, and do not charge us with innocent blood; for You, O Lord, have done as it pleased You.” When their own efforts were futile, they cried out again for God’s direction. They asked God to not hold them responsible for the life of the man they getting ready to throw into the sea. (Compare this to the words of the religious leaders of Jesus’ time – “let His blood be upon us”) And then they did what Jonah told them to do – they threw him overboard. When a prophet tells you to toss him overboard, you should do it!

        • But do not fail to notice what they say about God as they do it – for You, O Lord, have done as it pleased You.” They obey even though it was against their own inclinations and they did not understand. They knew God was in charge.

III. “The sea ceased from its raging” Jonah 1:15-16 – So they picked up Jonah and threw him into the sea, and the sea ceased from its raging. 16 Then the men feared the Lord exceedingly, and offered a sacrifice to the Lord and took vows. Although throwing all the cargo into the sea had no effect, as soon as they throw in Jonah in the sea calms completely. God was accomplishing His purpose in His way. Notice the impact of this miracle on these pagan sailors:

A. Jonah 1:16Then the men feared the Lord exceedingly, and offered a sacrifice to the Lord and took vows.

1. This is how one commentator described the impact of this event on the Sailors:

      • “They were overcome with awe and amazement. Vividly they felt their own puniness and helplessness over against the majesty of Him who in a moment had stopped the howling tempest and quieted the raging sea. At the same time they had experienced in so marvelous a manner the grace and mercy of the Helper of the helpless. In adoration of His power and loving-kindness they offered what sacrifices were available on the ship and made solemn vows of allegiance and further service and sacrifices to their newly found God. Jonah’s sacrifice of his own life had not only saved the sailors’ lives, but was also the means – again unintentional on his part – of strengthening their faith in the Lord of salvation. How marvelous are the ways of our God!”

 – Dr. Theo Laetsch

Conclusion: Next week we will follow Jonah into the belly of this great fish. Please read ahead. There was more in store for Jonah. God was still relentlessly pursuing him as he ran away. That is what God does. He is not willing that any should perish, but that all would come to repentance.