Run Away from God? Seriously?

Jonah 1:1-3

Perhaps one of the most startling statements uttered about prophet of God – purposely takes steps to run away from God, to flee from the presence of the Lord. Not as though had poor track record – know from 2 Kings 14 he was right on target regarding Amaziah. Every reason to believe God was pleased with Jonah’s performance of duty, might continue to use him in prophetic ministry. Problem appears to be: God and Jonah not on same page about what next assignment should be.

Truth is Jonah by no means only child of God with that issue. Happens frequently God has particular act of service in mind for us, our mind goes elsewhere. Many possible reasons for difference in perspective or ministry priorities. Can be task doesn’t fit our idea of what we should be doing, what it all means for us. A little different for Jonah – assignment didn’t fit his idea of what God should be doing. Jonah had good understanding of God’s character, what God’s purpose likely was for Ninevites. Jonah way underestimated God’s determination to carry out his plan for both Jonah and residents of Nineveh.

Story begins with God’s call to Jonah, followed by charge given. In response we see just how contrary a servant of God can be, then God’s inescapable presence.

A. God’s call v.1

was God who made first move

Jonah probably content living and doing the status quo – satisfied to live well inside his comfort zone, no need to take risks

God sent word to Jonah, not told how, do know God communicated expectations clearly to Jonah, intended Jonah to respond

spoke in a way that Jonah understood who was speaking

was not first time Jonah received word from God – at least second time, maybe more, accompanied by real sense of God’s presence… strong enough made Jonah uncomfortable

good to keep in mind – this the same God who spoke and things came into existence out of nothing, can certainly speak to prophet so Jonah knows exactly who he is hearing

also important that God’s call to particular service directed to particular person – identified clearly and specifically: Jonah son of Amittai, no other individual in view

and what was expected

not only God’s identity clear, so also what he intended his prophet to do – required action that would take him far outside his comfort zone and far from home

not what God expects of all his people, sometimes not far from home; usually outside the choices would make on our own

often have smaller view of things than God, what he can accomplish; and… God wants his kids to grow to maturity… does what is necessary to bring that about

note: God doesn’t use riddles or confuse his servant

some things God said/did in Bible may puzzle us… because we lack context or information, not because God didn’t speak clearly

when God has something particular for his servant to do, God makes will known clearly in way tailored to that individual

B. God’s charge v.2

get up and go

not something Jonah could do from comfort of own home in Gath Hepher – needed to pack bags, go to place of service

plainly not something Jonah could delegate – particular task only Jonah could do, not because no one else was capable

God had far more in mind than simply getting warning to Nineveh – God knew how Jonah would respond, intended to use that to demonstrate even more of God’s gracious character

preach against it

a message of impending judgment that God would bring on Nineveh for their sinful behavior – had been center of worship of Ishtar, fertility goddess, for centuries

was type of culture that promoted pursuit of pleasure without restraint, living for the moment, giving little thought or preparation for future

God has reached his limit

“their wickedness had confronted him” CSB – implied, wickedness of Nineveh had become so great God could not hold back

two ways of looking at situation

if evil grew any greater, people would be beyond point of responding favorably to warning – God graciously determined to act before reached that point… God saving them before it was too late

if evil grew any greater, God would have no choice but to destroy them – think Sodom and Gomorrah, God’s righteous judgment on those two cities, without warning; here, God warning Nineveh before it was too late

important conclusions

God’s law the standard for all mankind w/o regard for ethnic origin, religion, geography, social status – the law by which everyone will be judged

either the individual or an acceptable substitute must satisfy all requirements of law in order to have eternal life

in order for wickedness to come to God’s attention (NET) God had to be paying attention – what the wicked does matters to God… both for their sake, sake of God’s people

yes, are words on the page: “ ‘As I live,’ says the Lord GOD, ‘I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his way and live. Turn, turn from your evil ways!” Eze. 33:11

and… “all things work together for good to those who love God” Rom. 8:28

words take on form and flesh in this part of life of Jonah and his mission to Nineveh – God shows length he will go to so wicked don’t stay wicked

C. God’s contrary servant v.3ab

one thing right – he got up

God told Jonah “Arise!” – maybe a point for that, probably not since his motivation as demonstrated quickly was all wrong

two things wrong

intending to disobey by going in opposite direction

500 miles to Nineveh, 2500 miles to Tarshish (as crow flies) – Nineveh near present-day Mosul, 250 mi. NW of Baghdad

Tarshish beyond opposite end of Mediterranean on Atlantic coast of Spain, pretty much end of known world for Jonah and shipmates, potentially highly dangerous journey

hoping to escape God’s presence

determination so great is emphasized – inclusio of v.3 – intention was to escape / run from presence of Yahweh

know from details elsewhere in book – Jonah not like most Americans, was not Biblically illiterate by long shot, quite the opposite

Jonah had good understanding of God’s character, too – knew deep down God is merciful and gracious… didn’t want Ninevites to know it

hoping against hope he could escape God’s notice, if not his presence – wanted to escape constant awareness of God’s presence… and disapproval of his actions

yet God shows grace

know from later scripture God could have stopped Jonah in his tracks (Saul/Paul), could have warned Ninevites himself (Belshazzar)

instead, God showed great grace and patience, allowing Jonah to disobey… and appearing to get away with it…for a while

note: just because God seems to allow wrong behavior, don’t think he will allow it forever, especially in one of his children

D. God’s continuing presence v.3c

already cannot get away, only 60 miles

Joppa was not far enough for Jonah to escape; determined to keep going, however far and long it took to find relief

truth is… really trying to outrun his conscience – as long as had sense of God’s nearness, was aware of how sinful attitude and actions were… conscience doing its job

“assumes” he can at end of the world

copying attempts of Adam and Eve – first tried to hide from one another behind clothes, then in bushes from God’s presence

if only Jonah could get far enough away, maybe would escape God’s notice, be able to push conscience down so it wouldn’t make so much noise

“Sin makes us stupid.” Maoz should not look down on Adam and Eve or Jonah; anyone wilfully disobeying God acts in same way

but the LORD pursued him

I fled Him, down the nights and down the days; / I fled Him, down the arches of the years;

I fled Him, down the labyrinthine ways / Of my own mind; and in the mist of tears / I hid from Him, and under running laughter.

Up vistaed hopes I sped; / And shot, precipitated, / Adown Titanic glooms of chasmèd fears, / From those strong Feet that followed, followed after.

The Hound of Heaven, Francis Thompson

not to “get” Jonah, for sake of Ninevites

wasn’t case of God determined to get his own way, pursuing Jonah to make it happen, not letting Jonah get away with disobedience

God had good purpose in mind for residents of Nineveh, intended to use Jonah including his disobedience to make strong points about: his grace, his mercy, his longsuffering, commitment to save the lost

Questions for us –

what would cause us to want to live outside God’s presence? Is futile to try, God will not allow that kind of harm to come to his children for long.

to what lengths would we go to bring Gospel to doomed people? when seems God is moving us in particular direction, do we resist?

Whatever the case, we should have desire to be reconciled to God ASAP when sin gets in the way. And… should have same heart for lost that God does.



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