Jonah 1 (NLT)
Run, Jonah, Run!
Jonah was from the village of Gath Hepher which was located on a small hill about three miles northeast of Nazareth. He was a Galilean prophet of the northern kingdom of Israel. Prior to the ministry of Jonah, Israel was in a weakened condition. Its borders were shrinking as it lost its outlying territories to powerful enemies. The nation was forced to pay high tribute to the king of Assyria. In 2 Kings 14:26 it is said of this time, “Everyone in Israel, whether slave or free, was suffering.”
Since we have just been reading about the Assyrian interaction with the southern kingdom of Judah, I thought we would slip in this wonderful story of God and his love for all the world, even for the people, like the Ninevites, who look like enemies.
1 The Lord gave this message to Jonah son of Amittai: 2“Get up and go to the great city of Nineveh. Announce my judgment against it because I have seen how wicked its people are.”
Only 500 miles to the east of Jonah was Ninevah, the capital city of the Assyrian Empire. The gate above is a reconstruction of one of the 15 gates of the ancient city — now in Mosul, Iraq. I am not sure what condition this gate may be in at this time.
3 But Jonah got up and went in the opposite direction to get away from the Lord. He went down to the port of Joppa, where he found a ship leaving for Tarshish. He bought a ticket and went on board, hoping to escape from the Lord by sailing to Tarshish.
Some 2000 miles west of Israel and Judah, Tarshish was famed as the westernmost port of the Mediterranean. It was about as far away as one could get! The city was also known for its mines of gold and silver.
Why didn’t Jonah want to go to Nineveh and do what the Lord told him to do?
It may have been because he was given a difficult job to do. Nahum 3:1-4 gives us a good idea of how wicked the people of Nineveh were. Jonah had every reason to expect that at the very best, he would be mocked and treated as a fool. He might be attacked and killed if he did what the Lord told him to do.
It was also because Jonah didn’t want the Assyrians in Nineveh to escape God’s judgment. Imagine a Jewish man in New York during World War II hearing God say, ‘I’m going to bring terrible judgment on Germany. I want you to go to Berlin and tell Nazi Germany to repent.’ Instead of doing it, the man heads for San Francisco and then hops on a boat for Hong Kong.
. Psalm 139:7-10 (NIV)
Where can I go from your Spirit?
Where can I flee from your presence?
If I go up to the heavens, you are there;
if I make my bed in the depths, you are there.
If I rise on the wings of the dawn,
if I settle on the far side of the sea,
even there your hand will guide me,
your right hand will hold me fast.
4 But the Lord hurled a powerful wind over the sea, causing a violent storm that threatened to break the ship apart. 5 Fearing for their lives, the desperate sailors shouted to their gods for help and threw the cargo overboard to lighten the ship.
But all this time Jonah was sound asleep down in the hold. 6 So the captain went down after him. “How can you sleep at a time like this?” he shouted. “Get up and pray to your god! Maybe your god will have pity on us and spare our lives.”
“Then cherish pity, lest you drive an angel from your door.”
~William Blake (1757-1827)
7 Then the crew cast lots to see which of them had offended the gods and caused the terrible storm. When they did this, the lots identified Jonah as the culprit. 8 “Why has this awful storm come down on us?” they demanded. “Who are you? What is your line of work? What country are you from? What is your nationality?”
9 Jonah answered, “I am a Hebrew, and I worship the Lord, the God of heaven, who made the sea and the land.” Then he told them he was running away from the Lord.
10 The sailors were terrified when they heard this. “Oh, why did you do it?” they groaned. 11 And since the storm was getting worse all the time, they asked him, “What should we do to you to stop this storm?”
12 “Throw me into the sea,” Jonah said, “and it will become calm again. I know that this terrible storm is all my fault.”
13 Instead, the sailors rowed even harder to get the ship to the land. But the stormy sea was too violent for them, and they couldn’t make it. 14 Then they cried out to the Lord, Jonah’s God. “O Lord,” they pleaded, “don’t make us die for this man’s sin. And don’t hold us responsible for his death. O Lord, you have sent this storm upon him for your own good reasons.”
15 Then the sailors picked Jonah up and threw him into the raging sea,
and the storm stopped at once! 16 The sailors were awestruck by the Lord’s great power, and they offered him a sacrifice and vowed to serve him.
17 Now the Lord had arranged for a great fish to swallow Jonah. And Jonah was inside the fish for three days and three nights.
HERE is “Eternal Father, Strong to Save,” also known as “The Navy Hymn.”
Eternal Father, strong to save,
Whose arm hath bound the restless wave,
Who bidd’st the mighty ocean deep
Its own appointed limits keep;
Oh, hear us when we cry to Thee,
For those in peril on the sea!
O Trinity of love and power,
Our brethren shield in danger’s hour;
From rock and tempest, fire and foe,
Protect them wheresoe’er they go;
Thus evermore shall rise to Thee
Glad hymns of praise from land and sea.
Oh, guard and guide the men who fly
Through the great spaces of the sky.
Be with them traversing the air,
In darkening storms or sunlight fair;
Oh, hear us when we lift our prayer
For those in peril in the air.
New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible. New Living Translation copyright© 1996, 2004, 2007 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.