The Folly of Running from God (Jonah 1:1-16)

A game many children are good at is “Hide and Seek”. The thrill of running away while the person who is seeking has their eyes closed. You look for a safe haven in which you will be able to remain while the seeker is searching hard. Sometimes a child find a great hiding spot and the seeker will never find them. Other times, a child thinks they are in a great hiding spot, but the reality is they aren’t. They think they are hiding, but they can still be seen.

When it comes to Christian living, we can be the same. It is amazing that we can actually deceive ourselves into thinking that we can run away from and then effectively hide from Him. How do we run away from God? Running away from God is seen in any attempt or act of disobeying His Word. When we choose to go in a direction of disobedience.

The Bible provides a number of examples of people who “ran away from God”. After they disobeyed God’s command, Adam and Eve hid themselves from God! These acts were unquestionably disobedient and were reflections of their rebellion. An insightful and intriguing example of someone “running away” from God is Jonah. And it is to this character we now turn as we began a new series in the book of Jonah. This book teaches as four great themes: the Sinfulness of Man, the Sovereignty of God, the Grace of God, and the Necessity of Repentance. In this message we will begin by considering Jonah’s rejection and God’s sovereign rule.

1. JONAH'S SINFUL REJECTION (1:1-3)

We are introduced to Jonah in the opening verses of this book,

Now the word of the Lord came to Jonah the son of Amittai, saying, “Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and call out against it, for their evil has come up before me” (1:1-2).

Jonah was a prophet and had the privilege to proclaim God’s Word in a time of prosperity on the nation of Israel (2 King 14:25). Here he is commissioned by God to preach to Nineveh. Nineveh, which was an ancient city dating back to Genesis 10, was located on the eastern bank of the Tigris River (near modern day Mosul), and was approximately 800 kilometers northeast of Israel. It was an evil and corrupt city. I don’t need to go into the specifics, but there are records of how vile, merciless and repulsive these people were. A century after the events of the book of Jonah, Naham pronounces the judgment of God up them (Naham 3). After being introduced to Jonah and the task that God had given him, something really bad happens. We read,

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 down into it, to go with them to Tarshish, away from the presence of the Lord” (1:3).

Instead of doing what God said, Jonah got aboard a ship and went to Tarshish. We don’t know for certain where this is, but it is believed by many that this is located somewhere in the south of Spain. The point is, Jonah is now going in the opposite direction and he is running away from God’s will. Jonah’s running from God came as a result of reluctance to do what God commanded. Granted, there was a lot of difficulty on Jonah’s side to accept such a task given the brutality and evil that had taken place by the hand of the Ninevites. Nonetheless, this is what God required and Jonah refused to do what God has said.

You and I are not prophets like Jonah, but we do have the word from the Lord – namely the Bible. Every time we choose to ignore, reject or disobey what God has said, we are being just like Jonah. Do you ever notice that when you choose to go against God’s Word, sometimes things may pick up and life may appear to be going very well? It is as if you are now free and everything it working out for you. This appeared to be the case for Jonah. He went down to Joppa, “found a ship going to Tarshish”; he had enough money for the fare, got on board and bon voyage! Life was good. Sadly, so many people feel that because everything is “working out”; they are in the will of God. But as we will see in this narrative, this is not the case.

Jonah enters into a downward spiral of sin. Jonah “went down to Joppa” (1:3), “down into the inner part of the ship” (1:5), (1:17); “went down” to the bottom of the sea (2:6). Down, down, down was the description of his walk with God. In this act of running away from his responsibilities, Jonah may have felt free. However, this did not last long. This brings me to my second point.

2. GOD'S SOVEREIGN RULE (1:4-17)

Jonah could run, but he certainly could not hide! We read in Jeremiah, “Can a man hide himself in secret places so that I cannot see him? declares the Lord. Do I not fill heaven and earth? declares the Lord” (Jeremiah 23:24). God, who is the Sovereign of the universe, sent a storm that placed fear into the sailors (Jonah 1:5-6). Now that is no small thing. These men would have seen some pretty bad storms in their days, but this one was different. This was a storm designed to catch Jonah’s attention and convert pagan sailors!

Notice what Jonah is doing all this time; he was in the inner part of the ship fast asleep! When refusing to obey the Word of God, many people turn to all sorts of things to sooth their conscience. Some turn to entertainment and others to drinking. When we are rejecting God’s Word, we seek to fill our lives with all sorts of distractions designed to stop us from thinking about the Lord. Jonah chose to sleep away his guilt. For Jonah, this sleepy state was a reflection of the dangerous condition of spiritual slumber. After some conversation and commotion, Jonah acknowledged “I am a Hebrew, and I fear the LORD, the God of heaven, who made the sea and the dry land” (1:9). The sailors responded,

Then the men were exceedingly afraid and said to him, “What is this that you have done!” For the men knew that he was fleeing from the presence of the Lord, because he had told them.Then they said to him, “What shall we do to you, that the sea may quiet down for us?” For the sea grew more and more tempestuous (1:10-11).

After this he then told the sailors to hurl him into the sea (1:12). They objected and tried to get back to dry land by putting their lives at risk, but it was to no avail (1:13-14). After they did this, the sea was calm (1:15). Then we are told that “the men feared the LORD exceedingly, and they offered sacrifice to the LORD and made vows” (1:16). Notice that their sacrifice and vows were offered after the Lord calmed the storm. I believe that this is an indication that their fear of the Lord was the fear of a genuine believer. This is the kind of fear that is the beginning of wisdom (cf. Prov. 9:10).

 

CONCLUSION

Despite his selfish and rebellious act of running away from God, the Lord chased Jonah and got his attention. The rest of the book goes on to provide further valuable lessons concerning God’s sovereignty, mercy and grace.

We may look at Jonah and think quite poorly of his behaviour, and we would be right. However, we need to be honest and acknowledge that we are not that different. Every time we reject the commands and precepts of Scripture, and choose to follow our own selfish desires, there is a sense in which we are running away from God. This is not a good place to be. If you are His child, the problem with running away from God is that He will not allow you to defy Him. He will chase you down (more on this next week). We must not fool ourselves into believing the lie that defying God’s Word equates with freedom. It is nothing more than bondage to sin. Despite the apparent “freedom” of living our own way, if you are His child, He is jealous for you and He will do as He pleases to correct your sinful actions. This is actually very gracious and serious.

Despite our attempts, we can never truly escape His presence. We may think we have hidden, but He always knows where we are and what we are doing (or not doing). David understood this,

 

Where shall I go from your Spirit? Or where shall I flee from your presence? 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. If I say, “Surely the darkness shall cover me, and the light about me be night,” even the darkness is not dark to you; the night is bright as the day, for darkness is as light with you (Psalm 139:7-12)

 

Jonah was disobedient to the mission God had called for him to go on. This chapter revealed a lot about Jonah and points us to the mighty sovereign hand of God. But looking past the events of this book, we learn that in the person of Jesus Christ a greater than Jonah had come. Where Jonah failed, Jesus was faithful. He also was called to go on a mission, but His mission was greater. In full obedience, delighting to do the will of His Father Jesus came into this world to save sinners.

 

Study Questions

  1. What did the Lord require of Jonah and how did he respond? (Jonah 1:1-3)
  2. How does this chapter teach us that running away from God is futile? See also Psalm 139:7-12
  3. Did the sailors get converted? What evidence can you draw form the passage? (Jonah 1:7-16)
  4. What does this chapter teach us concerning God’s sovereignty over nature and circumstances?