“But Jonah ran away from the Lord and headed for Tarshish,” (Jonah 1:3)
Like a lot of Christians, Jonah felt he had very good reasons to run from the Lord and the assignment God had given him. Jonah’s s story is a very good reminder to never substitute “good reasons” for the will of God.
Jonah was a prophet who lived in the days of Jeroboam II of Israel. As a prophet, Jonah had predicted the King’s many victories. Life in Israel had been severe before Jeroboam’s powerful rule. Jonah had the privilege of seeing his fellow countrymen begin to prosper in accordance with the word of the Lord, a word that he had been privileged to deliver.
Then God commanded Jonah to go preach against Nineveh. This was something that Jonah did not want to do. Jonah suspected that by going to Nineveh the city might repent of “its wickedness,” and God would withhold the threatened destruction. Assyria had been and still was a threat to Israel’s very existence and Jonah wanted no part of ministering to them. What Jonah wanted was to remain comfortable in his homeland and continue to preach a positive message of prosperity. Jonah’s patriotic motivation was so great that he determined to run from God’s presence.
God tells Jonah to preach against Nineveh (Jonah 1:1-2). Jonah tries to run to Tarshish (v.3). Identified as the cause of a great storm that threatens the ship he is traveling on, Jonah is cast overboard (vv. 4-16), where he is swallowed by a great fish (v. 17). From inside the fish Jonah prays and is delivered (Jonah 2: 1-10).
Lesson 1 – Acknowledge that God knows best
Jonah did not run from God because he failed to understand God’s purposes. He ran because he did understand them! Jonah simply did not like nor agree with God’s purposes. God doesn't ask us to agree with what He plans. All He asks is that we acknowledge that He knows best and obey.
Lesson 2 – A Christian cannot run from God
Nineveh lay to the north. Tarshish was as far south on the Mediterranean as a ship could go. It is typical of those who decide to abandon their faith to run as far as possible in the opposite direction. But like Jonah, there is no way a Christian can get away from God. God pursues His own, just as He pursued His prophet.
Lesson 3 – Disobedience puts others in great danger
Jonah’s disobedience brought a shipload of innocent people into great danger. Our lives are interwoven with the lives of others. Christians cannot disobey God without it in some way negatively affecting those close to them. The opposite is also true. When we obey God, we affect those around us for good.
Lesson 4 – Accept responsibility for our mistakes
Many who make mistakes are unwilling to accept responsibility and try desperately to avoid the consequences. Jonah, knowing he was the cause of the danger to those on board the ship, accepted responsibility and the consequences. He told the sailors to throw him overboard and promised the storm would stop and their lives would be saved.
Lesson 5 – Avoid a “we/they” attitude towards others
Christians should avoid thinking that there are no morally good people outside of the church body. The sailors on the ship all worshiped other gods. They were in terror for their lives, yet they did everything they possibly could to save Jonah. Appreciate such qualities in others and share the good news of salvation available to all in Christ.
Lesson 6 – Know that God is a miraculous God
“The Lord provided a great fish,” (Jonah 1:17) The Hebrew does not indicate a whale, despite the familiar King James rendering. The text says the Lord “provided” the great fish. It was no ordinary fish, but a Goliath among fish. God provided it especially for the task of swallowing Jonah. Jonah’s survival in the belly of the great fish was as miraculous as the great fish itself.
Lesson 7 – Return to God and obey
God willingly accepts those who do wrong and return to Him. Upon confession of wrongdoing, one is restored not only to fellowship, but in Jonah’s case, still entrusted with his original mission. Our past failures do not disqualify us from participating in the great purposes God is working out in the world. Surrender to Him and be fully committed to doing His will.
Lesson 8 – Be a BIG blessing
When Jonah was running from God, the Lord used him to save a shipload of men. But once Jonah was back in fellowship with God and obediently went on to Nineveh, God used him to save an entire city. Stay in fellowship with God and ask Him to make you a BIG blessing.