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Runaway Prophet
Jonah 1:1-9 

The word of the Lord came to Jonah the son of Amittai saying, [2] "Arise, go to Nineveh the great city, and cry against it, for their wickedness has come up before Me." [3] But Jonah rose up to flee to Tarshish from the presence of the Lord. So he went down to Joppa, found a ship which was going to Tarshish, paid the fare, and went down into it to go with them to Tarshish from the presence of the Lord.

The foul stench of Nineveh's wickedness meandered into heaven and turned God's stomach! So God ordered Jonah, a prophet of the Lord, to go to Nineveh, a foreign land, and proclaim His judgment against it. Jonah didn't like the assignment. Why?

The word of the Lord often came to prophets, and when it did, the prophets did what God instructed them to do. When God was looking for a messenger, Isaiah was quick to volunteer, "Whom shall I send, and who will go for Us?" Then I said, "Here am I. Send me!" Isaiah 6:8 

But not this time. Why didn't Jonah respond in kind?

Jonah's silent objection was, "We've never done it that way before." And Jonah was right. God had never sent a Jewish prophet to preach to a Gentile nation.

Jonah didn't like the idea of traveling to preach to the pagans, his job was to preach to God's people, not to the ungodly in Nineveh. 

I'm sure Jonah would have been happy to have another plum job like he had 2 Kings 14:25, let me read that passage to you: " Jeroboam II recovered the territories of Israel between Lebo-hamath and the Dead Sea, just as the Lord, the God of Israel, had promised through Jonah son of Amittai, the prophet from Gath-hepher." (NLT)

In this passage, Jonah was preaching to the people of God about the blessings he would give them. He was preaching good news to God's people.

Jonah was a member of an exclusive club and he didn't like the idea of inducting new members. He was afraid that if he preached to these Gentiles, they would repent and God would forgive their sins. 

"So he [Jonah] complained to the Lord about it: "Didn't I say before I left home that you would do this, Lord? That is why I ran away to Tarshish! I knew that you were a gracious and compassionate God, slow to get angry and filled with unfailing love. I knew how easily you could cancel your plans for destroying these people." (Jonah 4:2 NLT)

Jonah didn't mind telling good news to the good people, but had no desire to travel to a foreign land to bring a sermon that he believed would result in a Gentile nation's repentance and a compassionate God forgiving them their sins.

I get the feeling that Jonah didn't mind the traveling, after all, he got on a ship to go to Tarshish, a distant land to the West of Joppa. Further, his objection could not have been the content of the message: God's judgment. Jonah seems like the pessimistic, dooms-day-type to me. If he was like most prejudiced people, he would gladly have condemned the evil people of Nineveh. 

So what's a prophet filled with prejudice to do?

  • •Jonah Runs . . . but he can't hide
Because God would not listen to reason, Jonah the prophet became a runner. He ran to Joppa and headed for Tarshish, as he put it, he was running "from the presence of the Lord."

Have you ever been disgusted with God? Perhaps, like Jonah you've been upset with God for showing mercy and favor to others. You know, like the older brother in the parable of the Prodigal Son, who said: "All these years I've worked hard for you and never once refused to do a single thing you told me to. And in all that time you never gave me even one young goat for a feast with my friends." (Luke 15:29 NLT)

Jonah, was the younger brother and the older brother rolled up into one. He was indignant and self righteous like the older brother, and immature and impetuous like the younger one. The more he stewed about God's mercy toward the foreigners the firmer he became in his decision. Finally he decided to "just do it," and he became a runner-he ran from the "presence of God."

He boarded a ship in Joppa headed toward Tarshish, a Phoenician city on the southern coast of Spain-the opposite direction from Nineveh. God instructed Jonah to go to the far east, in his rebellion, he chose to do the exact opposite and go to the distant west.

Jonah was fast asleep, believing he had escaped God's grasp when his ship mates frantically awoke him to tell him he hadn't. Let's rejoin the text: [4] And the Lord hurled a great wind on the sea and there was a great storm on the sea so that the ship was about to break up. [5] Then the sailors became afraid, and every man cried to his god, and they threw the cargo which was in the ship into the sea to lighten it for them. But Jonah had gone below into the hold of the ship, lain down, and fallen sound asleep. [6] So the captain approached him and said, "How is it that you are sleeping? Get up, call on your god. Perhaps your god will be concerned about us so that we will not perish." [7] And each man said to his mate, "Come, let us cast lots so we may learn on whose account this calamity has struck us." So they cast lots and the lot fell on Jonah. [8] Then they said to him, "Tell us, now! On whose account has this calamity struck us? What is your occupation? And where do you come from? What is your country? From what people are you?" [9] And he said to them, "I am a Hebrew, and I fear the Lord God of heaven who made the sea and the dry land." (Jonah 1:4-9 NASB)

  • •The Sailors get religion
The all powerful, all knowing, God who Jonah described as the "Lord God of heaven who made the sea and the dry land" hurled a great wind on the sea that caused a great storm. Great enough, that the crew believed there was a good chance that the ship would be lost. To lighten the load, they jettisoned the cargo. To rescue the ship, they fell on their knees and started praying to their gods. The captain of the ship awoke Jonah and asked him to do the same.

Meanwhile, the crew cast lots to see who was to blame for the lost cargo and their imminent doom. The lots fell on Jonah.

Whenever I say the name Benedict Arnold you immediately think of a single word: traitor.

What would I mean if I called you a "Judas?" I'd mean "Betrayer," right?

What has the name Jonah come to mean? Yes, that's right, one who brings bad luck. The word actually means "dove," but in the context of this storm at sea, it has another meaning.

Next week, we will rejoin our Jonah in this drama, and I promise you, that we will have a whale of a time when we do. But before we close, tell me, what do you think Jonah learned on his way to Tarshish?

On his journey, Jonah discovered that he could not escape God's jurisdiction. Like the Psalmist, he found out that God is everywhere. Whither shall I go from thy spirit? or whither shall I flee from thy presence? [8] If I ascend up into heaven, thou art there: if I make my bed in hell, behold, thou art there. [9] If I take the wings of the morning, and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea; [10] Even there shall thy hand lead me, and thy right hand shall hold me. (Psalm 139:7-10 KJV)

  • •Don't Make me Come Down There and Get You!
That thought is either very alarming or comforting to you, depending on which direction you are running. If you are running from God, it is alarming. It doesn't matter how mad you are at Him or how unfair you think He is-He is God, and you can't run from Him.

If you are running to Him, it is comforting. It doesn't matter how bad you've blown it or how far you've wandered, He is here-ready to forgive you and provide for you. Like the loving father in the story of the Prodigal Son, God awaits your return. And the story of Jonah reminds us that we don't want to wait for Him to come after us.

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