Text: Jonah 1:1-3
The name ‘Jonah’ means ‘dove’, it is a little ironic that the prophet manifested nothing of the virtue of his name. He came from a place near Galilee called Gath-hepher, therefore it is interesting that the Pharisees did not remember this when they ridiculed the Lord Jesus Christ … “Art thou also of Galilee? Search, and look: for out of Galilee ariseth no prophet” (John 7:52.)
The book, though only four chapters long, is full of spiritual insight. It is a book that sceptics reject, and liberals explain away. It is a book of miracles, but remove one and the whole book becomes meaningless. When people hear the name ‘Jonah’ they focus on the whale, yet the book is really about salvation, God’s mercy and forgiveness, Jehovah is the true God, and resurrection.
We find Jonah’s name mentioned in 2 Kings 14:23-25. He is a prophet during the reign of Jeroboam II (793-753 B.C.), therefore he is not a fictional character. He ministered in Jerusalem and no doubt condemned the sin and idolatry found throughout Israel. It is possible that Jeroboam repented as Jonah preached, thus bringing restoration to the land.
His Call (1:1-2)
God commissioned Jonah to preach repentance and salvation in Nineveh, the capital city of Assyria. Ashurdan III (733-755 B.C.) was the king of the Assyrian Empire at this time. Nineveh was a “great city” (see Genesis 10:11-12), and was located close to modern Mosul in Iraq. The city was about 60 miles in circumference and we know it had a huge population since there were 120,000 children in it (Jonah 4:11.) But Nineveh, as with the whole nation, was extremely wicked and sinful. Their sins included barbarism, homosexuality, paganism and witchcraft. Genesis 18:20 … “The cry of Sodom and Gomorrah is great, and because their sin is very grievous” is very similar to Jonah 1:2. The Assyrians were the archenemies of Israel. This is where Jonah is called to minister God’s word!
Like Jonah, we want God’s will to conform to ours instead of the other way around. We want Him to give us easy tasks to perform, forgetting that the difficult ones produce the greatest fruit. We will serve the Lord as long as we do not suffer for it, does not cause us any hardship, and it is to our liking.
The Runaway (1:3)
Jonah refused to obey God and fled from his call. He travelled 500 miles to Joppa with the intent of going a further 2,500 miles to Tarshish (near Spain, the remotest trading post of the Phoenician Empire.) He wanted to get so far away that God could not hold him to his responsibilities. Fleeing from the presence of God is not a very clever thing to do, especially for a man of God. He could run, but he could not hide from God’s presence (Psalm 139:7-12.)
Why was Jonah so determined to disobey God’s will? Today we would call him a bigot and a racist. He hated the Assyrians and did not want any of them enjoying the blessings of God. Yes, he had reasons for hating them. No doubt he had firsthand knowledge of the atrocities they had committed against his people, but he failed to recognise the spiritual reason for taking his message to them. Do we really want to see our enemies in the church or will blind rage keep us bitter? (Matthew 28:19-20; Acts 1:8.)
The devil is ever watchful for prodigals fleeing the presence of God. As a roaring a lion he is ready to snatch them up (1 Peter 5:8), and he will provide every means available to keep them from serving the Lord. Just like the Prodigal Son in Luke 15, Jonah will end up in depravity. By a satanically inspired coincidence Jonah found a ship waiting in dock that was sailing to Tarshish! He thought that he was going to enjoy a long relaxing cruise on the Mediterranean. The only place he was going was down.
We all want God to conform to our personal likes and dislikes. How often we ignore the obedient faith of those who have gone before us (Hebrews 11:36-38)! We think that God owes us a good time, an easy life, and sunshine all the way. Maybe Jonah thought his past ministry as sufficient, but yesterday’s obedience does not own tomorrow’s blessings. Instead, like David, let us proclaim, “I delight to do thy will, O my God: yea, Thy law is within my heart” (Psalm 40:8.) Anything less than this is a fast boat to disappointment and failure.