Running Away from God
“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” (v. 3).- Jonah 1:3–16
Having introduced the book of Jonah, we are now going to move on to a brief study of this Old Testament prophet. Dr. R.C. Sproul will help us with this examination as he guides our look at this book through his teaching series Jonah.
Prophets were set apart to God, but they were not sinless. Jonah illustrates this point perfectly, as his first response to the Lord’s mission to Nineveh was to flee by boat to Tarshish (Jonah 1:3). Nineveh was located at present-day Mosul, Iraq, and Tarshish could be another name for the port of Tarsseus in Spain or a name for any land on the shores of the Meditteranean Sea that is distant from Israel. Either way, the point is clear: God had commanded Jonah to go one way, and Jonah headed in the opposite direction. He wanted nothing to do with Nineveh. Jonah 1:3 also says that the prophet was going “away from the presence of the LORD.” This prophet thought he could get away from His Creator, betraying his need for a refresher course in God’s omnipresence (Ps. 139:7–12).
The Lord was not going to let the man He called get away so easily, and He sent a great wind and mighty storm on the sea (Jonah 1:4). The sailors on the ship responded by crying out to their gods for deliverance (v. 5), which was ironic considering the difference between their response to God and Jonah’s. While the fleeing prophet of the one true God ignored the reality of the Lord’s omnipresence and, thus, His providence, the sailors remained convinced of the reality of the supernatural and its involvement in the affairs of men, even if they were confused about the identity of the Sovereign of the universe.
When their cries went unheard, the captain roused Jonah, and the crew cast lots to discover who was responsible for the deadly storm (vv. 6–7). Jonah was identified and, to his credit, admitted that he was disobeying the Lord (vv. 8–10). The sailors found themselves between a rock and a hard place. Since Jonah caused their trouble, getting rid of him could possibly save them. Nevertheless, since Jonah served the one true God of all, they did not want to make the Lord angrier by killing His prophet.
Jonah told the men to cast him into the sea, but their initial response was to fervently try to save him. Again the sailors showed themselves better theologians than the prophet, erring on the side of mercy before they consented and threw Jonah overboard. As a result, the sea calmed at once, and the sailors worshiped God (vv. 11–16).
We might be tempted to look down on Jonah for fleeing to Tarshish. However, when we remember how many times we ignore God’s call, we realize that we are no better than the prophet. When Jesus commands us to do something, we need to heed His words immediately or to repent when we fail to do so. Are you putting off or ignoring the call of Christ? Repent of that today, and begin to fulfill what the Lord wants you to do.
Passages for Further Study