Jonah Runs From God

Jonah 1

Charles R. Swindoll said of the prophet Jonah, “he was prejudiced, bigoted, stubborn, openly rebellious, and spiritually insensitive. Other prophets ran to the Lord. He ran from him. Others declared the promises of God with fervent zeal. Not Jonah, he was about as motivated as a six-hundred-pound grizzly in mid-January.”

Jonah has been a target of skeptics for years. Mostly because of the miraculous events associated with his stories. Since they cannot accept the idea of a real miracle like Jonah surviving in a great sea creature for three day and nights, they reject the entire book.

However, there is substantial support for the historical Jonah. He is said to be the son of Amittai and prophet of Israel in the days of Jeroboam II (2 Ki. 14:25). He was from Geth Hepher of the tribe of Zebulun which is located a few miles north of Nazareth. He visited a real port, Joppa. He booked passage to a real city, Tarshish. He was sent to preach at a real city called Nineveh. Christ showed His belief that the repentance of Nineveh was a real occurrence (Lk. 11:29-32). The events of this prophecy actually took place around the year 782 B.C.

Jonah’s Flight

God called Jonah to arise, go and cry out against Ninevah, the capital of the Assyrian Empire. Not only was God aware of their great wickedness, so was Israel. They were so brutal that when their army showed up to take a city the inhabitants would all commit suicide other than fall into their hands. After capturing a city, they would stack a pyramid of human skulls in front of the city gate. They would impale their enemies on sharp poles and let them roast in the hot sun. They were a great enemy and threat to Israel. The name “Jonah” means “dove”, yet he was not going to be God’s messenger of peace to this heathen city. Instead, he took flight in the opposite direction. Instead of heading east, Jonah fled west. Down to the sea port of Joppa, he gain passage on a ship headed to Tarshish which is on the coast of Spain. After all, salvation was for the Jews.

Sailor’s Plight

While Jonah is fast asleep in the boat, God was working a plan to turn the prophet around in the right direction. First, He sends a mighty wind to stir up the sea. The sailors are afraid and begin praying to their gods. They are tossing over the cargo. The captain awakes Jonah and ask him to pray to his God. The superstitious sailors cast lots to discover who brought them bad luck on this voyage. It points by divine providence to Jonah. They find out he is a Jew on the run from the true God. They ask what they should do to calm the sea. Jonah willingly sacrifices his life for the heathen sailors and has them throw him overboard. At first they try to row harder for shore. The sea just gets rougher. So they pray to the God of Heaven to save them and not to hold them accountable for Jonah’s certain death. After they cast Jonah into the sea, it becomes calm. They revere God and sacrifice and make vows to Him. Ironically, Jonah was running away from his call to preach and ended up preaching and converting a boatload of heathen sailors.

The book of Jonah is filled with some amazing contrasts, such as, the contrast between Jonah and the mariners. The sailors were innocent victims of the storm who went to chase down the guilty prophet. Jonah slept through the sailors prayer meeting. He showed indifference about his life and they did everything to save it. He was running from God and then ended up running to God. They rejected their false gods while Jonah was rejecting the true God. Jonah was willing to sacrifice his life; they were willing to sacrifice to God.

Fish’s Appetite

Man overboard. Jonah expected to drown in the sea, but God had not abandoned this disobedient prophet. God prepared a sea creature to save Jonah and return him to shore. The miracle was not that Jonah was swallowed. There are many cases in history of men being swallowed by great whales or fish. For example:

In February, 1891, an English vessel, Star of the East, was sailing in the vicinity of the Falkland Islands. The lookout sighted two large sperm whales three miles away. Two boats were launched. One whale escaped. The other was bombed and harpooned. The boat attached to the captured whale was reduced to splinters when hit by the powerful lash of the monster’s tail during the dying struggle. The men were thrown out of the boat and one of them, James Bartley, was mourned as drowned. It took the crew a day and a half with axes and spades to remove the blubber. At the end of that time they attached some tackle to the stomach and hoisted it to the deck. The sailors were startled to see something jumping in the stomach at irregular intervals. Upon cutting the stomach open James Bartley came rolling out, screaming like a lunatic. He remained in that mental condition for weeks. Within three weeks he recovered from the shock and resumed his duties. Writing of the experience later, Mr. Bartley said: “I remembered from the moment that I jumped and felt my feet striking some soft substance. I looked up and saw a canopy of pink and white descending, and the next moment felt myself draw downward, feet first and realized I was being swallowed by a whale. I was drawn lower and lower; a wall of flesh gave way before the slightest movement. Suddenly I found myself in a sack much larger than my body, completely dark. Soon I felt a great pain in my head and my breathing became difficult. At the same time I felt a terrible heat; it seemed to consume me, and I believe I was going to be broiled alive. The thought that I was to perish in the belly of a whale tormented me beyond endurance, while the awful silence weighted me down. I tried to rise to cry out. All action was now impossible but my brain seemed abnormally clear, and, with a full comprehension of my fate, I lost consciousness” (H.P. Lee, LITERARY DIGEST, April 4, 1896).

The miracle of Jonah was that God spared his life for three days and nights while inside the creature. In God’s attempt to turn Jonah around he sent a great wind and storm, controlled the lot that was cast so it identified Jonah, calmed the sea, prepared the sea creature, and then caused it to vomit him out on dry land. Nature readily obeys the Creator. The Creator has to use His creation to convince Jonah to obey Him


Universal Nature of God’s Presence

The obvious lesson from the prophet is the futility of trying to run from the presence of God. When Jonah was in Israel, God was there. When he went to Joppa, God was there. When he went down into the ship, God was there. When he went down into the sea creature and down into the depths, God was there. When he went to Nineveh, God was there. When he went up the hill, God was there. The Psalmist asked, “where can I go from Your Spirit? Or where can I flee from Your presence? If I ascend into heaven, You are there; If I make my bed in hell, behold, 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 fall on me,” Even the night shall be light about me; Indeed, the darkness shall not hide from You, But the night shines as the day; The darkness and the light are both alike to You” (Ps. 139:7-12).

– Daniel R. Vess

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