Have you ever wanted to run away? Ever wanted to flee from pressures, people, pain and problems? I am certain there are many who have entertained the notion to run and hide. The book of Jonah will remind you that our Heavenly Father never takes His eyes off His people. He is omniscient, and knows your strengths, weaknesses, fears, and struggles (Psalm 139:1). He knows your every thought (Psalm 139:2-3), and every word (Psalm 139:4). He is omnipresent, and His presence is inescapable (Psalm 139:7-10). The Scriptures impart a comforting and inescapable reality: “You can run, but you cannot hide from God.”
Who was Jonah? (1:1-2)
Jonah was a preacher and prophet of the LORD to northern Israel, and served during the reign of the second Jeroboam (i.e., Jeroboam ben Joash). Passionate and patriotic, his life was dedicated to ministering in Israel, until the LORD interrupted his ministry commanding him to, “Arise, go to Nineveh” (1:2).
Nineveh is described in the Scriptures as a “great city,” and one known for its wickedness (1:2). Located on the Tigris River in what is today, modern Iraq. Nineveh was the capital city of Assyria, with a population of 120,000 (4:11). In ancient times, the Assyrians were known as a cruel, heartless people who buried their enemies alive, and tortured others by skinning them alive until they died. They were also a great enemy of Israel, and eventually conquered that nation, taking the people captive.
God’s Calling on Jonah’s Life (1:3-4)
The stench of Nineveh’s wickedness had become so grave, that the LORD had determined He would destroy the city if the people did not repent. Revealing His compassion for sinners, and His longsuffering, the LORD determined to give that great city an opportunity to repent of its sins.Jonah, however, refused to go to Nineveh to call on the people to repent (1:3). Some might argue the prophet feared the notorious cruelty of the nation. Others might suggest he did not want to aid Israel’s enemy, and feared his own people might reject him. Jonah 4:1-2, however, reveals Jonah did not want to prophesy against Nineveh for he knew the LORD was gracious, and feared He would spare the people if they repented of their sins. Rather than obey the LORD, Jonah resigned his calling, took a boat going to Tarshish (the opposite direction of Nineveh), and attempted the impossible…to escape “the presence of the LORD” (1:3).
Jonah’s Spiritual Insensitivity (1:4-6)
We read in verse 5 how Jonah “was gone down into the sides of the ship; and he lay, and was fast asleep” (1:5). What a poignant insight into the character of a disobedient servant of God! While the heathen battled the storm, desperate to save their lives, the prophet slept!
The ship’s captain assailed that calloused prophet, and asked in disbelief, “What meanest thou, O sleeper?” (1:6) How could he be sleeping when so many lives could be lost? Here we see the spiritual profile of a backslidden believer: Emotionally detached, and distant from God and others.
The Sailor’s Interrogation (1:7-11)
The sailors cast lots, and the LORD sovereignly directed the lot to fall on Jonah (1:7). With the storm raging, the sailors demanded to know the cause of Jonah’s guilt that God had sent such a great storm that threatened all their lives. What evil? “What is thine occupation? and whence comest thou? what is thy country? and of what people art thou?” (1:8)
“And he said unto them, I am an Hebrew; and I fear the Lord, the God of heaven, which hath made the sea and the dry land” (1:9). He declared he had “fled from the presence of the Lord” and the storm had been sent by God to chasten him (1:10). Fearing for their lives, the sailors questioned Jonah, “What shall we do unto thee, that the sea may be calm unto us?” (1:11)
Jonah’s Counsel and the LORD’s Provision (1:12-17)
Jonah instructed the sailors saying, “Take me up, and cast me forth into the sea; so shall the sea be calm unto you: for I know that for my sake this great tempest is upon you” (1:12).
Given the desperate plight of the ship, you would think the calloused sailors would have cast the disobedient prophet overboard immediately; however, they continued to row hard hoping to bring the ship to land (1:13). Realizing all effort was for naught, the sailors cast Jonah into the sea, “and the sea ceased from her raging” (1:15). God mercifully spared the lives of the sailors, and providentially “prepared a great fish to swallow up Jonah. And Jonah was in the belly of the fish three days and three nights” (1:17).
Closing thoughts – Several lessons come to mind in our study of Jonah 1. We have seen God’s love for sinners and His longsuffering. In spite of Nineveh’s wickedness, the LORD sent His prophet to call the people of that city to repent (2 Peter 3:9; John 3:16). We will also observe that the LORD is a God of second chances. He lovingly pursued Jonah across the sea, and saved him from drowning. Lastly, consider how a disobedient believer can peril the lives of the unsaved, leaving me to ask:
Are you periling lost souls by your disobedience?
Copyright © 2022 – Travis D. Smith