The Lord gave this message to Jonah son of Amittai: “Get up and go to the great city of Nineveh. Announce my judgment against it because I have seen how wicked its people are.”
But Jonah got up and went in the opposite direction to get away from the Lord. He went down to the port of Joppa, where he found a ship leaving for Tarshish. He bought a ticket and went on board, hoping to escape from the [presence of the] Lord by sailing to Tarshish. Jonah 1:1-3 (NLT)
I don’t know why this always makes me laugh. OK, I do know why. Go ahead and put your name in the blank:
But ____ got up and went in the opposite direction in order to get away from the LORD.
See what I mean? We all have done it. We have all tried to run away from God, with the emphasis on the word tried. In Jonah’s case, God was sending him to the city of Nineveh to call them to repentance, and Jonah didn’t want to do it. God said to Jonah, “Get up and go.” Instead, Jonah got up and ran; the word means “to bolt.” God told Jonah to get up or arise. Maybe, as a prophet of God, he was on his knees worshiping in the Presence and received this call. His reaction wasn’t exactly what God had in mind.
It seems nearly every person in the Bible called by God to do something started their reply with an excuse. But, I can’t talk very well (Exodus 6:30). But, I am too young (Jeremiah 1:6). But, I am too weak and unimportant (Judges 6:15). Except Jonah, he just bolted. Apparently, David tried to escape God too.
Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence? If I go up to the heavens, you are there; if I make my bed in the depths, you are there. If I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea, even there your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast. Psalm 139:7-10 (NIV)
David concluded that it is impossible to run from God. After all, His very name is Immanuel, God with us.
There are always so many reasons why not to answer the call to get up and go. When we look only at ourselves, we see weakness, sin, fear and doubt. But there may be just as many excuses when we look at God. As in Jonah’s case, he didn’t want what God wanted: the salvation of thousands. Especially these particular thousands. “Knowing well the lovingkindness of God, he anticipated that He would spare the Ninevites on their repentance, and he could not bring himself to be the messenger of mercy to heathen, much less to heathen who (as the Assyrian inscriptions state) had already made war against his own people, and who as he may have known were destined to be their conquerors.”[i] Another commentary explains, “he feared God’s compassion would spare the Ninevites on their repentance, and that thus his prediction would be discredited.”[ii]
So what were Jonah’s reasons for bolting? Prejudice, personal pride, and self-preservation. Prejudice: the Assyrians were Gentiles, reprobate, the enemy. Pride: he had a reputation to maintain. He had been publicly calling down horrible judgements on these people. Self-preservation: the Assyrians had attacked Israel before and were prophesied to do it again (Hosea 9:3; Hosea 11:5).
But God doesn’t care about any of that. Jesus showed us what God is like and what he expects us to be like. Jesus loved everybody the same. Jesus was completely humble. Jesus determinedly and obediently walked right into his own death. God’s love and purposes were, and are, relentless. You might say he is one-track when it comes to the salvation of the world. After Nineveh repents Jonah exclaims, “I knew you were going to do that God!” (Jonah 4:2). That always makes me smile too – Jonah knew God was going to save those people because he knew God well enough to know who God is, what God is like, and to know God’s heart. We may not be so honest with ourselves as Jonah, but when we run from God isn’t that what we are running from? His heart? His relentless love? His good, life-giving, excruciating purpose for our lives?
Kurt Bennett points out, “There’s only one place in the bible where we see God running.” That place is the picture of God shown in the parable of the prodigal son. In it, Jesus describes a loving father running toward another fugitive. If you are running from God and his call for your life, turn around and run back. You will run right into His relentless love.
Grace that chases me
O relentless Love
Brings mercy to me
Your sweet mercy
—James Mark Gulley, Stephen Gulley
[i] Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges
[ii] Pulpit Commentary. Hendrickson Publishers
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