July 7

JULY 7
by Pastor Jim

Jonah devotional, 1 of 4

“Now the word of the LORD came to Jonah the son of Amittai, saying, “Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and cry against it; for their wickedness has come up before me.” Jonah 1:1-2

Today we begin a short four-day devotional based on the book of Jonah.  And as we begin, let me start with a short “Raise your hands if …” pop quiz which I have used in the past when beginning a class on Jonah.  Ready?

How many of you know the story of Jonah? [All hands are up.]  How many of you could tell someone the story of Jonah? [A few hands come down but most remain up.]  How many could tell the story of Jonah without mentioning the big fish? [All the hands slowly start to drop.]

And I ask those questions because, truth be told, the story of Jonah — the freight-carrying part of the story of Jonah — doesn’t need the big fish.

 

But Jonah rose to flee to Tarshish from the presence of the LORD. Jonah 1:3a

So why not go to Nineveh?  Well, Nineveh was the capital of Assyria, that dreaded and hated nation of Gentiles that destroyed Israel and took its people into captivity.  Jonah had no interest in going to Nineveh!  Nineveh was to the east of Israel, so Jonah decided to go west.  Way west.  Across the Mediterranean Sea to Spain, which is where Tarshish was found.

 

And he did so to flee “away from the presence of the LORD.”  Did Jonah really think he could do this?  And why?  Jonah didn’t like Nineveh, of course, but there is more.  Between verse 2 and verse 3 a conversation takes place between Jonah and God — a conversation of which we are, at present, unaware but which will later be revealed to us.

He went down to Joppa and found a ship going to Tarshish; Jonah 1:3b

Going “down” is emblematic of what Jonah does in the first part of this book.  Three times in the Hebrew Jonah goes “down” — down to Joppa on the coast to find a ship in verse 3, “down” into the inner part of the ship in verse 5, and, later, down to the bottom of the sea in chapter 2.
Again, why is Jonah so intent upon fleeing God’s directive?  Some suggest that Jonah didn’t like Gentiles, but you read through chapter 1 and you will see he acts very positively toward the Gentile mariners.  He even suggests that they throw him into the sea because the storm that has come upon them is because of him.  They, in turn, don’t want to do that but seek to save Jonah’s life along with theirs.  No problem with Gentiles here.
The mariners, in fact, seem a good deal brighter than Jonah.  He has already told them he was “fleeing from the presence of the LORD” (10).  So when he then tells them, “I am a Hebrew; and I fear the LORD, the God of heaven, who made the sea and the dry land” (9), they’re natural response is, “Say what?? You are trying to flee the God who created the sea … in a ship??”
 
Well, Jonah has certainly been the poorest of witnesses, and yet now we find these Gentile mariners “cried to the LORD.”  Did Jonah also do so, one wonders?  Finally the mariners, after trying everything else and finally throwing Jonah in the sea (whereupon it calmed), “feared the LORD exceedingly, and they offered a sacrifice to the LORD and made vows” (16).
 
The chapter finishes with the LORD “appointing” a great fish (not a whale!) to swallow up Jonah.  Further “appointing” will take place in chapter 4.

 

Takeaway 

The answer to our question “Why not go to Nineveh?” awaits our reading the next chapters.  For the present:

  • In spite of what Jonah knew about God, he yet tried to flee.  Ever done that?  Ever pretty much known what God wanted you to     do but figuratively headed west to Tarshish?  Are you perhaps resisting some particular nudge from God even now?
 

      I know there have been times when I have.  Even knowing that God always wants the best for me … that he has shown us this in       sending his Son to die in my stead … that he has so graciously and abundantly provided for me daily … even then there have             been times when God has  graciously, patiently, inexplicably, had to put up with my resistance.  I can only confess this and give       thanks that, so far, turning me around hasn’t required a big fish.

  • Even a weak-to-poor witness can have its effect.  (We will see this again later in Jonah!)  Hopefully, we don’t deliver a weak-to- poor witness of what God has done for us, but that is not the point.  The point is that, weak or strong, the outcome in the lives of others is due not to our witness but rather to God’s Holy Spirit.  We’ve been hearing this in our Acts sermon series in which, several times, we’ve glanced back to that “prequel” event in which Jesus tells his disciples, “Don’t be anxious beforehand what you are to say; … for it is not you who speak, but the Holy Spirit” (Mark 13:11).
 

Tomorrow, Jonah — not normally a very reflective person — does some reflecting from the bottom of the sea.

 


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