Jonah 1: Running From God

So, a few years ago, in the midst of my time in Alexandria, I had a season of what I’d call “discontent.”

I was in the middle of seminary, and just wanted it to be over. And I was in the middle of my time at my appointment in Alexandria, MN, and I felt frustrated about my contribution.

So much so that I was briefly in conversation with my Superintendent about re-appointment about it.

Needless to say I was getting impatient. Impatient with myself, and also, impatient with God. So much so that I just wanted to run away, to find a new church to serve, and that would solve all my problems.

And this is where we pick up our Scripture text for today, which comes from Jonah 1.

We’re going to be taking the next few weeks to work through the book of Jonah together, and though it’s only 4 chapters, there’s a lot we can learn from this story.

But first, some background info to help us understand the story as a whole more fully:

Author: Modern research suggests that the book of Jonah was not written by Jonah himself, but instead, by either someone who came after Jonah, referred to as a “contemporary Jonah,” or possibly one of the fisherman from Chapter 1.

Date of writing: In terms of a date, scholars think that Jonah was written anywhere between 750-250 BC, probably in either the point in time when Israel was in exile, or following their time in exile.

Readers: It is believed that Jonah was written for ancient Jews, since the author makes the point to identify Jonah as a Hebrew.

And so, we begin with Chapter 1.

v.1-2: “Now the word of the Lord came to Jonah son of Amittai, saying, “Go at once to Nineveh, that great city, and cry out against it; for their wickedness has come up before me.””

So, from the very beginning of the book, we see God speak to Jonah and place a calling on his life. God wants to use Jonah as a prophet to speak out against the evils happening in Nineveh. And while we don’t get specifics about what’s going on, I’m sure we can imagine what kinds of things when on there.

But God makes clear to Jonah that he desires repentance from Nineveh, and further, that he wants Jonah to deliver His message. So, Jonah has been called by God to go “cry out,” (or preach) against Nineveh’s wickedness.

 

And what does Jonah do?

Jonah runs away.

Rather than accept the task & do what God has called him to do, Jonah decides to run away.

For one thing, I love this, because it shows Jonah’s human side. If you’ve ever read the stories of King David, or even the Apostle Paul in Scripture, you’ve probably thought to yourself: “Wow! if only I had faith like that?”

But here, Jonah intentionally runs away.

It’s not accidental. Jonah doesn’t try to bargain with God, or even say “no.” Jonah just doesn’t want to do it.

What’s fascinating about this is that Jonah isn’t just running away from his calling. He’s running away from God. And we know that it’s being emphasized because we see it twice here in v.3: Jonah is “fleeing from the presence of the Lord.”

But the key to all of this, is that Jonah made a choice. He chHeHe chose to run away and not do what God asked him to do. And God resAnd God responded to Jonah’s choice. dfsfsdfdfsfsdfRather than reasoning with Jonah, or pleading or begging him to come back, God acts, in a mighty way.

It’sIt’s one thing to disagree with someone, or to respond to something that has happened to you, Itit’s another thing entirely to have “a great wind/ storm” hurled at you.

TYou think God was trying to get Jonah’s attention? Perhaps a Maybe a little bit?

On the one hndOn the one hand, it almost seems cruel to do what God did to Jonah. TreThrowing a storm at someone, seems like a bit of an overreaction.

But on theBut on the other hand, God was the only one able to save Jonah from the storm, too.

And soAnd the sailors start to really freak out. They cry out They start crying out to their own gods, Throwthrowing cargo overboard to lighten the load. When theWhen the captain finds Jonah sleeping, he tells him to call on his own God.

The saiThe sailors are doing everything they can to survive the storm, And and they even take it a step further- they cast lots to figure out who was responsible.

Casting A brief side note here- casting lots was an ancient practice used to determine “divine will,” similar to rolling a set of dice.

And the lot falls on Jonah.

So now the sailors know that Jonah is basically the reason for the storm- and are hoping that he can do something to calm the storm.

So, Jonah owns it, and confesses to them that he is a Hebrew, that he worships “the Lord, the God of heaven…”

So the sailors knew that Jonah was running from God.

But what’s fascinating here, is Jonah’s response in vv. 12: “Pick me up and throw me into the sea: then the sea will quiet down for you; for I know it is because of me that this great storm has come upon you.”

It almost seems like Jonah is starting to have a change of heart.

Having seen the storm that came, and having the lot fall on him, even if he wasn’t sure before, Jonah now knows for sure that God is responsible for the storm, and he knows that God is trying to get his attention.

So, at the very least, he probably figures that God will spare the men on the ship, even if he isn’t sure what the future will hold for himself.

  1. 13-17: “Instead, the men did their best to row back to land. But they could not, for the sea grew even wilder than before. Then they cried out to the Lord, “Please, Lord, do not let us die for taking this man’s life. Do not hold us accountable for killing an innocent man, for you, Lord, have done as you pleased.” Then, they took Jonah and threw him overboard, and the raging sea grew calm. At this the men greatly feared the Lord, and the offered a sacrifice to the Lord and made vows to him. Now the Lord provided a huge fish to swallow Jonah, and Jonah was in the belly of the fish for three days and three nights.”

TheyBut the men are stubborn, and have to try it their own way first, by rowing hard to get the ship back to land. But But When they can’t do it, they realize, too, that God sent the storm, and they cry out to him.

They praFinallFinally, they pick Jonah up and throw him overboard, AnAand when the storm calmed, they “feared the Lord even more…”

And, whether he intended it to happen or not, God used Jonah to make believers out of the sailors.

And even in light of his disobedience, we see in v. 17 that God showed concern for Jonah, as well.

While it might not have been the most comfortable way to go, God provided a whale for Jonah, to keep him safe.

And I’m sure the “seafood” smell Jonah encountered was just the “character building” part of the experience for him.

After all, God is a loving God, but God still has a task for Jonah.

So what can we make out of this action-packed story of Jonah? Where does this leave us?

Well, there’s a few different things we can learn here:

First, and most importantly, is to recognize that just like Jonah, each and every one of us has a calling on our lives.

We’ve been talking about living in the midst of Pentecost, being empowered by the Holy Spirit.

God has placed a calling on each of our lives: be disciples, who are striving for holiness, and we do that through the empowering of the Holy Spirit.

To love and serve God, and to love and serve others.

We must also recognize that we have a choice- God calls us, but we respond. We have two options- to obey God, or not, just like Jonah.

We’re not forced to do anything, we have free will.

We can do as God asks, or we can run away.

God wants our love and obedience, but He wants us to give it voluntarily.

I have recently learned, too, from a close friend from Asbury, that there is another temptation when it comes to walking with God:

Running ahead.

In other words, taking something that we think God has told us, and running too far with it. For example, jumping ahead to step 5 when God is still on step 1.

I think that I might have learned that lesson when I was trying to run away from the Alex church a few years back.

God responds to our choices- even if we have been disobedient. In Jonah’s case, He chose to act in a mighty way to get Jonah’s attention.

 

So here’s the question:

Are there areas of your life that God is trying to get your attention?

 

Finally, and perhaps most importantly:

Even in the face of storms (literal, or metaphorical), God is with us and will care for us- regardless of what our response to Him is or has been.

God loves us, unconditionally, and we’re are called to love others the same way.

And so, where are you in this spectrum?

Serving God, or running from him, or somewhere in between?

Sometimes, I think we can be a few different places within that spectrum, in some ways serving, in other ways running away.

But regardless of where you are, or where you have been, we’re always, and at all times given a new opportunity to start again.

To repent, to turn from the ways we have run away from God, to come back once again, and to be welcomed, fully, into the arms of God.

Amen.

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