The Book of Jonah is a unique book near the end of the Old Testament. It is the only prophetic book in the Bible which does not concentrate on the words of the prophecy, but rather tells the story of the prophet; in this case, the Prophet Jonah. The prophecy which the Lord gave Jonah to deliver is not even fully quoted, rather just summarised in Jonah 3:4, “Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown!”
There are only four chapters in the Book of Jonah, and in each of these chapters we can find Jonah running in a different way, or direction. I believe we can learn a great deal from how Jonah reacted to the hand and word of God over his life.
Let’s start at the beginning in Chapter 1. Right at the beginning we find Jonah running:
“Now the word of the LORD came to Jonah the son of Amittai, saying, ‘Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and call out against it, for their evil has come up before me.’
But Jonah rose to flee to Tarshish from the presence of the LORD. He went down to Joppa and found a ship going to Tarshish. So he paid the fare and went on board, to go with them to Tarshish, away from the presence of the LORD” (Jonah 1:1-3).
What happened? Jonah heard the word of the Lord and in total panic, got up and ran away from the Lord God to Tarshish (Spain), which is in exactly the opposite direction of Nineveh. Put bluntly, Jonah was scared to go to Nineveh and fear overtook him. Nineveh was Assyria’s capital city and Assyria was a great, but evil empire and was Israel’s most dreaded enemy.
As soon as Jonah got the word from the Lord, he took to his heals and he ran as far in the opposite direction as he possible could. The trouble of Jonah was, as he soon discovered, and as David says in Psalm 139:7-12, that it is impossible to run away from God.
“Where shall I go from Your Spirit? Or where shall I flee from Your presence? If I go up into Heaven, You are there; if I make my bed in Sheol, behold, You are there.
If I take the wings of the morning and dwell in the furthest parts of the sea; even there shall Your hand lead me, and Your right hand shall hold me.
If I say, Surely the darkness shall cover me, even the night shall be light around me. Yea, the darkness does not hide from You; but the night shines as the day; as is the darkness, so is the light to You.”
In order to stop Jonah’s flight, God caused a storm:
“But the men rowed hard to bring it to the land; but they could not, for the sea was going on and being stormy against them.
And they cried to Jehovah and said, We beg You, O Jehovah, we beg You, let us not perish for this man’s life, and do not lay on us innocent blood. For You, O Jehovah, have done as it pleased You.
And they lifted Jonah up and threw him out into the sea; and the sea ceased from its raging.
Then the men feared Jehovah exceedingly, and offered a sacrifice to Jehovah, and vowed vows.
And Jehovah had prepared a great fish to swallow up Jonah. And Jonah was in the belly of the fish three days and three nights” (Jonah 1:13-17).
What then happened in the belly of the great fish? Jonah 2:1-2 says:
“And Jonah prayed to Jehovah his God out of the fish’s belly, and he said, I cried to Jehovah from my distress. And He answered me. Out of the belly of Sheol I cried for help, and You heard my voice.”
From running from God, in the belly of the great fish, Jonah turned in prayer and ran to God. Jonah cried out to the Lord in his distress and was heard. After three days and nights “… Jehovah spoke to the fish, and it vomited Jonah out on the dry land” (Jonah 2:10).
Jonah was now back to his starting point, a wiser man, after first running from God, and then running to God.
“… the Word of Jehovah came to Jonah the second time, saying, “Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and cry out to it the proclamation that I am declaring to you.”
… Jonah arose and went to Nineveh, according to the Word of Jehovah. And Nineveh was a very great city of three days’ journey.
And Jonah began to enter into the city a day’s journey, and he cried and said, Yet forty days and Nineveh shall be overthrown!
And the people of Nineveh believed God. And they called a fast, and put on sackcloth, from the greatest of them even to the least of them” (Jonah 3:1-5).
Now a wiser man, Jonah immediately obeyed God when instructed the second time. As a result, Jonah saw instant results in Nineveh as the peoples of Nineveh accepted the word of God and immediately repented, calling a fast and all in the land, putting on sackcloth. But not only that, the King of Nineveh declared “Do not let man or beast, herd or flock taste anything; do not let them feed, nor drink water. But let man and animal be covered with sackcloth, and cry mightily to God. And let them each one turn from his evil way, and from the violence that is in their hands” (Jonah 3:7-8). In other words, not only did every living person in the land of Assyria fast and put on sackcloth, so too did all their livestock!
Jonah’s results were spectacular and as Jonah 3:10 says “… God saw their works, that they turned from their evil way. And God was compassionate over the evil that He had said to do to them, and He did not do it.”
Truly and without a doubt, Jonah was now running with God. Jonah was now in the perfect place for Him, with God and doing God’s will exactly as God required. From running from God, to running to God, Jonah was now running with God and the results were beyond spectacular – they were enough to move God to change His mind. Further, it seems from the text that Jonah did not have a hard time getting his point over to the Ninevites. That is the sign, of one running with God!
But Jonah was a man and like all men, was unable to sustain his momentum and his position. Thus in Jonah 4:1 we read:
“But it [the Ninevite’s repentance and forgiveness] was a great calamity in Jonah’s sight, and it kindled anger in him.”
The Ninevites, the Assyrians, were Jonah’s enemies and all the Israelites were in fear and dread of them. Now Israel’s own God had forgiven them as He had compassion on them. Israel’s God, Jonah’s God, had done the unimaginable and now Jonah was mad with God as he prayed:
“Please, O Jehovah, was this not my saying when I was still in my land? On account of this I fled before to Tarshish. For I knew that You are a gracious God, and merciful, slow to anger, and of great kindness, and One who repents over calamity. And now, O Jehovah, I beseech You, take my life from me. For better is my death than my life.”
How fickle is man……? How fickle are we? The rest of this final chapter of Jonah explain this very nicely, in Jonah 4:3-11. I’ll leave that to you; for there are lessons there from God for us all….
The questions I ask you to consider honestly and deeply are these:
From Jonah Chapter 1: Are you running from God?
From Jonah Chapter 2: Are you running to God?
From Jonah Chapter 3: Are you running with God?
From Jonah Chapter 4: Are you running against God?
Today – where are you running?
This article is based loosely on a wonderful sermon teaching by Pastor Pervez Naz of the Assemblies of God Church, in Karachi, Pakistan. Pastor Pervez may be contacted through His Kingdom Prophecy.