But Jonah arose 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 down into it, to go with them to Tarshish from the presence of the Lord. (Jonah 1:3)
Trying To Escape The Presence Of The Lord
Jonah was a complicated man. He was one of the most effective preachers of his day but he was filled with conflicting feelings about those he had brought to repentance. Through the message of Jonah to the Gentile city of Nineveh, the inhabitants believed God, proclaimed a fast and sought the mercy of the Lord. Nineveh was an exceedingly great city covering a three-day journey to traverse. Jonah entered the city on the first day crying out to the citizens that in forty days Nineveh would be overthrown if they did not repent. From the king to the lowest member of society the people turned to the Lord and when God saw their works that they had turned from their evil way, the Lord relented from the disaster He had said He would bring upon them. Few men can claim the immense success of one man towards a whole city like Jonah. Sadly, the repentance of the people displeased Jonah exceedingly and he became angry. He lashed out at God for saving the city of Nineveh and in an angry prayer complained to the Lord for doing what Jonah feared would happen. The Jewish prophet had strong feelings about the citizens of Nineveh and how undeserving the city was for God’s mercy. This explained why in the beginning the prophet sought to flee from the presence of the Lord.
It was not lost on Jonah that trying to hide from God was impossible. After the Lord told him to go to Nineveh to preach to the city, Jonah refused to obey the command of the Lord and abdicated his responsibility. Jonah rose to flee not from the literal eyes of the Lord but rather from being before the Lord as a messenger of salvation to a Gentile city of uncircumcised, ungodly and underserving dogs. It would easy to assume Jonah was trying to go where God was not but the prophet would have known that was impossible. There was no place on earth a man could go the Creator was not already there, and Jonah knew that. What Jonah did not want to do was stand before the Lord and accept the work of preaching to Nineveh. He refused the command of the Lord and sought to run away from his God-given task that was very bitter for him to do. He complained to God the reason he ran away was that he knew the character of the Lord as a gracious and merciful God, slow to anger and abundant in lovingkindness. The job of teaching the people of Nineveh was given to Jonah and in a bold move of personal rebellion, the prophet of God refused the command of God. Jonah was angry at God for saving the Gentiles of Nineveh. He would have no part of it. Taking a ship bound for Tarshish, the prophet left the job of preaching to someone else the Lord would find but it would not be him; or so he thought. God chose Jonah for a reason. Three days in the belly of a great fish changed Jonah’s mind about doing what God told him to do but it did not change his anger towards the city of Nineveh. In a remarkable paradox, Jonah was the right man for the right time and through his vehement preaching, the city turned to God. The Lord would spare the city and it was through the preaching of an angry prophet God’s work was done. Jonah tried to run away from the presence of the Lord because he wanted to run away from the obligation he had to preach to the city.
Throughout the history of God’s revelation to man, He has used many different kinds of men and women to accomplish His will. A man living in the Ur of Chaldees would become the father of a great nation and promised seed of the Christ. Through the slavery of a favored son, the Hebrews would find themselves in bondage to a cruel nation to be delivered by a Jewish boy with an Egyptian name accused of murder. Moses seemed to be the best answer to deliver the people but it would take forty years for the real Moses to be found near a burning bush. Samson was a complicated man with many vices that eventually brought about his untimely death yet he is listed among the faithful in the Hebrew letter. A shepherd boy of Israel would be the champion of the people when he killed the enemies champion with a single stone. David would be one of the greatest men of God and find himself accused of adultery, deceit, and murder. Amos was a prophet like Jonah who had a fierce personality decrying the luxuries of the people of Israel in comparison to Hosea the prophet who was told to marry a woman of the land who was unfaithful to him. Nehemiah was a cupbearer for a foreign king but through his courage rebuilt the walls of Jerusalem in fifty-five days. Jesus gathered twelve unlikely men around Him to take the gospel to the whole world. Four were fishermen, one a hated tax collector, and another a zealot and one who became a traitor. What the Lord wanted each of the stories to represent is that He wants men to carry out His will through the character of who they were. Jonah tried to run away from the obligations put upon him by the Lord but the Lord needed him. The Lord wants me to do the best I can as a means to accomplish His will. He needs all men to carry out His work of teaching and sharing the good news of Christ. We should not be like Jonah and try to hide from our obligation. Everyone brings something to the table to serve the Lord. Do the best you can as the best you can do is serve the Lord.