“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).
The book of Jonah is full of surprises. It is full of amazing things. We probably remember it for all the wrong reasons. And we might be amazed by all the wrongs things too. The book of Jonah is not a story about a “great fish” (1:17). It is about the great mercy of the LORD. Not only His mercy upon Jonah himself, but upon the city of Nineveh as well.
It does not take long for the first surprise to come our way – it takes all of three (3) verses for us to see that this will be no ordinary story. When the Word of the LORD comes to a prophet of the LORD, we rightly expect to see that prophet obediently proclaim that Word.
But the first thing we see is Jonah (who was just told that God saw the wickedness of the far-away land of Nineveh) trying to escape the presence of the all-seeing LORD. Twice in v.3 we are told that Jonah was trying to flee “from the presence of the LORD.” In case we missed that point, it is repeated again in v.10.
What was he thinking? How could a prophet, of all people, suppose that he could go any place where God was not present? And in some strange way, this means that Jonah saw Nineveh of all places as a place where God would be present! (You might think that if he really wanted to get away from God, he might think Nineveh would be the place to go!)
But are we really any different? We have received a commission from the Lord as well (Matthew 28:18-20). Yet are we obeying that commission? We may not be buying a one-way ticket to Tarshish, but how many of us live as if the Lord does not see all? How many of us go to greater lengths to ignore the Great Commission than we do to fulfill it?
But our Lord is determined to show mercy. He is determined that His Word will be proclaimed. Sometimes in His mercy He sends a storm our way.
As we will see, there was a storm brewing in the book of Jonah. Jonah ‘paid his fare’ (v.3), but was in for a much bigger ride than he could have possibly expected.
His journey away from Nineveh and away from the presence of the LORD was really just the long way to Nineveh and the way back to the presence of the LORD.