“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.” (Jonah 1:1-2)
When Jonah rose to flee, what exactly was he running from?
It wasn’t persecution – even though what God asked of him might certainly have involved persecution.
It wasn’t difficulty – even though what God asked of him was a staggering task to complete.
And it wasn’t inconvenience – even though what God asked of him would be incredibly inconvenient.
No, Jonah was fleeing from the presence of the Lord. He was running from God Himself.
To keep God’s words to us at arm’s length is to keep Him at arm’s length.
To reject the call of God on our life is to reject Him. To keep His words to us at arm’s length is to keep Him at arm’s length. In essence, our response to what God says or asks of us is tied to how we relate to Him.
Because one of the primary ways God lets us into His ways, feelings and values is through His calling on our lives.
He desires to work goodness with us and through us. When we are obedient vessels, we begin to understand His nature and how He loves. We move from merely doing right, to receiving revelation of the Father.
A MAN MISUNDERSTOOD
As the chapters of Jonah’s book unfold we can see he had a remarkably candid relationship with God. Choosing to disobey God was a deeply personal thing to him. It wasn’t an issue of mere defiance, and it wasn’t about the salvation of Nineveh either.
“But the Lord hurled a great wind upon the sea, and there was a mighty tempest on the sea, so that the ship threatened to break up.” (Jonah 1:4)
It was an issue of friction – it was a friendship at breaking point. That’s why God’s first thought wasn’t to ask another prophet to rescue Nineveh. It was to go straight after Jonah and rescue their relationship.
We like to talk about Jonah with a hint of self-righteousness, maybe because we don’t get angry with God and scream and shout at Him. In our minds, Jonah might just be a problem kid with a bad attitude towards God.
But when you read what Jonah actually says to God, it tells a different story. It seems to me like Jonah’s understanding of God’s character was pretty solid – perhaps more solid than most of us. It’s his own character he wasn’t so sure about.
I think Jonah felt like giving up and dying, not because he couldn’t see the heart of God, but because he had seen his own and realised that it just wasn’t big or good enough for God to use.
“O Lord, is not this what I said when I was yet in my country? That is why I made haste to flee to Tarshish; for I knew that you are a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, and relenting from disaster. Therefore now, O Lord, please take my life from me, for it is better for me to die than to live.” (Jonah 2:2-3)
I often try to put myself in Jonah’s shoes at multiple parts of his story, but this is one particular moment where apprehended, I simply gazed into the mirror of his life. And I saw the goodness of God.
Like Jonah, I saw a God who is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in love. He has a perfect heart.
WHAT’S YOUR NINEVEH?
God’s heart has never been the problem – it’s mine. Sometimes it stops me from obeying or even looking at the things God has placed in front of me to steward.
I want to reject them, not realising that I’m rejecting a piece of Him. I want to escape confronting my own darkness, not realising that I’m escaping an opportunity to let Him walk me through it.
At the very least, Jonah brought all he felt before God, and their relationship was restored. And God didn’t want to leave him as he was. He had one final thing to teach him:
“Now the Lord God appointed a plant and made it come up over Jonah, that it might be a shade over his head, to save him from his discomfort. So Jonah was exceedingly glad because of the plant. But when dawn came up the next day, God appointed a worm that attacked the plant, so that it withered.
“When the sun rose, God appointed a scorching east wind, and the sun beat down on the head of Jonah so that he was faint. And he asked that he might die and said, ‘It is better for me to die than to live.’ But God said to Jonah, ‘Do you do well to be angry for the plant?’ And he said, ‘Yes, I do well to be angry, angry enough to die.’
“And the Lord said, ‘You pity the plant, for which you did not labour, nor did you make it grow, which came into being in a night and perished in a night. And should not I pity Nineveh, that great city, in which there are more than 120,000 persons who do not know their right hand from their left?’” (Jonah 3:6-11)
Although it stemmed less from rebellion and more from a lack of confidence, Jonah had inadvertently made God’s calling all about him. Sometimes pride doesn’t look like a boast – self-deprecation also says “I’m trusting in my own strength” – and because I don’t think I have much to offer, I will not do it.
As long as we trust in our own strength, or lack thereof, we’re playing God. Our confidence always has to be in Him. If He calls, we just have to obey. More often than calling the “qualified”, He qualifies the called.
Sometimes pride doesn’t look like a boast – self-deprecation also says “I’m trusting in my own strength”.
Furthermore, Jonah had chosen to act based on his own judgement of Nineveh’s deserving of God’s mercy. He had more pity for a plant than 120,000 people! And again, in His final lesson, God gently corrected Him that the calling was really never about him at all.
What about your assignment?
What about the country God asked you to travel to? Or the school? Or the company?
What about the man on the street begging, or the classmate who’s too shy to speak to anyone, but you know is silently crying out for love?
If you hear the voice of God calling you today, don’t harden your hearts and flee from His presence in the ultimate “Who, me?” Instead, run towards him in trust and obedience. He’s calling you for a reason.