The word of the Lord came to Jonah son of Amittai: “Go to the great city of Nineveh and preach against it, because its wickedness has come up before me.” But Jonah ran away from the Lord and headed for Tarshish. He went down to Joppa, where he found a ship bound for that port. After paying the fare, he went aboard and sailed for Tarshish to flee from the Lord. Jonah 1:1-3
How interesting that the Lord called a man like Jonah to go and preach to the people of Nineveh.
When I heard all these Bible stories growing up, I thought the Bible heroes pretty much had it all together. They were gifted, invincible, and could do no wrong.
Now as I read these stories as an adult, I’m discovering that a lot of them had major issues they had to work through and overcome.
And Jonah was one of them.
Jonah had a heart problem.
God called Jonah to go preach to the people in Nineveh and Jonah did not want to go. And it’s no wonder. Nineveh was the capital of Assyria. During that time, the Assyrians were in the process of exterminating the northern kingdom of Israel–yeah–Israel–like Jonah’s own people.
I’d say it’s an understatement to say that the Ninevites were really difficult people to get along with.
Jonah knew God’s heart. He knew God was a compassionate God, full of love and grace. He knew if he preached the message God put on his heart that God might just decide to forgive these hateful people and show them mercy. And Jonah did not want God to extend a merciful hand to the Ninevites. He wanted God to rain down judgment.
Now a days, it would be kind of like God calling us to go preach to terrorists.
So Jonah wasted no time buying himself a ticket on a ship going in the opposite direction of Nineveh.
“One ticket to Tarshish, please!”
Why? Was Jonah afraid of the Ninevites? I don’t think so. Jonah 1:3 says, “After paying the fare, he went aboard and sailed for Tarshish to flee from the Lord.”
Jonah wasn’t running from the Ninevites. He was running from God.
Is that possible? Can we run from God?
Psalm 139:7-10 says, “Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence? If I go up to the heavens, you are there; if I make my bed in the depths, you are there. If I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea, even there your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast.”
Try as we may, we cannot run away from God. There’s no “physical” place we can go to escape His presence. Ah, but we can be distant from Him spiritually. And we don’t have to board a boat to Tarshish to feel that great divide within our own hearts. When we are not walking in obedience to what God calls us to do, our hearts can be far from Him.
Jesus said in Matthew 15:8, “These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me.”
And I believe that’s one of the major issues God was concerned about in this passage—Jonah’s heart!
I can definitely relate to Jonah. It seems like God constantly aligns me with “hard to love” people and I would much rather to run away to Tarshish–or better yet, send them to Tarshish. I see their flaws and I get critical. They hurt my feelings and I put up walls. They get on my nerves and I avoid them. I see the plank in their eyes, and I tattletale on them.
“Rain down your judgment, Lord!”
And when I feel that way toward others, I’m being disobedient to God.
My heart is far from Him.
Then the Lord puts those very people I’m struggling with on my heart. He asks me to do the opposite of what my flesh wants to do. Instead of running away and buying a ticket to Tarshish, He calls me to go to them and love them, to build them up and encourage them.
It’s not easy. I struggle. But when I do finally surrender to Him in obedience, and extend a hand of grace and love to others, that’s when the walls of pride fall and love begins to flow.
Obedience sets me free and draws my heart back to Him.
1 Peter 4:8 says, “Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins.”
The message Jonah was sent to peach was as much for him as it was for the Ninevites.
And the same is true for us.
God is always chasing after our hearts.
So think twice before buying that ticket to Tarshish.