Jonah 1:1-3 – A Call and Response

We are postponing our gathering again this week. Hopefully, we will be able to gather next Tuesday to read through Jonah 1. As we will begin our journey into the story, the introduction to the story sets the stage for the two great themes in the story – the merciful righteousness of God’s character and the great character failings of Jonah. In these twin theme’s we should see a reflection of our own lives.

God’s Command:

God tells Jonah to go to the great enemy of Judah and to speak truth to these wicked people in order to save their civilization and their souls. God commands a religious response to a political evil. Jonah knows of the violent oppression the Assyrians visited upon Israel and other people. Jonah knows that God wishes them to repent of this evil. Jonah knows that God wants Jonah to be the one to take on the responsibility of rebuking the Assyrians. This is God’s call to Jonah.

In many ways, this is God’s call to us. As Dietrich Bonhoeffer is (alleged) to have said “Silence in the face of evil is itself evil: God will not hold us guiltless. Not to speak is to speak. Not to act is to act.” God’s command to his people is that we are to correct our neighbor in love because not doing so makes us responsible for their sin. Lev. 19:17-18. There is a time, place, and manner of speaking out against evil. This was Jonah’s calling, and it is ours.

Jonah’s Response:

Throughout the Scriptures, most of God’s prophets are hesitant. Moses tries to negotiate with God (Ex. 3-4), Isaiah simply pronounces his unworthiness (Isa. 6:4), and Jeremiah proclaims he is too young (Jer. 1:6). Jonah is the only prophet who physically runs away from his call. Nineveh is located inland and eastward of Judah. Jonah gets on a boat to sail westward. Jonah is testing whether God is everywhere or whether God is somehow geographically limited. Jonah wants to physically get away from God’s presence. v.3

Jonah flees from God. He shirks his responsibility. In doing so, Jonah echoes Cain’s defense of “Am I my brother’s keeper?” Gen. 4:9. Think about why Jonah runs – he could be fearful, he could be possessive of God (he’s my God, not Assyria’s), or he could simply not want to carry his call. Most likely, however, Jonah does not want to see Assyria repent; he wants to see Assyria be destroyed. (Jonah 4:2).  

Jonah flees to Tarshish. We are not certain where Tarshish is, however, we do know that Tarshish was an exceedingly wealthy trading center full of gold, silver, ivory, iron, and tin. (1 Kings 10:22, Ezek. 27:12). When Jonah flees from God, he does not run into the desert for self-reflection. Rather, Jonah runs into the lap of luxury to avoid the self-reflection that would require him to answer God’s call.

Like us, Jonah is faced with a choice. We can either do the hard work of going to Assyria or the easier work of going to Tarshish. Most of us at most times, always choose the latter. Our calling is to take up our cross and follow Jesus. Mark 8:34. That usually means going to Nineveh where Jonah will eventually end up in Chapter 3.

Although we are not meeting today, please take the time to slowly read over the introduction. Ruminate over its words. And see if the introduction reflects on who we are and our shortcomings.

The Lord is full of compassion and mercy, *
   slow to anger and of great kindness.
He will not always accuse us, *
   nor will he keep his anger for ever.
He has not dealt with us according to our sins, *
   nor rewarded us according to our wickedness.

Psalm 103:8-10

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