But Jonah rose up to flee unto Tarshish from the presence of the Lord, and went down to Joppa; and he found a ship going to Tarshish: so he paid the fare thereof, and went down into it, to go with them unto Tarshish from the presence of the Lord. — Jonah 1:3
Fleeing from the presence of the Lord may sound like radical behavior. However, people may “flee” in ways that might not be as obvious as Jonah’s flight to Tarshish. One retired pastor tells how he came to know he was called to preach. Whenever God would speak to his heart about it, he always put it off or gave excuses. He never told anyone, not even his wife, about God’s dealings with him regarding the ministry. At times when they faced crises, such as when one of their children became sick, he would tell the Lord yes, but when the crisis passed, he backed up on his promise.
One night as they were driving home from church, his wife slipped close to him and took his hand. She told him that God had asked her to get ready to be a minister’s wife, and asked him if he was called to preach. She said, “You are the only husband I have!” Eventually, this man wrestled in prayer and answered God’s call.
Jonah ran from the call of God, and drastic measures were required before he would turn around and submit. Yet, God in His mercy prepared a great fish to save Jonah, and ultimately, the people of Nineveh.
When Jonah fled “from the presence of the Lord,” he likely did not believe he could actually find a place where God could not speak to him. Rather, he probably wanted to ignore God’s call by simply finding something else to do, which included traveling in the opposite direction. Today, individuals may flee “from the presence of the Lord” and God’s call by getting busy with the cares of life. The pursuit of prosperity and wrong priorities can cause people to ignore the Word of the Lord. Some, such as the minister mentioned previously, may try to put off God’s call. Often God is merciful and faithful to call time and time again.
Most likely God will not call you to proclaim divine judgment to a great city as He did Jonah. However, it is likely that God will call you to give your testimony to a coworker or classmate. God may call you to give financial assistance to a family in need or to help with a specific responsibility at church. Purpose in your heart that you will be sensitive to God’s guidance each and every day, and then be quick to obey.
The prophet Jonah is first identified by Scripture in 2 Kings 14:25, where he is called God’s “servant.” Jonah was accustomed to hearing “the word of the Lord” while he prophesied during the reign of Israelite King Jeroboam II.
Nineveh was located approximately 500 miles northeast of Jerusalem on the banks of the Tigris River, which was near the current city of Mosul, Iraq. This exceedingly wicked city was soon to be the capital of the great Assyrian Empire. The prophet Nahum identified Nineveh as being “full of lies and robbery.” Nineveh was also an enemy of the people of Israel, as the Assyrian Empire dominated the world.
Tarshish was most likely located in southern Spain, a couple thousand miles west of Nineveh.
Casting lots was a common way to determine what course of action to take. It was similar to drawing straws and was used to ascertain the will or direction of the gods. Objects were thrown on the ground or taken from a container. Significant matters were decided in this way. The hope was that God would control the lots, and in the case of Jonah, He most certainly did.
The fish prepared by the Lord may not have been of the whale species. The original text simply indicates that God prepared a great fish. In Matthew 12:40, when Jesus referred to the “great fish,” the translation uses the word “whale.” However, it could just as easily have been translated as “huge fish” or “sea monster.” The actual water creature may have been a common Mediterranean shark, whose physical structure would much more easily house a man. Whatever the exact species, God used the fish to get Jonah to a place of prayer, although in a very unlikely location.
The prayer of Jonah in chapter 2 is an excellent example of how to approach God. Jonah began by realizing his need for God to intervene (verse 2). His prayer included repentance or godly sorrow (verse 4). Jonah also placed himself in proper perspective relative to a holy God (verse 4). His prayer included faith that God was paying heed to his cry (verse 7). Finally, Jonah forsook his own motives by yielding to God (verses 8 and 9).
(Hannah’s Bible Outlines - Used by permission per WORDsearch)
I. The disobedience of Jonah (1:1 — 2:10)
A. The commission (1:1-2)
B. The disobedience (1:3)
C. The consequences (1:4-17)
1. The great wind (1:4-16)
a. The distress (1:4-5)
b. The interrogation (1:6)
c. The cause (1:7)
d. The confession (1:8-9)
e. The result (1:10-16)
(1) The concern (1:10-14)
(2) The calm (1:15-16)
2. The great fish (1:17)
D. The results (2:1-10)
1. The prayer (2:1-9)
a. The past (2:1-5)
b. The present (2:6-8)
c. The future (2:9)
2. The deliverance (2:10)
God speaks to our hearts by His still small voice, through His Holy Spirit. Keep an obedient heart as He leads you in His work.