Jonah 1:1 - 16

Running from God

2000, J.W. Carter
Scripture quotes from KJV

Billions of people in our world are lost. They have never heard the message of God’s forgiveness through Christ. Hundreds of unreached people groups, with their own languages, customs, and religious beliefs have no church of their own.

Millions of Christians in our churches know the truth and enjoy the blessings of salvation. Also, God calls His people to leave their comfort zones and go on mission with Him, to take the gospel to those whom He loves and for whom Christ died.

Our response to God’s call determines the eternal fate of lost souls. As we study the response of Jonah, we need to ask ourselves how we have responded to God’s call to be involved in His Kingdom on mission. A study of the book of Jonah gives us a good example of how NOT to do missions. He ran away from the mission God had given him. God had to take drastic steps to get Jonah’s attention and show him that He meant business. Finally, Jonah owned up to his rebellion and admitted his sin.

Many believers today are in the same boat as Jonah was. God has called them to missions, but they have refused to obey. They are living in denial and face the consequences of their rebellion. Sometimes the fallout of disobedience has an impact on others, either directly because of the sinful act of rebellion, or indirectly by the failure of needed ministry. They, like Jonah, need to repent and return to fulfill their calling to share Christ with the world.

This study of Jonah will cover the entire book, with no verse going unread. Hopefully, we will, by doing so, see what God is revealing through this series of events.

Most people miss the point of the Book of Jonah. They get caught up in the story of the great fish, and never get past the first chapter. Jonah is sometimes been viewed as the most Christian book in the Old Testament, primarily because of its focus on the central New Testament theme: missions, the Great Commission for God’s people to tell the world about God’s love. Jonah is one of the most thrilling, and convicting, missionary texts in the Bible.

Missions is a low priority for some believers. Why is this so? (We pay for missionaries’ salaries, we think it is somebody else’s job, do we really care?) God will find ways to remind us that He has a purpose for each of us. We have all been called to join with Him in His mission. We cannot escape this responsibility and not experience the consequences. The price that Jonah paid for his rebellion was quite profound.

Jonah 1:1-2.

The word of the LORD came to Jonah son of Amittai: 2"Go to the great city of Nineveh and preach against it, because its wickedness has come up before me."

"Jonah" means "Dove", and "Amittai" means "My Truth." Nineveh is a large pagan city of Assyria, 48 miles in circumference at this time. What was God’s call to Jonah? (Verse 2.) His call to Jonah was simple, direct, and clear. It focuses on the prophet Jonah and the specific call, rather than on the content of the message he was to deliver. Jonah’s entire prophetic message is only found in one verse, 3:4.

Jonah 3:4.  On the first day, Jonah started into the city. He proclaimed: "Forty more days and Nineveh will be overturned."

The book of Jonah is really more about the prophet than about his message. We will find that all of those who Jonah came in contact with were more respectful and open to God’s message than Jonah was. From the beginning of this book, we need to pay attention to Jonah’s attitude.

Why did God pick Jonah? Was he the best man for the job? When we select people to do a task, we will typically pick the person who is best able to handle the job. We do not know much about Jonah. He is mentioned in 2 Kings 14:25 as a prophet from Gath Hepher during the reign of Jeroboam II. What we know of Jonah shows him inconsistent, whining, openly critical of God, constantly in a bad mood, and subject to depression. So, why did God choose Jonah? Why did God choose Moses, a poor speaker, to go to Pharoah? Why did he choose the timid Gideon and refer to him as a "might warrior"? It is important to see that the people that God uses are real people like you and me who have a unique set of talents, gifts, and weaknesses. When we succeed based upon our talents and gifts it is less likely to bring glory to God than when we succeed based upon our weaknesses. When those weaknesses are conquered, God is glorified, and we grow. Unfortunately, there is no evidence that Jonah experienced such growth.

What rationalizations do we use to counter God’s call for action in our lives? "I’m not qualified, I’m not smart enough, I’m not ‘spiritual’ enough." I’m reminded of the words of a song published by Scott Wesley Brown a few years ago:

"Oh, Lord I am your faithful servant, And you know that I have been for years
I'm here in my pew every Sunday and Wednesday, I've stained it with many-a tear.
I've given you years of my service, And You know that I've given my best.
I've never asked you for anything much, So I think I deserve this request:

Please don't send me to Africa, I don't think I've got what it takes.
I'm just a man, I'm not a Tarzan, I hate lions, gorillas and snakes.
Just leave me here in suburbia, in my comfortable middle-class life.
Please don't send me out into the bush where the natives are restless at night.

I'll make sure the money's collected, I'll make sure the money is spent.
I'll wash and I'll dry the communion cups. I'll tithe eleven percent.
I'll volunteer for the nursery, And I'll go on the youth group retreat.
I'll usher, I'll deacon, I'll go door to door. Just let me keep warming this seat."

Is this the way we are responding to God’s call? Do we prefer to keep our pew seat warm and consider all of our spiritual service to take place within the walls of the church? It is interesting that the words to this song contain the words refer to self 27 times in only 12 lines. What does this imply? Our rationalizations against service are selfish and lack the faith that God can do what He has planned. By doing this, we place our own authority above that of God. This is a mistake that can have eternal consequences.