“The word of the Lord came to Jonah the son of Amittai, saying, ‘Arise, go to Nineveh, the great city, and cry out against it, because their wickedness has come up before Me’” (Jonah 1:1–2). Then Jonah left and fled. What was it that Jonah didn’t like? I would think if God spoke to you, then you would be completely responsive. I’m quite sure as you read God’s word, you respond exactly as it commands you to do, right? Hardly.
We, like Jonah, want to hear from God what we want to hear. We love to hear the things we agree with. But the things that make us cringe (e.g., forgiveness, loving your enemies, etc.) make us want to flee. More than anything in Jonah 1 that jumps out at me is the pursuit and providence of God, even in the disobedient actions of Jonah.
Jonah didn’t even argue with God: “But Jonah rose up to flee to Tarshish from the presence of the Lord. So he went down to Joppa, found a ship which was going to Tarshish, paid the fare and went down into it to go with them to Tarshish from the presence of the Lord” (Jonah 1:3). No discussion, no disagreements, nothing. He just left, paid the fare, and off he went. What was he thinking? That he could get away from God? Do you think like this?
The Providence of God
We cannot miss the pursuit and providence of God: “The LORD hurled a great wind on the sea and there was a great storm on the sea so that the ship was about to break up” (Jonah 1:4). First, God was behind the storm. Popular misguided theology assumes every trial is a result of lack of faith. There is no debate on who was behind this storm. Second, God pursued Jonah. When Jonah fled, he didn’t get away from God as he thought. God was there, and God sent a great storm. The storm was providential and a result of the pursuit.
Way too many times we flee when we read the commands of God and how we should respond. We don’t like them. We flee. The providence of God is at work even in Jonah’s disobedience. God had a purpose in the midst of this. “The sailers became afraid and every man cried to his god,” but, “Jonah had gone below into the hold of the ship, lain down and fallen sound asleep” (Jonah 1:5), and this warranted a visit from the captain. “How is it that you are sleeping? Get up, call on your god” (Jonah 1:6).
The sailors only had a “god” to call upon. It was an idol—a deity or something—but it wasn’t Jehovah God. However, God had a plan in all this. Using the disobedience of Jonah, God sent a storm so strong the sailors and the captain saw the futility of their little gods, and sought Jonah to help them. Why? In the midst of all this, Jonah was sleeping. He was comfortable in his disobedience. The captain had said for Jonah to call on his “god.” These men were desperate. They were afraid.
Figuring Out Who Is the Cause
The sailors cast lots—they voted—on who was the cause of this storm. The lot fell on Jonah, of course, since he wasn’t bothered by the storm. The men questioned Jonah and his response, “I am a Hebrew, and I fear the LORD God of heaven who made the sea and the dry land” (Jonah 1:9). The men were still afraid, even after Jonah said to throw him overboard. Somehow the men sensed this was a man of God, and killing him would certainly bring about judgment.
As the men tried to row even harder to get to shore, they realized it was only worsening. After a prayer for not being held accountable for what they were about to do, they threw Jonah overboard. The sea stopped its raging.
The Great Purpose
I have often asked why certain things happen, as we all do. We look to the Scriptures for the answers to such piercing questions. Jonah’s outright disobedience and fleeing from the Lord caused a great storm and the men of the boat to abandon their gods and turn to the true God. What a glorious, sovereign, providential work of God to use such disobedience for His purpose and glory.
The men “called on the LORD and said, ‘We earnestly pray, O LORD, do not let us perish on account of this man’s life and do not put innocent blood on us; for You, O LORD, have done as You have pleased’” (Jonah 1:14). Based upon what Jonah had said, these men knew what the solution to the storm would be. They tried to row, but that failed. Why did they row? They recognized Jonah as being a prophet of God and likely feared harming God’s man. So, they prayed and threw Jonah overboard.
The men feared the Lord after this hair-raising event. They saw the Lord in it all. What do we see? Are you sleeping in the midst of a storm, which may be because of your disobedience? Are you comfortable in picking and choosing what to obey? Do you see God’s providential hand in your life, after an act of running? The men who had a “god” they worshipped just prior to this are now making sacrifices and vows to the Lord (Jonah 1:16).
The sea is calmed for the sailors. Jonah is overboard and being swallowed by a great fish. What sort of situation is your disobedience causing? What will it take for you to listen?