Let’s get a running head-start this morning… Jonah 1:1-3, “Now the word of the Lord came to Jonah the son of Amittai, saying, ‘Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and cry out against it; for their wickedness has come up before Me.’ But Jonah arose to flee to Tarshish from the presence of the Lord. He went down to Joppa, and found a ship going to Tarshish; so he paid the fare, and went down into it, to go with them to Tarshish from the presence of the Lord.”
One of the most striking things about the story of the Prophet Jonah is how the entire trajectory of his life was derailed by one stupid decision. Keep in mind, up until verse 3, Jonah has been a Godly man in every sense of the word. As a Gentile he hadn’t been born into faith. Instead, he made a decision to reject the world and become part of God’s people.
As we noted in our first study, Jonah had come to saving-faith in the God of Israel at an early age through the ministry of the Prophet Elijah. Then, after moving into Northern Israel, Jonah was mentored by none other than the Prophet Elisha. In his own right Jonah was a great spiritual leader. Beloved of the people, he’d become a counselor to kings. And yet, in spite of all of these things, his disobedience to this one command changed everything.
Please understand, faithfulness is only meaningful as it relates to the present. It’s simply a reality an entire life of faithfulness can be derailed by one foolish action today. This isn’t rocket-science… If you cheated on your wife tonight, do you think years of marital faithfulness would lessen the offense or for that matter the consequences?
It should be a warning to all of us that even a sterling reputation can be completely tarnished by one poor decision! This is why the Apostle Paul wrote in Philippians 3:13-14, “Brethren, I do not count myself to have apprehended; but one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead, I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.”
Paul realized the only thing that really mattered was what he did in the present… As such he “forgot” what was behind and “reached forward” to what was ahead by “pressing towards the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus!” Not only did such an outlook liberate him from the sins of his past, but it served as a constant reminder that he couldn’t live on the victories of yesterday when facing a fresh new set of battles today.
It’s sad, but Jonah the Prophet forfeited a lifetime of faithful service the very moment he refused to obey God’s command. Frankly, there should be no surprise this decision initiated immediate ramifications! Did you notice the one word that dominates verse 3?
Look back. We read that “Jonah went down to Joppa” and “went down into” the ship. Later on he’ll continue “down” into the hull and ultimately “down” into the sea and “down” into the belly of the great fish. There is no mistaking the reality this one decision to refuse God’s marching orders took Jonah the Prophet down! One author correctly observed that “every step away from God is a step down. That is the life running from God.”
Friend, of the many lessons you can take away from the story of Jonah don’t miss the most obvious. Rebelling against God by seeking to create a life apart from Him will never yield a better life, but instead a worse one! Jonah rejected God’s word and then set to “flee from the presence of the Lord” - what resulted was nothing but pain and suffering. J. Allen Blair wrote, “This is the price of disobedience. No one ever goes up while disobeying God. He always goes down… Disobedience is never without misery.”
In our last study we saw that Jonah was a man on a mission. Tragically, it just so happened to be a mission of the wrong variety! Though God had called him to go to Nineveh and preach the Gospel, for all kinds of reasons we’ve already discussed, Jonah wants no part of this plan. Not only does he reject “the word of the Lord”, but Jonah renounces his faith.
Refusing to travel the 500 miles Northeast to Nineveh was one thing, but this act of then boarding a ship to sail 2000 miles the opposite direction reveals a lot about Jonah’s heart.
As we’ve mentioned, Jonah’s desire to “flee from the presence of the Lord” can literally be translated as “fleeing from the face of the Lord.” It’s not that the Prophet believed he could escape the long arm of God. The phrase instead indicates Jonah was throwing in the towel concerning his relationship with the Lord. He was resigning his position as Prophet, leaving the Promised Land, abandoning God’s people. In fact Jonah was quitting.
We’re told in his rebellion Jonah decides to go “down to Joppa” (which was a port city in the Southern Kingdom of Judah) where he immediately “finds a ship going to Tarshish.”
The exact location of Tarshish remains a mystery. Many archeologist believe it was likely an outpost on the Atlantic coast of Spain. Some even believe it may have been a settlement in what is today known as Great Britain. Regardless, Jonah wanted to go as far as possible.
Before we continue… There is one more observation worthy of our consideration. Not only does God allow Jonah the freedom to exercise his free-will by running (the Lord puts up no fight nor does He resist Jonah’s wishes), but the enemy had a vessel ready to facilitate his escape. To this point Pastor Jon Courson writes, “Whenever you’re running from the call of the Lord, you can be sure Satan will have a ship all ready for you to set sail.”
Friend, the enemy will always make sure rebelling against God is as easy as possible. It’s why anytime you decide to run from God there will always be a ship ready to take you away. God will not resist you and the enemy will be more than willing to aid you.
Contrary to popular opinion, the truth is that adultery doesn’t begin when a man sleeps with another women. Instead, adultery really occurred the very moment that man decided to leave his wife - when his heart left the marriage. You see the mistress really was nothing more than the vessel the enemy prepared to facilitate his journey, and the action itself nothing more than a manifestation of what was already percolating in his heart.
Brothers and sisters there is a warning in this for all of us… Anytime your desires begin to wander it won’t be long before the enemy provides a perfect mechanism for you to act upon those desires. Out of the blue you just so happen to bump into an old running buddy you used to party with… One seemingly random day you get a notification on your phone that a former fling has friend-requested you on Facebook… How about you’re given a juicy bit of gossip that pertains to an enemy or rival at school you can use to take down…
Or how about your boss surprises you with an important business trip to Vegas where you have to entertain an important client… I even have a dear friend who was struggling with pornography when out of nowhere he stumbled upon a brand new Playboy magazine on the side of the road as he was mowing the law at the church no less! (True story!)
And are any of these things accidental? Though on the surface they might seem to be, if you’re being honest what’s actually happening is that the enemy is seeking to facilitate a decision that will ultimately take you down. It wasn’t coincidental that Jonah refused to go to Nineveh and just so happened to find a boat ready to take him to Tarshish.
Jonah 1:4-5, “But the Lord sent out a great wind on the sea, and there was a mighty tempest on the sea, so that the ship was about to be broken up. Then the mariners were afraid; and every man cried out to his god, and threw the cargo that was in the ship into the sea, to lighten the load. But Jonah had gone down into the lowest parts of the ship, had lain down, and was fast asleep.”
Verse 3 left us with Jonah boarding a boat in Joppa that was headed “to Tarshish.” What’s interesting is that verse 4 fast-forwards the scene with this boat now caught in a “mighty tempest” somewhere on the Mediterranean Sea and likely off the northern coast of Africa (no one dared sail in the open ocean). With this in mind, we have no idea how long they’ve been at sea nor are we given any indication how far along the journey Jonah happens to be.
As I play the movie out in my head, I imagine this ship left this port in Joppa under ideal conditions. It was the right time of year to travel by sea. The weather was pristine. The sea calm. The winds favorable. From Jonah’s estimation his plan was unfolding better than he’d imagined. Nineveh was officially in his rearview mirror.
With each passing day Jonah felt at ease knowing he was getting further and further away from that wicked place. No doubt he was eager to hear the imminent news that Nineveh had been destroyed. I’m sure Jonah spent his time daydreaming about his next steps in Tarshish.
“But the Lord…” Though God allowed Jonah to run, hadn’t resisted his rebellious intentions, had even afforded him ample time to reconsider his decisions, the Lord loved Jonah enough to pursue him - even after Jonah had rejected Him! Never forget, at some point in your rebellion, there will come a moment God will no longer sit idly by.
The very fact we have “but the Lord” as it pertains to Jonah’s story is really astounding. Nothing about Jonah demanded God’s involvement. He’d made his decision. God could have sent another prophet to Nineveh. The amazing thing about this tale is that while Jonah was through with God - “the Lord” was not through with Jonah. What grace that even when he didn’t want God’s intervention, the Lord loved him enough to intervene anyway!
Yes, Jonah was absolutely free to run from “the presence of the Lord”, but that didn’t mean the Lord wasn’t equally free to follow after! As a matter of fact, the remainder of this chapter describes several ways the Lord seeks to get Jonah’s attention… Ways God attempts to get Jonah to stop destroying his life… Ways He pursues a man on the run!
Notice “the Lord sent out a great wind on the sea” that stirred up such “a mighty tempest that the ship was about to be broken up.” What’s being described here was without a doubt a supernatural occurrence. This clearly wasn’t a natural storm. As we’ll come to see, even the pagan crew on board this ship sensed a divine element at work.
Beyond this… The tempest was so sudden that it caught even the most seasoned seamen off guard. They didn’t see it coming. In a matter of only a few moments the sky darkened, the wind began to howl, and what had been a calm and favorable sea quickly grew into “a mighty tempest.” This storm hit so fast it afforded the crew little to no time to prepare. The waves of this storm became so severe “the ship was about to be broken up.”
Not only are we told the boat itself was in peril, but “throwing over the cargo” in an attempt “to lighten the load” failed to provide relief. Things quickly grew so unfavorable even these hardened “mariners” were so afraid “every man” began “crying out to their gods.” It’s been said there are no Atheists in foxholes. In a single moment upon that boat this storm turned even the crassest and most apathetic of sailors immediately into religious men of prayer.
In the Bible you’ll find God allowing two types of storms: First, there are Storms of Obedience like the disciples encountered in Mark 4. In this story, Jesus commanded the disciples to enter a boat and sail to the other side of the Sea of Galilee. They obeyed the Lord’s instructions only to find themselves later that night in middle of an incredible tempest.
You see Storms of Obedience are not of your own making. Like with the disciples they are situations God allows with the express purpose of perfection. These storms do not originate as a consequence or a byproduct of anything you’ve done or haven’t done. They are completely out of your control and often arise suddenly and without warning.
Storms like these occur naturally - sometimes being nothing more than a result of living in a fallen world… As our church family knows all to well these storms can arise from a cancer diagnosis or nagging illness, the declining health of loved ones, wayward children, the struggle to find solid employment, the disappointment of a breakup, etc.
More often than not the Bible refers to these Storms of Obedience as “trials.” In James 1:2-4 we’re provided the daunting exhortation, “My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience. But let patience have its perfect work, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing.”
And yet, there are also Storms of Disobedience... These are storms of your own making - Situations God allows into your life with the express purpose of correction. These storms are self-made - caused by a person’s sin, rebellion, or poor choices. Since these storms arise as the natural manifestation of our wretched decisions, they are avoidable!
Keep in mind, verse 4 is clear this “mighty tempest” Jonah and these “mariners” were presently facing was initiated by God. The storm wasn’t a natural occurrence. As it pertained to Jonah this was a Storm of Disobedience allowed by God for a specific reason.
I don’t find it to be an accident “the ship was about to be broken up.” You see this storm that arose because of Jonah’s disobedience was used by God to target the very vessel facilitating his rebellion. Don’t miss this… The very thing the enemy used to aid in Jonah’s disobedience became the very instrument of his misery. It’s been said, “God will use the mechanism facilitating your rebellion to afflict you.” Such was the case with Jonah.
Please note the purpose of this “mighty tempest” was not to destroy Jonah. Rather, the storm was designed to awaken him to a much larger reality. Consider the identity of these seamen… These men weren’t Hebrews (the Jewish people weren’t nautical). In all likelihood these “mariners” were instead Gentiles like Jonah - specifically Phoenicians.
You see God wanted to save the Ninevites - which is why He commissioned Jonah to go there. And yet, Jonah was on this boat heading the opposite direction because he preferred they perished. Now, because of his actions, we find another group of Gentiles about to die. It’s as though God is trying to get Jonah to personalize the results of his rebellion.
As he looked around at these frantic men convinced they were about to meet a certain death, Jonah’s heart should have been stirred. God loved these Gentile “mariners” as much as He loved the Ninevites. In a very practical way God is wanting Jonah to be moved to compassion in the presence of lost men facing the prospects of death and judgment.
And don’t forget what’s happening on deck… These men are so desperate they’re crying out to their false gods praying they would save them! Oh the irony that as a prophet Jonah personally knew the true and living God who actually had the power to save!
As Jonah stands there surveying the situation, I believe in this moment Jonah knew he was being given a second chance to make the right decision… He could repent, call on the salvation of God, seen the wind and waves cease, and lead these men to the Lord.
How sad that upon seeing the tempest, the practical needs of the fearful men around him, their spiritual desperation, and the fact they were all likely to drown in the sea - instead of repentance we read… “But Jonah had gone down into the lowest parts of the ship, had lain down, and was fast asleep.” How calloused! Jonah knew why the tempest had arisen. He knew the crew was likely to be innocent bystanders. But he doesn’t care.
In the Hebrew this word translated “fast asleep” means Jonah was in a deep sleep. There are some commentators who point to verse 5 as evidence Jonah was simply oblivious to the needs of those around him. That he’s missing the chance to be a witness out of ignorance.
I disagree! Instead, I believe Jonah’s actions are much more sinister than ignorance… What Jonah did was completely intentional! This man had rejected the grace God wanted to demonstrate through him to the Ninevites. Now he doesn’t care these “mariners” are about to perish on his account. Jonah’s disregard for some had morphed into a disregard for all.
Friend, you need to know this is what resisting grace does in the heart of man. The person who closes their fist to God’s grace will find it impossible to share anything but hate to those they encounter. And while you can understand Jonah’s resistance to sharing grace to the wicked Assyrians who deserved judgment, the truth is that he has no excuse for failing to demonstrate kindness to a group of men who’ve done absolutely nothing wrong.
Though this tempest was designed by God to awake Jonah to this reality - to stir his heart to demonstrate compassion for the lost, because he’s unwilling to relent the storm only served to harden him in his resistance. Once again… While no one would have blamed God for throwing up His hands in disgust and ending His pursuit of this man on the run, not so with the Lord. If the storm failed to get through to Jonah, maybe something else will…
Jonah 1:6-11, “So the captain came to him, and said, ‘What do you mean, sleeper? Arise, call on your God; perhaps your God will consider us, so that we may not perish.’ And they said to one another, ‘Come, let us cast lots, that we may know for whose cause this trouble has come upon us.’ So they cast lots, and the lot fell on Jonah. Then they said to him, ‘Please tell us! For whose cause is this trouble upon us? What is your occupation? And where do you come from? What is your country?
And of what people are you?’ So Jonah said to them, ‘I am a Hebrew; and I fear the Lord, the God of heaven, who made the sea and the dry land.’ Then the men were exceedingly afraid, and said to him, ‘Why have you done this?’ For the men knew that he fled from the presence of the Lord, because he had told them. Then they said to him, ‘What shall we do to you that the sea may be calm for us?’ - for the sea was growing more tempestuous.”
As the tempest continued to worsen and the situation became all the more serious, one thing on this boat seemed odd to the captain. While all the men were fearful, desperate, and crying out to their gods to be saved, Jonah was fast asleep in the hull of the ship. He wasn’t afraid. Showed no signs of desperation. And in fact seemed absolutely indifferent to their fate.
At some point we’re told “the captain came to Jonah”, presumably wakes him from his slumber, challenges his apparent apathy, and commands him to get up and start “calling on his God” thinking “perhaps Jonah’s God would consider them” and save them from the storm. You know you’re in rebellion when unbelievers start challenging you to pray!
Once again we have no idea how long this scene plays out; and yet, two things are certain: (1) Jonah likely refused the captains orders and remained totally disengaged, and (2) The desperation of these crewmen intensified. Convinced this “mighty tempest” was of a divine nature we read that they end up “casting lots” in order to identify the man “who’d caused this trouble to come upon them.” Imagine the moment “the lot fell on Jonah.”
Jonah has been discovered. He can no longer hide! The crew, knowing something is awry, begin to interrogate Jonah. They demand answers immediately… “Who are you? Where are you from? What is your occupation? What have you done?” Not only does Jonah explain who he is, but we’re told he’s actually honest about why he was on the boat in the first place. He tells the men that he was “fleeing from the presence of the Lord.”
Once again Jonah has been provide another opportunity… Here’s a group of Gentile pagans convinced their gods were fake and powerless, and that Jonah’s God was real and powerful. It’s why they ask him, “What shall we do to you that the sea may be calm for us?” In a twist these men are now looking to Jonah for guidance, wisdom, but mainly deliverance.
Jonah has been given another incredible chance to repent of his rebellion. In this moment he could have made the right decision. The storm would have ceased. And they could have taken him back to Joppa. And yet, Jonah is still resisting grace. Look at what he says…
Jonah 1:12, “And Jonah said to them, ‘Pick me up and throw me into the sea; then the sea will become calm for you. For I know that this great tempest is because of me.’”
Of all the things you can say of Jonah… He wasn’t a hypocrite and he doesn’t seem to be a coward. Realizing God was not going to allow him to go to Tarshish, Jonah would rather die than go to Nineveh! This man is so stubborn he tells these sailors only half the truth. Yes, if they threw him overboard the sea would calm and they’d be saved. And yet, what Jonah fails to mention is that his repentance would have also yielded the same result.
It’s incredible that the “mighty tempest” was not enough to deter Jonah in his rebellion. Beyond that, witnessing the desperation of these Gentile sailors also failed to influence his perspective. And yet, there was one final way God would seek to get through to Jonah…
Jonah 1:13, “Nevertheless the men rowed hard to return to land, but they could not, for the sea continued to grow more tempestuous against them.”
Think about the progress of these events… “The word of the Lord” comes to Jonah. He rejects the word and goes south to Joppa instead of north to Nineveh. From there he boards a boat for Tarshish and he and the crew set sail under ideal conditions.
Then without warning a “mighty tempest” strikes placing the ship and lives of all those on board in serious jeopardy. Recognizing the divine element behind this storm, the crew starts crying out to their false gods for deliverance. Even knowing the storm was on account of his rebellion, tragically Jonah chooses to do nothing until he’s ultimately called on the carpet.
Now to his credit Jonah is honest with the crew, but instead of repenting he requests they throw him overboard! For just a minute I want you to think about that… If you were one of these “mariners” and this had been the chain of events, what would you have done? For me it’s easy… I would have immediately thrown Jonah overboard just as he requested!
I’m serious! All things considered this would have been easy! Though I’ve done nothing wrong, I’m suffering because of this man’s rebellion! Because of his sin, I’ve had to toss all of my cargo overboard at great personal expense - I’m not getting compensate for that! More pressingly, I now know without any doubts that his actions have placed my very life in peril.
And to make matters worse he doesn’t even seem to care! As I see it the very instance Jonah suggests the storm would cease the moment he hit the water he’s going overboard!
This is what I find fascinating… While Jonah deserved to go swimming and these men would have been justified in such an action, “nevertheless the men rowed harder to return to land.” Did you catch that? These Gentile, pagan “mariners” choose to demonstrate grace to a man who deserved judgment! What a contrast to Jonah who’d been willing to allow judgment to befall innocent men simply on account that he refused to show grace!
Understand… Jonah is running, but the Lord is in hot pursuit. Sure, God allows Jonah to board a boat and set his own course. But that didn’t mean God was done seeking to reach Jonah. First, there was the Storm of Disobedience… Jonah experiencing the consequences of his own choices. Then when that failed to change his course God allowed him to see how his rebellion was effecting others. And yet, finally, when none of this gets through to Jonah… God allowed a man refusing to demonstrate grace to be the recipient of grace.
There is something we can draw from the example of these men applicable to how we handle those running from God in our midst. The truth is that it would be so much easier to throw them overboard… So much easier to cut ties and go our separate ways - especially if we’re suffering in the storm they created! And yet, the more divine calling is to show grace.
Now that’s not to say a time may come when the man resisting God should go overboard, but this should only occur after we’ve carried grace a far as humanly possible!
Sadly, in spite of the attempts of these men to get to shore, we’re told the “the sea continued to grow more tempestuous against them.” God was pursuing a man on the run and would not let Jonah off the hook. What should have happened as Jonah encounters a kindness he in no way deserved? He should have humbled himself and repented. Sadly, he doesn’t!
Jonah 1:14-17, “Therefore they cried out to the LORD and said, ‘We pray, O Lord, please do not let us perish for this man’s life, and do not charge us with innocent blood; for You, O Lord, have done as it pleased You.’ So they picked up Jonah and threw him into the sea, and the sea ceased from its raging. Then the men feared the Lord exceedingly, and offered a sacrifice to the Lord and took vows. Now the Lord had prepared a great fish to swallow Jonah. And Jonah was in the belly of the fish three days and three nights.”
You know it’s not an accident God still used His prophet to reveal Himself to these pagan sailors in spite of Jonah and not because of him. Honestly, some of the greatest lessons I’ve learned in my spiritual life have come by witnessing a friend go down, down, down because he refused the appeals of a God in hot pursuit!
And yet, if you’re refusing God’s commands, resisting His word, and presently seeking to run from His presence there is a lesson you’d be wise to see… Not only is there a real enemy more than willing to help you run, “but there is a Lord” who will come after you!
Yes, as with Jonah, you’re completely free to flee as long as you understand Jesus is equally free to pursue! Though you don’t deserve it and likely don’t even want it, Jesus loves you enough not to sit idly by. As long as He can Jesus will always pursue.
If this is you this morning, I want you to be honest with yourself. Since you made the decision to resist His word, run from His will, and resist His grace, has your life gotten better or worse? You see, even if you’re presently experiencing clear skies, a “mighty tempest” is on the horizon and it will likely strike unannounced and when you least expect it.
Friend, in His love, God will not allow you to continue this journey away from Him undeterred. In actuality, whatever it is that has facilitated your rebellion will end up being the very thing that will ultimately take you down. And please know… The storm is not God’s way to pay you back, but instead exists to bring you back. God seeks restoration, not retribution!
And yet, if experiencing the consequences of your sin isn’t enough to open your eyes and foster a repentant heart, look around and see the lives that are being unfairly devastated by your decisions. These people have done nothing wrong. The only reason they even find themselves in a storm is because of their proximity to you! So often we forget that rebelling against God negatively affects everyone around us!
I have to take a second and say it, but men (and this principle applies in so many varying ways)… If you love your family, the best thing you can do for them is follow Jesus! Honestly, following Jesus enables you to sacrificially love your wife and fosters an environment your kids will thrive in. Sadly, I have seen so many selfish and shortsighted men create a storm that devastated not only their life, but the lives of their wife and children.
And finally… If all of this fails to reach the man on the run and drive him to his knees, there is one reality that still can - And it’s the fact that even knowing the brutal reality of the situation, knowing your life is a mess of your own making - a mess hurting innocent bystanders, Jesus is still willing to demonstrate His grace! In spite of your rebellion… In spite of your resistance… In spite of the fact you’ve rejected Him, Jesus’ grace remains. “For it is the grace of God the leads a man to repentance!”
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