Please read Jonah 1.
May the Holy Spirit write God's word upon our hearts.
Let us consider the third
verse of Jonah Chapter 1: "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."
As we come unto the Word of God the question that you and I must answer is, "Are we walking in obedience to the Word of the Lord or are we trying to run away." God's will for our lives is holiness: that we be more and more conformed after him and not after ourselves or this world. God's will for our lives is to trust that no matter the situation in which He is pleased to place us, we submit ourselves wholly to his hand, knowing that he cares for us, and that we desire only to be faithful to him in that situation, and do not dictate to him what he ought to be doing with us. Gods will for our lives is obedience that we do those things that the Savior bids us to do. Are you walking in obedience to the will of God, or are you seeking to run from him?
There are times very often (perhaps always?) that the will of God for our lives clashes sharply with our own sinful will. At times that clash is so sharp that we refuse to obey. We decide deliberately that we are not going to walk in the will of God. When we do that, the next thing we do is attempt to remove ourselves from everything that can remind us of our obligations to Him, whether that is our family, or the church, or the worship services, or our own personal time of prayer and bible study. At first it may be that all seems to go well. But if you are a child of God, it will not be long before God comes to break you in pieces, for God is committed that according to his own love and purposes in Christ, He will work his way in us, and He will teach us that our only safety, good, and peace is to obey him and walk in his will.
One of the most amazing aspects of the scriptures is that they give to us the untouched portraits of the saints. We all understand even as children and young people the difference between a professionally altered portrait and the snap shots that we take with our camera. Very seldom would anyone say of a professionally taken portrait: "I don't take a good picture". But, you see, the Bible does not give to us professionally altered portraits of the saints. The Bible is a gallery of the untouched pictures of the children of God.
We have Noah, who for 120 years believed God, preached righteousness and prepared the arc, and after the flood became drunk and naked in front of his sons. We have Abraham, who was the father of the faithful, and though everything spoke against God's promise, yet by faith he believed God's promises - and at the same time he lied to save his own skin by saying that his wife was his sister. We have David, a man after God's own heart - so much so that he could pen many of the psalms. He was the same man who through his lusts in one night crippled his family for all of his days. We could go on and on. These are the untouched pictures of the people of God.
Tonight in Jonah (he was a true prophet of God - make no mistake),
we have an episode which is unparalleled in all of the scriptures. We
have a prophet who receives his call from God, and he deliberately disobeys.
God had issued to Jonah a clear, sovereign, righteous commission: "Arise,
go to Nineveh that great city and cry against it, for their wickedness
has come up before Me". There could be no misunderstanding of that
commission. Without one word of explanation Jonah arose to flee from
the presence of the Lord. He had been told by God, You go to Nineveh,
and you preach my word to Nineveh, but he ran away, apparently
thinking that he was going to keep God's word locked up behind his lips.
We know that all of the scriptures in Jesus Christ are given for our
instruction in righteousness. So we consider for a few moments the
prophet who ran away. We will look at the fact of his
running, the reason for his running, and some
of the lessons we may learn from his running.
The word of God was clear to Jonah, and it is always clear. God's word
to you and me is always clear. For Jonah it was "arise", that is, interrupt
your regular schedule as a prophet (for Jonah was a prophet in
Israel among the 10 tribes), interrupt that ministry, go to Nineveh.
Ninevah was the capital of the kingdom of Assyria - the world power
of its day, a mighty, powerful city. Jonah, use whatever means of
transportation are available, go to Nineveh and cry against it. Deliver
to it a message of impending judgment from God. But Jonah rose
up to flee from the presence of the Lord and went down to Joppa and
from there to Tarshish.
If you recall your Bible geography just a bit, you will remember that Nineveh is where present day Iran is at the converse of the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers. For Jonah it was east and a little north from where he lived in Israel. Jonah got up. He obeyed the word of the Lord that far. He arose, but instead of going to Nineveh, he went to Tarshish. Tarshish most likely was a remote place near Spain far across the Mediterranean Sea. It was one of the most distant, out-of-the-way places known to man at the time. It was on the edge of the world, humanly speaking. For Jonah it was as far as he could possibly get, in the other direction, away from Nineveh. So visualize that Jonah came out of his house (he lived in Gathhepher among the ten tribes). He looked down the road that would take him across the Arabian Desert, to the fertile planes of the Tigres and Euphates, and at last would end at the gates of Nineveh. He looked down the road that way and he turned on his heels and he went exactly the other direction, down to Joppa, a seaport. There he conveniently found a ship that was laden for Tarshish. He paid his fare, the ship weighed anchor, there were favorable winds, the sails unfurled and billowed and the land of Israel receded into the background. He did this to flee from the presence of the Lord. That was emphasized in the scripture, the infallible word of God, where we read in verse 3: he did this, "to flee... from the presence of the Lord". Now what does that mean? Does that mean that Jonah thought he could get someplace where God could not see him? Did he think that perhaps he could find some nook or cranny in creation where God would not know where he was?
The answer to that is no, Jonah didn't think that, and that can't be
the truth. We read in Psalm
139: "Whither shall I go from thy spirit, or whither shall I
flee from thy presence? If I take the wings of the morning" (says
David), if I saddle one of those morning rays, I get on top of that
ray and go to the most remote dwelling parts of the sea, "Even
there shall thy hand lead me and thy right hand shall hold me".
It is impossible to hide from God. God sees us always, down to the bottom
of our hearts and our thoughts. God knows it all. Jonah knew this. He
was a prophet. Later on he shows that he knows this because he is going
to pray to God from the belly of a fish. He knew that God saw him in
that belly, God would hear him in that fish. But when it says that he
fled from the presence of the Lord, we must understand it to mean those
places and those ways or means through which God in a special way makes
himself known and draws near to us in a covenant fellowship.
This concept is first introduced in Genesis
4:16. Here is Cain, who has murdered Abel. The Lord had indicted
him and put a mark upon him. Genesis
4:16, "And Cain went out of the presence of the Lord and dwelt in
the land of Nod on the east of Eden." What does that mean? Does that
mean that Cain went to a place where God could not see him? No, it meant
that he went outside of the boundary of the land of Eden, he went away
from where Adam lived and where God was manifesting himself. He went
away from those things that would remind him of the God that he feared
Now turn in your Bibles to another reference to this, II
Kings 13:23. This is actually written during the time in which Jonah
lived concerning the 10 tribes of Israel. "And the Lord was gracious
unto them, and had compassion on them, and had respect unto them, because
of his covenant with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and would not destroy
them, neither cast he them from his presence as yet." What does that
mean? Well, it means that God's covenant presence was experienced in
the land of the promise, in the land of Canaan. God gave prophets to
speak and preach and sacrifice in the temple and it was in the land
of Canaan that the people experienced the favor, the smile, and the
presence of God. When Jonah ran from the presence of the Lord, it meant
that Jonah tried to put away from himself all the things by which God
in a special covenant way makes himself felt and present unto us. For
Jonah it was the land of Canaan, it was the ordinances of the priests,
it was the temple, it was the sacrifice. He wanted to get away from
those things. He didn't want to have them around him. For us it is the
preaching of the word of God whereby God makes himself known and draws
us in a mystery of fellowship. It is the divine worship service on Sunday
in the church twice. It is our time of scripture reading and our time
of prayer. It is the fellowship of God's people, and the bible studies
and catechism lessons during the week. Now get the point: Jonah, in
a state of disobedience, decided that God's will and way did not agree
with his own, so he was going to have his way. He decided that he would
put himself as far as possible from anything that would remind him or
anything that would sting his conscience of the claims of God. He wanted
to get away from those things. What better place was there than in the
company of pagan sailors sailing their ship to the most distant location
known to man - Tarshish. Apparently, at first, everything fell into
place. He found the ship going to Tarshish, he paid the fare, he got
on board. (Maybe, as he went up the gangplank, the rats were going the
other way, but if they were, Jonah was not interested in any red flags
at this point.) All was going well, welcome aboard, Jonah.
Soon the captain of the ship gave the orders to hoist the sales, loose
the ropes, set sale. Apparently, Jonah has succeeded in getting away
from everything that would remind him of God's will for him.
Do you ever do that? This word of God presses upon your conscience,
made alive by the Spirit. Perhaps the will of God comes concerning a
friendship or a relationship. Perhaps the will of God comes to you in
his command concerning a besetting sin that you must put away by his
grace. Or perhaps that will of God comes to you in a situation that
is very difficult for you, and you believe that you cannot do His will.
You are not ready to submit to the Lord's right to bring to you this
trial. Then you say, well, perhaps the solution is that I have to
get away from my parents, my house, my family, or my church. What they
are telling me is the problem. Then we are tempted to begin to
criticize the fellowship of God's people in an attempt to put away from
us that which would remind us of the presence of the Lord and his will.
We have played out in the story of Jonah exactly what happens to you
and to me, God's children, when we have a controversy with God. Maybe
consciously we don't even realize that this is what it is. That's a
fact. Then we want to get away from anything that would remind us of
our obligation, or anything that would remind us of what God would say
to us. Maybe we have even come to the point of saying, well, I'll
leave the church, or I'll leave this marriage, my problem is
this marriage. My problem is those people. That's my problem, that's
my straight jacket. I envision then that life will be free on the high
seas of life, new people, attraction and glamour.
Are there any Jonahs here tonight? Any child of God who has a controversy
with God? Anyone who, for whatever reason, has decided he is not going
to do what God calls him to do? We can feel the symptoms sometimes even
while coming to church. Maybe as a young person we come only because
our parents make us. Then in our own personal life we are dealing with
the bible only as much as we have to, but no more, because this book
wounds our conscience. We don't want that. Maybe we even begin to criticize
the Word and say we can't understand the words, or we can't understand
the sermons. My wife doesn't understand me; my husband doesn't understand
me; my parents don't understand me. What am I supposed to do? All
this is to silence the voice of our obligation before God, and attempt
to flee from the presence of the Lord.
Beloved, trying to get away from the presence of the Lord is not only
the symptom, but it is also the cost of disobedience. Do you see it?
Is there anything worth that? Think of it. What greater possible good
can there ever be for us than to experience the presence of the Lord?
With the presence of the Lord in our lives, no matter what situation
he calls us to, we have the greatest treasure of all eternity, the greatest
of all delights. In Psalm
16:1 we read, "...in thy presence is fullness of joy; at thy
right hand there are pleasures for evermore." Now take a good look
at the cost of disobedience. Is it worth it? That's the tragedy of our
disobedience. God's presence is our highest joy and heaven, and if you
find yourself running from those things that God has given to bring
his presence near to you (the church, the scriptures, prayer and Christian
fellowship), you'd better look in the mirror and see Jonah.
Why did he do this? What was it in that Word of God to him that so
clashed with his desires? At this point we want to be very careful.
We always want to be very careful when we assign motives to God's people.
In this instance the reason why Jonah fled is given to us in chapter
4 of the prophecy. We will read that in a moment. The scriptures
are going to tell us exactly why Jonah did this. But before we read
it, we could conjecture. It's perhaps not hard to find reasons, if we
put ourselves in Jonah's shoes. We could imagine that Jonah was overcome
by thoughts of the sheer difficulty involved in the commission. I don't
know if we can even appreciate what it was like. God had sent him to
the great city Nineveh, a city 60 miles in circumference. It took three
days to walk through this city. It was a warlike city. It was filled
with pagan darkness. It was alien to God. What could one man do in that
city? Who was going to listen to him? He was to bring God's word - the
word that he was to bring was not, God has a wonderful plan for
your life. God is waiting for you to accept him so that he can be somebody
in your life. That was not the message. His message was, 40
days and you will be overthrown by the living God before whose face
your sins have come up. The best he could anticipate was that he
would be laughed at and treated as a fanatic. We are not told that those
were his thoughts, and this is not the reason Jonah fled, but if it
were, it would not be the first time that a prophet was in that position.
He would have the comfort of God, Jonah, I am with you. Do not be
afraid. Is not my word like a hammer, to break in pieces? But we
don't read one thing in the book to indicate that it was the difficulty
that made him run.
Well, we might say, was he afraid? We could understand that. The prophet
Naaman tells us this was a city that was exceedingly wicked. We read
that it was called a bloody city, full of lies and robbery. The dead
weren't even buried; they were all over the streets. What was one preacher
going to do in a place of that much wickedness? Would they not just
kill him and add his body to the carcasses? We could understand if he
was afraid. But once again there is not one word in the book about him
being afraid. And if he were, God would say to him (and us), Jonah,
don't be afraid. Put thy trust in me, I will be your shield.
Why did he do it? Turn to Jonah
4:2 in your Bible. Here we find Jonah after he has preached to Nineveh,
and Nineveh by the Grace of God has repented. God has brought his elect
in Nineveh to repentance. After everything that has happened to Jonah:
he was swallowed by the fish, he has preached and the Ninevites have
repented, we read of Jonah's response in verse
2. He prayed unto the Lord and said, "I pray thee O Lord, was
not this my saying, when I was yet in my country? Therefore" (that is,
here is the reason), "therefore I fled before unto Tarshish: for I knew
that thou art a gracious God, and merciful, slow to anger and of great
kindness, and repentest thee of the evil." The verse tells us that
Jonah was angry with God because God showed mercy to the Ninevites.
Then God comes to him and says, "Doest thou well to be angry?"
and Jonah says yes and goes out to pout outside of the city. He builds
himself a booth, and God causes a gourd to grow up over the booth to
give shade. Then God kills the gourd and Jonah gets mad at the gourd.
God says to Jonah, "Doest thou well to be angry for the gourd?"
And Jonah responds, "I do well...., even unto death." And God
says, if you have such feelings for and are so attached to that
gourd, may not I as the sovereign God show mercy to Nineveh in whom
I have my children? May not I do that, Jonah?
But Jonah did not want God to do that. He says to God in that verse,
I suspicioned when I was in my country, that I was being sent there
because God was going to show mercy. Jonah had been infected with
the carnal attitude as it had crept into Israel, that the mercy of God
belonged only to the nation of Israel. That is, he thought the mercy
of God should be shown only to those whom he considered worthy of that
mercy, and it should not be shown to those whom he considered unworthy
gentile dogs. God should not work his electing grace among them.
When the people of Israel in the Old Testament were made mindful by
the Spirit of God's grace, and knew that they were of all men most unworthy;
when they were conscious that they personally had no claim upon God's
mercy, they had no problem with God showing mercy to the nations. They
would remember that God said to Abraham, in thee shall the nations of
the earth be blessed, and they would sing the 67th
Psalm, O God let all men fear thee. Let all the nations sing.
They knew that God through Christ the Messiah gains a universal
But when that carnal attitude crept in and they began to think that
they were God's favorites. ("Yes, it was mercy, but you have to
remember that we are Israelites"). They could not conceive of God's
grace going beyond, especially to Nineveh, which was a political threat
to overthrow them? Jonah did not believe that God should show mercy
to those whom he considered unworthy.
It wasn't a passing thing. It was a settled disposition that stuck
with him. God had to chasten him for it outside of Nineveh. Therefore,
God had to tell him, Jonah, I will show mercy to whom I will show
mercy, and whom I will, I will harden. I am sovereign. The church shall
be built upon my good pleasure, and I do not send out my saving mercies
on the basis of your ideas, your prejudices, or to those whom you consider
a worthy addition to my kingdom. I show mercy even as it pleases Me.
Beloved, what are the lessons that we may gather from this word of God? I would like to bring at least three.
The first lesson is this: We should see the weakness
of the most holy of God's people - and of ourselves as well - when we
are left to ourselves. Jonah was a holy man of God. Jonah was a prophet
who had years of service behind him in the kingdom of God. II Kings
tells us that he had been used as a means of comfort to the people of
God in Israel. Jonah shows that he has an abiding faith. When he was
arrested by God in the storm, and he was confronted by the sailors,
he didn't lie, he didn't try to wiggle out of it, he said to the sailors,
I am the problem, throw me overboard. While in the belly of
the fish he prays. He goes to Nineveh and preaches to it. Which one
of us would do as Jonah did all alone, walking into a warlike city saying,
My God will judge you. You must understand that your sin, which
you think you have the right to commit, is all before the eyes of the
eternal God. You must repent and forsake your sins. That's what
Jonah preached. But even the best of the saints, when left to himself,
is nothing. All of the courage of Jonah was nothing when he stood in
his own thinking, and his own wisdom. When he listened to himself -
to what he thought - Jonah was nothing. Deliberately he ran away from
God. This is written for our instruction, upon whom the end of the world
is come. Jonah is not an excuse. Jonah is not a comfort for you and
me in our sins. Jonah in this verse is not an example to follow, but
Jonah is a beacon to warn you of this. No matter the graces within you,
no matter your spiritual track record, no matter your advancements in
knowledge and in faith. If you forget and are left one moment to yourself,
there is no sin you could not commit. Every one of us is capable of
committing the most foul of sins. Be diligent. Watch and pray that you
enter not into temptation.
The second lesson is this: We must be warned of the
frightening power of religious pride. We must be warned against the
thought that Jonah had that we are the people of God, and that God's
mercy is something that we deserve. We must not think that somehow we
are of a different rank, whether that is because of our skin color,
our social class, or our income, and that somehow we deserve God's mercy.
Then we look at other people and we begin to base our revulsion of sin
not upon the holiness of God, but upon ourselves, and we say, well,
we would never do that. We are not like that. Religious pride
is insidious. It works and creeps in to every one of us, because of
our nature. It is very powerful. It is crippling to evangelism when
we think that because of skin color (brown or black or yellow) or culture,
the Reformed faith cannot go to others, or we don't regard them as equals
with us in the kingdom of God, as dependent upon the mercies of God.
Let us beware the blinding power of religious pride.
The last lesson that I would bring is this: Let us
beware that we do not judge from God's providence as to whether or not
we are doing the will of God. What do I mean? I've said a number of
times that at first it seemed everything was going well for Jonah. The
ground didn't open up and swallow him. He makes his way down to Joppa.
A travel agent could not have arranged it any better. He finds a ship
(Anything to Tarshish? Yes, Room on board? Yes, Fare? I have the
money. When do you sail? Immediately, we are leaving.). Here is
a man defying God, and apparently all goes well. Maybe God is going
to wink this time. But read the text. Throughout that chapter pay attention
to the word down. He went down to Joppa, he went down
into the ship. Jonah was going down into the sides of the ship.
He went down, down, down. Don't judge from God's providence
whether you are in the way of God. Judge from the Word.
Don't judge your relationships on any other basis than the Word of
God. Sometimes we say, Yeah I know, God says we are not supposed
to have ungodly intimate friends. God says we are not supposed to date
the ungodly. I know that, but it seems it's working out OK. She seems
to be a nice girl, a nice guy. Would God give me those kinds of feelings
if it wasn't right? What is this? This is judging the will of God
from my feelings or from providence and not from His Word.
We might do that with a desire of personal ambition, goal or career.
We'd say, maybe God doesn't want me to have that job or position.
The job is going to take me away from the church, (I don't know if there
is a church in that city), or the job is going to take me away from
my family, I would be gone all the time. The job is very attractive
to me. If God doesn't want me to have that job, then let him close the
door. We perhaps want God to send that new corporation into bankruptcy
and that will show us his will. No, beloved, God has made known to you
and to me his will. It is not found in consulting first with our feelings.
It is not found in looking for signs that God will do something dramatic,
and then we'll know, no. God has written to us in his love. God has
spoken to us in his mercy through the infallible scriptures. Follow
Jonah leaves us tonight with a heavy heart. The great thing about the
Book of Jonah is that Jonah could not run from God. No child of God
can, because God is faithful, and God is going to bring His man back.
Tonight we see Jonah in a very candid picture, and we are taught to
distrust ourselves. By the grace of God we are taught to rely entirely
upon Jesus Christ crucified for us, and to pray, Lord no matter my feelings
or my desires, Lord, conform me to thy will, and make me wholly
trusting and obedient to thy glory.