Peter Misselbrook's Blog
Jul 3 2019 - Jonah 1 – A man on the run

We are rewinding a little way through the history of Israel with the story of Jonah, back to the time when Assyria was still the great power threatening the Israelite kingdoms. Nineveh (situated in what is now Iraq) was the capital city of Assyria and the centre of its power.

God spoke to one of his prophets, a man named Jonah, and told him to travel to Nineveh and tell the people of that city that the God of Israel was going to punish them for their wickedness. What would you have done? It's not surprising that Jonah decided that this was an offer he could refuse. Instead of travelling north overland towards Nineveh he fled to Joppa and set sail west for Tarshish.

But you cannot flee from God. If Jonah will not obey the word of God he must feel the judgment of God for himself. God sent a great storm upon the sea which threatened to destroy not only Jonah but also the boat and all of the sailors who were in it.

God told Abraham that he would bless him and his descendants and to make them a blessing to all peoples on earth. Israel was called to be a light to the nations. Jonah had been called to take that light to Nineveh. But when we rebel against God we not only feel his judgment for ourselves, we bring trouble upon those around us. When our light no longer shines, others too are left in darkness.

Such was the fury of the storm that threatened their boat that the sailors were terrified and called upon their gods for help. But their gods did not answer. Jonah, however, was down in the hold of the ship fast asleep. Jesus slept in the boat during a storm on Galilee: his was the peaceful sleep of trust in his heavenly Father; Jonah's sleep was that of one who had turned himself off to God.

The captain hauled Jonah up on deck where the sailors cast lots to see who was the cause of this calamity. The lot fell on Jonah who confesses that the threatening storm was his fault. He is a servant of the living God, the God of heaven who created both earth and sea. He has been trying to run away from the Lord and this is the result.

As the seas continue to become more threatening, Jonah tells the sailors to throw him overboard and save themselves. They are reluctant to do so, partly no doubt over concern for Jonah but also because they do not want to offend Jonah's God who has power over the sea. So they seek to row for land but, making no headway, they at last realise that they must do as Jonah has suggested. It is then that we read some remarkable words concerning these hardened sailors:

Then they cried out to the LORD, “Please, LORD, do not let us die for taking this man’s life. Do not hold us accountable for killing an innocent man, for you, LORD, have done as you pleased.” Then they took Jonah and threw him overboard, and the raging sea grew calm. At this the men greatly feared the LORD, and they offered a sacrifice to the LORD and made vows to him. (Jonah 1:14-16)

Jonah was a reluctant evangelist when it came to Nineveh, but his testimony before these sailors convinced them that the Lord is God. They have exchanged the living God for their idols.

Jesus has called us to proclaim his message to all the world. One aspect of that commission is his call for us to speak truth to the powers of our day and tell them of the justice of God and his anger against those who seek to build an empire for themselves on the misery of others. We are a people with a calling; how are we going to respond? God can glorify his name either through our obedient testimony or through our rebellion – but the latter will cost us dearly.

Father, there are times when I am not keen to obey your call upon my life, times when I would rather bury my head under a pillow. Awaken me with the storm of your presence that cannot be ignored. Help me to see that you indeed are the God of heaven and earth and sea. Awaken me to worship and serve you with my every breath and to bear testimony to others of your saving power.

Peter Misselbrook