Nov 24 2011 - E100.49a – 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 them that the God of Israel was going to punish them for their wickedness. What would you have done? It's not really very surprising that Jonah decided that this was a commission he'd rather not fulfil. Instead of travelling north overland towards Nineveh he flees to Joppa and seeks to set sail west for Tarshish.
But you cannot flee from God. If Jonah will not take the word of God's judgment to Nineveh 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. Such is the fury of the storm that the sailors are afraid, but Jonah is still trying to hide; he is down in the hold of the ship fast asleep.
The captain hauls Jonah up on deck where the sailors cast lots to see who has brought this calamity upon them. The lot falls on Jonah who confesses that this is all his fault. He serves the living God, the God of heaven and earth and of the sea. He is seeking 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 so that they will be saved. They are reluctant to do so – for this is a prophet of the God who controls the sea. They seek to row for land but, making no headway and under increasing threat, they at last realise that they must do as Jonah has suggested. It is then that we read these 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)
Jesus has called us to proclaim his message to all the world. One aspect of that commission is the requirement 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?
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.