Thursday, October 01, 2009

Fleeing From God

For many people, the only thing they know about Jonah is his association with the whale (or great fish, as the book of Jonah actually says). But there's more to Jonah than him becoming the first person to ride in a submarine, as we'll hopefully discover in the days to come. Before we get to the great fish, let's meet the man himself.

Jonah, the son of Amittai receives the word of God which calls him to go to Nineveh, the city in Assyria. Jonah is an Israelite, one of the people of God, and yet he is called to go to the enemies of God's people. The message he is given doesn't sound too promising: 'Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and call out against it, for their evil has come up before me.' (1:2)

Jonah is called to be a prophet of doom, calling out against the city of Nineveh as Jeremiah would later be called to do against Jerusalem. God calls him to go east, and Jonah does an aboutface and instead chooses to 'Go West'. Was it that he didn't like his assignment? Announcing judgement in a foreign city might be a risky endeavour. Much better to flee somewhere safe and comfortable.

Yet it appears that Jonah actually doesn't like the assignment because he reckons they will repent and God will forgive them anyway (see 4:2-3). Either way, Jonah sets off in the opposite direction and makes for a boat at Joppa to take him to Tarshish. Twice in verse three we're told what Jonah is trying to do:
But Jonah rose 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 on board, to go with them to Tarshish, away from the presence of the LORD.(Jonah 1:3)

Tarshish represented a land far faraway, far enough away to be out of the presence of the LORD. Yet as Jonah learns through his futile attempt at fleeing, God is not restricted to the Temple of Jerusalem, or the shrine at Samaria. He is 'the God of heaven, who made the sea and the dry land' (1:9) who fills his creation so that there is nowhere where God is not.

Jonah discovers what the Psalmist says: 'Where shall I go from your Spirit? Or where shall I flee from your presence? ... if I take the wings of the morning and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea, even there your hand shall lead me, and your right hand shall hold me.' (Psalm 139:7, 9-10). Our God is a great big God, and he holds us in his hand.

Are there times when we also try to flee from God? We know what he requires of us, but we don't want to do it (or stop doing it). We think that God doesn't notice when we're in that place, or with those people, like a child who puts her hands over her eyes and then thinks that we can't see her!

We are always in the presence of the Lord, so let's seek to please him in all that we do, not just on Sundays or when in church. Jonah reminds us of the futility of fleeing. Will you stop running?

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