“But Jonah ran away from the Lord and headed for Tarshish.” (Jonah 1:3a)
I love the book of Jonah, as it is rich with lessons from God, gives a foreshadowing of Jesus’s resurrection, and speaks to the complexities of human desire and emotion- even for a prophet of God.
When I think of Jonah’s story, I often think about the lesson of not running away from something that God is calling me to do, as difficult as the task may seem. But as I was reading through Jonah 1 today, God impressed on me to really think about WHY Jonah didn’t want to go to Nineveh in the first place, which was the capital of the Assyrian empire at the time.
To put it bluntly, Jonah basically hated the Assyrians. He saw them as bitter enemies of God and Israel, and thus had zero compassion for them nor any desire for them to repent and be saved.
So we see in the very beginning of the book that Jonah tried to physically run away from where God was calling him to, choosing the city of Tarshish as his destination, which was in the complete opposite direction (about 2,500 miles away) and a stark contrast to Nineveh in many ways.
Jonah wanted nothing to do with the Assyrians, and especially wanted nothing to do with preaching God’s message of repentance to them. It’s interesting because you can tell by the way Jonah was acting and speaking to the sailors on the boat, that he knew exactly what he was doing. He knew that what he was doing was in complete opposition to God’s calling, he knew fully well the power of the message he was to deliver, and he knew fully well the power of the One who was sending him. Regardless of all of those things, he couldn’t get past his own human desire to run as far away as possible.
“Pick me up and throw me into the sea,” he replied, “and it will become calm. I know that it is my fault that this great storm has come upon you.” (Jonah 1:12)
Jonah absolutely knew his role and what God wanted him to do. He wasn’t running way simply because the trip was inconvenient or dangerous or he just didn’t feel like it; no, he was running away because he hated the people and wanted nothing to do with God granting favor upon them (which you see more of in chapter 4).
This reminds me that God calls us to preach the gospel and share God’s love to the most unlovable people in our lives. Not only to the unlovable, but to those whom we may despise, the ones we see as enemies, and the ones who may hate us or persecute us in return. He calls us to bring the gospel into the relationships we have where we may feel like that other person doesn’t deserve God’s grace. He calls us to bring it to the ones who seem like they are so far into a sinful, destructive life, that they are beyond repair.
To love our enemies with the love of God is not optional (see Luke 6:27-36). Just as God gave this calling to Jonah, it’s also part of our calling as a Christian. It’s a call to obedience despite how we feel about it.
Who in your life is God calling you to share the gospel of Jesus with? Who is He urging you to love with the love of Christ? Don’t only think about the people you have a good or comfortable relationship with, but think even more about those who get on your nerves, whose presence makes you cringe, and those who you would rather avoid and not deal with at all. God calls us to bring the message of salvation to them as well!
May we learn a valuable lesson from Jonah, and may the Holy Spirit help us run towards this great calling, rather than away from it.
[From February 18, 2019]