Jonah's Disobedience1The word of the LORD came to Jonah the son of Amittai saying,
2"Arise, go to Nineveh the great city and cry against it, for their wickedness has come up before Me."
3But Jonah rose up to flee to Tarshish from the presence of the LORD. So he went down to Joppa, found a ship which was going to Tarshish, paid the fare and went down into it to go with them to Tarshish from the presence of the LORD.
God's Word is issued forth with a command to His servant, Jonah: "Arise, go to Ninevah...." (vs. 2)
Love the map above, because it truly helps us to see the action in this story. Remember that Jonah lived in Gath-hepher, near Nazareth, in northern Israel. Ninevah is the capital of Assyria, located northeast of Nazareth by about 500 miles. At this time, Ninevah is a powerful and well-fortified city. Like northern Israel, it is also a city plagued with focus on idol-worship. In fact, the Ninevites worshipped the fish goddess Nanshe (the daughter of Ea, the goddess of fresh water) and Dagon, the fish god who was half man and half fish. [I know it's early to be bringing this up but....given what you already know about Jonah, isn't this beyond interesting?]
So, Jonah is told to go to Ninevah. My study Bible has the important note that this is the only time that a prophet was commissioned to go to a foreign nation to bring God's message to the people (as opposed to sharing the word from the home city). It would make one think that the wickedness of Ninevah in the eyes of the Lord was exceedingly great to have given such a calling to Jonah. But I'm reminded that sin is sin in the eyes of the Lord. Why the special calling to Jonah--the personal visit to the Ninevites?
"But Jonah rose up to flee to Tarshish from the presence of the LORD...." (vs. 3)
I'm picturing Jonah in bed, hearing the Word of the Lord, then flying up out of his bed, throwing on his sandals and running to the harbor as if there were a giant growling grizzly bear or a blazing fire in his bedroom. Do you rise up to flee very often? It seems the word Ninevah, to Jonah, was a synonym for worst possible fear imaginable.
Although Scripture suggests that Tarshish was known for its wealth ("Beaten silver is brought from Tarshish...." Jeremiah 10:9), the Bible does not verify exactly where Tarshish was located. It is believed to have been a city in southern Spain. What we do glean from the Word is that Jonah went to Joppa (see map) to get on a ship that was going to Tarshish, which, even at the most basic level, meant taking him in the opposite direction of Ninevah.
Prophets who act before hearing the Word of God are disobedient. Prophets who hear the Word of God and go in the opposite direction of what God's Word says would definitely also be disobedient. Jonah carries the distinction of being the only Old Testament prophet to refuse to follow God's command.
Though Jonah tried to physically escape the presence of God, never was he ever out of the Lord's sights. God had given Jonah the assignment of the ten tribes of northern Israel, but the focus of his prophecy is this book, in which he is downright disobeying God. For me, this suggests a much bigger picture of how the God of the universe intimately interacts with His people. He knew He gave Jonah a big calling, but he was God's guy in the field! The chosen one!! Would God not go with him? Suggests there was some (!) insecurity on Jonah's part, some lack of faith. Those are the times--those times of challenge, facing your fears--when God reaches us profoundly.
We leave Jonah this week, heading down into the ship at Joppa, thinking that he can outskipper the Lord in a vessel embarking for Tarshish. Next week, we'll uncover God's response to Jonah's attempt to leave His presence.
"Where can I go from Your Spirit?
Or where can I flee from Your presence?...
If I take the wings of the dawn,
If I dwell in the remotest part of the sea...."--Psalm 139: 7&9
Next week, a great storm.... 'Til next Wednesday!
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Note: I read from the New American Standard Bible translation,
specifically, The MacArthur Study Bible (NASB).
I will quote other sources if used in a post.
I also use Strong's Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible
(with notes from the King James Version).