Lessons From Jonah’s Flight

 Part II


Last time, we looked at the first lesson from Jonah’s flight, namely, that God is concerned both with the sin of the heathen and the sin of His own people, and that His standard of morality applies to all men without exception.

In this article, we’ll like to learn two more lessons. The second lesson we can learn from Jonah’s flight is that the way of God’s mercy often begins with the preaching of the word leading to the conviction of sin. It is clear from the rest of the book that the LORD had the intention of showing mercy to that particular generation of Ninevites. And the means by which He would do that is to send His prophet to them in order to cry or preach against their great wickedness. The people needed to hear that God was very angry with them for their sin and that He was most certainly going to destroy them if they did not repent.

True gospel preaching always includes a denunciation or a crying out against sin and a warning of God’s judgment to come. It is a great mercy when God sends faithful preachers who preach against sin, and particularly against our sins.

We don’t often think about it that way but that is true. It is not pleasant or enjoyable to hear sermons that point out our flaws and ungodly ways but that is actually the way of God’s grace and mercy. Thank God when we are convicted of our sins through the faithful preaching of His word. That is a sure sign that God has not forsaken us. The Ninevites were going to receive God’s mercy through the preaching of Jonah.

Jonah was unwilling to go because he knew that God was going to save these Assyrians through his evangelistic or missionary efforts there, and he did not want them to be saved and his own people destroyed. Here we are reminded to pray constantly for all true ministers of the gospel that they may be faithful to Christ, who called them to declare all the counsel of God and not to alter the message in the least, whether because of the fear of man or any other reason.

The third lesson we can learn from Jonah’s flight is that disobedience to God’s word is a fleeing from God’s favourable presence. Now it’s true that no one can ever escape from the omnipresence of God. It matters not whether one is in Tarshish or Nineveh or Jerusalem, God is there. Not even in hell can a person hide from God.

When verse 3 says that Jonah rose up to flee to Tarshish from the presence of the LORD, on the one hand, it speaks of the folly of Jonah in seeking to flee from the One who is omnipresent; but on the other hand, it also teaches us that disobedience to His word is a fleeing from His favourable presence.

The Psalmist in Psalm 16:11 says, “Thou wilt shew me the path of life: in thy presence is fulness of joy; at thy right hand there are pleasures for evermore.” Psalm 16 is a Messianic Psalm and this verse particularly refers to the great joy and pleasures that Christ experienced after His resurrection and ascension into glory. 

That fullness of joy and those pleasures for evermore can only be received and experienced in the way of obedience to God’s will. Christ was fully obedient to His Father’s will and as a result, He was brought into His blessed presence and given a place at His right hand.

But Jesus’ obedience stands in sharp contrast to Jonah’s disobedience. Jesus was obedient to His Father from the very beginning until the very end. Jesus said in John 4:34, “My meat is to do the will of him that sent me, and to finish his work.” In contrast, Jonah was disobedient at the very first call of God to go to Nineveh. The book of Jonah opens with the disobedience of the prophet.

It’s interesting that Jonah’s flight from God is associated with death. Notice how verse 3 says that Jonah went down to Joppa and then later, he went down into the ship. The verb “went down” can be understood as a euphemism for death.

For example, Jacob refused to be comforted when he thought that Joseph had died and he said in Genesis 37:35, “For I will go down into the grave unto my son mourning.” The verb “go down” is the same as “went down” in our text.  

The way into God’s favourable presence is always up, figuratively speaking, and it is always in the way of obedience. To disobey God is to go down and to go further away from God towards death. Jonah’s course was downhill and it was so because of his failure to obey God’s word. And that is not a good thing. If we learn anything at all from the experience of Jonah, we learn that it is not worthwhile to run away from God.

As one preacher once said, “When you run away from the Lord you never get to where you are going, and you always pay your own fare. On the other hand, when you go the Lord’s way, you always get to where you are going, and he pays the fare.”

Jonah paid the fare to Tarshish, but he never got there in the end. And if I may add, he never got a refund either. He went his own way, paid his own fare, and he got nowhere. In contrast, those who go in God’s way will always get to their destination and God will see to it that they will be richly blessed, as was our Saviour Jesus Christ.

We see a wonderful illustration of this in the life of Moses’ mother. She tried to protect Moses from the Egyptians but when his cries grew too loud, she made a little ark and placed him in it and set it in the reeds by the riverbank. She stationed Miriam at a distance to see what would become of him.

Pharaoh’s daughter came down to the river and found the baby. When Miriam suggested looking for a Hebrew woman to nurse the baby for her, she agreed and said to Miriam, “Take this child away, and nurse it for me, and I will give thee thy wages.” The Hebrew word for “wages” in that verse is exactly the same word as “fare” in our text.

Whereas Jonah paid his own fare to go where he was not supposed to go, Moses’ mother was paid by the Egyptians to do what she was supposed to do, namely, to raise her own son. Amazing! 

Conclusion

Are you on the run or planning to run from the Lord and His revealed will for your life in all its aspects? Remember that it never pays to do that. To run from the Lord in the way of disobedience is to go down the path that leads to death. But to walk in obedience to Him is to walk in the way that leads to life and to enjoy His favourable and gracious presence, regardless of what your outward circumstances may be.

Look to the Lord Jesus not just as the perfect example of one who obeyed and was blessed, but look to Him to bring you into the path of righteousness and for His grace and strength to walk in it.      

Remember that life is never a neutral enterprise. We are either running on in the will of the Lord or we are running away from that will. We are either growing and progressing in the image of God or we are regressing from that image. May the Lord enable us to learn the lesson that His will is always best and that the way to enjoy fellowship with Him is found in a life of humble and faithful submission to His will.

Jonah fled from God’s will. But because Jonah was a true child of God, God would not let him go. And we shall see how a gracious God pursues His wayward prophet in order to bring him back to the path of life.

— Linus Chua