Running from God Part 2 (Jonah 1:4-16)
I was thinking of high-speed chases this week. Sometimes on one of those channels no one watches, like Spike TV or something, they would have video footage of bad guys running from the law in a vehicle with several police cars behind him. It’s almost always the same scenario. They lead the police on a high-speed chase on the highway (sometimes going in the wrong direction) and finally it ends with the guy ending up in some suburban area either crashing or running out of space. Sometimes he even gets out of the car and start to run.
Some of those can be exciting (though often after the third chase you had enough), but the lamest “high-speed” chase by far, had to be in 1994, when O.J. Simpson ran away in his Ford Bronco after failing to appear to the police for questioning in the death of her ex-wife Nicole and Ronald Goldman. I was in high school then and I remember being extremely upset when the NBA Finals, where my NY Knicks and the Houston Rockets were playing, was interrupted to show this guy and his friend driving like 30 mph on the highway with every policeman in the US riding behind him (not really chasing him).
Thousands of people would get on the overpasses waiting for Simpson to pass by so that they can cheer and scream at him, some even holding up signs telling him to run. I mean, where did he think he would go? If you are a celebrity, people are always watching you! You can’t even go to the bathroom without at least the paparazzi finding out, so I don’t know what was going on in his mind.
When O.J. fled that night, 20 helicopters were following him. 95 million people were watching on television, including people like me, who were waiting for the game to come back on. I even wondered if the people at the game, including the players and coaches, even stopped playing and were watching the screen of this guy running away?
Anyway, 50 miles later, he stopped at his house and finally surrendered. Lamest chase ever. No crashes. No running from the car. It wasn’t even “high-speed”! I think we went faster than him a few weeks ago at the indoor racing place! As you can see, I’m still bitter about O.J. interrupting my game.
We left Jonah last time getting into his white Bronco. Perhaps this chase of God is the lamer than OJ. Jonah is on a mission, except it is not God’s mission, but his own mission to get away from God’s mission. He is running, as far away as he can away from God. And Jonah is a lot like us when we run away from God and we learned last week that:
I. Running from God is forfeiting God’s best for us (vv.1-3)
We lose God’s heart for us, especially witnessing His heart for mission. Our hearts then deceive us, helping us find a ship to Tarshish. In the end, we are trying to build an identity in something else. We often think we want to run from God because He is a tryant who doesn’t want us to have any fun. We think He is a slave driver keeping us in bondage or He is too hard to please and we give up because we fail. I can’t do what you’re asking me to do God, so I’m going to go do something else that’s easier and better. But what is happening to our soul is the opposite. God is offering freedom to serve Him as opposed to being in bondage to ourselves. God is not asking us to do anything that He is not going to empower us for. We will see in the third chapter that Jonah will preach a one-sentence sermon and the entire city will repent. Pastor James MacDonald says, “All of God’s rules are based upon His love for us. Everything He commends brings joy, and everything He forbids avoids pain.” When God says, “no,” He means, “Don’t hurt yourself and don’t break my heart.” But our Enemy lies to us and we run. And our hearts deceive us and we end up hurting ourselves in the long run. Notice secondly,
II. When we run from God, God intervenes with wake-up calls (vv.4-10)
So God called. Jonah ran. And God will continue to call him. God called him to get up, but Jonah “went down.” God called him to go east, but he went west. From standing in the presence of the Lord, he sets out to flee God’s presence. What is going to happen next?
Circle the phrase “But the Lord” in Jon. 1:4. The author is making us aware of who is in charge of this story. God is the main character. As fast as Jonah flees, faster does God respond. By the way, you and I are here today because we like to go our own way and in our story, there is always a “But the Lord.” Amen for that!
Notice the word “hurled.” It is mentioned four times here as cargo is “hurled” in Jon. 1:5 and Jonah will be hurled overboard later (Jon. 1:12 and 1:15). The image is of someone throwing a javelin at a target. This storm must have been crazier than George Clooney’s perfect storm. These mariners are no amateur sailors. These guys have been on that show Deadliest Catch several times. They are experienced sailors. And so this means that this storm is no joke. It’s so bad that the best sailors are scared out of their minds. Frightened to death, their last resort is to send SOS prayers to every god out there. They start to throw the cargo, which was in the ship, into the sea to lighten it for them. Throwing the cargo off lifts the ship up a little higher and it less likely that water is going to surge into it and sink it. Since the language here indicates that these men were sailors and not merchants, what they threw overboard were most likely their supplies of food and water for the journey.
“Stop this storm! Preserve us land god, storm god, sea god, any god! Save us.” They get all religious. It’s funny how people get all religious when things start to go wrong in their lives. But I don’t blame them, because at least they are praying. The same cannot be said of God’s prophet in this situation! Here it is almost as if God hurled the storm at them and now they are trying to hurl something at God, though they don’t know which God is angry here, and to no avail. God is hurling the storm back at them and we know there is no match here. This is going to end badly. This is Jonah’s first wake up call and it’s a huge one. Take note:
a) His wake up calls are interventions not punishment
Now with this imagery of a “great storm” and “hurl,” you might get a sense of an angry, nit-picking God out to punish unnecessarily. But such is not the case. The storm is not God’s punishment, but His intervention. This is not out of His anger, but His affection. Do you know what would have been punishment? If God let Jonah go. If Jon. 1:3 was the end of the book, that would have been His wrath which Jonah deserved. God did not need Jonah. Hosea was around. Amos was around. Move on to Plan B right? But Jonah needed God. Jonah needed God to save him from Jonah.
But we tend to see the storms in our lives and sometimes we think God is punishing us. We think He’s making life really difficult for us because He hates us or is really disappointed in us. But the truth is, His love, though masked with thorns and comes in storms of various sizes, is sent to wake us up from making an identity in something other than Him.
It is almost as if you see a child running into a street into oncoming traffic and so you run faster than the child and in an effort to save him/her, you yank the child away, but perhaps you have bruised him in the process. Now the child might cry and yell at you for hurting her. But maybe later he will see that this bruise is a blessing, for it shows him that he wasn’t being punished, but this was an intervention from greater disaster, which was if you left him to himself.
Aren’t you glad God doesn’t leave you alone? I don’t know what your storms look like, but I can tell you our God is a pursuer and perhaps the things which appear “hard” to us is His loving intervention for us to wake up to Him. It is better to be in a place where you feel you are constantly convicted of your sin, than to be in a place where you don’t sense that any more. You never want to let God leave you alone. That is scary! And praise God He has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you” (Heb. 13:5) and even if our father an mother would forsake us, He will still take us up (Ps. 27:10). And greater still, even when we forsake Him, He never forsakes us!
So God is intervening in Jonah’s life. Notice also:
b) His wake up calls come to save us from self-destruction
There is a great storm, the deadliest in probably these mariners’ lives. But notice where Jonah is in Jonah 1:5: asleep. Take note of the phrase “gone down.” First, he went “down to Joppa” (Jon. 1:2) and now he has “gone down” into the inner part of the ship (which means a corner in the lowest part of the ship) and had laid “down.” Running from God and His will is always a downward spiral. It’s always going down. The scariest part is that sometimes we think we are going up, when we are actually going down. Things may appear to be working out (like I said last week), but in God’s eyes we are going down. You might be climbing up in society, but climbing down from what God wants for your life. You might be climbing up with friends to get their approval, but climbing down from where God wants you. And such a desperate climb is exhausting after a while.
It is amazing to me how a man overtaken by such a storm could possibly fall asleep so deeply! Now this is not a catnap. “Deep sleep” is mentioned in Genesis where God made Adam go into a deep sleep, almost like anesthesia. Jonah is knocked out cold. The Greek translation of the Old Testament adds a commentary here that the only reason the captain found him here was because he was snoring!
Perhaps the real storm is in Jonah’s soul here. And those in deep denial find ways of not dealing with the storms in their lives. For some it is drink. Others it is drugs. Perhaps for Jonah it is sleep. When you run from God, you start to die. It is a slow death. Obviously if God created you and knows the best for your life and you run from that, you certainly will start to fall apart. The world says, “Make your identity apart from God and be alive and be loved and have freedom to do what you want to do.” But in doing so, we find the opposite happening. We’re not alive. We are dying. We are not loved, because the size of our love is the size of God. We are not free, but addicted to people and ourselves. It’s exhausting!
Look at Jonah now. He is powerless. He is prayerless. Notice he doesn’t care about anyone else. He is not living life as God intended him to live. God wanted Jonah to live life with Him, which brings true joy. The story is told of Dr. Mortimer Adler, who suddenly left a discussion group at a tea quite disgusted, slamming the door after him. One person trying to relieve the tension, remarked, “Well, he’s gone.” To this the hostess replied, “No, he isn’t. That’s a closet!” We share the same plight when we attempt to rush from God’s presence. We are confined to ourselves.” And we can see left to himself, Jonah is dying and careless of a dying world around him. But God is not done with him.
I wonder if God is rebuking Israel and us for that matter for our own posture here. The world around us is dying. The needs are great. But we are asleep to it. We are caught up in our comfortable corners. Have we become numb to God’s call in our life? Have you fallen asleep avoiding the Lord and deadening your heart to Him? He has come to wake you up. Perhaps as a church we need to wake up as well.
Look at Jonah 1:6. I can picture Jonah sleeping away and he hears, “Arise….call out!” When was the last time he heard that? Look at Jonah 1:1. This was the same call from God, but now coming out of the mouth of a pagan captain. Was this a nightmare?
Take note of this:
c) God’s wake up calls can come from the strangest of places
Jonah refuses to talk to God. But God has not refused to talk to Jonah. God now uses the captain. He is probably soaking and went down to the bottom of the ship to possibly toss more cargo out when he finds Jonah in the corner. “You sleeper!” In other words, “What in the world! What are you doing man?! How can you sleep like this! Pray to your God!” Each word mocks him. The captain’s reasoning is, “Let’s try to hit every god represented here. We may have missed one here, so pray and let’s find out!” Notice his humility or his understanding that humans are in no place to dictate to God: “perhaps the god will take thought to us.” What a rebuke for God’s stubborn prophet!
You can’t help but to laugh at all the irony here. Jonah runs from God because he doesn’t want to be around pagan idolaters. Where does God put him? With pagan idolaters. Now the heathen sea captain rebukes the Hebrew prophet for not praying. The unbeliever is pleading for spiritual action of the believer. The heathen sailors are praying for salvation and Jonah is sleeping quietly. In some sense, they are more “awake” than Jonah. Again, we are Jonah here. One commentator writes, “It is a sad commentary when those who are committed to the truth of God’s word have to be prodded by a lost world into spiritual activity.” I wonder if the world rebukes us as a church today: Are you hoarding your resources as we perish around you? Are you sleeping when we are dying?
God’s wake up calls come from the strangest of places. It is really God speaking here to Jonah, “Come back to me my son. You found the darkest, smallest little corner away from me. But I’m here. Even if you make your bed in the depths, I am here (Ps. 139:8).” The storm, then, is God’s tool to get Jonah to come to his senses.
I remember once I was so stressed over my schoolwork in seminary that I just stopped studying one day and ran. I ran to the nearest movie theater and I picked whatever movie was playing. I did not want to think about my life and wanted to drown myself in someone else’s. It was a horrible movie about a horrible life of the main character. There was no happy ending. And as I left, I was deeply convicted. The Lord spoke to my heart, “You think your life stinks compared to others. You doubt my goodness and my plan for you. You doubt that I can help you.” I had to confess to the Lord that my hardest days with Him are better than the best days without Him. It was a great wake up call for me.
We are not told if Jonah prays here. Perhaps he did, but my guess is that he does not pray. Instead, he rubs his eyes and walks up to the top of the ship. There, the mariners have stopped praying and were now deciding to investigate who was responsible for the storm. This is a lot different in our day to explain why we have natural disasters. InJon. 1:7, we see that they casted lots. These were small stones, almost like pebbles that were painted or colored. You would throw the stones two at a time. If two dark sides landed up the usual interpretation was no. If two light sides landed up, that meant yes. A light and a dark side meant throw again. Using this system, the sailors dealt with each individual until the color revealed the guilty person. So they do this and when it is Jonah’s turn, two light sides show up. Some commentators suggest by the plural form of “lots” used here, that they did this several times to make sure. By the way, we have the Holy Spirit to help us along with God’s Word now to use for guidance, unless you are tempted here to go out and roll dice to figure out reasons for your problems!
And so all of the sailors and the captain all look at Jonah. I wonder what he was thinking. “I just wanted to sleep! Why won’t this God just leave me alone?!” Because He loves you too much to leave you alone Jonah! So now everyone is curious and hurl a ton of questions at Jonah. What a strange place and strange people for God to call Jonah here! But in His love, He calls to wake us up.
Notice the questions in Jonah 1:8. Jonah is put on trial and the interrogations begin. What is your job? Are you magician or sorcerer or some sort? Is this Harry Potterish stuff going on here? Where are you coming from? Are you going to Tarshish to do some evil deeds? Of what people are you? Are you associated with an evil-doing people? As a reader, we would say yes! Jonah is a picture of Israel, an evil-practicing people running from God.
Interesting clues here to understanding the passage and Jonah. First of all, which questions did Jonah not answer? He doesn’t really answer what his occupation is. He has resigned from that identity. He also doesn’t answer where he’s coming from, which we know is the presence of the Lord. And also notice what comes out of his mouth first: “I am a Hebrew.” “Hebrew” was a term outsiders or Gentiles called the Jews.
He is using their terminology to help them understand. But out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks (Matt. 15:11). This is the first time Jonah speaks in the story and the first thing that comes out of his mouth is that he is a Jew. His identity is wrapped up around this fact. This was his idol. This gave him meaning and significance, that is, until God started messing with it.
Notice the religious stuff that comes out of his mouth. He confesses, “I fear Yahweh (the personal covenant name of God), the God of the sea and of dry land, for that matter, and I’m running from Him.” Jonah is slowly owning up and opening up. By the way, Jonah is claiming exclusivity here of Yahweh above all gods. He is God of Heaven, sea and dry land….hmm, let’s see, does that leave anything out? Also, see the irony. Jonah ran away saying, “I’m never preaching to pagans!” And look what he’s doing now!
I can imagine the mariners asking, “Wait, so you’re telling us that you are on a ship running away from the God who made the sea?” And Jonah replies, “Well I did run down to Joppa before this, running away from the God who made the land.” In other words, well, I knew God is everywhere. But this is all head knowledge for Jonah and he has been living in fear wondering what making it heart knowledge would mean! God is pursuing him and calling him again, so that he might wake up.
God speaks to us in the strangest of places. And often rebukes us from people and places we least expect us. All of this is in a effort to wake us up. It is not the sailors asking identity questions to Jonah. It is God asking Jonah so that he can admit his struggles, confess his need for God and see that God’s love runs deeper than his sins. When we run from God, He intervenes with wake up calls, out of His love. Thirdly and lastly,
III. We may run from God, but we can never outrun God (Jon.1:11-16)
Perhaps at this point of Jonah’ confession, the sailors must have assumed that the storm would end. But it doesn’t. It gets worse. So the sailors continue to take initiative while Jonah remains uncommitted and passive. “What should we do?” They want to know more about how to appease this God. Perhaps a ritual of some sort to purify you Jonah? I feel like this is pretty much the equivalent of someone asking you, “What must I do to be saved and go to Heaven?” They are so ripe to be evangelized. God is using Jonah despite Jonah. So what does Jonah do?
Look at Jon. 1:12. He wants them to publically execute him. What should have happened? He should have preached to them. He should have told them to repent and turn to Yahweh. Instead, he says, “I would rather die than do that. Drown me.” Jonah should have knelt down on the boat and turned to the Lord and had all the people around him do the same. John Macarthur adds, “Jonah could’ve said, “Well, hold it guys. I’ve got to go down in the ship for a minute. I’ll be right back.” He could’ve gone down there or some private moment; found a place and repented. And said, “God I repent. I’m sorry. I’ve been belligerent. I’ve been prejudiced. I’ve been self-willed. I’ve been disobedient. I admit it; please forgive me. Stop the storm. I’ll catch the next port, turn around and go back.”
Nope. Jonah does not do that. He in effect replies, “I would rather die than obey God.” But notice in Jon. 1:13 that these men are compassionate to him and try to row back to land trying to save everyone. Actually I picture them getting back to land, hurling Jonah on to land and if the storm dies down, leaving again. But notice how stubborn and hard-hearted Jonah is and how compassionate these men are! I wonder sometimes if us Christians playing the “nice” game will ever win over unbelievers, because many times unbelievers are nicer and compassionate than believers!
But notice what happens in Jon. 1:14. Despite Jonah, they start praying to Yahweh! Four times the covenant name of God is used here in the next few verses. No more praying to generic, whoever-is-out-there god, but to the true God. Perhaps they are praying to Him because they know He is ticked off. What they are praying for is basically, “It is not fair that we have to suffer for this thing between you and this guy. You two need to work it out. We were not present for the crime and so we really do not know all the details here. We just want to be clear. We don’t want your wrath on us for participating in this. Sorry to go all Jack Kervokian here, but he asked us to help him die.” Man, sometimes our disobedience and rebellion makes life hard for everyone around us doesn’t it? It affects everyone.
Interestingly, did you wonder why doesn’t Jonah just jump overboard by himself? I wonder if he was too frightened? This might have been his first time at sea. He can’t even kill himself properly! Anyway, the men have no more choices, so they finally hurl Jonah overboard. Lo and behold, the storm stops! And revival breaks out. We are not absolutely certain, but it seems like they get converted here. The language in Jon. 1:17 suggests such, but this could be just for now. To “fear the LORD” is to worship Him and somehow they knew they had to sacrifice (we don’t know what exactly they did here, especially since probably everything on the ship is gone at this point), which may mean they were dealing with sin and making vows implies confessing obedience to serve Yahweh from now on. So not totally sure here, but it looks like Jonah has preached to pagans even in an attempt not to!
Wow, what kind of God is God that despite our uselessness, when we’ve given up on ourselves, resigned from ministry, ran us far away as possible, that He still uses our uselessness for His purposes? God can use us even when we don’t want to be used. This is no excuse, but an encouragement. And don’t you feel sometimes you could have worded the gospel better, lived a holier life and God could have used you better? Surely we want to be set apart as possible and be well equipped as possible, but remember that God can use whatever we give Him and sometimes uses us, despite ourselves.
See, we cannot outrun God. I see God everywhere in this chapter, from the storm, the captain, the sailors, the questions, the prayers, etc. There is no pit so deep, no bottom of the ship so dark that His love is not deeper still. We cannot outrun God.
God’s love is always a pursuing love. Listen to C.S. Lewis share his story during the years before he was a Christian and was an atheist: “I had always wanted, above all things, not to be ‘interfered with.’ I had wanted (mad wish) to ‘call my soul my own.’” Then God intervened, “You must picture me alone in that room…night after night, feeling, whenever my mind lifted even for a second from my work, the steady, unrelenting approach of Him whom I so earnestly desired not to meet.” God’s love and grace sometimes has a “mugging” nature to it!
And we will see next time, Lord willing, that there is love beneath the waves of His wrath. I close with this question: Why didn’t Jonah drown in those waves? Do you know the real reason? It is because 700 years later, God would hurl His wrath on one greater than Jonah. He will throw His Son overboard not for His guilt, but for ours, so that we might be spared. Jesus died in the storm so that we might live. That is why there is love beneath the waves. Do you believe that His love for you?
We were all like sheep who have gone astray, but the Shepherd has come, looking for us and not only looking, but also to die, so that we might live. Where are we running from God today? Where are the corners, the bottom of the ships we hide in, numbing ourselves, entertaining ourselves, destroying ourselves? In which area do we need a wake-up call? As a church, would the Lord rebuke us today for our complacency, lovelessness, hoarding of Him as we sleep away? Thank God He does not leave us alone! Let’s wake up and call on Jesus. Let’s run to Him just as we are, battered and soaking. Let’s find the One who has come for us and turn our flight into running after Him instead. Let’s stop this lame chase. Let’s kneel on the boat and turn to Him. For Jesus’s sake.
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From a tweet on December 7 http://twitter.com/#!/jamesmacdonald accessed 9 December 2010.
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Walton, J. H. (2009). Zondervan Illustrated Bible Backgrounds Commentary (Old Testament) Volume 5: The Minor Prophets, Job, Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Songs (107). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.
Tchividjian, T. (52).
Ferguson, Sinclair B (1981). Man Overboard! The Story of Jonah (23). Carlisle, PA: Banner of Truth.
Myron S. Augsburger, When Reason Fails. Christianity Today, Vol. 30, no. 9. Taken from http://www.preachingtoday.com accessed 9 December 2010.
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Macarthur, John. “The Worst Missionary,” http://www.gty.org/Resources/Sermons/80-111 accessed 9 December 2010.
As told by Tullian Tchividjian (51).