June 16th 2019
Jonah Chapter 1
Father’s day – and our choice of text is about a man who shirks his responsibilities and runs away?
Last week was Pentecost – a celebration of God speaking through the infilling and outpouring of
the Holy Spirit. God calls us. v1 says “The Word of the Lord came to Jonah” – God communicates
with us in different ways, but always His Word comes to us. And often, in the OT, when it says
“God speaks”, it is telling us of something which cannot be reneged – such as creation itself. Once
God has spoken, it will come to pass.
We should notice too, in v2, that God’s message through Jonah is slightly different to that of the
prophet Nahum: Nahum foretells doom and destruction; Jonah is to preach against its sinfulness –
which implies an opportunity to repent. This is not an easy task set by God. Ninevah – the
greatest city of Assyria, the capital of a dominant and cruel empire. Jonah would anticipate his
message being rejected, that he would be an outcast, or perhaps killed.
So, Jonah ran away (v3), by boarding a ship going to Tarshish – or Tartessus – a port in the very
west of Spain, beyond the straights of Gibraltar. Symbolically, this was the “end of the earth”, or
the “edge of the world” – people wouldn’t dare go any further because their understanding was a
flat earth – you might fall off the edge – they knew nothing of the Americas or a “wrap round”
Why did Jonah run away? Do we run away from God? Do we make excuses? Are we afraid?
What do we run away from?
· Taking a full and active part (as much as our health and circumstances enable us) in church
o Regularly attending services and recognising the importance of the symbolism of
sharing communion together;
o Attending midweek bible studies, prayer meetings, and whatever other events and
activities the church offers.
· Making public commitment
· Speaking about our faith to others
· Accepting that we are loved by God
Do we sometimes think that we can “pay our way” out of things we don’t want to face up to? Buy
a ticket to somewhere better?
Can we escape? Psalm 139 says:
7 Where can I go from your Spirit?
Where can I flee from your presence?
8 If I go up to the heavens, you are there;
if I make my bed in the depths, you are there.
9 If I rise on the wings of the dawn,
if I settle on the far side of the sea,
10 even there your hand will guide me,
your right hand will hold me fast.
11 If I say, ‘Surely the darkness will hide me
and the light become night around me,’
12 even the darkness will not be dark to you;
the night will shine like the day,
for darkness is as light to you.
GNT v9 If I flew away beyond the east or lived in the farthest place in the west – it is about even if we go
as far as we possibly can, God is stil there. God, as Jonah finds out, is inescapable.
So, the boat sets out, and the storm brews. The sailors appear to have been God-fearing (though
not worshipping Yahweh the God of Israel) as we see in v5 that each called out to their own god.
They were also clearly fearful for their lives since they threw the cargo overboard to lighten the
ship – not a decision that they would have taken without feeling it was a necessity. And where is
Jonah in all this? Asleep, hiding, amazingly un-phased or unafraid, but also perhaps resigned to his
fate, until wakened and chastised by the captain.
Their custom was to draw lots – the key is the belief that the truth would come out in the result.
And so Jonah became identified as the culprit and they start to question him – who are you, where
do you come from? And Jonah’s response is interesting: completely factual, yet also, at least
initially, contains a falsehood: “I am a Hebrew,” Jonah answered. “I worship the LORD, the God of
heaven, who made land and sea.”
“I worship the Lord, the God of heaven, who made land and sea.” At the present time he is doing
nothing of the sort, he is doing the complete opposite. How often do we hear people say “I’m
Christian” (or perhaps I’m Catholic/church of England/Baptist/Methodist) when in fact they
haven’t exercised their faith through prayer, they haven’t been to church in weeks?
v10 reads somewhat differently when you look at various translations. There are two main
variants – either the sailors asking “what have you done” and Jonah admitting running away, or the
sailors asking “why have you done this”, adding that Jonah had already told them he was running
away. The Good News is a further variation of the latter – it has Jonah’s confession, and the
sailors telling Jonah it was an awful thing to do, rather than asking what awful thing he has done.
But such variations in relation to how the original text is translated don’t alter the gist of the story
– Jonah makes a confession of his rejection of God, and these non-Jewish sailors are nonetheless
frightened by this act of rebellion and its potential consequences – showing both fear and awe of
Jonah’s God. Perhaps they thought that they were guilty of aiding and abetting his attempted
escape? How do lorry drivers feel when they are found to be have stowaway illegal immigrants
onboard? Will they be prosecuted, even though they didn’t know the people had hidden in the
How often are we worried about the consequences of sin? Or about being caught up in the sin of
others? The apostle Peter was so afraid of being caught up in the feelings that had built up against
Jesus at his crucifixion that he denied ever knowing Jesus.
And so the sailors conclude that the storm is God’s anger, and ask Jonah what they should do to
improve the situation. And her we see Jonah’s full confession – I know it is my fault – and his
willingness to accept the consequences – throw me in to the sea.
But the sailors show compassion – they try their very best to row to the shore, they don’t want to
throw him overboard to an almost certain death. But it is to no avail, so eventually, recognising
the power of Jonah’s God, they plead with God not to punish them for their action, and throw him
in to the sea.
I believe there is a really interesting point here: Jonah, sinful, running away from God, yet
ultimately confessing his own failing and God’s sovereignty, is revealing God to these heathen
sailors. In his repentance, his acknowledgement that he should allow God to be God, he has
brought others to a recognition of God’s sovereignty and power, to the extent that they cry out to
God for mercy on themselves.
We don’t have to be perfect to be useful to God. The hymn “There is a green hill” carries the line
“There was no other good enough to pay the price of sin”. We are all flawed. Jesus’ disciples
were flawed. The bible is full of the life stories of people who were flawed, imperfect, sinful, yet
still useful in God’s service.
And as Jonah disappeared below the water, the sea calmed – and the sailors committed
themselves to serving the living God, whose power they had seen. Jonah, the runaway messenger
of God, had still be able to serve God in bringing others to Him.
Meanwhile, what of Jonah? In his confession, in his acceptance of a watery fate, he had no idea
that he would live. He had not received a message that the fish was coming. Not that there is not
a whale in this story…… it is simply a large fish. The common view at that time was that the earth
was flat, and surrounded by sea which went deep down, perhaps under the earth too, with myths
of sea monsters living in the depths.
When we “do the right thing”, follow God’s way rather than the world’s way, when we step out in
faith, we find God ready to uphold us. Following God means giving your whole life: Matt 10:39
“Whoever loses their life for my sake will find it”. Not martyrdom (at least, not necessarily, and
rarely these days), but a willingness to set aside our worldly view and adopt God’s perspective and
What is a risky step of faith we can take – as a sign of committing every part of our life to Jesus? In
John’s gospel, in the passage where Jesus uses the image of him being the vine and us the
branches, and our “remaining in him”, he says this:
9 I love you just as the Father loves me; remain in my love. 10 If you obey my commands, you will
remain in my love, just as I have obeyed my Father's commands and remain in his love.
Are we willing to obey his commands, and thus remain in His love?
So what of Jonah – did I malign him? What we have seen, on this Father’s Day, is a man who
owned up to his failings, who took the responsibility, who did the right thing. Are we willing to do the same?