The word of the Lord came to Jonah son of Amittai: 2 “Go to the great city of Nineveh and preach against it, because its wickedness has come up before me.” 3 But Jonah ran away from the Lord and headed for Tarshish. He went down to Joppa, where he found a ship bound for that port. After paying the fare, he went aboard and sailed for Tarshish to flee from the Lord. Jonah 1:1-3
We tend to think of Jonah as a cute little Bible story for children with the moral of the story being: Be good or God will swallow you up. Having said that, we need to remind ourselves, that the Jonah story is not merely a story of a man swallowed by a fish but about how God deals with a reluctant prophet on the run. Moses said, “Here I am God, send someone else.” Isaiah said, “Here I am, send me!” Jonah said, “Here I am, I’m not going.” How foolish can a prophet be?
The book of Jonah, the reluctant prophet, is a picture of God’s mercy, provided in spite of man’s stubborn self-righteousness. This colourful whale of a tale of the man who tried to out-run God meets us where we are in our journey with God.
The Lord summons Jonah to go to Nineveh and preach against its wickedness. In other words God has a job for Jonah to do. What does Jonah do? He runs in the opposite direction and buys a ticket for Tarnish (modern day Spain) Nineveh was a not a favourite destination spot for vacationing Israelites. Why would anyone travel to a land whose people and their practices you disliked? Jonah wants to distance himself from the people of Nineveh. Instead he goes to Joppa and buys a ticket for the exotic destination of Tarnish. Nowhere do we read that Jonah is running from his general call to preach. Jonah is running from his call to preach to the wicked Ninevites — Israel worst enemies. Jonah can run but he can’t hide from God. Eugene Peterson adds, the Jonah story “reveals our true ambitions that we would rather minister in the Tarnishes of our world than go the wicked and evil Nineveh’s of our world.So here is the comedy “a man of God tries to out run God.
When Jonah hears God’s call, he immediately decides not to follow his vocation but to go on vacation. In this tale of two cities, which city would you run to? Would it be the vacationing resorts of the Tarshish’s of our world? Would it be the Nineveh’s of our world filled with evil and wickedness and in need of redemption and God’s mercy? Nineveh is the place of God’s vocation for our lives.
Wherever you are in life — God is there. Even in the midst of your disobedience God shows up. You can run but you can’t hide.