“But Jonah arose to flee to Tarshish from the presence of the Lord. He went down to Joppa, and found a ship going to Tarshish; so he paid the fare, and went down into it, to go with them to Tarshish from the presence of the Lord.”
The story of Jonah has two main themes. The first is to reveal the heart of God for the lost. However, before this can be fully developed we are introduced to the second theme, the disobedience of Jonah. Three of the four chapters teach us of the sin and suffering of a wayward prophet. His is the story of a man who experiences unnecessary suffering that could have been avoided through simple obedience.
The stage is set when Jonah is commissioned by the Lord to take the Gospel to Nineveh. In one of the most shocking turns we will ever witness we read, “But Jonah…” Without explaining the reasons behind his unwillingness, the story takes us immediately to the consequences of his disobedience.
First, we read he began to run from the Lord. This running took him to places he would have never otherwise have gone. The Hebrew people were not known as maritime travelers, yet Jonah paid the fair and got aboard the ship. His journey would prove to be much more costly than the ticket price. Soon he found himself going down into the lowest part of the ship, and before long to the depths of the sea, and the belly of a great fish.
One of the reasons sin is so dangerous is because of the strong grip it has on us. Jonah’s heart had been so hardened by his disobedience, it took three days in the belly of the great fish before he would cry out to God. He describes that time as one of intense suffering, fear and anguish. While the text does not tell us this, the science behind the scene suggests that the stomach acids of the fish would have bleached Jonah’s skin, forever marking his life with the scars of disobedience.
When Jonah finally cried out to the Lord, he was forgiven, rescued, restored and even used in the lives of the Ninevites, but not without having suffered in ways God never intended.
We, too, can avoid all kinds of anguish by simple obedience. The command given to Jonah may not have been easy to obey, but it was not difficult to understand. For the most part, we do not really struggle with what God wants us to do, as much as we struggle to simply do it. If you are running from the Lord it is time to stop, turn around, and obey.