The Runaway (Part One)
Please read Jonah 1 in your Bible before reading this article.
In celebration of Father’s Day, three “daffynitions” borrowed from a sermon by David Cawston:
- A boy's definition of Father's Day: "It's just like Mother's Day only you don't spend as much." - Definition of a father: "A father is a man who carries pictures in his wallet where his money used to be. - Paul Harvey's definition of a father... "A father is a thing that is forced to endure childbirth without an anesthetic.... A father never feels worthy of the worship in a child's eyes. He is never quite the hero his daughter thinks, never quite the man his son believes him to be, and this worries him, sometimes. So, he works too hard to try and smooth out the rough places in the road for those of his own who will follow him....Fathers are what give daughters away to other men who are not nearly good enough, so they can have grandchildren who are smarter than anybody's."
On this Father’s Day we are going to start a series of messages about the son of Amittai. You may not have heard about the biblical person Amittai but there is a good chance you heard about his son named Jonah. As is often the case in the story of a runaway, it is the son who is on the run. As we shall see, Jonah was not on the run from Ammitai, but from God.
Do not make God use a whale to put you where He wants you: just go.
1. Jonah tried to run away from God. (1:1-3)
What we know about Amittai: his name means “true.” There is a legend in Jewish teaching that Amittai was from the tribe of Zebulun and lived in the city of Zarephath. He died after fathering at least one child. His wife was the widow of Zarephath who sustained the Prophet Elijah. As the biblical account of 1 Kings 17 relates, Elijah restored the life of the widow’s son. The tradition says that boy was Jonah. This is a blending of biblical truth and legend to connect Jonah with Elijah.
What we know about Jonah: 2 Kings 14:25 mentions a prophet named Jonah, son of Amittai who counseled Jeroboam II, a king of Israel, to restore the old boundaries of the nation. That is what he did, by means of military conquest. Even so, 2 Kings 14 tells us the people of Israel suffered (vs. 26-27) and King Jeroboam II did evil in the sight of the Lord (v. 24).
I have written a three-act play about Jonah. In my fictional version of Jonah’s story, Jonah enjoyed a period of notoriety and influence at the palace, but in more recent times, had done nothing new to distinguish himself. In my story, fame had deserted him, leaving Jonah depressed and angry with God.
What we know about Nineveh: Genesis 10:11 tells us one of Noah’s great-grandsons, Nimrod, founded the city of Nineveh. The most ancient written reference to Nineveh calls it “the city of fish.” (We will see how that becomes important in chapter 3.)
Nineveh was the capital city of the empire of Assyria, one of the two foreign cities most often vilified in Scripture. An Assyrian king, Sennacherib, laid siege to Jerusalem in 701 B.C. (2 Kings 18:13-19:37, Isaiah 36-37). In Nahum 3:1 Nineveh is called a “city of bloodshed.” By their own accounts, t Assyrians were ruthlessly violent in war and suppressing rebellion, and of course, Nineveh was at the center of that.
Jonah 1:1 tells us what God thought about Nineveh. He said it was a GREAT CITY, but that was a reference to its size, not its moral standing. He also said it was a wicked city. We will learn more about Nineveh when we get to chapter 3.
What we know about Jonah’s attempt to run away: based on what we learned from 2 Kings 14, Jonah may have been enjoying court life and would be understandably reluctant to leave that posh existence for a pagan city at the eastern edge of the world as he knew it.
Based on what we learn in 4:2, Jonah accurately guessed that God’s purpose in the event was to give the inhabitants of the city a chance to repent. As the Assyrians were the dreaded enemy of the Israelites, this would amount to God asking Jonah to help him save the enemies of his people. The book does not give any more information about Jonah’s reasons for attempting to run away from God, but his motives are not as important as what he did.
If Nineveh was the eastern end of the world Jonah knew, then Tarshish was the western end. Thus, Jonah’s plan was to go exactly the opposite direction from God’s command. He was 180 degrees disobedient! We have learned in our weekly Isaiah study that Tarshish was a mining colony established on the coast of Spain. It was the point on the map furthest away, the last port on the cycle of commerce in the ancient world.
It sounds strange to our ears that Jonah thought he could FLEE FROM THE LORD. Psalm 139:7 goes into detail about God’s presence being everywhere; it is impossible to get away from Him. Jonah must have known this. His flight may indicate a degree of desperation. Based on his anger in chapter four, we can safely assume pride had some role in the decision. It is most likely that Jonah was trying to escape God’s calling than trying to escape God’s presence. We should note that God did nothing to thwart Jonah’s travel plans even though it was an act of disobedience on his part. Since he went to a busy port - JOPPA - it is not a surprise he found a ship bound for TARSHISH. As he had come from the court of Jeroboam II, it is not a surprise he had the money on hand to pay his FARE for the voyage. God could have done any one of a million more simple things to divert Jonah from Tarshish, but instead he chose to let Jonah unwind a little line from the reel.
2. This ended unexpectedly. (1:4-17)
The storm was unexpectedly bad, and it got much worse. The STORM was clearly of divine origin: THE LORD SENT it. A GREAT WIND and a VIOLENT STORM came up and beat against the ship threatening to BREAK it up.
The sailors did everything they knew to do to save the ship. Interestingly, religion was their first resort: this may indicate deep fear based on the suddenness and severity of the storm. Then they each cried out in fear to the god they worshipped (5). They threw their valuable CARGO INTO THE SEA hoping that making the ship lighter would cause it to ride atop the waves, not wallow through them.
Jonah, by contrast, was doing NOTHING to help somehow, he was in a DEEP SLEEP below deck (5). When the captain discovered him asleep, he woke Jonah and at commanded him to at least pray.
At this point, Jonah alone knew the reason for the storm and what to do to fix it. The sailors, however, did not know why this was happening to them and desperate to do something about it, they cast lots to identify the responsible party (7). This was an apparently random means people of that time used to divine God’s will. In this case it worked, and Jonah was indicated to be the guilty party. I wonder if it surprised them that the snoozer was the guy responsible for their woes. Once the culprit was exposed, they were naturally curious to know what he did that was so wrong that his God was going to such lengths (8).
Take note of Jonah’s answer in verse nine, where he self-identified as a HEBREW, not as an Israelite. This word is almost never used after the first five books of the Bible. Perhaps this was a little deception on Jonah’s part, trying to make himself seem like an experienced traveler. More importantly, He admitted to worshiping a God who is in heaven but is nonetheless creator of both the sea and the land, and therefore has the power to kick up a severe storm like this.
Strangely, Jonah’s answers terrified them more (10) and at the same time the sea became even more rough (11). Knowing he was the culprit, the crew assumed Jonah would know how to fix the problem he had created by running away. Jonah’s answer (11) is instructive. He took full responsibility for the storm and his solution was simple: “Toss me into the sea.”
The sailors apparently reasoned that if Jonah’s God was willing to make such a fuss over him, Jonah must be a VIP and they were afraid to take his advice. So, instead, they tried one more thing they could do: they laid into the oars and tried to row to shore (13). When this did not work and they became even more desperate, they prayed to the LORD for clemency for taking the life of His man (14).
Covering themselves with their first-ever prayer to the true God, they took Jonah’s advice and tossed him overboard (15). When the threw him in, it was instantly apparent that Jonah’s solution worked: it had the immediate and miraculous effect of bringing CALM to the sea. The supernatural storm stopped with supernatural suddenness. This verified Jonah’s claim to be the source of their problems. The sailors’ reaction to all this was faithful: they FEARED THE LORD, worshipping Him with a SACRIFICE and VOWS (16).
No one expected what happened next (17). A GREAT FISH appeared out of the ocean and swallowed Jonah up! This was no accident or blind act of nature: THE LORD PROVIDED A GREAT FISH TO SWALLOW JONAH. Unbeknownst to the sailors and to Jonah, the prophet would be kept there for THREE DAYS AND THREE NIGHTS.
Do not make God use a whale to put you where He wants you: just go.
Throughout history, the account of Jonah and the whale has been the subject of a lot of skepticism. As we conclude, let us consider a small bit of very recent evidence from an article entitled “’I was completely inside': Lobster diver swallowed by humpback whale’” by Doug Fraser, Cape Cod Times.
Dateline: Provincetown, MA.
“At a little before 8 am Friday, June 11, veteran lobster diver Michael Packard entered the water for his second dive of the day. In something truly biblical, Packard was swallowed whole by a humpback whale.
“’All of a sudden, I felt this huge shove and the next thing I knew it was completely black,’ Packard recalled following his release from Cape Cod Hospital.
“’I was completely inside; it was completely black,’ Packard said. ‘I thought to myself, ‘there is no way I am getting out of here. I’m done, I’m dead.’ All I could think of was my boys — they’re 12 and 15 years old.’
“Outfitted with scuba gear, he struggled, and the whale began shaking its head so that Packard could tell he didn’t like it. He estimated he was in the whale for 30 to 40 seconds before the whale finally surfaced.
“’I saw light, and he started throwing his head side to side, and the next thing I knew I was outside (in the water),’ said Packard.
“Jooke Robbins, director of Humpback Whale Studies at the Center for Coastal Studies said incidents of feeding humpbacks injuring swimmers and divers, especially instances of swallowing them, are so exceedingly rare as to be nonexistent. The esophagus on nontoothed whales is too small to swallow a human but they could wrap their mouth around a large object and then spit it out.
“Michael Packard also survived a plane crash ten years ago, while traveling in Costa Rica in a small plane that crashed in the jungle, killing the pilot, co-pilot and a passenger. Packard sustained multiple serious injuries to his abdomen and upper body.”
There were about 60 vessels in the vicinity, plenty of eyewitnesses who report seeing all or part of Packard’s harrowing experience. Those who saw it said the whale was a “medium” size for a humpback whale.
Obviously, there are significant differences between the biblical account we have just read and the account of Mr. Packard’s adventure. This does not really prove anything, nor do we need it to. We take the biblical account as fact as a matter of faith, not needing scientific evidence. It just fascinated me that something skeptics said was impossible just happened.
Zondervan Bible Commentary (One-Volume Illustrated Edition), Obadiah, W. Ward Gasque
My Message #863