Jonah 1:1-2, “Now the word of the LORD came unto Jonah…Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and cry against it; for their wickedness is come up before me.
I have broken this verse down into three parts:
The Commission: “Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city,”
The Cry: “and cry against it”
The Condemnation: “for their wickedness is come up before me.”
The Commission: “Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city” The Lord begins with telling Jonah to “arise,” to “rise up;” “to stand up.” This is such an important word in the life of a child of God. It is a decree and a command but we have a choice in how far we obey that command. We begin by actually “standing up” but once we do that we do not stop there. We are to “continue,” it is not a one-time act, it is a life-time commitment. As we “continue,” it also means “to be established” and there we see how we are strengthened in our stand, established in our commitment. Besides being established “arise” also means “to endure, to be fixed, to become powerful.” None of those things are easy or easily obtained, they come with sacrifice and submission to God’s Will and God’s Word. Each time we “arise” and “stand up” enables us to do so the next time we are called upon to do so and the result is that we become more “fixed” in our stand and more “powerful” as a result of our stand. Finally, “arise” also means “to be proven” and “to be fulfilled.” The Lord proves us and we prove the Lord as we trust Him for His enabling power and ultimately, we are “fulfilled” in a way that is only understood by the servant serving his Master.
Jonah was to arise and to “go to Nineveh.” He was to “go forth,” he was to “go forward,” he was to “to go to and fro and up and down.” Ultimately, he would do this when he walked through the streets of Nineveh but not right away. Jonah did “go” but he went his own way, his own direction, He did “go” but not in obedience instead it was in disobedience. The Lord knew exactly where He wanted Jonah to go, it was “to Nineveh. It was to the capital of the nation of Assyria and it was a “great city.” It was great in the number of people that lived there, it was great in power, wealth, beauty. It was great in age, it was an old city. It was also great in pride. No one could deny its greatness and Jonah certainly knew it. It was a city built by Nimrod, whose father was Cush, the son of Ham, one of Noah’s sons. (Gen.10:6-11). He also knew the reputation of the people and the city.
Jonah needs to see God’s greatness instead of man’s greatness, he needs to see what man builds God can destroy. Noah also needs to see God’s grace because it is not just the city and the people he fears but we find that he knew that God was gracious and merciful and feared He would not destroy the city (Jonah 4:2). Jonah was very conflicted.
The Cry: “and cry against it.” Jonah was to “proclaim” and to “preach” against the city. His message was a message of Judgment. This is the responsibility of a prophet of God, it is to “cry.” It is to speak for God. His voice is the voice of God. He is to “cry” with the voice of a trumpet, warning of danger. (Isa.58:1). He is to “cry” without fear of the response of men. (Jer.1:8-9). The Lord is greater than the greatest and most powerful men. The prophet doesn’t see their faces, he sees the Face of God. He does not hear the words of men, he hears the Word of God. He is to “cry” whether they will listen or not. (Ezek.2:7) He is to “cry” with the power of the Spirit (Micah 3:8).
The Condemnation: for their wickedness is come up before me. God saw their wickedness. He saw their evil. There was an outward evil, they were brutal conquerors, they committed atrocities in the ancient world. There was also an inward evil. God said that their evil had an offensive odor, He said that it is come up before Him. It rose up from the earth to heaven. One translation is it “has come to my attention.” Their idolatry and their cruelty came to God’s attention. The Lord saw the evil in the days of Noah. (Gen.6:11). The Lord saw the evil of Sodom and Gomorrah. (Gen.18:20; 19:13). The Lord sees everything. “…the eyes of the Lord which run to and fro through the whole earth.” (Zech.4:10). “For there is nothing covered, that shall not be revealed; neither hid, that shall not be known.” (Lk.12:2)
Vs. 3: But Jonah rose up to flee unto Tarshish from the presence of the Lord, and went down to Joppa; and he found a ship going to Tarshish: so he paid the fare thereof; and went down into it, to go with them unto Tarshish from the presence of the Lord.
His Destination: But Jonah rose up to flee unto Tarshish. How sad if there is a “But” in our lives. How sad if there is resistance or rebellion in our lives. Jonah rose up but not in the right way. Yes, he did “rise and stand up” but it was not to do what the Lord called and commissioned him to do. He rose up in Disobedience. Where we obey or disobey the first step is a rising up. If it is in obedience, it means we “abide, continue” and we are “fixed” in God’s purpose for us and we do not falter or alter our course. If we are disobedient, it means “to raise oneself up,” there is no dependence upon the Lord, we are dependent upon ourselves, we are independent of God. In that disobedient attitude we can be just as “fixed” in our course and attitude, we can choose to “continue” and not change course. When Jonah “rose up,” this shows the strength of his purpose and decision and he will continue until the Lord forces him to change his mind. Jonah rose up with a purpose. It was “to flee,” it was to run away and he did it with haste. He did not tarry, he went immediately on the course he had set for himself.
Jonah knew exactly where he wanted to go, where to flee to, it was “unto Tarshish” which has several meanings. It means “she will cause poverty;” “she will shatter” (JB Jackson). It means “contemplation, examination” (Hitchcock). Jonah does not realize how impoverished he will become spiritually when he flees to that city. He does not realize that by going to this city his hopes for escape will “shatter” even though he will find a ship and leave. The first cracks have begun to appear and will be completed on the voyage. He will have an opportunity for “contemplation” and “examination” while he is there but he chooses not to do those things, he has made up his mind. It was a city named after Noah’s great grandson (Gen.10:4; 1Chr.1:7).
Jonah flees “from the presence of the Lord.” One translation is “from being in the presence of the Lord [as his prophet].” (Amplified) Jonah is trying to flee “from the face or sight of” the Lord. At least he tries to or thinks that he can do this. What is sad is that he has stood in “the presence of the Lord” in the past. What a precious experience that must have been. Now Jonah wants to flee from that presence. The presence of the Lord that he tries to flee from shows his place and position as a prophet. It is a place of communion and fellowship. It is a place of obligation and responsibility. It is a place of service and subjection. In his flight Jonah tries to flee from all these things and he will find out that it is impossible. He is trying to flee from “the Lord,” from Jehovah (yhwh), the “self-existent; eternal one (who reveals himself).” And the Lord is about to reveal Himself to Jonah in a way he did not expect. Jonah’s reaction and action shows he has forgotten his place and the Lord’s place. It is almost like he is trying to resign as a prophet, from that call, from that commission, from that anointing. He is rejecting God’s Word; God’s Will and God’s Call. He forgot the Lord’s authority and sovereignty, he forgot his subjection but the Lord will remind him.
Jonah is not the only prophet to try to avoid his responsibility and calling. Moses, Elijah and Jeremiah all tried to avoid responsibility for different reasons. Moses tried to avoid responsibility because of doubt, because he looked at himself. 1st Doubt: “Who am I?” (Ex.3:11) 2nd Doubt: “What shall I say?” (Ex.3:12) 3rd Doubt: “They will not believe me” (Ex.4:1) 4th Doubt: “I am not eloquent” (Ex.4:10). Elijah tried to avoid responsibility because of fear. His Fear: Jezebel threatened his life (1Ki.19:2) His Flight: Elijah fled for his life (1Ki.19:3) His Excuse: “I only am left and they seek my life” (1Ki.19:10) Jeremiah tried to avoid responsibility because of persecution. His Humiliation: He was put in stocks and on display (Jer.20:2) His Rejection: He was mocked and reproached (Jer.20:7-8) His Silence: “I will not … speak any more in his name” (Jer.20:9)
No matter how impossible the responsibility, Faith sees the One who will make it possible.
To be continued