Sermon on Jonah 1:1-6 – “Which way did he go?”

Sermon for Sunday Evening, April 28, 2024 at First Presbyterian Church at Unionville, NY (BPC)

Sermon Text

 

[Jon 1:1-6 ESV] 1 Now the word of the LORD came to Jonah the son of Amittai, saying, 2 “Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and call out against it, for their evil has come up before me.” 3 But Jonah rose 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, away from the presence of the LORD. 4 But the LORD hurled a great wind upon the sea, and there was a mighty tempest on the sea, so that the ship threatened to break up. 5 Then the mariners were afraid, and each cried out to his god. And they hurled the cargo that was in the ship into the sea to lighten it for them. But Jonah had gone down into the inner part of the ship and had lain down and was fast asleep. 6 So the captain came and said to him, “What do you mean, you sleeper? Arise, call out to your god! Perhaps the god will give a thought to us, that we may not perish.”

 

 

 

I’m glad to be back in the book of Jonah. It is one that we had to translate in seminary. So we looked at the Hebrew in depth. And then I taught on this book at a church one summer in my hometown of Grand Rapids, Michigan. As I have come back to this book “its all coming back to me.” But I will grant that Jonah, somewhat like Job, has an ending that I’ve never been able to well-process. Well, we’ll get to the ending in a few weeks. First, we must beginning with the beginning.

 

And here we have the question that is the title of the sermon, “Which way did he go?”

 

And maybe I should ask this question about Jonah to George. “Which way did he go, George?”

 

I know this phrase not from Steinbeck’s “Of Mice and Men” but of Looney Tunes’ “Of Fox and Hounds.”

 

God said go to Nineveh.

 

Which way did Jonah go?

 

To Nineveh right? … Right?

 

Nope. He runs from the Lord. Or at least tries to.

 

But before that occurs in the text, we read,

 

Now the word of the LORD came to Jonah the son of Amittai

I. The Coming of the word of the Lord (v. 1-2)

 

So there is the coming of the word of the Lord.

 

This means that Jonah is a prophet. He is including among the “minor prophets” in the Scriptures. The Major prophets being Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel. The minor prophets being Hosea, Joel, Amos, Obadiah, Jonah, Micah, Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah, Haggai, Zechariah, and Malachi.

 

It is really remarkable how many times in the Old Testament that it is said that it is God’s Word that came to a prophet. “the word of the Lord came to …” It says this hundreds of times.

 

The Word of the Lord came to … Abraham, Moses, Samuel, Nathan, Gad, Solomon, Jehu, Elijah, Shemaiah, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Haggai, Zechariah, and Jonah.

 

The Book of Hebrews in the New Testament tells us God’s speaking to the prophets.

 

[Heb 1:1 ESV] 1 Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets,

 

So Jonah is one of these prophets whom God is speaking to.

 

And Jonah is the “the son of Amittai.” So Amittai is his earthly father and his name means “Yawheh is steadfast.” Well that is apropos for our story. God is steadfast in bringing the His word to Nineveh, even though Jonah seeks to go the other way.

 

That is the Lord’s goal here, to bring word toNineveh. He say to Jonah,

 

2 “Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and call out against it, for their evil has come up before me.”

 

Now, where is Nineveh? Assyria of course. It is the capital city of the Assyrian empire.

 

And you would know that if you’ve watched Monty Python and the Holy Grail a half a hundred times.

 

You remember the bridge keeper on the bridge of death? He asks three question which the knights must answer to cross to the other side.

1. What is your name?

2. What is your quest?

And

3. What is the capital of Assyria?

 

Well, Sir Robin says “I don’t know that!” and he’s done for. So you want to remember “Nineveh is the capital of Assyria” as the answer next time you cross the bridge of death.

 

And Nineveh is a notoriously wicked place. But what large city isn’t? That seems to go hand-in-hand with large cities. More corruption, more crime, more evil there.

 

And God says “their evil has come up before me.” Of course God knows all things. It isn’t a surprise to him that Nineveh is evil. But what is meant here is something like what we have in the Scriptures in regard to the land of Canaan. Their iniquity is full. God says, “that’s enough.” No more of this. But while God destroys the Canaanites, here he brings word to Nineveh for their repentance.

 

And that’s the option with all people. Either we are destroyed in our sin or God brings word that leads to repentance, to turning around and believing God endeavoring to follow His commands.

 

So God is having grace on Nineveh. And this is an early indication of what God will do in the New Testament; make clear the way for Gentiles to know the Gospel. Nineveh is not a city of Jews, it is a city of non-Jews, Gentiles. And yet God in his mercy is sending a prophet to them.

 

But which way does Jonah go?

 

II.Wrong Way Jonah (v. 3)

 

He is “Wrong Way Jonah.” That could be his nickname. Wrong way Jonah.

 

And its not a mistaken wrong way, it is an intentionally wrong way.

 

3 But Jonah rose 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, away from the presence of the LORD.

 

So “He’s got a ticket to ride.”

 

But not to Nineveh. You’d have a hard time getting to Nineveh by boat. It is overland to Nineveh.

 

Jonah instead seeks to flee by boat to Tarshish.

 

And there is debate about where Tarshish was, but I have a strongly favored candidate. Tarshish was in the west, directly 180 degrees opposite of the easterly direction to Nineveh that Jonah was to go.

 

Some have said Tarshish is just another form of Tarsus, where Paul is later from. Others have thought it might be in Africa somewhere in the direction of the Red Sea because in 1 Kings 10:22, the king has ships go to Tarshish and bring back gold, silver, ivory, apes, and peacocks.

But I really like the location of Tarshish as being in Tartessos in Spain. There is some similarity in spelling and pronouncing Tarshish and Tartessos. And Spain is near Africa where apes and peacocks could come in trade. And finally, it is the opposite direction of Nineveh.

 

So Jonah goes in the opposite direction of where God told him to go.

 

And do you think God, for a second, is going to allow this. No. He has his plan to get to His word to Nineveh.

 

We know that Paul is a “sinner in the present tense” as he tells us in Romans 7, and 1 Timothy 1:15.

Now we see that Jonah, the prophet of God, is a sinner as well.

 

What though is Jonah’s motive? Why is he not doing what the Lord says.

 

Surprisingly it is not fear. Jonah actually tells us in chapter 4 what his reasoning was. After Nineveh repents and God spares the city, Jonah says this:

 

[Jon 4:1-2 ESV] 1 But it displeased Jonah exceedingly, and he was angry. 2 And he prayed to the LORD and said, “O LORD, is not this what I said when I was yet in my country? That is why I made haste to flee to Tarshish; for I knew that you are a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, and relenting from disaster.

 

Jonah doesn’t want the salvation of Nineveh!

 

Two relevant quotes from commentaries will help us here:

 

He knew, by inspiration of the Holy Spirit, that the repentance of the Gentiles would be the ruin of the Jews, and as a lover of his country was actuated not so much by envy of the salvation of Nineveh as by unwillingness that his own people should perish. (KD, 391)

 

Why did he refuse to go to Nineveh? Not because he was afraid of his life, of thought the task hopeless. He refused because he feared success. God’s goodness was being stretched rather too far, it is was going to take in Nineveh. (AM, 179)

 

But going the wrong way is dangerous. Your liable to get yourself into trouble; maybe even being swallowed by a great fish.

 

But before the fish, comes a wind. A wind of God.

 

III. A Wind of God

 

4 But the LORD hurled a great wind upon the sea, and there was a mighty tempest on the sea, so that the ship threatened to break up. 5 Then the mariners were afraid, and each cried out to his god. And they hurled the cargo that was in the ship into the sea to lighten it for them. But Jonah had gone down into the inner part of the ship and had lain down and was fast asleep. 6 So the captain came and said to him, “What do you mean, you sleeper? Arise, call out to your god! Perhaps the god will give a thought to us, that we may not perish.”

 

There are some questions that arise from this section?

 

Why do the sailors throw their cargo overboard? It says clearly that it was to lighten the ship; keep it from taking on water and sinking. But another reason has been suggested that they might do it to “appease the Gods of the sea.” The sailors were from a variety of nations. Each had their own Gods. This is why they rouse Jonah from his slumbers and ask him to call out to his god. Everyone is trying whatever they can.

 

Then, we must ask, Why is Jonah sleeping?

It is because he is exhausted from his trip to Joppa where he caught the boat? Is it because of fatalism; perhaps he thought God’s will would be done regardless of his actions?

 

Well, one commentator says it is “careless self-security.”

 

It was not an evil conscience, or despair occasioned by the threatening danger, which induced him to lie down to sleep; nor was it his fearless composure in the midst of the dangers of the storm, but the careless self-security with which he had embarked on the ship to flee from God, without considering that the hand of God could reach him even on the seas, and punish him for his disobedience. (KD, 393)

 

But then, we ask, Who is in control? (Of the ship, of the seas, of Jonah’s mission)

 

Well, we should all know the answer. God is in control. There are no other gods of the nations. No sea god. No storm god.

The God of Israel is alone God and he is in control of the sea and the storm and everything else. Just like in the plagues of the Exodus we see God in being more powerful than the non-existence gods of nature.

 

And this must remind us of Christ, when it was asked of him, “Who is this that even the winds and the sea obey him?”(Matthew 8:27, Mark 4:41, Luke 8:25)

 

Well, obviously, he is God himself.

 

As for our passage itself, we find this truth:

 

Truth: We cannot escape from the presence of the Lord. [REPEAT: We cannot escape from the presence of the Lord.]

There is no place where he is not.

Jonah cannot run from God.

 

I think of a house analogy. God is in every room. And if Jonah leaves God in one room, he finds Him in he next. God is everywhere.

 

And this truth also:

 

Truth: God’s will will be done.

The big fish is not yet here, but the wind is. God is working for His plan to to be fulfilled.

 

 

 

And so, from that we have this application.

 

Application: Realize that your plans are trumped by God’s plan.

 

This is why we say “I’ll do this, if God wills.”

Because if He doesn’t will it, then it won’t happen.

 

Application: Running from God is futile.

We are to do His will even if we don’t think we’ll like the outcome.

If God says “Go to Nineveh,” then Go to Nineveh.

 

If somewhere were to ask of us, “Where did he go?”, let it is be said “He walks with the Lord.”

 

It reminds me of the scene when Jesus was 12 and stayed at the temple while he family departed. And when they found him, he said, “Why were you looking for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house.”

 

And it is good that Jesus is true and he lives according to God’s will, because even prophet’s like Jonah fail.