The Runaway Prophet

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July 7th, 2019

Main Idea: Though we are prone to run from God when we question his plan, God’s grace runs faster. 

The story of Jonah is not ultimately about a rebellious prophet or a big fish or a wicked city; Jonah is a book about God’s relentless, unstoppable, and mysterious mercy toward the undeserving. 

“Jonah is an old, old story. And yet it still offers to us insight, encouragement, and faith for living faithfully in our new world. In a world that is constantly at a pace unimaginable by Jonah and his contemporaries, we can still look to the simplicity of God’s dealing with Jonah to see what faith looks like in our world today. Jonah was a rebel. We are rebels too. Jonah was running. We run too. Many of us run as fast as we can away from God, but God’s grace is faster. God’s grace was great to Jonah. To us, God’s grace is greater still.” ~ Anthony Carter

I. Running From God (1:1-3)

Three things to observe in the introduction to this book: The Prophet, The Call, and The Response

  1. The Prophet (1:1): Jonah, the son of Amittai; he is also mentioned in 2 Kings 14:23-27 as serving as a prophet in the Northern Kingdom during the reign of King Jeroboam II. He is presented as nationalistic as he supports agressive expansion for Northern Israel.

  2. The Call (1:2): Jonah is called to go and “call out against Nineveh.” This is unique because Ninveh was not an Israelite city; it was the capital city of the mighty Assyrian Empire, one of the enemies of Israel. Jonah is to warn this city of its evil before the Lord. 

  3. The Response (1:3): Jonah “arose”... and fled. He runs away from God because he does not agree with God providing a gracious warning to a violent, sinful, and wicked people like the Assyrians.

If Jonah goes through, he faced the threat of death or rejection from his own people. Despite these possibilities, Jonah’s issue is theological and with God himself: he does not think that the Ninevites were worthy of the grace of this warning. He believers they should be punished for their wickedness and evil. That is he why he “flees from the presence of the Lord.” 

“Jonah wants a God of his own making, a God who simply smites the bad people, for instance, the wicked Ninevites, and blesses the good people, for instance, Jonah and his countrymen. When the real God – not Jonah’s counterfeit – keep showing up, Jonah is thrown into fury or despair. Jonah finds the real God to be an enigma because he cannot reconcile the mercy of God with his justice. How, Jonah asks, can God be merciful and forgiving to people who have done such violence and evil? How can God be both merciful and just?” ~ Tim Keller

Jonah flees to Tarshish, which was as far away from Nineveh as you could go; he is attempting to do the exact opposite of what God has called him to do.

Jonah knows he can’t literally run from the presence of God, but he attempts to run from the functional, relational presence of God in his life. He is seeking to resign as prophet and build his own identity in a place far away where he can drown out God’s word and God’s voice. 

Jonah’s running ought to make us consider our own “running” from God. What are the things that make us want to run and how do we run? 

“Does God know what’s best, or do we? The default mode of the unaided human heart is to always decide that we do. We doubt that God is good, or that he is committed to our happiness, and therefore, if we can’t see any good reasons for something God says or does, we assume that there aren’t any.” ~ Tim Keller

To run away from God’s word is to ultimately run away from God himself. This running is exhausting and will lead to a dead-end. 


II. Grace That Runs Faster (1:4-6)

Though it wouldn’t look like it to those caught on the boat, this mighty storm is a mercy from God. He is chasing down his prophet and will not let him run away.

Storms are inevitable in this world because of sin. But we must remember how those on this boat ended up in the storm:

  1. Some storms are a direct consequence of our own sin (Jonah)

  2. Some storms are a result of living in a fallen and broken world where things are not the way they are supposed to be (the mariners/sailors)

No matter how we end up in a storm, God has a purpose in the midst of them. Even if we can’t see a good reason for what is happening, there is mercy deep inside of the storms of this life.

In the midst of the storm, it is ironically the pagan sailors who are more spiritually in-tune than the prophet of God. They sailors are the ones who pray and call out to their gods, and they take action by “hurling” their cargo off the ship, at great cost to themselves, in an attempt to preserve human life. 

Jonah is in a “deep sleep” while the sailors are doing all that they can. This is the logical conclusion to Jonah’s running which is always described as “going down” because sin always takes us toward a “downward” orientation.

Jonah’s running makes him indifferent to the plight of his fellow humanity, even though he is the one who knows that God has created all human beings in his image with worth, value, and dignity. 

The introduction to this book leads us to a messy, runaway prophet. But the good news of Jonah is that a greater Jonah has come; where Jonah flees from his call to follow the mission of God into enemy territory to an undeserving people, Jesus freely left the comforts and privileges of heaven to come to us, though we are undeserving.