Have you ever decided you were going to hit the road, run-away, and head for somewhere else even if you weren’t sure where you were going? This was the case for a five year old Chelsea; she had a little argument with her parents (they just didn’t understand her) and she decided to cast off into the lonely world with her absolute essentials, ready to make a new life for herself. She had a small suitcase she packed with her favorite outfit and her favorite teddy bear. It was a great escape. Together the traveling caravan made it about a mile down the road before she realized that she had nowhere to go! At that point in her life it was less important where she was going and simple that she was getting away.
In life, there are times where we have all wanted to run away from something: a challenge, town and way of life, awkward situation or from a college major. I couldn’t help but recalling the popular commercials from Southwest Airlines: Wanna Get Away? (One of my favorites https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xIK0kzhEJzM&list=PL6E305D80E1D6B770&index=4)
Today we take on one of the greatest runaways in the history of the Bible, which turns into one of the most captivating narratives told through the pages of Scripture. The book of Jonah has been parodied by Walt Disney/ Pinocchio and his growing nose, and it has drawn the ire of preaches around the ages. As we embark on this journey of escape, fear, and sovereignty, we are going to find a God that continues to PURSUE a greater purpose.Jonah’s story begins with a call from God, a mission to go to Nineveh which was the capital of Assyria–modern day Iraq, an arch enemy of Israel, a nation known for being the biggest and baddest bullies on the block, cruelest and more captivating for their acts of atrocity. They were known for their human barbecues’ flaying people alive, removing limbs while people were living, putting on a class of torture—(if you think I am describing your last Christmas with family, set up some time for counseling) and Jonah looking at God’s call to go on a mission to the madmen of Nineveh tries to pull a fast one on God—He Runs away! He runs in part because he is scared of Nineveh. You could probably relate if you were being called to go to ISIS, you might disappear to IDAHO—opps…I must have misheard you God. His hatred also ran deep for those he felt undeserving of relationship with the God who revealed himself to Israel. Jonah’s response: The word of the LORD came to Jonah son of Amittai: “Go to the great city of Nineveh and preach against it, because its wickedness has come up before me.” But Jonah ran away from the LORD and headed for Tarshish.
Fleeing God (Jonah 1:3b-4,5b) After paying the fare, he went aboard and sailed for Tarshish to flee from the LORD. Then the LORD sent a great wind on the sea, and such a violent storm arose that the ship threatened to break up…But Jonah had gone below deck, where he lay down and fell into a deep sleep.
Jonah didn’t try to run away around the block, he tried to go to the other side of the world. In his mind anywhere was better than Nineveh, a people, a culture, and customs he despised. From Nineveh which was 550 miles from Jerusalem towards the east, Jonah went across the Mediterranean Sea west. The symbolism in Jonah fleeing God is powerful. As he fled, he went deeper and deeper, almost as if into a grave—down to the sea port of Joppa, down to the bottom of the boat, down into a deep sleep. Trying to put as many barriers between himself and God.
Whenever I read this passage, it reminds me of the days working in pharmacy management. I worked with an older woman; she was a part-time cashier at the Walgreens. Nice woman. She was in her 80’s, working to supplement her income, and I was going to seminary part-time eager to put the material I was learning into practice. I started bugging her on her breaks and bless her heart she put up with me. One day, I asked her about her faith in God, if she believed—and she assured me that “she had gone to church before” but as she continued she left me with a line that I cannot forget, “Nowadays, I try not to worry about what’s next, frankly, I am hoping it all just takes care of itself!” Hoping things would just take care of themselves had become a barrier to actually taking care of things.
We can sometimes miss a small economic insert in the story in the middle of verse 3, “After paying the fare; he went aboard and sailed” Running from God came at a cost. This isn’t a one-time fee, whenever we strike out on our own away from God’s calling, it always comes at a price. Whenever we are setting a course towards our Tarshish we miss out on the life change in Nineveh. Some of you have experienced a steep price for perceived freedom: a lost marriage, job, prison time, long road out of addiction. The barrier that we place between ourselves and God usually isn’t sleep, sometimes it is the very opposite, we plug our schedules full of nice and respectable activities, or we get as far away from the people or things that remind us that God’s way exists…church, church people, religious conversation, and all along we are like the child who is refusing to listen to their older sibling—“I CAN”T HEAR YOU—LALALALALA.”
When is the last time you tried to bury your head in the sand?
Do you ever find yourself comfortably heading towards Tarshish and avoiding Nineveh?