God commanded Jonah to go preach to the wicked inhabitants of Nineveh (the capital of Assyria) the message of repentance or they would be destroyed by fire (Jonah 1:1-2). But Jonah, instead of obeying God’s command, ran away to Tarshish, a city in southern Spain, which is more than 2,500 miles in the opposite direction from Nineveh. Jonah went Tarshish to escape from his duty, and to still the voice of his conscience.
As Jonah thought of the hardships and seeming impossibilities of this directive, he was tempted to question the wisdom of the call. From a human standpoint it seemed as if nothing could be accomplished by proclaiming repentance to that wicked city. He forgot for the moment that the Creator whom he worshiped was all-wise and all-powerful.
While he wavered, still skeptical, Satan overcame him with discouragement. The prophet was seized with a great fear, and he “rose up to flee unto Tarshish.” Going to Joppa, and finding there a ship ready to sail, “he paid the fare thereof and went down into it, to go with them” (Jonah 1: 3).
In the commission given him, Jonah had been assigned with a heavy responsibility; yet He who had bidden him go was able to help His servant and grant him victory. Had Jonah obeyed without a question, he would have been saved from a dreadful experience, and would have been blessed greatly. Yet, in the hour of Jonah’s hopelessness, the Lord did not leave him. Through a series of trials and unusual providences, the Jonah’s faith in God and in His infinite power to save was restored.
Not for long was Jonah allowed to go on uninterrupted in his mad escape. “The Lord sent out a great wind into the sea, and there was a mighty tempest in the sea, so that the ship was like to be broken” (Jonah 1: 4). As the story goes, Jonah told the people in the ship that he was the reason for the tempest and if they throw him into the sea the tempest will cease. And that is what happened (1:4-16).
But the Lord in mercy, “prepared a great fish to swallow Jonah. And Jonah was in the belly of the fish three days and three night” (v. 17). There, Jonah repented of his sin and said: “I cried out to the Lord because of my affliction, and He answered me” (Jonah 2:1). Then, the Lord commanded the fish to expel Jonah out. And Jonah was ready to resume his original God given mission.
God empowers His children to do His good will
If, when the command first came to Jonah, he had stopped to think rationally, he might have known how unwise would be any attempt on his part to escape the duty placed upon him. But like the rich young ruler, he refused to surrender his own will to the will of God (Matthew 19:21, 22). Jonah found God’s command too “hard” to bear, and so, he felt that in this situation, he would not walk with God (John 6:60, 66).
Jonah failed to realize that when God places a duty upon a person to be carried out according to His will, He empowers him with strength and grace to bear it. For with every divine commission, there comes the strength to fulfill it. Jonah made the mistake of not putting “first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness” (Matthew 6:33). And because he shunned the assignment he was charged to carry out, he placed himself in a position where, but for the divine intervening love, he might have lost his soul.
In His service,