“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.” (Jonah 1:3, ESV)
Jonah was called to go to Nineveh, but he gets in a boat to go to Tarshish. To understand this fully, you need to understand that Tarshish was west and Nineveh was east. He goes in the opposite direction he was supposed to go. What is more is that Tarshish was 2,500 miles in one direction. Nineveh was a mere 500 miles in the other direction. He chooses the more difficult journey. Furthermore, the Israelites were not sea-faring people. It would have been uncommon for them to have taken this trip by sea.
What we have is Jonah fleeing. But he doesn’t just flee; he flees in the most dramatic fashion possible. The text says he was not just avoiding the task of going to Nineveh, but he was seeking to escape the presence of the Lord. If such a thing were even possible, it would require an incredibly bold move. Consider this Psalm:
I can never escape from your Spirit!
I can never get away from your presence!
If I go up to heaven, you are there;
if I go down to the grave, you are there.
If I ride the wings of the morning,
if I dwell by the farthest oceans, even there your hand will guide me,
and your strength will support me.” (Psalm 139:7–10, NLT)
Jonah sets out to do the impossible. And God is not on his side. He is not going with God’s hand of guidance. He comes out from underneath God’s authority and exposes himself to whatever fate would befall him. It doesn’t take a genius to figure out that this will not go well. Something bad is going to happen.
I know there are times where I am resistant to what God wants. I would rather do what I want. So I avoid things that remind me that I am avoiding the tasks God has put before me. I busy myself with lesser pursuits (maybe trying to escape God’s presence or at least thoughts about God) to escape the larger and more important task. But it never goes well. When we are about doing what we would do, rather than what God would have us do, we go forward without God’s favor and God’s blessing. It is a fool’s errand.
We can be sure that when we follow God’s lead, we go with God. But when we go the other way, God is still present, but God is not going to prosper that way. We will see what happens tomorrow.
- How do you avoid God’s guidance and direction? How are you fleeing your calling?
- How do you know where God is leading?
Lorthe, I seek to follow you where you lead me. But too often I go in a different direction. I follow my lead rather than your lead. And I struggle. Give me a heart to go where you would have me go and do what you would have me do. Amen