One day long ago, God's Word came to Jonah, Amittai's son: "Up on your feet and on your way to the big city of Nineveh! Preach to them. They're in a bad way and I can't ignore it any longer." But Jonah got up and went the other direction, running away from God. He went down to the port of Joppa and found a ship headed for Tarshish. He paid the fare and went on board, joining those going to Tarshish—as far away from God as he could get. Jonah 1:1-3 (MSG)
Here we have the account of the prophet of God doing the opposite of what God told him to do. It is peculiar in that it is the only example of this kind of behavior from the "capital P" Prophets of the Old Testament. It's interesting that the text says that Jonah wanted to get as far away from God as possible. It was like God said to him that he was on the move in Nineveh, and God wanted Jonah to go there and speak and Jonah said, with his feet, "No way, I do not want to go; I will go the opposite way to get away from going with you."
Was Jonah afraid the Ninevites would kill him? Or did Jonah fear that his preaching, with God in it, would cause these "bad" people to repent? Maybe in Jonah's mind they did not deserve a chance to repent. He was perhaps hoping that God would just send a natural disaster or raise up an invading army to take care of them.
We have the luxury of reading the whole book of Jonah and finding out what happens in the end, but at this point, Jonah had a decision to make about following God. He made the wrong decision. But, even when we make a wrong decision, it's not always the end of the story; because God's graciousness, goodness, mercy, and love are always greater than our stubborn, dumb, foolish disobedience.
God moved to call Jonah, and Jonah moved away from God. The drama here is, will God respond to Jonah's doing the opposite? Does God pursue those who run from him? Jonah said in a sense, "this assignment is too hard, too crazy, not fair, and doesn't make sense! So I quit! I'm going to get as far away from you and this job!"
Jonah really reacted strongly and impulsively. God's assignment for him really touched a nerve. This story illustrates that the people God chooses to use are not perfect; far from it. Mysteriously, God chooses to gloriously gift people who will break under that gifting. It doesn't make sense from our perspective. We want to train people and get them mature enough to handle the anointing and the responsibilities. When a person in ministry gets into trouble, we look and say things like they should not have been ministering on that scale because of their brokenness. But all through the Bible, God chooses to use people that have major issues. It offends us. We are vexed and perplexed.
Jonah was broken in that he could not, or would not, go with God to Nineveh. We're surprised, but God wasn't. God cares about Nineveh, but he also cares about Jonah and he's going to teach us something through his craziness. This guy is going to end up being someone that Jesus mentions. Neither Jonah nor Nineveh are the center of the story. God is the focus. What's God going to do? What will be revealed about God?
Jonah becomes a prodigal son, a wayward son. We can only imagine why, but he chooses to leave the Father's house. Unlike the boy in Jesus' story, Jonah just cuts and runs. He does what he feels he has to do. He wants to get away.
The good news is that we know it's not the end for Jonah. It won't be a happily ever after ending as he fades into obscurity. Because unlike fleeing a human or a place, he has fled God. God can go anywhere. God is not just among the people of God and God is not just in the assignments he has for them. God is everywhere.
You might feel disconnected from the people of God. You might be among people who do not seem religious or spiritual - "people God has forgot." But it's not true. God is aware of people everywhere; people who are religious and people who are not.
Jonah has completely gone the opposite way of God. He doesn't say he has ceased to believe, nor does he say anything negative about God. It's all about his issues. For whatever reason, he says, "No, I can't do that," and then he sort of shamefully runs to hide. Will God seek the hider? What will it take before Jonah decides to call out and ask God to help him? What needs to change in Jonah for him to get into alignment with God's heart?
If you or I have run from God, or away from where God spoke to us, we're in for a revelation that God still sees us and will pursue us. Even if we've gone off the rails of God's plan, God still has a plan, and He has a plan to get us back on His plan. It's not over because you messed up.