But Jonah ran away from the Lord and headed to Tarshish. He went down to Joppa, where he found a ship bound for that port. After paying the fee, he went aboard and sailed for Tarshish to flee from the Lord. Jonah 1:2
When I first learned about Jonah and how he fled from the Lord, I assumed that he simply feared to do what God was asking of him. The Lord told Jonah to go to Nineveh, which was part of Assyria, to preach against its wickedness. Assyria was a brutal empire that would eventually invade Israel. I could not blame Jonah for not wanting to go and preach to them!
Now, there is a lesson in not being afraid of God’s plan for you, but fear was not really Jonah’s issue. Jonah’s heart was hardened against the Assyrians. He simply did not want them to experience God’s mercy because he felt they deserved to be destroyed. He chose to run away rather than offer them an opportunity to encounter God’s grace. In my Bible, Chapter 4 of the book of Jonah has the heading, “Jonah’s Anger at the Lord’s Compassion”. In fact, Jonah was so angry after Nineveh was spared that he suggested he might be better off dead:
But Jonah was greatly displeased and became angry. He prayed to the Lord, “O Lord, is this not what I said when I was still at home? That is why I was so quick to flee to Tarshish. I knew that you are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abounding in love, a God who relents from sending calamity. Now, O Lord, take away my life, for it is better for me to die than to live.” Jonah 4:1-3
You can imagine that he must have been holding on to a lot of anger or hate in his heart. When I meditate on this, I think of many things… Has my hardened heart ever prevented me from showing mercy? Has my hardened heart ever prevented me from following God’s will? Most of all, this puts me in awe of God’s mercy, that he would have such compassion for the enemies of Israel. This is this same compassion that he had for us when he sent his Son (1 John 4:10). The Lord loved us first and gave his Son to mankind in order to provide a path back to him. Jesus came to seek and to save the lost.
My prayer is that every day, we continue to focus on the love God has for us. So much so, that we cannot help but have this overflow from our hearts and pour into the world around us. I am so thankful for Redeemer and it brings me joy to pray for you. Please contact me, another elder, or one of our deacons with any prayer requests.
FROM THE ELDERS—Matt Baker