Chapter 1:1-3 (ESV) Now the word of the Lord came to Jonah the son of Amittai, saying, “Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and call out against it, for their evil has come up before me.” 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.
Question to think about: If the LORD was asking Jonah to deliver a message of judgment against the Ninevites (a sworn enemy of Israel), why would he choose to flee instead of giving the message of judgment?
Nineveh was the capital city of Syria. In Genesis chapter 10, we are informed that Nineveh was founded by the first “mighty man,” a hunter named Nimrod. Like many great nations, the Assyrians were known for some great inventions (for example the lock and key), but their military was also known for their cruelty. They were known for flaying the skin of their enemies and hanging them on their city walls or impaling enemy warriors on stakes in front of their cities.
At the time of Jonah, Israel was at war with Syria so even though he received word from the LORD that Israel would be victorious, he most likely either witnessed or heard of these types of atrocities and thus hated them intensely. So you’d think that he’d welcome the opportunity to bring a message of God’s judgment to Nineveh. However, when we look ahead to Jonah chapter 4, we read that Jonah was afraid that if they heard God’s proclamation of judgment and repented, God would show them mercy and relent from His judgment. So in order to avoid this situation, Jonah gets on a ship going the opposite direction.
It’s not likely he thought he could escape the grasp of the LORD, but maybe he could get far enough away to cause God to choose someone else to deliver the message.
Dear heavenly Father. Like Jonah, you have asked us to deliver the message of your judgment against sin and of the glorious news that they too can repent and receive your grace and mercy through the finished work of Jesus on the cross. Help us to be obedient in this and to treat our neighbor with a sacrificial love that desires for them to be reconciled to you. Amen.