Devotional: Jonah 1:1-17
Have you ever wondered why God specifies that Jonah was the son of Amittai? I think it is to lend credibility to this man’s testimony, his story. He was a real person, from a specific family. In fact, this was not the first time Jonah son of Amittai is mentioned in Scripture. 2 Kings 14:25 records that he had prophesied that Jeroboam II would recover nearly all the territory that had been Israel’s under the kingship of Solomon. I also notice that “Amattai” means “veracious”. That is a big word that means “truthful, honest” and “accurate, true”. Jonah was the son of “truthful and accurate”, so you can believe his account.
The next thing that caught my attention is the word that is translated “came”, as in the word of God CAME to Jonah. This Hebrew word means “to become, occur, come to pass, be. Often this verb indicates more than simple existence or identity . . . Rather, the verb makes a strong statement about the being or presence of a person or thing.” This intrigued me as the first thing that happens after this word (“a matter spoken of”; also “task”) is presented to Jonah, the first thing he does is to try to separate himself from this Presence!
I also wondered, why Tarshish? Was Tarshish at that time such a place that Jonah figured it would be the last place that God’s Presence would be found? Or, maybe (it being a big sea port that sent out trading vessels), it was just a convenient direction to run—a “quick getaway” from the land where God dwelt with His people. According to one commentary, Jonah was from Gath-hepher, a town located on the border of the tribal areas of Naphtali and Zebulun. This means that if this was his starting point, he left the area of Galilee and ran southwest about the same distance as he should have gone northeast. The port that he ran to (Joppa) is near current-day Tel Aviv. From there, according to the commentaries I checked, he boarded a ship that was bound for a city (known then as Tarshish) in southern Spain. It was a Mediterranean seaport that was known for precious gems and stone and for its trading ships that were built to handle the open seas (“Tarshish” became an epithet in the Hebrew language for a “merchant vessel”). In all likelihood, this was a ship built for sea crossings, manned by very competent, skilled sailors. For them to (as we are told in verses 4 and 5) be afraid enough to start to throw overboard their cargo, this must have been quite a storm!
I also notice that Jonah manages to sleep through most of this event! I wonder how he could do this since he must have known that God would not be pleased with him for running out on his assigned task. In the Common English Version of the Bible, Psalm 139:7 says “Where could I go to get away from your spirit? Where could I go to escape your presence?” I wonder what he was thinking, perhaps he thought that nothing would happen to him because God still had a job for him to do—even though he was refusing to do it! In any case, his sleeping in the boat while everyone else on board is in a state of panic over the storm reminds me of Jesus sleeping in the boat during the storm on the Sea of Galilee (Mark 4:35-41; Matthew 8:23-27; Luke 8:22-25).
I find it somewhat amusing that in verse 9, Jonah claims to “worship the LORD, the God of heaven, who made the sea and the land.” The word used here (and translated worship) means “to be afraid, stand in awe, fear. Basically, this verb connotes the psychological reaction of ‘fear’. [It] may indicate being afraid of something or someone.” Yet, he still was being actively disobedient! Again, I wonder how he could sleep with all that hanging over his head.
I notice that God uses even our disobedience to bring about his plans. Not only would Jonah eventually get on with the task of going to Nineveh and confronting them with their sinfulness before God, but He uses the consequences of Jonah’s sin (the horrendous storm) to reach out to the sailors and cause them to stand in awe and fear of His power and authority, and to make some kind of vows to Him.
The fact that God desired to give the Ninevites a “final warning” before He brought judgement upon them reminds me that He doesn’t want any to perish (Matthew 18:14; 2 Peter 3:9), and that it was while I was an unworthy sinner, Christ died for me (Romans 5:8). How often do I take His grace and mercy for granted—or, worse yet, fail to extend it to others who are still chained by sin, maybe thinking that they are “lost causes” who would never repent or even deserve God’s forgiveness if they did!
Verse 17 might seem “hard to swallow”, “Now ADONAI prepared a great fish to swallow Jonah, and Jonah was in the belly of the fish three days and three nights.” While some people might think this is cause to relegate Jonah’s testimony to fiction, just in case there was still any doubt about the truth of what happened to Jonah, Jesus brings him up, equating the three days he spent in a fish’s belly to the three days that He Himself would spend in the grave (Matthew 12:39-41, 16:4 and Luke 11:29-30, 32).
Wrapping this chapter up, I think that we can draw at least two applications from it. First, when God gives us a task, He is not sending us to accomplish it alone. His Presence will be with us. Over and over in Scripture, He tells us “Don’t be afraid, I will be with you” (Genesis 26:24; Deuteronomy 31:6, 8; Joshua 1:9; Isaiah 41:10; Isaiah 43:2). Even if that task is to initially open our hearts to Him and receive His free gift of salvation, there is no point in trying to get away! There is literally no place where His Spirit will not go to rescue us from impending doom of His judgment of sin (Psalm 139:7-12). And that brings us to a second application: it is not for us to judge whom the LORD has chosen to call. Only God knows the heart, and only He knows who He has chosen, predestined according to His plan and purposes, to receive life through His Son. Our only job is to do what God has told us to do: make the contact and give the invitation. In this time of harvest, it seems that we don’t necessarily need to “go to Nineveh” to share the Gospel message. He is sending people to us right where we are. We just need to be willing to present the Good News to whomever He sends (even if they are high or intoxicated!).
Devotional reading to be shared on August 26th: Jonah 2:1-11