“But Jonah ran away from the Lord and headed for Tarshish. He went down to Joppa, where he found a ship bound for that port. After paying the fare, he went aboard and sailed for Tarshish to flee from the Lord.”
– Jonah 1:3
Yesterday, we looked at the harsh reality of the place God called Jonah to go, and we affirmed that he had a very natural reason to be afraid! After all, he was a lone Jewish man being told to speak doom and gloom to the most brutal and mighty empire in the world. Today, I want highlight the Lord’s mercy to the prophet as he made the decision to flee.
Absolutely positive that he would not survive God’s directive to go to Nineveh, Jonah paid a fare and got on a boat to Tarshish, which was about as far as he could possibly go in the opposite direction. In fact, Tarshish was in the modern-day country of Spain — about 2,500 miles away! Breathing a sigh of relief once on board, he was about ready to put his feet up and settle into his cabin when a violent storm came out of nowhere and threatened the lives of everyone on the vessel. As the passengers were freaking out, the crew cast lots to determine who was to blame for their situation and somehow the burden pointed to Jonah. When they approached him, he confessed that he was running from God and he told them to throw him overboard and things would be better. Following his directions, they tossed him from the ship and immediately, a huge sea creature came and swallowed him up. Now, we really don’t know what this great fish was; it could have been a whale or it could have been some unidentified aquatic life form (since there are 700,000 creatures detectable on sonar in the deep that still haven’t been identified). Whatever it was, Jonah enjoyed deluxe accommodations in his belly for three days and made his peace with the Lord there. After he prayed a prayer of repentance, the fish vomited Jonah up on the shore of an unknown land. Though it might have looked more merciful to allow him to finish the journey to Tarshish, it ended up being just the opposite. The Lord showed favor to his servant by taking him straight to Nineveh!
Friend, God’s mercy was to bring Jonah right to the scary thing He had called him to do! Had he made it to Tarshish, though his life wouldn’t have been in immediate danger, he might have spent the rest of his days fearing the Lord’s judgement or facing regret over what he hadn’t done. In the same way, when you flee from the uncertain or scary things Jesus calls you to, there is a negative impact in other areas. As you run away from God and towards the Tarshish in your life, whether it’s an addiction, compulsive behavior, or unhealthy action, your world shrinks and your escape only gives way to deeper anxiety. Thankfully, the Lord will never give up on you, and when you pray, He will always bring you back to the point of your departure! His goodness and mercy won’t allow you to keep heading in the wrong direction because He always wants the best for you!
Jesus, thank you for the blessing of trouble on the road to Tarshish. May I always yield to you when you bring me back to the place where I can face my fears head-on.
What or where is your Tarshish (the place you run to when you want to escape)? Have you ever encountered trouble on the way to it? What does the story of Jonah teach you about the source of that trouble?