The biblical story of Jonah is very well known, especially the part about his being swallowed by a whale. But one of the problems with feeling familiar with a story is that we can gloss over the details and miss the message God has for us today. So… for the next few weeks, I’ll be revisiting a study guide I wrote on this “children’s story” and diving into its lessons for us grown-ups. This week… “It Seemed Like a Good Idea at the Time.”
Jonah 1:3 (The Message)
But Jonah got up and went the other direction to Tarshish, 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.
This verse starts out so promising: “Jonah got up…” This is the same Hebrew verb used by God in verse 2: qum. It appears that Jonah is immediately obeying God’s command to get up and go.
Then, quickly, it all falls apart. Jonah does get up, but starts moving in the wrong direction. The verb barah used here means to “flee, run away, hurry away.” It refers to flight from an enemy.
A prophet of God, running away from God as if fleeing from an enemy! We have many examples in the Bible of prophets who were reluctant to accept God’s call, including heroes of the faith like Moses and Jeremiah. But while they questioned God’s choice, they also ultimately agreed to take up the call, trusting in God to give them the strength they needed.
If it’s true that “actions speak louder than words,” then Jonah’s actions aren’t just speaking — they’re yelling! He arrives in the port city of Joppa and finds a ship with space available. He has enough money on hand to pay for the passage. He boards the ship, and then, no doubt, relaxes.
When have you done the opposite of what you knew God wanted you to do?