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God calls particular people to particular places for particular purposes. In Jonah’s case, we find God calling him to Nineveh to preach against its sin. But when God called Jonah, he replied, “Here am I… send someone else. I’m on my way to Tarshish!”
What a contrast that response was to the call of the prophet Isaiah. When God asked, “Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?” Isaiah’s response was, “Here am I. Send me!”
Many Christians today are like Jonah. It may be that Nineveh for some of us is reconciliation. The Nineveh to which God calls others may be repentance. Still others may be called to the Nineveh of restitution.
A lot of us are on boats that are sailing for Tarshish while God is saying, “GO to Nineveh.” Where are you headed? There are really only two roads in the Christian life. One leads to Nineveh, the other to Tarshish. One road is the will of God; the other is disobedience to His will.
Somewhere there is a job for you that no one else can do quite the way you can do it. Each of us is indescribably valuable to God. Each of us has a special part in the body of Christ. No one is unimportant.
The word of the Lord came to Jonah son of Amittai: “God to the great city of Nineveh and preach against it, because its wickedness has come up before me” (Jonah 1:1-2).
The call of the Lord is personal. Jonah was a real person who lived in a real city just like you and me, and God called him for a special task. The Bible says, “The word of the Lord came to Jonah son of Amittal.” It was a personal call. It was “to Jonah.” God did not call Habakkuk nor Amos nor Obadiah, nor any of the other prophets to go to Nineveh.
This was not the word of man; it was the “word of the Lord.” Men do not call us; it is God who calls us. Jonah had a God who spoke to him.
I don’t know how God talked to Jonah. He did not have the word of God, the final complete written revelation, as we do today. Perhaps God spoke to him audibly, as He did to Abraham. Perhaps God spoke to him in a vision, as He did with Peter on the rooftop or with Ezekiel. Or maybe it was in a dream, as it was with Joseph. It may simply have been an impression on his heart. How He spoke to him is not important. What is important is that the word of the lord got through to a human being.
God still speaks to His servants today, and His call is just as personal.
We have a God who speaks to our hearts in a still, small voice. It is strange how it never occurs to some believers that the same God who spoke to the prophets in the past now speaks to us directly by the Holy Spirit through His word. Some people have no difficulty believing that God spoke to this man Jonah, but that God would speak to them is extremely difficult to believe.
Has the word of the Lord come to you this week? If not, you have not spent time with Him. God still speaks to us personally. The writer of Hebrews put it like this, “In the past God spoke to our forefathers through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days He has spoken to us by His Son, whom He appointed heir of all things, and through whom He made the universe” (Hebrews 1:1-2). What are we doing about the fact that God speaks to us personally? It is no wonder that later in Hebrews we read, “Today, if you hear His voice, do not harden your hearts” (Hebrews 3:7-8).
I remember a Friday evening all-night bus ride from Matamoros, Mexico, to Fort Worth, Texas. I was a college pre-law student but that night on that bus God spoke to me and called me into the ministry. I cannot explain it but I know He did it. It could not have been more real had He been seated beside me physically on that bus. God spoke to my heart and called me to preach and I’ve known from that moment that I could not find happiness in a court of law or in doing anything else. God still calls particular people to particular places for particular purposes — and not just preachers. He calls teachers and lawyers and business people and housewives and bank tellers and scientists, if we would but listen. David said that God makes known to us the path of life, and in His presence is fullness of joy (Psalm 16:11). And a good thing to remember is that God doesn’t call the equipped; He equips the called.
The Gold Coast of Florida, including the greater Fort Lauderdale-Miami area, has become one of the large metropolitan areas of the world, with more than 5.6 million people now residing in this beautiful tropical paradise. A lot of people come to that area to get lost in the teeming masses. It is easy to become nameless there. No one knows you. No one is watching you. But we need to remember that God knows us. God knows our names, addresses and telephone numbers He knows our backgrounds, our parents, and brothers and sisters. Even before we were formed in the womb, He said, “I knew you, before you were born I set you apart” (Jeremiah 1:5). The beautiful thing about life in Christ is that He gives a purpose and personhood. God calls us personally to Himself. It is a happy day in the life of any believer when he or she comes to realize that the Lord Jesus is interested in them personally: at school, on the ball field, at the office, in the home, at the grocery store, struggling with the finances, in good times and in bad times.
The call of the Lord is pointed. God said, “Go to Nineveh.” It was a clear call. It was pointed. It was urgent. God did not tell Jonah to go to Jerusalem or Shechem, or Joppa, or anywhere else. His call was to Nineveh, a city founded by Nimrod shortly after the confusion of tongues at the Tower of Babel.
Nineveh was a great city in what is modern-day Iraq. Its streets were 20 miles long and its walls 100 feet high. The walls around Nineveh were so wide that three chariots could be driven abreast across the top of them. Historians believe that the population exceeded hundreds of thousands; the Bible tells us that one 120,000 did not know their right hand from their left (perhaps a description of small children). It was a city of great wickedness and it was the capital of Assyria.
Why would God call Jonah to go to Nineveh, when Nineveh was a Gentile city, and God was working with the Jews? Surely Nineveh was not on Jonah’s preaching schedule. We don’t know why God picks certain places. For example, why were you born where you were born and not in another country or century? I was born in 1947 in Fort Worth, Texas. It would have made a profound difference in my life had I been born three years earlier in Hiroshima or Nagasaki.
Like other Israelites, Jonah believed that God blessed his people in two ways: first, by directly blessing Israel spiritually and temporally; and second, by sending adversities on their enemies. Thus, a famine in Nineveh would be considered a blessing to Israel. Things haven’t changed much, have they? Many of us feel as if someone’s victory is a defeat for ourselves. And some people even believe that someone else’s downfall in some way lifts them up. A call to go to Nineveh went against the grain of a Jewish prophet like Jonah. In fact, a comforting hope Israel held to was the hope that some day God would pour out wrath on Nineveh. Now, instead of that, God was calling Joan to go and preach to them the message of salvation. It seems that even in Old Testament times our Lord was giving us a glimpse of what He would one day say on a Galilean hillside: “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” (Matthew 5:44).
Those ancient Jews had it in their minds that God loved them and them alone. What a surprise Jonah must have felt when he received word from God to “go to the great city of Nineveh.” Had God commanded him to go to Jerusalem or Bethlehem or some other city, It might have been different. Bit Nineveh? A pagan city?
Before we are quick to point a finger of accusation, however, we must understand that in some ways we are no better than Jonah. We too can get to thinking that God loves us more than He does others. We live in America, a so-called Christian nation. We are the so-called “people of God.” When we read that God called Jonah to go to Nineveh, it ought to remind us of our commission to take the Gospel to the entire world. This pointed call smacks in the face of any exclusivism or cliquishness on our part. Can you sense its missionary spirit?
God loves Russians, Iranians, the Lebanese, the Syrians, the Israelis, the Palestinians. The Bible says, “For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son.”
God’s call is purposeful. God instructed Jonah to go to Nineveh and “preach against it, because its wickedness has come up before me.” The Lord is never vague in His call. Jonah was to cry out against the wickedness of Nineveh. What a task God assigned him. He would be one lonely voice in the midst of that city, calling its people to revival and repentance. Think about that. What could one man do?
The verbs in verse 2 are imperatives. They are commands. Go. Preach. God’s calling is not merely one of several options if we intend to be in His will. Some people hear the call of God to a particular place for a particular purpose and they think, “Well, I’ll decide about that later.” WE all need to be reminded that God’s calling is always in the imperative. Jonah was not to be concerned with success. He is simply to obey the call. Jonah was not to go and preach philosophy. He was not to go and speak religious platitudes. He was not to go and address social issues. He was not to go and set up a blood bank and begin a clothing ministry. He was to “preach against their sin.” Surely God is calling more people to this task today than are evidently on the scene. The 21st century business to Tarshish must be booming in the church of the Lord Jesus Christ. Where are the prophets who as Joel said, “weep between the temple porch and the altar” (Joel 2:17) over the sins of the people?
Thank God for those in our own nation who are standing against the humanistic philosophy that has subtly infiltrated our culture. This cancer is especially preying on young minds in the public schools. It is no wonder the humanists are so determined in their effort to keep prayer out of public schools. They want no acknowledgment of God, so there will be no sense of sin, which is the breaking of His commandments.
Today four men are ruling America from their graves. Charles Darwin tells us that sin is just a hangover from our animalistic background. John Dewey, the leading promoter of pragmatism, tells us that human beings can be educated out of what drags them down. He says that sin is not our problem; a lack of education is. Sigmund Freud tells us that the concept of sin is what is wrong with people in the first place. Karl Marx tells us that man’s problem is basically economic; put him in the right economic state and he will prosper. Those four philosphies are ruling America. But where are those standing between the porch and the altar, crying out against the wickedness of our day?
Whatever became of sin? Man’s problem is not fundamentally biological, nor educational, nor psychological nor economical. Man’s problem is sin, rebellion
To cry out against the wickedness of our day is not easy. Why? Mainly because we cannot cry out against the sins of others with sin in our own hearts and lives. Could this be the reason so few Christians are really standing against the tide of sin today? It is difficult to speak out against pornography if you yourself subscribe to certain magazines, surf to certain websites or read illicit literature in airports when no one is looking. It is difficult to cry out against prostitutions if you personally think nothing of having extramarital affairs. It is difficult to speak out against marijuana if you smoke cigars and cigarettes. It is a difficult thing to speak out against dope if you are social drinker .It is difficult to speak out against X-rated movie enterprises if you are glued to television soap operas with all their adultery and fornication. In such an environment, is it any wonder that many of God’s people are enroute to Tarshish today? God calls us to a purpose, and that purpose is to cry out against the wickedness around us.
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).
Jonah’s fall from the Lord was calculated. What an honor had come to him. God chose him to go to Nineveh with the message of revival. Jonah must have been the most humbled and challenged man in all the land.
Jonah 1:3 begins with two words that may be the saddest words in the whole book, “But Jonah.” Instead of being thankful, Jonah fled from God’s will. He was not different from us. So many of us have doubted God’s word. Remember, Jonah was a prophet called of God. He knew the Lord, and knew that the Lord had called him. I dare say there are those reading these words who know the Lord, who have been called by the Lord, and perhaps like Jonah have fled from the will of God. Perhaps you are a young man whom God is calling into the ministry, but you are enroute to Tarshish. Perhaps you are a young woman living in sin, knowing that her Nineveh is repentance.
The Bible tells us that he went down to Joppa. He found a ship. He bought a ticket. This was no passing whim. This was a calculated decision.
When we fall from the Lord, it is always calculated. We make plans to do wrong and we follow them through. Tarshish was the farthest known city of that day. It is believed to have been in Spain, over 2,000 miles from Joppa. When people leave God, they always go as far away as they can. Remember the story Jesus told of the prodigal son who went to the “far country” when he left the will of his father. Tarshish was a far west as one could go. Nineveh was to the east.
A lot of us have a Tarshish out there somewhere. It’s that place where we think we can minister as effectively as we could in Nineveh. But remember, when we go to Tarshish and God has called us to Nineveh, we go without his blessing.
When we really think about it, this is incredible. Here was God’s man. Why would he run away from life? Perhaps it was because of fear of the unknown. Think about it. What if God called you to go to Tehran, Iran today? The people are so different. The culture is so opposite from ours and so antagonistic toward us. A lot of us might be running to Tarshish because of the unknown.
Perhaps Jonah went to Tarshish because he was afraid he would become unpopular. I suppose a lot of people are running away from the will of God for fear of being unpopular. It could have been that he left God’s will because he was unconcerned. It might be that he was just not concerned that Nineveh come to repentance. After all, he held some animosity toward them. He knew all about the people of Nineveh and had witnessed their cruelty and brutality. They were known for their savagery. They burned children alive and tortured adults by skinning them and leaving them to die in the scorching sun. Is it any wonder he went to Tarshish?
It is not unusual for modern day Jonahs to want to run from difficult things. A lot of people are on the run today simply because they don’t want to face difficult tasks. It is easier to get a divorce than it is to go to Nineveh and be in the will of God. So many think the route to Tarshish is so much easier… until they are on board ship.
The real reason Jonah fled is found in the first verses of chapter 4 of the book: “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? This 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’” (Jonah 4:1-2). Jonah could not believe that God would shower His grace on the Gentiles, especially those who had been so ruthless with the Jews. Jonah wanted no part of that. We see a lot of the same spirit in the prodigal’s brother who “became angry and refused to go in” when his wayward brother returned (Luke 15:28).
So Jonah ran from the presence of the Lord. Jonah’s fall was a calculated fall. He knew where he was going, and he was going his own way. “He was running away from the Lord” (1:10). When we are on the run, we forget the truths of Scripture. Probably Jonah had read a thousand times the words of the psalmist:
Where can I go from your Spirit?
Where can I flee from your presence?
If I go up to the heavens, you are there;
if I make my bed in the depths, you are there.
If I rise on the wings of the dawn,
if I settled on the far side of the sea,
even there your hand will guide me,
your right hand will hold me fast. (Psalm 139:7-10).
Jonah thought he could flee from the presence of the Lord. He knew better, but his sin had blinded him to the truth of Scripture. This happens to people when they are on the run from the will of God. They find themselves doing things they know better than to do. We forget what we know when we are on the run from God.
Jonah wasn’t the first nor the last person in the Bible who tried to flee from the presence of the Lord. Adam and Eve tried to flee from God’s presence. Like Jonah, they disobeyed, and God came to mend the broken relationship. But the first thing they did was try to hide. “The man and his wife heard the sound of the Lord God as he was walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and they hid from the Lord God among the trees of the garden” (Genesis 3:8).It was the same with Cain after he killed his brother Abel. He deliberately rebelled and after he killed his brother Abel. He deliberately rebelled and the Bible says, “So Cain went out from the Lord’s presence and lived in the land of Nod, east of Eden” (Genesis 4:16). On and on we could go throughout the Bible. And it is the same with so many people today. In our rebellion, we think we can hide from the Lord — but we can’t.
Don’t be so foolish as to think you can flee from God’s presence. God said, “Can anyone hide in secret places so that I cannot see him? … Do not I fill heaven and earth?” (Jeremiah 23:24). We cannot run away from God. It is a tragic mistake to think we can.
It is interesting that the Bible says he “found a ship.” He was looking for it. It is a dangerous thing to try to justify our rebellion simply because things seem to fall in place. Some people think that just because they “find a ship” it must be all right. Someone leaves God for a life of sin and says it must be right, look how everything is turning out. You too may find your ship, and it may sail right on time, but if you are enroute to Tarshish when God has called you to Nineveh, a storm is brewing and sooner or later you are going overboard.
It is amazing how skilled the devil is in his manipulative powers. For example, a woman leaves her husband because she found a ship to Tarshish. Oh, there was someone else who was always there and was so kind and understanding. A man gets himself into legal trouble because he found a ship for Tarshish. He was in a financial bind and thought “just this once.” A young Christian woman marries an unsaved man because she found a ship for Tarshish. “Oh, he’ll get saved after the wedding,” is her wishful thought. The truth is, any time we want to run away from the will of God, one thing is certain. We will find a ship to Tarshish, and the devil will make sure that it is sailing right on time. Satan always sees that transportation is provided for those who are running from the will of God.
Jonah’s fall from the lord was continuous. Note his ongoing downward digression. He went down to Joppa. He went down into the ship. He went down into the sea. He went down into the fish’s belly. He went down into the deep. Here is a vivid picture of a life fleeing from God. It is characterized in the King James Version by these words: down, down, down. There is something eerie about the sound of these words in verses 3 and 5. It is as though an ominous dark storm cloud was gathering and you can see it coming. Then it unloads thunder, lightning and pelting rain.
Once we step on the pathway of disobedience, the road keeps spiraling downward. David started going down when he watched Bathsheba bathing. He went down farther when he called for her. He went down farther into adultery. He went down farther when he had her husband Uriah killed. He went down farther when he tried to cover over his sin. He kept going down, down, down, until he repented.
Falling from God’s will brings on the feeling that we cannot stop. I remember learning how to snow ski in the Santa Fe ski basin in New Mexico. On the first day of my first attempt, a friend and I got on the wrong ski lift and went to the top of the mountain instead of to the beginners’ slope. The farther down we went, the steeper it got and the faster we went and we couldn’t stop until we crashed. This is the way it is in leaving the will of God. When we fall from His will it is not only a calculated fall, but a continuous fall until we crash.
If we could only learn this simple lesson: No one ever goes up while living in rebellion against God. A lot of people today are fooling themselves. A fall is just what it says it is. People never fall up; they fall down. There is no standing still on the way to Tarshish.
Jonah’s fall from the Lord was costly. The Bible says that Jonah paid the fare. We pay our own way when we flee from the Lord. Galatians 6:7 says, “Do not be deceived; God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows.”
The rest of Jonah’s story shows us the trip was more expensive than he ever imagined. That is the way it is with sin. The Bible says, “The wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23). Have you considered the cost of fleeing from the will of the Lord?
I have seen so many who are paying the fare of a life of rebellion against the will of God. I know men who left their families and the will of the Lord and are paying the fare. I know some who are hooked on narcotics and are paying the fare. I visited with a man in prison not long ago who left the will of the Lord and is paying the fare. I see it in the faces of men on the streets of our city who are paying the fare. Yes, the way of the transgressor is hard. The prodigal son out in the far country feeding the swine was paying the fare.
When we fall from God’s will it is costly. Ask the woman who married the unsaved man; he was lying when he said he would never leave nor forsake her. Ask the man whom God called into the ministry who instead went to Tarshish. Ask the prostitute at the corner who is 40 and looks 60. Ask some of the street people who line up at the clothing ministry. Each one is some mother’s son; some of them are somebody’s daddy. They are the shadows of the men they might have been. Ask the teenage runaway girls on the Fort Lauderdale strip. I see people paying the price of running from God every day of every week. I see it in the faces of men, women and young people. I see it in the guilt-ridden faces of singles who think that everybody else is doing it.
The most expensive thing a person does is run away from God. It costs some people their jobs, others their families, some their reputations, others joy and peace.
The fall from God’s will is a calculated fall, a continuous fall and a costly fall, until we repent and turn to him. When we return to him we hear his clear voice still calling us personally, pointedly and purposefully.
How wonderful it is to know that Jesus paid our fare for us on Calvary. There He took our sin that we might take his righteousness. He died our death that we might live His life. Yes, “Jesus paid it all, all to Him I owe; sin had left a crimson stain, He washed it white as snow.”
God still calls people today. However, when God called Jonah he answered, “Here I am… send someone else!” Let’s be honest. There is a bit of Jonah in all of us. Many of us have heard God’s call and have gone the other way, only to find that the fall has been continuous and costly. God still speaks to us today. Despite our rebellion, He stays after us as He did Jonah.
Let none hear you idly saying
There is nothing I can do.
While the souls of men are dying
And the Master calls for You.
Take the task He gives you gladly
Let His quick work your pleasure be;
Answer quickly while He calleth
“Here am I, send me, send me.”