Photo by dierregi on Morgue File.
Yesterday (Sunday), my family had the opportunity of going back to our former home church. I wrote about the place we once lived in the previous post.
We were there for the commissioning service of a couple who are friends of ours. They have been called by God to go to Brazil as missionaries. Their commissioning service was last night and it was a joy for us to be there for that moment. My wife actually sang as part of the service. It is funny, no one ever asks me to sing!
We also attended the morning service. Our former pastor preached from Jonah 1. He is a gifted communicator and always delivers insightful, thoughtful and exegetically sound sermons.
As an Old Testament (OT) guy (see my About page) I am well familiar with the book of Jonah. In fact, in my Hebrew Exegesis course in seminary, I had to translate the first chapter from the original Hebrew and comment on certain syntactical features of the passage.
Jonah is an interesting character on many levels. He was a prophet of YHWH, but a disobedient one. God calls him to go preach at Nineveh and he instead heads in the opposite direction! Ever been there before? I have, sadly, too many times to count.
The book opens with a common refrain in the prophetical books, Now the word of YHWH came to Jonah . . . (v.1). That is to say, God has an assignment for his prophet to carry out. He gives him the command, Arise, go to Nineveh . . . (v.2a). The next verse is striking in its contrast, But Jonah rose to flee to Tarshish . . . (v.3a). Jonah arose alright, but not to go to Nineveh!
The but that begins the verse contrasts the call of God on the one hand and the disobedience by Jonah on the other. It is a contrastive conjunction. It alerts the reader that Jonah is heading off the grid!
In fact, the next phrase is a pivotal part of the pericope: But Jonah arose to flee to Tarshish from the presence of YHWH (v.3a, emphasis mine). It is repeated again, . . . to go with them to Tarshish, away from the presence of YHWH (v.3de, emphasis mine). We see the idea again a few verses down: For the men knew that he [i.e. Jonah] was fleeing from the presence of YHWH, because he had told them (v.10c, emphasis mine).
Three times then in the course of the seventeen verses in chapter one, we are told that Jonah was attempting to flee from the presence of YHWH. I’m sure the writer was chuckling to himself when he penned Jonah’s motive. Why? God is omni-present! Where could Jonah flee to be away from him? The psalmist makes it plain in Ps. 139: no where!
As I thought of this, I pictured the game that my young daughters sometimes play with me. It is a variation of the game hide-and-seek or peek-a-boo maybe. Except, instead of actually hiding (i.e. out of my view) they simply crouch or kneel down and cover their eyes with their hands. Then they will say something like, You can’t see me! Now, of course, I can see them! They are literally right there in front of me!
Just because they can’t see me, because their hands are covering their eyes, doesn’t mean I can’t see them. It is like when you were a child and you were in bed and heard a bump in the night, what did you do? Probably put your head under the covers! You thought, if I can’t see it then it can’t see me!
That is really the game, so to speak, that Jonah is playing here. He really believes he can actually flee from the presence of the One who is omni-present?!
It is as if Jonah says, at the port, Okay God you can’t see me now! And God looks at Jonah and says, Uh, yea Jonah, I can still see you! Then Jonah hops on the boat with a one-way ticket to Tarshish and says, Okay God, you can’t see me now! And God replies, Yea Jonah, I can still see you! So then, Jonah goes down to the hull of the ship and confidently exclaims, Okay God, you can’t see me now! And God, shakes his head, saying, Yes Jonah, I still can see you!
What Jonah was attempting to do was unfathomable, impossible. No matter how hard he tried, he could not escape omni-presence!
God could have said to Jonah, Jonah, it doesn’t matter if you flee all the way to Pluto, I will still be there. To which Jonah would have replied, Where is Pluto?! And God would have answered, Way past Tarshish!
God will prove his omni-presence to Jonah (and in due time Jonah will be thankful for it) when God sends the great fish to swallow him up and take him down into the abyss for a little R&R; or, as the pastor said yesterday, a time-out!
Guess what Jonah, there in the belly of that great fish, how ever many feet below sea-level, God says, I still see you Jonah! When Jonah cries out to God in prayer in chapter two, there in the belly of the great fish, he was thankful for God’s omni-presence!
God could have caused the storm to kill Jonah. He could have even caused the storm to kill the sailors. But, in his mercy he did not. We talked about the conjunction but earlier. We see it back in verse four, But YHWH hurled a great wind upon the sea . . . (v.4a)! God was right there the whole time!
Sometimes I find myself on the lam from God. I am running as fast as I can in disobedience and stubbornness. Maybe you have been there too. Maybe you are there now. The only proper thing to do is stop, repent and obey.
Other times, even when I am seeking him, I may feel he is far from me. The psalmist experienced that more than once. During these times, perhaps you are there now, we should seek and pray and trust in him. We know Christ has promised he will never leave or forsake us. Even when God may feel as though he is somewhere around the orbiting sphere formally known as the planet Pluto, he is still, very much right there.
Thank God that he is with you at all times. Remember that. Let it influence the way you live, the words you say, the thoughts you think and the way you treat others. Be thankful for God’s grace that he extends toward us even more than I realize.
And, if God calls you to go to Nineveh, save yourself the trouble and go!