Assyria was hated so much…this is what a prophet named Nahum said about Nineveh:
“What sorrow awaits Nineveh, the city of murder and lies! She is crammed with wealth and is never without victims. Hear the crack of whips, the rumble of wheels! Horses’ hooves pound, and chariots clatter wildly. See the flashing swords and glittering spears as the charioteers charge past! There are countless casualties, heaps of bodies—so many bodies that people stumble over them… [then he prophecies about its fall] -- There is no healing for your wound; your injury is fatal. All who hear of your destruction will clap their hands for joy. Where can anyone be found who has not suffered from your continual cruelty?” (Nahum 3:1-3, 19; NLT)
Nineveh is so hated. Not just for their cruelty, but for their continual cruelty. When it is destroyed Nahum says, people are going clap; they are going to stand up and clap. Nahum said very, very strong condemning words about Nineveh – but he was in Israel. He was a long ways away from Nineveh. It’s easy to taunt from a distance.
Then the Word of the Lord comes to Jonah, “Go to Nineveh.” Learn to speak Assyrian and tell them face to face that they’re facing judgment.
“The Word of the Lord came to Jonah, ‘Go to Nineveh.’“
How did the Word come? Was it a burning bush? Was it a still small voice? Was it an angel? Was it a vision? Was it a dream? Was there room for doubt? The Bible doesn’t say. Did people around Jonah know? Was there a Mrs. Jonah? Did Jonah go home and have her ask, “How was work today?” And tell her, “Well I’m supposed to go to Assyria and condemn them face to face,” and have her say, “You’ve got to be crazy.” The Bible doesn’t say. It just says the Word of the Lord came to Jonah, “Go to Nineveh.”
HIDING AND GETTING CAUGHT:
One of the things about disobedience, one of the things about sin is, it requires the illusion that I won’t get caught. A football player kind of struggling in his class work, and he’s sitting across from the smartest kid in class. The professor says that he must have cheated on a test, sitting across from this real smart kid. The professor says to them, “You both got the exact same score on the test, you just got one question wrong.” Football player says, “Well, that could have been a coincidence.” Prof said, “Yeah, but you both got the same question wrong.” Football player said, “Ah, well, that could have been a coincidence.” Prof said, “But the best student’s paper said, ‘I don’t know the answer to this question, ‘ and your paper said, ‘I don’t know the answer either.’”
FINANCIAL RESOURCES MAKE IT EASIER TO HIDE FROM GOD
Jonah goes down to Joppa, which is the port city, where he found a ship bound for Tarshish. After paying the fare, he went aboard and sailed for Tarshish to run from the Lord. A little detail that we would skip over nowadays -- the text says Jonah paid the fare. This is actually a big deal. In the ancient world, money was still relatively new. It had been a barter economy, and money was tremendously scarce among the people of Israel. Hardly anybody would be able to do what Jonah did. Jonah had money enough to buy passage for a long voyage, out of his pocket. He had mobility, he had options. The dangerous thing about having money is that it makes it easier to think you can run away from God because you have options.
“A SHIP OF TARSHISH”
That that phrase “a ship of Tarshish” became a symbol of wealth in the ancient world:
“The LORD Almighty has a day in store for all the proud and lofty, for all that is exalted (and they will be humbled)… for every ship of Tarshish and every stately vessel. The arrogance of man will be brought low and the pride of men humbled…” (Isaiah 2:12-17; NIV)
“The ships of Tarshish serve as carriers for your wares. You are filled with heavy cargo in the heart of the sea. Your oarsmen take you out to the high seas. But the east wind will break you to pieces in the heart of the sea.” (Ezekiel 27:25-26; NIV)
The ship of Tarshish: these were real, they were literal, but they also became symbols of wealth and self-sufficiency and power and greed.
“GOD” VS. “LORD”
“…What have you done? (he had already told them he was running away from the Lord.)”
The parenthesis is real significant, something very deep, very scary, very wonderful is happening here, and to understand this, you have to understand something about the words that are used for God in the Old Testament. There are three Hebrew words for “God”:
ELOHIM -- The generic Hebrew term for god. The most common word for “God”. It is used for the God of Israel, or for gods, for travel gods.
ADONAI – Literally “Lord” or master. It could be used in human relationships also -- master or slave. It was often used even in marriage relationships way back in those days. We’re told in the Bible that Sarah called Abraham “my lord.”
Y-H-W-H. -- These four letters. Nobody knows how this is pronounced. In Hebrew, you don’t get vowels. You have to try to supply the vowels in the text. This word was regarded as sacred by Israel because this is not some kind of a general title. This is a name. This is what God revealed to Moses on Mt. Sinai, in that most sacred place. When God said, “This is my name, I am who I am.” Or “I will be who I will be.”
In those days it is such an intimate thing to give someone your name. People can misuse your name if they want to. It was regarded as so precious to Israel that to this day, in synagogues, they will not pronounce this word because they don’t want to treat it with irreverence. They love this name so much that when the text is being read in Synagogues, to this day, when the reader comes to this word, this is the word that will be pronounced: Adonai.
Jehovah comes from taking the vowels from Adonai and inserting them into here, Ya-Ho-Vah, To this day, nobody knows how this word is pronounced. It was regarded as such a sacred thing to Israel. In your English Bibles, it will often be translated by the word, “Lord”, only you will see it in all capital letters. L-O-R-D. When the word Adonai is in the text it will get translated with lower case letters, “Lord” When you come across this in the English text LORD, it means this was the name of God, YHWH, that sacred name that is still not pronounced.
Back to the story. The sailors had been praying to a bunch of tribal gods. Each to their own Elohim. Then they asked Jonah, “What’s going on?” Jonah says, “There is a God, there is one God, He is the God of Abraham and Sarah. He is the God of Moses and Miriam. He is the God who wants to be known by people. He is the God who created the seas and the lands.” That’s language that all Gentiles would know.
Now this is the reason for the parenthesis in the text. -- The sailors already knew that Jonah was running away from his god, they figured that’s just the tribal god of Israel. Assyrians have their god, Tarshish has their god, Israel has their god or their gods. They figured, he’s just running away from his own god. Then they see this storm, and then Jonah says, “There is the God. He’s the one that sent this storm, far away from Israel. He is real, and He reigns over Heaven and Earth, and He has a name, and He wants to be known.”
JONAH THE ACCIDENTAL EVANGELIST
They “fear with a great fear.” They come to know Jonah’s god, on this ship of Tarshish in the middle of a storm, something remarkable is happening. Here is something else amazing about the irony of this story. If Jonah had come to them in pride, as a successful prophet, and said, “Men of Tarshish, I want you to know, my God is bigger than your god, my God is better than your god. He’s the supreme being,” they would have dismissed him because it would have felt like it was just about ethnic tribal superiority.
Instead, Jonah comes to them not saying anything about God. He doesn’t even want them to know that he knows God. He waited until he had to, to talk about God, and one of the reasons that they are going to believe Jonah is that he comes to them as a screw up, as a bone-head, as a mistake. He had been a prophet all these years. This will be the greatest mass gentile conversion he has ever seen, and it is Jonah’s failure that God uses to bring these people to faith.
Whatever else this book is, it is not a story about a strategic planning. The Bible is not a story about human planning.