Not Me, Lord, and Definitely Not Them

Scripture: Jonah 1:1-4

Guest speaker: Dick Hoisington

As we just heard, Jonah heard the word of the Lord, and he was asked to go to Nineveh to preach the word of God to the Ninevites. Instead, he went to Joppa and got on a ship to Tarshish.

I’m just going to give you a little bit of geography about the area. Jonah was born in Gath-Hepher, which is about sixty miles north of Jerusalem, straight north. I’m assuming, because the Scripture doesn’t really tell us, but I’m assuming he was in Gath-Hepher when he heard the word of the Lord telling him to go to Nineveh.

Joppa is about fifty miles southwest of Gath-Hepher. So he had to go quite a distance to get down there to Joppa, to get on a ship to Tarshish. Nineveh is in the opposite direction, to the northeast, in what in current day would be northern Iraq. It’s clear that he had no desire to go to Nineveh.

The other thing about Nineveh is that it’s about five hundred miles away. To put that in our current geography, it would be like if we got word from the Lord today to go to Detroit, Michigan, and we had to walk there, or take a camel or caravan somehow to get there. It wouldn’t be a very appealing thing to do. But that kind of gives you an idea of the geography involved with some of the decisions that made early on.

I’m going to pose this question early on, and I’m not going to ask for a show of hands or anything, but I’m going to ask this question. What would you have done if you were in Jonah’s shoes? Just given that little bit of information that I just gave you. We have the geography that was involved. We have the travel time that was involved. He chose to go fifty miles southwest instead of five hundred miles northeast. What would you have done?

But before you answer, I want to give you a little more history and a little bit more information about Nineveh. That’s where God was asking Jonah to go. If you go to Jonah 3:8, you’ll see that Jonah himself describes Nineveh. He says “let them give up their evil ways and their violence.”

They were a tremendously violent culture. They would go out and try to capture different areas in the Middle East. In fact, shortly after that they went to Damascus and captured Damascus. They would bring all the people back into Assyria – that’s where Nineveh was located at the time.

They would bring them back into Assyria. They would either punish them or be violent to them or have them be slaves of one sort or another. We can read a little bit more about Nineveh if we go to the book of Nahum. (The book of Nahum is the book right after Micah which is after Jonah.)

In Nahum, the prophet Nahum talks about the fact that the Ninevites plotting against the Lord, they were promoting prostitution, they were promoting witchcraft, and they were involved in what I’ll call commercial exploitation, which is slavery of all different sorts, some of it related to witchcraft, some of it related to prostitution, some of it related just to being violent in general.

So they were known as a very warlike people. And Gath-Hepher, I should have mentioned, was in the northern kingdom of Israel. As the liturgist mentioned, Assyria was destined to take over these northern kingdoms, Israel and Syria, at some point in the future, a hundred years down the road.

Actually, Nahum lived about one hundred years after Jonah did, so these things that he’s telling us, about Assyria and about Nineveh, are talking about a hundred years in the future, relative to Jonah. You know a country can change a lot in a hundred years. You’ve seen the way this country has changed in a hundred years.

But the fact is, Jonah knew that Assyria, and Nineveh in particular, was going all around capturing people and bringing them back and doing these evil things.

Now, what do you think about that first question? How would you have answered God? Would you have gone to Joppa and got on ship to Tarshish? Or would you have gone to Nineveh? You still don’t have to answer.

Do you have an idea why Jonah headed for Tarshish now? He hated Nineveh’s evil and violent ways. We already saw that written in Jonah. And he knew that God would have compassion on them if they repented. We also heard that in what the liturgist read. We heard that Jonah knew that God was going to have compassion if they relented, if they repented.

Nineveh was pagan and evil, as evil as they come. Nineveh was first built by Nimrod, known as the great city. Jonah’s ministry happened during the years of 800 to 750 BC, roughly, and Nahum’s happened about a century later. Actually, Sennacherib, who was one of the leaders in Assyria, made Nineveh the capital of Assyria at around 720 to 700 BC.

So in the opening verses of the book of Jonah, we find Jonah running away from God. I run away from God. How about you? Are you running away from God and disobeying Him now? Or another way to think about it: is there someone that God is asking you to tell about Him, about the good news of Jesus, about His grace and mercy and the free gift of salvation?

Or another way of asking the question: how are you disobeying God? There are different ways that we all disobey God. What ways do we sometimes obey God, given a situation like what we have with Jonah, where God asks us or prompts us to tell a family member about His goodness?

We might get a blessing out of that, because it might bring our child or our grandparent, bring our father, or some close friend or relative to know the Lord. We might get a blessing because that person becomes a blessing to us, knowing that we have influenced them to accept the Lord as personal Lord and Savior.

If we’re going to get a blessing, we might be happy to do what God asks us to do. But what happens if we don’t feel like we’re going to get a blessing from God? I think that is probably what was going through Jonah’s mind.

He was not going to get a blessing. He didn’t think he was going to get a blessing for Israel, and he didn’t think he was going to get a personal blessing. He might go there and become a slave to this violent people.

“So the word of the Lord came to Jonah, son of Amittai. ‘Go to the great city of Nineveh and preach against it, because its wickedness has come up before me.’” But Jonah ran away from the Lord and headed to Tarshish.

One thing that we don’t recognize, don’t realize, we can learn about Jonah, son of Amittai, in 2 Kings. In 2 Kings, we learn that Jonah, son of Amittai, jumped at the chance to obey God. Jonah prophesied the message that Jeroboam II, the son of Jehoash, would reclaim most of the northern kingdom of Israel.

They had a once had Damascus, and then Assyria came and conquered Damascus, destroyed Damascus and took all the people, or most of the people, back to Assyria, as I mentioned earlier. So Jonah was happy that Israel, the northern kingdom of Israel, in particular Jeroboam II, was going to reunite that northern kingdom, that had been part of David and Solomon’s original kingdom.

Jonah obeyed God when he wanted to, when he was going to get a blessing out of it. You probably know the rest of the story, but I’m going to recap it for you here.

In chapter 1, Jonah is thrown overboard, and the seas grow calm, and a great fish swallows him. In chapter 2, Jonah prays to God from inside the fish. Jonah gives thanks to God for sparing his life, and then the fish vomits Jonah onto dry land.

In chapter 3 – this is greatly simplifying, I apologize – God gives Jonah a second chance, and Jonah goes to Nineveh to preach. Many Ninevites repent, and God shows compassion and mercy to the city. In chapter 4, Jonah becomes angry with God, God rebukes Jonah for wishing wrath on Israel’s enemies.

That’s what was going on throughout the book of Jonah. A little bit of an aside here: some might think that the book of Jonah is mostly an allegory or fiction. But Jesus referred to that story as if it was a historical event, when he answered a question from the Pharisees and the teachers of the law.

This is in Matthew 12:39. (You will not see that in your Call to Worship.) In the midst of numerous miracles performed by Jesus, some people were still seeking a special sign. Jesus replied:

A wicked and adulterous generation asks for a miraculous sign, but none will be given except the sign of the prophet Jonah. For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the huge fish, so the Son of Man will be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth. The men of Nineveh will stand up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it. For they repented at the word of Jonah, and now one greater than Jonah is here.

So Jesus thought that the book of Jonah and what was written in Jonah was a true event.

The book of Jonah is one of the best-remembered books in the Bible. Maybe people remember the big fish. Why do people tend to focus on that big fish? Perhaps they have forgotten about our great God. What are you focusing on, right now?

In Psalm 139, we learned about the futility of running away from God. Psalm 139:7 says “Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence?” That’s what we read this morning. “If I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea, even there your hand will guide me.” That’s another part of what we read. You can’t get away from God.

We see the hand of God in the book of Jonah. For example, the Lord sent a great wind. The Lord provided a great fish to save Jonah. He was thrown over during a bad storm. He would have drowned otherwise. The Lord commanded a fish, and it vomited him onto dry land.

Then the Lord provided a vine, made to grow up over Jonah to give shade for his head and ease his discomfort. But at dawn the next day, God provided a worm, which chewed the vine so that it withered. When the sun rose, God provided a scorching east wind, and the sun blazed on Jonah’s head, so that he grew faint.

Jonah was a strong believer and worshiped God. We can understand a little about Jonah’s faith through his statements that he made. For example, he told the sailors, “I am a Hebrew, and I worship the Lord, the God of heaven who made the sea and the land.” Great witness.

Jonah prayed from inside the fish, “salvation comes from the Lord.” Another great witness, to himself, reminding himself.

To justify his anger, he tries to act as a consultant to God. I’ve been a consultant, and I know what it’s like to be one. Clients listen to me. Jonah is trying to act like that to God. He says, “I knew that you are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abounding in love, a God who relents from sending calamity.”

That’s why he didn’t want to go to Nineveh. He didn’t want them to be saved. He didn’t want them to repent. He knew that if they repented, God would have compassion on them.

Although he had a strong faith and he had obeyed God in the past, he disobeyed when he headed for Tarshish. Are you obeying God now? Or are you headed for Tarshish?

When God tells you to obey in your tithes to the church, are you doing it? By the way, I’m not asking to raise your hands or answer any questions. I’m asking you to think about it. When God tells you to witness to someone you don’t like, what do you do?

You may have a neighbor who blows their leaves over on your lawn, or who burns their leaves and the smoke comes your way. Or you may have a boss who is overbearing and you don’t like that boss. Or there may be other people in your life that you don’t get along with very well.

If God is telling you to go talk to that person and tell that person about the love of Jesus Christ, what do you do? Do you pray that somebody else will go see them, because you really don’t want that person in your life? That’s not what God is asking you to do. If God is asking you to go see that person, then that’s what we need to do.

Basically what we are doing when we say that is “Not me, Lord. And definitely not them. I don’t want to go. And I definitely don’t want to go see that person, or those people.”

I struggle to obey God. In what ways do you struggle? When I was a young man, my pastor asked me if I was interested in becoming a pastor. I’m not sure if I ever answer him, directly anyway, but his suggestion scare me.

I spent the next several years of my life drifting from God. I was on a ship to Tarshish. It wasn’t until fifteen years later, when our first child was born, that I actually got off that ship and began my journey to Nineveh.

What is the reason that you struggle to obey God? Are you headed for Tarshish? The question I want to leave you with is this. Are you on your way to Nineveh? Or have you bought your ticket to Tarshish? Are you obeying God? Have you asked God’s forgiveness for the ways that you don’t obey?

Have you turned from your sin, and turned toward our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ? The real blessing of God is in obedience. How are you obeying God?

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