13 September 2021Jonah 1:1-17
Now the word of the Lord came to Jonah son of Amittai, saying, ‘Go at once to Nineveh, that great city, and cry out against it; for their wickedness has come up before me.’ (vs 1-2)
As we move into our study of the Book of Jonah this week, we need to think a little about the background and the literary form in which it is written. Although it is an important account it cannot be read as history, but as the story of a man of God, who on receiving a commission from God begins a journey to Nineveh the capital of Assyria.
The verses we read today spell out both the call that has come to him, and the punishment he is to warn the city about. Jonah, being human as well as being a man of God, takes fright and sets off to go in a different direction. We read how he books himself a cabin on a boat going to Tarshish in order to escape the commission God has given him. Then a great storm blows up, courtesy of the Lord, and the ship is in great danger. The sailors, remembering that Jonah is a man of God, come to him and ask him to pray for their safety. They are concerned that one of them is guilty of some wrongdoing which has brought this calamity upon them and so, we are told they drew lots, and “the lot fell on Jonah” (v. 7). They question him, seeking to find out about his background and the reason for his presence, and when they hear that he is a God-fearing Hebrew they realise that the reason he is with them is that he running away from something that the Lord wanted him to do. They are puzzled and ask “What shall we do to you that the sea may quieten down for us?” (v. 11)
In a way, the men did not need to ask the question – they could easily have reached the decision for themselves. However, they do ask, and Jonah knowing that he would prefer to drown than to carry out the commission God had given him to go to Nineveh, asked the crew to throw him overboard. As today's narrative ends, we hear that Jonah is not going to escape God's task and his journey is continuing in the belly of a large fish.
- The Book of Jonah is clearly not a historical document but a story with a message – believers cannot escape a request God makes of them. What would your reaction have been if the request made to Jonah had been asked of you?
- If you had been one of those seamen, would you have reacted in a different way?
- Does this account have anything to say to us in our very different context?
Lord, we hear you call to us, you lay before us the needs of the world. Help us to be obedient to your call, and to take your message of love into the places of darkness so that light might shine. Amen.