On a perfectly clear crisp morning just as the colors were shifting from the deep purples of pre-sun rise to blinding gold sun streaked sky, Jonah received a message from God. The message wasn’t preceded by fan faring trumpets or angelic presence with feathery wings whooshing in midflight. Instead God simply spoke to Jonah and his message was loud and clear. Messages from God were rare and so Jonah was slightly shaken by the earth shattering theophany. It took a few moments for God’s word to sink in. It was a message that Jonah was not happy to hear. Like a poor poker players ‘tell’, indications of Jonah’s displeasure were clear as the morning sun and written all over his face. “Nineveh? Are you kidding me?” He whispers under his breath. “That’s the last place that I want to go!” Ruffling the blankets in the now uninviting bed, He gets up and shuffles to the front door. “I didn’t sign up for this!” He thinks to himself. Why was God sending him to that place? It was a wicked city and just thinking about it put a bitter taste in his mouth as if he were sucking on lemons.
Finally, with determination on his face, Jonah puts on his outer cloak and makes his way to the nearest sea port. If God wanted him to go somewhere, go he would…but it wasn’t going to be to that hell hole called Nineveh. Instead, Jonah books himself passage on a cruise in the exact opposite direction, destination: Tarshish. If the destination alone was any indication of Jonah’s stubborn defiance towards God’s wishes, traveling to the furthest destination from Nineveh in the world would give anyone pause. Yet aboard the vessel headed for Tarshish, Jonah, now travel weary, falls asleep in a bunk below deck. Soon he is sawing logs like a skilled lumberjack…slow, still and steady. Hoping the distance from home and Nineveh is enough to get away from God, he rests comfortably…until the entire room tilts sharply to the left dropping Jonah out from slumber and from the warm sheets of the bunk. The once steady rocking lullaby of the boat is now replaced with a violent rollercoaster, as the sea vessel soars up steeply one wave wall only to plummet sharply down below another. This pattern repeats over and over again, until the now sea sick sojourner makes his way up to the deck to discard any and all remnants of last night’s meal.
Looking to the right towards the stern, Jonah sees the ship’s captain tossing luggage and other nonessentials overboard. The ship’s crew are there also lending a hand in dire desperation. If Jonah wasn’t alarmed by being rudely awakened and tossed from his bunk in the sudden squall, seeing panic and fear in seasoned sea farers eyes seals it. He is going to die. The Captain comes over, clothes drenched and stuck to his frame, he yells something but Jonah can’t make it out. The screaming of the wind and the crashing of the thunder and waves drowns out all other sounds. Jonah lets go of his safety and the rail to hear what the Captain is saying; “Pray to whatever god you know so that maybe we will be saved!”
His words are like a slap in Jonah’s face. “to whatever god I know…” Realization hits Jonah like a swinging pulley from the main mast. “I can’t run from God!” A second ephiphanic wave like that of this squall hits Jonah; “this storm is meant for me!” When his feet finally catch up to his epiphany, he joins the Captain at the stern who is busy again discarding nonessential weight in the hopes of saving them all. It doesn’t look good. “Throw me over board!” Jonah tells the Captain, half to himself and to the deafening tornadic gale. The ship’s Captain doesn’t hear him, so begrudgingly Jonah attempts to match the pitch of the wind to catch the Captain’s ear. “THROW ME OVERBOARD!” This time he hears Jonah and at first refuses to even acknowledge his request. But another wave crests and washes over the deck, white foam and sea life litter it as if to say ‘you’ll make a welcomed addition to the sea floor!’ Out of sheer panic and no other alternatives, the Captain complies. He beckons a ship hand to help, and after finding soaked purchase of Jonah’s clothing, they pick him up and throw him into the violent green salted sea.
Almost, as if on cue, with a stage director behind the scenes, the sea suddenly becomes calm and Jonah finds himself alone atop a measureless abyss of cresting surf with his ticket to paradise sailing smoothly out into the horizon. He is going to die. This realization sinks in and soon so will he…deep below a watery grave. Just as Jonah loses strength and succumbs to the stabbing cramps in his legs and arms something spectacular yet horrifying takes place. A monster appears from beneath the dark foreboding sea, and in one swift motion, Jonah is swallowed whole. From one instant Jonah has faced certain death by drowning and now is horrified to consider his certain fate and painful death in being digested by this great fish. Inside the digestive tract of this creature Jonah prays earnestly to the God he ran away from. He confesses his sins, and pleads for God to deliver him. It’s a last minute hail Mary, but it’s all that he’s got left. He doesn’t know how long he sits there in the muck and the stench, but moments of sleep flash nightmares of terror and dread, so he avoids closing his eyes. Yet, his prayers continue. Suddenly, it could have been hours or even days, Jonah never knew, but the great beast lurches. His involuntary digestive taxi begins to fill with more disgusting fluid and then all at once he is launched along with the spew of vomit out of the beast’s mouth. He awakens on a sandy beach, covered is filth and reeking of the sea at its worst. Recalling his persistent prayers and promises while being digested to death by the beast, Jonah gets up, finds his bearings and finally obeys what God had asked him to do all along. Destination: Nineveh.
No matter where we live, or where we go, we can never run from God. He wants our commitment, not our excuses or our exit strategies. For Jonah and for all of us, things will always go easier if we simply obey the first time He asks. The alternative and consequence of our disobedience is never a desirable notion, and is filled with restlessness, unfulfillment and loneliness. Just remember this: God will not give up on us!