Heading forward or running away? – Jonah 1:1-3

Complete sermon series on Jonah

Points covered: God has called everyone to follow him. Call of God. Disobedience of man. Lessons from God’s call on Jonah and his disobedience.


God from the very beginning has been calling man, wanting to bless him and use him for His glory. However, man from the very beginning has been in the nature of running away from God. In the Garden of Eden God put man in a place of fellowship but man sinned and faced the consequences of it. Then we find God calling Abraham, and Abraham left God in famine and went to Egypt only to return back with consequences of his disobedience. Jonah ran away from God.

Every day we have a choice, either to obey or disobey God. Are you obeying God and following him in your day-to-day life or running away from him?

Let us open our Bibles to the Book of Jonah. We often look at Jonah like a kid’s story; a story of a fish and a man but there is much more than that here. Jonah is not about a great fish. There are only 3 verses in these 4 chapters that mention the fish. The book of Jonah is about a great God.

Jonah is a book that has been vehemently attacked. People call it a myth or just plain fiction. Remember, this is not the only instance of Jonah in the Bible. Jonah was a prophet called by God before this episode and has already been used by God. 2 Kings 14:23-25 23In the fifteenth year of Amaziah son of Joash king of Judah, Jeroboam son of Jehoash king of Israel became king in Samaria, and he reigned forty-one years. 24He did evil in the eyes of the Lord and did not turn away from any of the sins of Jeroboam son of Nebat, which he had caused Israel to commit. 25He was the one who restored the boundaries of Israel from Lebo Hamath to the Dead Sea, in accordance with the word of the Lord, the God of Israel, spoken through his servant Jonah son of Amittai, the prophet from Gath Hepher.

Jonah has already been called and used by God. His prophesy of the restoration of the boundaries of Israel came true. Jesus mentioned Jonah in Matthew 12:40-41 40For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of a huge fish, so the Son of Man will be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth. 41The men of Nineveh will stand up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it; for they repented at the preaching of Jonah, and now something greater than Jonah is here.

If the book of Jonah is not historical and literal then neither is the gospel real. Jesus said, “As Jonah was so shall the Son of Man be.” To question the book of Jonah is to question the credibility and the testimony of Jesus Christ. The Book of Jonah is a true historical event.

God’s Call: God’s call on Jonah

John 1:1-3 1The word of the Lord came to Jonah son of Amittai: 2“Go to the great city of Nineveh and preach against it, because its wickedness has come up before me.” 3But Jonah ran away from the Lord and headed for Tarshish. He went down to Joppa, where he found a ship bound for that port. After paying the fare, he went aboard and sailed for Tarshish to flee from the Lord.

1. God calls People specifically.

God called Jonah personally and very specifically. God still calls people to obey him and do his will. In the Bible we see God calling Abraham, Samuel and so many people. God is looking for people and he still calls people to do his work. God not only calls but he also speaks to people.

Hebrews 1:1-2 1In the past God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets at many times and in various ways, 2but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom also he made the universe.

Hebrews 3:7-8 7So, as the Holy Spirit says: “Today, if you hear his voice, 8do not harden your hearts.

God still speaks to people. God knows you. God your name, your address, family background. God knows your email id and password. God knows your life. God know your circumstances. He knows everything about you and he calls individuals. He calls us personally. What a privilege it is to be called individually by name to serve the King. He calls every one of us.

Some of you may say, “Oh! Pastor. I don’t think I have a call to do ministry. I have not received a call from the Lord.” In the NT we are all called and we are all called as ministers or priests of God. 1 Peter 2:9 But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.

Every one of you have a call. When we were in sin, God called us out of our darkness into his wonderful light. Now, that we are in the light, God has called us to obey him and follow him. That is our call. God calls us personally and specifically. Do you have a call? Serve God, obey God, be a Christian where you are, that is our call.

2. God’s call is sometimes uncomfortable.

Following God’s call may sometimes seem difficult to human imagination. Jonah found it very difficult to obey God’s call to go to Nineveh. Most often it is very difficult for us to obey God. It really makes us uncomfortable. It takes us out of our comfort zone.

God said to Jonah: Jonah 1:2-3a “Go to the great city of Nineveh and preach against it, because its wickedness has come up before me.” 3But Jonah ran away from the Lord and headed for Tarshish.

God call required Jonah to go outside his comfort zone. Now you may think why Jonah acted this way. You must understand that prophets were not called to leave Israel. They were called to prophesy to Israel, they were inside the nation. God called Jonah to leave the nation. Get out of your comfort zone, arise and go to Nineveh. It was uncomfortable for Jonah.

Now, one of the biggest enemies of Israel at that time was Assyria. History tells that the Assyrian king at that time had invaded northern Israel. They would come and kill the men and children and take away their women. They would then demand heavy tribute from Israel. At this point Northern Israel was paying tribute to Assyria. So the Assyrians are harassing and looting Israel and maybe Jonah’s family has been affected by the Assyrian raid.

There were reasons why go to Nineveh was unreasonable. It was taking him out of his comfort zone. It would be like God telling us to deliver a message to Isis or a message to one of our enemy nations. Would we leave our job or ministry and take a flight and go and preach in Bagdad or Afghanistan? But that is not the only reason why Jonah runs from God.

To see another important reason why Jonah runs from God, let’s go to Jonah 4:2 He prayed to the Lord, “Isn’t this what I said, Lord, when I was still at home? That is what I tried to forestall by fleeing to Tarshish. I knew that you are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abounding in love, a God who relents from sending calamity.

The reason Jonah is hurrying and running away is because he knows God very well. He knows God is a God of mercy. He says, “God I know that you are good and if they repent you will forgive them, and I do not want my enemy rescued and saved at any cost.” You see the reason for his disobedience is pride, selfishness, and ego. I don’t believe in praying for my enemies. I don’t believe in blessing my enemies.

We have this feeling that if someone happens to be the enemy of us that they are God’s enemy. It would never come to our mind that God would express grace, love, mercy and compassion to someone who is our enemy but he does.

Jonah is saying, “Lord, they are our enemies. We are your people. Why would you want me to preach to them and lead them to repentance?” We must know that the best of our intentions may be sometimes in complete disobedience to God. God called Jonah out of his comfort zone.

Jonah would have felt that God would bless Israel either by blessing Israel or by crushing its enemies. It would have been a great joy to Jonah if God would crush Assyria. Jonah shows us how small man’s heart is and how big God’s heart is. But God said, “You go and preach to them.” God calls us to love people and care for people who we think are unlovable, uncooperative, and we have no obligation to love. God’s call is sometimes uncomfortable for us.

3. God’s call is not about who you are.

Now Nineveh was a city of 120,000 wicked people, who are the enemies of Israel. The Assyrians are known to be masters of brutality. They would not mind to do anything to oppress the Jews. They would not mind killing Jonah. Jonah would have reasoned how can I do this job? Jonah would have thought that in a city of 120,000 people am I going to be the only voice crying out against them, one single voice against a city? I am not capable God. I am not trained to speak to a city. I can do anything in Israel but I am not fit for this ministry.

May times it is the limitations of our mind that God is not able to use us. We feel weak, inadequate, not able to match up to the call of God. Remember God’s call is not about who you are, it is about your availability.

Look at Jonah’s response: Jonah 1:3 3But Jonah ran away from the Lord and headed for Tarshish. He went down to Joppa, where he found a ship bound for that port. After paying the fare, he went aboard and sailed for Tarshish to flee from the Lord.

Man’s disobedience: Disobedience of Jonah

Look at Jonah. God chose him. He was already a prophet. He should have been humble. But Jonah ran away from God. He went down to Joppa.

Joppa was the main seaport for the town of Jerusalem. Almost all the sea goods that came to Jerusalem came through Joppa. So this place had ships going all around the world. He found a ship to Tarshish, bought a ticket and sailed. God told him to go to Nineveh but he went towards Tarshish. Jonah forgot: Psalm 139:7-8 7Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence? 8If I go up to the heavens, you are there; if I make my bed in the depths, you are there.

How come he found a ship to Tarshish? He was looking for one. You will not find something what you are not looking for. He was looking for a ship in the opposite direction and he found one. Many times when we run from God and in the process of running away from God it looks like things are working out. I turned my back on God and I got a job, I made good business, my house sold in a week, my children are doing well.

Listen, things can work out as we run from God but that does not mean that God is for you. When you decide to run from God, when you decide to run from God’s promises, satan will have a ship at the dock and there will be room for you. He went further than he thought he would go.

Jonah said I will do things my way. I don’t believe what you say in this instance or circumstances. He wanted what he wanted, when he wanted and the way he wanted it and many times we are like that. Many times we know what is right, but we reason to do wrong.

Example: If you look at sexuality God gives clear guidelines and boundaries and this is what intimacy should look like, “Express between a man and a woman within a covenant of marriage.” But it is so easy for people to say, “Lord, you do not understand my circumstances and my situation. I love this person. We have been together for so long. It is like we are married. If I don’t engage in these things they will leave me. I cannot control myself.” As if to say that yes there is this rule but in my situation I am going to step out and do my own things because in this situation God you don’t know but I do better. We say my way is better.

Other Examples: Tithe, addiction, coming to church (put practical Christian living and how we conveniently disobey God.).

How many times God says something but in our own lives we say God, that is tough I want to do things my way.

I wonder he went to Joppa and looked at the display board of each ship. “This one is heading to Greece, it’s not far off. This is going to Crete, not far off. This one to Egypt, not far off. Tarshish, Oh that is great. I would like to come. Do you have a birth?” “Go get the ticket from the counter.” “One ticket please to Tarshish.” “No tickets, fully booked.” Suddenly the phone rang in the reception and she said, “Jonah, there is one cancellation for Tarshish.” Jonah said, “I will take it. Give me the ticket.” He intentionally took the ticket for Tarshish.

Nineveh is some 960 KM from Joppa, Tarshish is 3500 KM from Joppa. Now Tarshish was an ancient city in the present Spain. Jonah is on the east of the Mediterranean Sea. He is trying to cross the entire Mediterranean Sea into the Atlantic Ocean to Spain. It was the last sea port that anyone could go. He has gone as far as he can possibly to get away from the presence of God. But where can you flee from God’s presence?

Price of Disobedience.

1. Loss of money. Look at the money he lost. Jonah would have to pay triple the money to get the ticket. Jonah lost money there. Nineveh would have been one-third the price. Moreover when the fish vomited him back to the shore, I believe it was Joppa. He had to take another ship to sail to Nineveh. You disobey God, you run away from God you are on the losing side.

2. Loss of time. He lost valuable time of his life. He had to sail the opposite direction and return back.

3. Loneliness. When the ship sails everyone is on the top deck. Below deck is where the rooms are. He did not want to see anyone he went to the cargo deck the bottommost place in the ship. Once you disobey God you want to be alone, you don’t want society, you don’t want to socialize, you don’t care about anyone or talk to anyone because that is what sin does to people.

 4. Storm. You see Jonah in his disobedience ran into a storm.

You lose time, you lose money, you lose friends, you lose everything. Once you disobey, once you sin, it becomes a habit if you don’t repent. See what the Bible says, “He went down to Joppa, once on bard the ship to Tarshish he went below deck. He went down into the deck. He went down into the sea. He went down into the fish’s belly. Falling is a habit.

It took more than he thought to disobey God. Disobedience is the most expensive thing you will ever experience. Rejection of God’s will is a costly business.

I can tell from my experience early in life where God asked me to do something that was out of my comfort zone and I did not do it, I had to pay for it. I can remember doing things that was against the will of God and it was a journey far away from God, had to burn my hands and come back to God.

But God was always there. God never forsook and he had his arms around me to bring me back to him. It would have been a fish but I think God for the fish. I thank God for the grace of God. The word of God came a second time in chapter three and God fulfilled him call on Jonah. I thank God for the second chances in our life.


Where are you this morning? Are you saying with Isaiah? Here I am send me or are you saying like Jonah, no Lord I am not ready for your call. I am not ready to obey you. I am not ready for a holy life. Where are you with the will and the way of God?

If we just introspect in our lives, we will find areas in our own lives like Jonah we have chosen to go the wrong way. We all have areas in our hearts where we choose to go the wrong. I want you to see that whenever we choose the wrong way, whenever we choose disobedience, we are saying, “God we know better than you do.” When we insist that our way is better, that we know how our situations work. Every time we embrace that thought like Jonah, “We say Lord I know the best. My way is better. I am right. I am trusting in my way God not your way.” But now most of us will not say that literally but when we choose to disobedience that is exactly what we are saying. God is saying, “I know how life works. I have my ways and plans for you but many times we say Lord I want to stick on to my way because I feel my ways are the best.”

Do what God is calling you to do. Do what God is leading you to do. Life is simple – either we obey God or disobey God. Either we go to Nineveh or we go to Tarshish with every decision of life. Let’s make the right decision and head forward to our call in our day-to-day lives.