Taking it In
Pretty cool how the Book of Jonah begins not with the words of Jonah but with the words of the Lord. We’ll find that God likes to have the last word, too. Yahweh tells Jonah to get up and go to Nineveh (modern-day Mosul), but instead, he goes to Tarshish (which could be Turkey, Spain, or even North Africa). God tells him to get up, and he does, but then he goes down, the opposite way God intended. The verb “went down” will be repeated in v. 5 as well as in 2:6. Jonah, in his disobedience, is not only descending geographically, but he is also descending spiritually, away from God and into Sheol (the Hebrew notion of a place for the dead) as 2:6 will show quite vividly. “Before the face (or presence) of God” is also used a few times in these verses. It’s a little reversal that Nineveh has sinfully come into God’s face, while Jonah flees away from God’s face. There is a little bit of humor sprinkled into such a momentous start to the story. We’re getting a picture painted with words here portraying the massive implications of Jonah’s disobedience. When people choose to flee God in the Old Testament, it usually doesn’t turn out too well. How will YHWH respond to Jonah rebelling and high-tailing it out of town? This will play out gradually as we continue through the story.
Working it Out
The slight humor tries to give us the impression Jonah actually thought he was getting away from God. But Jonah was a devout Jew and most assuredly knew his Bible. In particular, Psalm 139 comes to mind: “Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence?” (v. 7). Even though Jonah probably knew that he couldn’t escape God, he could at least go to a place where God is not as well-known and nobody practices the same faith that guides their everyday life like he does. Quite the opposite actually. We can do similar things in our day, too. How many of us in a crisis of faith decide to “flee” to other satisfactions? Places where God’s way of life is not followed, ignored, or even ridiculed? Many of us could probably relate to such disobedience in our own day and time. When we decide that our way is better than Yahweh’s (see what we did there) things can get messy and even dangerous.