Jonah 1:1-3: Jonah’s flight
When I say, ‘the book of Jonah’ what comes to mind? For most of us we think of that memorable story of a runaway prophet from Sunday school. As you get older you may think about the controversy over whether the miracle of the big fish happened, there is no mention of a whale. And perhaps you have even heard about whether Jonah is in fact a real historical narrative or an allegorical story meant to convict a racist and nationalistic Israel. The real hero of the book of Jonah is God not Jonah. When you get to the end of the book of Jonah we don’t even know whether the sulking Jonah has learnt his lesson and now agrees that God should be merciful to Nineveh. We believe that the story of Jonah is historical, just as Jesus thought that it was Luke 11:29-32. We also believe that the event with the big fish is a real miracle. Some have tried to say that the event is staged, but unlike so many false miracles it is not squeezed for all its worth but merely mentioned in passing. As memorable as these things are they are not the focus, God is.
As with the parable of the prodigal son, the older brother and the younger brother are used as a backdrop to emphasize God’s grace to all types of sinners, so Jonah who has incidentally been pointed out to imitate both brothers in the parable is also backdrop to highlighting God’s grace to sinners.
Jonah prophesied at about 760 BC. The book of Jonah is thought to be the earliest recorded prophecy of the major and minor prophets. Jonah was likely contemporary with Elisha and one of his disciples. Jonah lived about 150 years after Solomon and the split between the 10 Northern tribes and the 2 Southern tribes, Jonah was a prophet of the Northern kingdom. He prophesied during the reign of Jeroboam II. The name Jonah means, ‘dove’. Although a symbol of the Holy Spirit, it also bears the connotation of being senseless, “Ephraim is like a dove, silly and without sense, calling to Egypt, going to Assyria.” (Hos. 7:11). So then, as with many other names of the prophets, Jonah’s is ironically telling. In v1 we see that Jonah is the ‘son of Amittai.’ This too has significance in the case of Jonah, as it means, ‘son of my faithfulness,’ highlighting how God is faithful to an unfaithful son.
Today as we begin our look into Jonah we will be focusing on v1-3 where God calls Jonah but Jonah flees. We want to look at how Jonah forgets grace and forgets who God is. We will see today the Jonah is typical of us as believers, and the road to disobedience is the same for all it begins with forgetting God’s grace and who God is.