Jonah, the Runaway Prophet



(Really fabulous illustration of Jonah - running away!  


Freely adapted from the Book of Jonah 

(Illustration: A roadside sign, pointing the way to Ninevah)

Would you ever say that to God?

Jonah did.

God said to Jonah, “Go to Ninevah!”

And Jonah said, “I don’t want to!”

Well, he didn’t exactly SAY that to God – but that’s what he was thinking.

Back in Jonah’s day – this was a LONG time ago, about 800 years before Jesus was born – the greatest city in the world was Ninevah. Everyone had heard of Ninevah. And everyone knew it was an evil place.

So, God had a job for Jonah.

“Jonah,“ God called, “Get up! Go to Ninevah!“

“Tell the people there that I know all about the terrible things they are doing. They think no one can see the evil things they do. But I see!”

But Ninevah was a big, scary place, and Jonah didn’t want to go!

Besides, the Assyrians lived in Ninevah, and the Assyrians were big bullies. They were always beating up on everybody, especially Jonah’s people. They deserved to get in trouble from God.

If Jonah warned the people of Ninevah, they might change their evil ways – and then God might forgive them (God is always forgiving people!) – and then they might get away with all the terrible things they have done.

That wouldn’t be fair!

So, do you know what Jonah did?

He ran away.

(Illustration: Jonah, exit, running all the way!)

Jonah went down to Joppa and jumped on a ship that was sailing for Tarshish. Tarshish was a city in Spain, or maybe it was what we call the whole country of Spain now, I am not entirely sure, but whatever, it was about as far away as a person could go. Jonah thought, “God will never find me there.”

But God knows where every gnat, ant, and bug on the face of the earth is. He knows when a mosquito lands on your nose. He knows where it came from, and where it goes. Of course God would know where Jonah went!

So the ship put out to sea, with Jonah hiding from God below the deck.

But God wasn’t going to let Jonah get off that easy.

Just as the last bit of land disappeared from view, God sent a terrible storm.

Sometimes God has to send storms of one kind or another to bring us back to him. But no matter how terrible the trouble, God’s power is always greater. God is always with us – sometimes in amazing ways.

Jonah was about to learn that.


It was the worst storm the sailors on Jonah’s ship had ever seen. The sky turned black. The winds roared. Rain stung the sailors’ faces. Wave after wave lifted their ship high into the air and sent it crashing down again.

The sailors were terrified!

They were sure their ship would break in two, and so they started grabbing all the stuff they didn’t need and throwing it over the sides to keep from sinking.

Meanwhile, the one thing they really needed to throw over the side was asleep below the deck. It was Jonah.

The captain crawled down under the deck and shook Jonah, “Wake up, man! We are all going to drown! Pray to your God to save us!”

Above the deck, the sailors were fighting the storm with all their might. “Why are the gods so angry with us?” they shouted to each other.

(They were smart enough to know that there was a god who made the earth and the sea and everything in it – but in their time of trouble, they didn’t know who he was. A lot of people are like that.)

“Let’s draw straws,” one of them shouted through the storm, “Maybe this god – whoever he is – will show us who is causing all our trouble.” And so they all scrambled below the deck and got some straws ready.

Jonah drew the shortest straw.

“This is all my fault!” Jonah said.

“My name is Jonah, and I am a Hebrew. I worship the Lord God, the God of Abraham, the creator of the earth and the sea and all that there is.”

“What have you done to make your God so angry?” the sailors asked.

“Um… well…. (Jonah didn’t want to have to admit it)… I am running away from God.” Jonah said, and he told then the whole story – well, as best he could, shouting over the raging storm.

“What can we do to save ourselves?” the sailors cried.

“Throw me into the sea and you will be saved,” Jonah said.

Jonah knew it was the only thing they could do. He would have to take his punishment. One person would have to die so that the others could live. Many, many years later Jesus was going to do the very same thing. Only, he took OUR punishment. He died for us, so that we could live with him forever.

But the sailors weren’t willing to throw Jonah into the churning sea. They thought if they tried real hard, they could save themselves without God’s help. And so they rowed with all their might to try to get the ship back to dry land.

But it was no good. The winds just blew all the harder, the rain stung their faces all the more.

Finally, they cried out, “Please, O God of this man Jonah, forgive us for what we are about to do!”

And then the sailors picked up Jonah and threw him into the sea.

At once the winds stopped, the waves rolled away, and the sea became as smooth as glass. Now those sailors knew who the real God is, the God who can calm the seas.

They thanked God for saving their lives, and they vowed to follow him from that day on.

Jonah saved their lives twice that day! He saved them from the storm (well, GOD saved them – Jonah helped), and he saved them from something much worse than that – a life without knowing God.

(graphic - Jonah under the sea)

Meanwhile, Jonah was sinking down into the cold, black waters.

But Jonah couldn’t get away from God THAT easy! Even down in the deep, dark sea, God was with him.

And so God sent Jonah a fish – not a fish sandwich for lunch, but a big fish – and Jonah was the lunch.

The fish swallowed Jonah with one big gulp.

Instead of Jonah catching the fish, the fish caught Jonah. God seems to have a different idea of fishing than we do!

For three days Jonah sat in the dark, wet, smelly belly of that fish. But he was alive! And so Jonah prayed;

“When I was in trouble,
I called to My Lord
and he heard my prayer.

Even from the belly of a fish,
in the deep, dark sea,
God could hear my voice!

The water swallowed me up,
sea weeds wrapped around my legs.

And then I remembered my God.

I called out to him,
and in his holy temple
he heard the sound of my cry!

My God saved me!

And so I will give him
an offering of thanks.
I have made my vow,
and I will pay it!

For our God saves!”

Then God whispered to the fish, and the fish spit Jonah out onto dry land.

That fish was probably glad to get rid of bony old Jonah, making all that noise in his belly.

Jonah spent three days in the belly of a fish, and stepped out alive again – just like Jesus would spend three days in the belly of the earth, and step out alive. How great and powerful God is!

Then God said to Jonah, “Okay, Jonah, get thee up! Now go to Ninevah!”

This time Jonah went the right way.

(hot sun)

Ninevah was a big city. It took three whole days to walk all the way from one side to the other. It had walls all around a hundred feet tall, and so wide three chariots could ride, side by side.

THAT is a big city!

Jonah walked into the center of the city and he shouted out, “In 40 days God is going to destroy this city you think is so great!”

Now, that’s not the kind of thing most people want to hear. And Jonah must have thought that no one would pay much attention to him.

But Jonah was in for a surprise.

The people of Ninevah listened to Jonah. The evil there must have been so bad, that everyone knew they couldn’t go on like that. They needed someone to show them the way out. And Jonah showed it to them. They could turn to their loving God.

And so, from the greatest to the least, they got rid of all their evil things (just like the sailors threw overboard the things that were making them sink when they were in trouble) – and they begged God for his forgiveness.

When the king heard the news of this, he didn’t get angry as you might have expected.

Instead, he tore off his royal robe, and put on an old robe made of the cheap, scratchy stuff they made sacks out of. He took off the robe of a king, and put on the robe of a beggar, to show he understood that God is the real king, and compared to God, he was nothing but a poor beggar.

And then the King made a decree. There would be a fast. No one was to eat or drink, not even the animals of their herds. Everyone was to put on sackcloth, and cover themselves with ashes, to show how dirty they must be in the sight of God.

“Let us call out to God!” The King decreed. “Let us all stop the evil things we have been doing. Let us stop hurting each other, and maybe God will have mercy on us. Maybe he will forgive us, and not destroy our city like we deserve.”

When God saw that they really were turning from the evil way they were living – and that they weren’t just saying it – he had mercy on them.

God decided he would not destroy the city after all.

God saved their lives!

Jonah Pouts

(hot, hot sun)

When God first called Jonah, Jonah did the exact opposite of what God asked him to do. But God didn’t give up on him. God used him to accomplish his plan. It was just a little more painful than it had to be!

But now, Jonah was mad.

These people did mean, rotten and nasty things. They were famous for it! They didn’t follow God, and still they had everything they wanted. It wasn’t fair!

“How come they should get off so easy!” Jonah grumbled to himself. Secretly he had been looking forward to watching God really punish them good.

Now God was giving them a second chance.

“I knew this would happen,“ Jonah said to God. “I knew you would let them off the hook!”

I guess Jonah forgot just WHO got let off the hook in the first place.

“I knew it!” Jonah said to God. “I knew that you are full of everlasting love, and that you are always ready to forgive and to hold back from punishing.”

So Jonah walked to the edge of the city and sat down to pout. Maybe the city would go up in a ball of fire anyway. That is what he was hoping to see.

Now, the sun was burning down on Jonah. Sweat was rolling down his face and stinging his eyes.

So God made a bush grow up next to where Jonah was pouting, to shade him from the sun.

Jonah was thankful for the bush and the comfort of the shade.

But the next morning, God sent a worm to eat the roots of the bush. The bush withered and died. When the sun came up, God sent a scorching eastern wind, heated by the desert. The sun beat down on Jonah’s head until Jonah nearly fainted.

Jonah cried out to God (well, whined, more likely!) “Why don’t you just take my life now, and save me from this misery!”

Poor Jonah. He was having such a rough time!

“Jonah, Jonah, Jonah!” God said to him. “Do you think I have stopped loving and caring for you? I could never do that!

“You are so upset because I let a little bush die – but you want me to destroy the whole city of Ninevah! Aren’t all these people worth far, far more than a little weed?

“Didn’t I forgive you, even though you tried to run away from me? I love you so much!

“Even though these people didn’t know me, and they sinned against me, I love them as much as I love you.”

And then at last, Jonah understood that God truly is slow to anger, and always willing to forgive us when we turn to him.

Now he knew that our wonderful God truly is tenderhearted and forgiving, and overflowing with a love for us that will never end.

Don’t Be Like Jonah! by Patricia Day

Early in the day, I can be heard asking God to reveal His will for me.  Many times, I am quickly aware of a direction I should take.  Sometimes, though I am not so sure.

At times, such as these, I continue on with my day by being productive and only doing those things that I feel God would be pleased with.  I prefer to please God, not annoy Him.

Not so, Jonah.  He was given a clear directive from God. He was to travel to Nineveh and confront the people living there, of their wickedness.  They were guilty of pride, greed, brutality and adultery.  God was not pleased with them.

Jonah, did not agree with God’s calling for him. He wanted “out”.  Instead, of fulfilling God’s Will, he chose, instead, to attempt to hide.  He wanted to get as far away from God as he could.  No way, did he want to confront the inhabitants of Nineveh.  So he stole away on a ship to Tarshish; thinking it would solve his predicament.  Instead, it only made things worse.  The ship succumbed to a mighty storm at sea and Jonah found himself, not only overboard, but swallowed alive by a leviathon of the ocean.

Read Jonah 1 – 4

We might say, he went from the frying pan, into the fire!  Realizing what he had done, he beseeched God to forgive him.

Jonah’s story contains a strong warning to all godly people.  We can easily miss the blessing of God’s grace, when extended beyond our comfort zone.  In our human-ness, we only have enough vision to see our circumstances where we are at.  God, on the other hand, sees the whole picture.  He has planned our lives, and He will fulfill all His plans if we trust Him.

Jeremiah 29:10-13  “For I know the plans I have for you”, declares the Lord.  “They are plans to give you hope and a future.  When you call upon Me, and pray to Me with all your heart, I will be found by you and I will bring you to a place, that I kept exclusively for you”.

I’m not sure I am getting to the point – – but, what I am trying to say is, I would prefer to do God’s bidding, rather than go against His leading for me.  So, each day I pray that I will hear His directive and I will not just agree, I will obey.

Abba:  We are such wimps, at times.  Thinking more about our own condition rather than trusting You to lead us.  Help us to, not only hear your voice, but give us the strength to obey Your calling for our lives.  Amen

Jonah 2:9 Salvation is of the Lord.

Salvation is the work of God. It is He alone who quickens the soul “dead in trespasses and sins,” and it is He also who maintains the soul in its spiritual life. He is both “Alpha and Omega.” “Salvation is of the Lord.” If I am prayerful, God makes me prayerful; if I have graces, they are God’s gifts to me; if I hold on in a consistent life, it is because He upholds me with His hand. I do nothing whatever towards my own preservation, except what God Himself first does in me. Whatever I have, all my goodness is of the Lord alone. Wherein I sin, that is my own; but wherein I act rightly, that is of God, wholly and completely. If I have repulsed a spiritual enemy, the Lord’s strength nerved my arm. Do I live before men a consecrated life? It is not I, but Christ who liveth in me. Am I sanctified? I did not cleanse myself: God’s Holy Spirit sanctifies me. Am I weaned from the world? I am weaned by God’s chastisements sanctified to my good. Do I grow in knowledge? The great Instructor teaches me. All my jewels were fashioned by heavenly art. I find in God all that I want; but I find in myself nothing but sin and misery. “He only is my rock and my salvation.” Do I feed on the Word? That Word would be no food for me unless the Lord made it food for my soul, and helped me to feed upon it. Do I live on the manna which comes down from heaven? What is that manna but Jesus Christ himself incarnate, whose body and whose blood I eat and drink? Am I continually receiving fresh increase of strength? Where do I gather my might? My help cometh from heaven’s hills: without Jesus I can do nothing. As a branch cannot bring forth fruit except it abide in the vine, no more can I, except I abide in Him. What Jonah learned in the great deep, let me learn this morning in my closet: “Salvation is of the Lord.”

Jonah The Narrow-minded Patriot

This message from Jehovah came to Jonah, the son of Amittai: “Arise, go to that great city, Nineveh, and preach against it; for their wickedness is known to me.” But Jonah started to flee to Tarshish from the presence of Jehovah. He went down to Joppa and found a ship going to Tarshish. So he paid the fare and went aboard to go with them to Tarshish from the presence of Jehovah.

But Jehovah made a furious wind blow over the sea, and there was such a great storm that the ship was in danger of breaking to pieces. Then the sailors were afraid and each cried for help to his own god. They threw into the sea the things that were in the ship, in order to make it lighter. But Jonah had gone down into the bottom of the ship and lay fast asleep. Then the captain of the ship went and said to him, “How is it that you are asleep? Call on your god; perhaps that god will think of us, so that we may not be lost.”

And they said to one another, “Come, let us cast lots, that we may know on whose account this evil has come upon us.” So they cast lots, and the lot fell upon Jonah. Then they said to him, “Tell us, what is your business, and where do you come from? What is your country and to what race do you belong?” He said to them, “I am a Hebrew, and a worshipper of Jehovah, the God of heaven, who made the sea and the dry land.” Then the men were greatly frightened and said to him, “What is this you have done?” For they knew that he was fleeing from the presence of Jehovah, because he had told them.

Then they said to him, “What shall we do to you, that the sea may be calm for us?” for the sea grew more and more stormy. He said to them, “Take me up and throw me into the sea, and the sea will be calm for you, for I know that on account of me this great storm has overtaken you.” But the men rowed hard to get back to the land; they could not, however, for the sea grew more and more stormy ahead.

Therefore they cried to Jehovah and said, “We pray thee, O Jehovah, we pray thee, let us not die for this man’s life, nor let us be guilty of shedding innocent blood, for thou art Jehovah; thou hast done as it pleases thee.” So they took up Jonah, and threw him into the sea; and the sea became calm. Then the men greatly feared Jehovah, and they offered a sacrifice and made promises to him.

But Jehovah prepared a great fish to swallow Jonah, and Jonah was inside the fish three days and three nights. There Jonah prayed to Jehovah his God; and Jehovah spoke to the fish, and it threw Jonah out upon the dry land.

This message from Jehovah came to Jonah the second time, “Arise, go to that great city, Nineveh, and give to it the message that I tell you.” So Jonah started for Nineveh, as Jehovah commanded. Now Nineveh was so large a city, that it took three days’ journey to cross it. And Jonah began by going through the city a day’s journey, and he said, “Forty days more and Nineveh shall be overthrown.”

And the people of Nineveh believed God; and they ordered a fast and put on sackcloth, from the greatest to the least of them. And when word came to the king of Nineveh, he rose from his throne, took off his robe, dressed in sackcloth, and sat in ashes. And he gave this order: “By the order of the king and his nobles: Man, beast, herd, and flock shall not taste anything; let them not eat nor drink water. Let both man and beast put on sackcloth and let them cry earnestly to God; let them turn each from his evil way and from the deeds of violence which they are doing. Who knows but God may be sorry for us and turn away his fierce anger, that we may not die.”

When God saw that they turned from their evil way, he was sorry for the evil which he said he would do to them, and did not do it.

But this displeased Jonah very much and he was angry. And he prayed to Jehovah and said, “Ah, Jehovah, was not this what I said when I was still in my own country? That was why I fled at once to Tarshish; for I knew that thou art a God, gracious and merciful, patient, and loving and ready to forgive. Therefore, O Jehovah, take now, I beg of thee, my life from me; for it is better for me to die than to live!” But Jehovah said, “Are you doing right in being angry?”

Then Jonah went out of the city and sat down on the east side, and there made a hut for himself and sat under it, until he might see what would become of the city. And Jehovah prepared a gourd and made it grow up over Jonah as a shade for his head. So the gourd gave Jonah great pleasure; but at dawn the next day God prepared a worm which injured the gourd, so that it wilted. And when the sun rose, God prepared a hot east wind. And the sun beat upon Jonah’s head, so that he was faint and begged that he might die, saying, “It is better for me to die than to live.” But God said to Jonah, “Are you doing right in being angry about the gourd?” He replied, “It is well for one to be angry, even to death!” Jehovah said, “You care for a gourd which has cost you no trouble and which you have not made grow, which came up in a night and wilted in a night. Should I not care for the great city Nineveh, in which there are one hundred and twenty thousand people who do not know their right hand from their left; besides much cattle?”

Luke 8:13 These have no root.

My soul, examine thyself this morning by the light of this text. Thou hast received the word with joy; thy feelings have been stirred and a lively impression has been made; but, remember, that to receive the word in the ear is one thing, and to receive Jesus into thy very soul is quite another;superficial feeling is often joined to inward hardness of heart, and a lively impression of the word is not always a lasting one. In the parable, the seed in one case fell upon ground having a rocky bottom, covered over with a thin layer of earth; when the seed began to take root, its downward growth was hindered by the hard stone and therefore it spent its strength in pushing its green shoot aloft as high as it could, but having no inward moisture derived from root nourishment, it withered away. Is this my case? Have I been making a fair show in the flesh without having a corresponding inner life? Good growth takes place upwards and downwards at the same time. Am I rooted in sincere fidelity and love to Jesus? If my heart remains unsoftened and unfertilized by grace, the good seed may germinate for a season, but it must ultimately wither, for it cannot flourish on a rocky, unbroken, unsanctified heart. Let me dread a godliness as rapid in growth and as wanting in endurance as Jonah‘s gourd; let me count the cost of being a follower of Jesus, above all let me feel the energy of His Holy Spirit, and then I shall possess an abiding and enduring seed in my soul. If my mind remains as obdurate as it was by nature, the sun of trial will scorch, and my hard heart will help to cast the heat the more terribly upon the ill-covered seed, and my religion will soon die, and my despair will be terrible; therefore, O heavenly Sower, plough me first, and then cast the truth into me, and let me yield Thee a bounteous harvest.