He served during the reign of King Jeroboam II (2 Kings 14:23-25). Scripture describes him as a prejudiced, narrow-minded, preacher-prophet of the Northern kingdom of Israel (Amos and Hosea also served with him.) He was jealous for Jehovah and wanted to see Assyria, an avowed enemy of Israel, brought to destruction.
Assyria had long held the distinction as an incredibly cruel and wicked nation. She had shown no quarter to those outside of her borders.
“Besides massacring…enemy soldiers, Assyrians made mass deportations of the rulers (nobles, functionaries, craftsmen), so that the remaining people obeyed with humiliation. Enemy kings were beheaded, and their heads hanged in trees and cities were destroyed. Women were made slaves…”
Scholars believe that at this particular time in her history, the Assyrian empire was being torn asunder by internal strife while simultaneously waging war with a powerful neighbor. It’s safe to assume that God’s prophet could see the nation’s weakened state and decided she was long overdue for a Divine whipping.
But Jehovah had other plans in mind. While his prophet was thinking vengeance, the Lord was thinking repentance. He commissioned this inspired spokesman to go to the chief city of Assyria and preach an eight-word sermon—“Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown!” (Jonah 3:4).
It’s fascinating to watch this story unfold in Scripture. God said, “Go” (Jonah 1:2) and his pulpit man said, “No” (at least initially.) What’s even more compelling is to follow Jonah (his name in Hebrew meant “dove”—an appellation strangely inappropriate for a man of his hostile temperament) during his flight away from the Lord. Watch it—Jonah went DOWN:
· “But Jonah arose to flee to Tarshish from the presence of the LORD. He went DOWN to Joppa…” (Jonah 1.3a).
· “…And found a ship going to Tarshish; so he paid the fare, and went DOWN into it, to go with them to Tarshish from the presence of the LORD.” (Jonah 1.3b).
· “Then the mariners were afraid; and every man cried out to his god, and threw the cargo that was in the ship into the sea, to lighten the load. But Jonah had gone DOWN into the lowest parts of the ship…” (Jonah 1.5).
· “So they picked up Jonah and threw him into the sea [DOWN—mb], and the sea ceased from its raging. (Jonah 1.15).
· “Now the LORD had prepared a great fish to swallow Jonah. And Jonah was in the belly of the fish [DOWN—mb] three days and three nights.” (Jonah 2.1).
· “The waters encompassed me, even to my soul; the deep closed around me; weeds were wrapped around my head. I went DOWN to the moorings of the mountains; the earth with its bars closed behind me forever; yet You have brought up my life from the pit, O Lord God” (Jonah 2.6).
It is impossible to miss the progression, isn’t it? When Dove chose to disobey, he went…
· DOWN to Joppa
· DOWN to the boat
· DOWN into the boat
· DOWN towards Tarshish
· DOWN into the sea
· and finally DOWN into the belly of the fish.
As long as the Dove was living in disobedience and rebellion, he was on a DOWNWARD spiritual flight—a journey away from, apart from God.
When you think of it, that’s true of us too. When we as Christians attempt to flee from God’s will, we’re also headed downward.
God has called us, like Jonah, to go and preach (Matthew 28:19-20; Acts 8:29-35) to our own modern Ninevah. He has given each of us a commission (Mark 16:15-16) to lead our peers to repentance (Acts 2.38; 3.19; 17.30) lest they suffer eternal destruction (Luke 13:3; Ezekiel 33:7-9; 2 Thessalonians 1:7-9).
None of us can evade this summons (cf. Psalm 139:7-11.) Every shepherd, every deacon, every minister, every church secretary, every Bible class teacher, every Christian must be involved in some form of sharing the Gospel (John 15:8; Acts 20:26-27; Romans 7:4; Colossians 1:10). To do otherwise is to be going down—from God.
Which direction are you headed, dear brother and sister? What’s your flight path—up or down…?