Tag Archives: lessons

Don’t Slip!

“My steps have held fast to your paths; my feet have not slipped” (Psalm 17:5).

When hiking, it is best to avoid things that might make you fall. I have found that going around creeks with a strong current is better than going through them. It is safer to step on dry rocks rather than grimy ones, even if it’s only a little grime. Walking on beaten dirt paths is preferable to muddy hills and slopes.

The psalmist David certainly understood the importance of avoiding slippery and unstable surfaces while keeping your feet on the right path. Of course, David wasn’t talking about hiking – he’s talking about living. The Christian should long to attain the kind of life David exalts in this verse. Believers should walk on the righteous path of life and avert things that might cause a damaging fall.

Your feet should be fixed to the path of obedience and you must turn aside from slippery and unstable ground. You must bypass tempting situations which threaten to sweep you under. It’s best to keep your feet on the solid path of righteousness. Your feet will only slip if you take the wrong steps and venture off the right path. Thankfully, even if you do fall, God doesn’t leave you on the ground. God will catch and hold you up: “When I thought, “My foot slips,” your steadfast love, O LORD, held me up” (Psalm 94:18).

Watch where you put your feet as you walk the dangerous terrain of life, and don’t slip!

For further study, see Psalm 18:36; 37:31; 38:16; 66:9; 73:2.


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Brandon is the founder and main contributor to Brandon’s Desk, the blog with biblical resources from his ministry. He is proud to be the pastor of the family of believers at Locust Grove Baptist Church in Murray, Kentucky. He and his wife Dakota live there with their three dogs, Susie (Jack Russell), Aries (Aussiedor), and Dot (beagle).

Shelter from Storms

“Be merciful to me, O God, be merciful to me, for in you my soul takes refuge; in the shadow of your wings I will take refuge, till the storms of destruction pass by” (Psalm 57:1).

A flimsy tent won’t cut it when you’re sleeping in the outdoors, especially when the weather is unpredictable. Being protected from the elements and enjoying a good night’s sleep on the trail is critical, so it’s important to have the right shelter. This is yet another lesson I’ve learned the hard way.

Years ago, my friends and I decided to camp in the summertime at Garden of the Gods in the Shawnee National Forest, located in southern Illinois. The tent I packed was the saddest excuse for a tent that I’ve ever seen. I’m not even sure why it qualified as a tent. The material was as thin as wax paper. It was so small that my nose could touch the top while laying down. The two tent stakes were so fluid and brittle that Twizzlers would have worked better.

Nevertheless, I pitched it up and attempted to sleep comfortably. It was bearable until a nasty thunderstorm rolled through the area. Twigs were flying, sky-bullets of rain were coming down, and the wind gusts were overwhelming me and the other campers. I couldn’t take it anymore—I had to get out of that “tent.”

So, I sheltered underneath a giant rock formation (pictured) and enjoyed a level of security and protection I never could have gotten from that cheap tent. Thankfully, I had easy access to a shelter that was reliable.

Life has storms, too. Trouble rains down on us like a monsoon. Gusts of pain and sorrow throw us all over the place. We desperately need the right shelter so we can make it through the unpredictable weather of life. Fortunately, for those of us who know the Lord, He Himself is our shelter. You can count on God to be a reliable and trustworthy place of refuge from life’s storms. He isn’t going to fail you like a flimsy tent. He is a rock of protection for you, a fortress of defense, a shield of safety, a shelter that will withstand the strongest winds, rain, and lightning.

The question is: what kind of shelter will you remain in during the tempests of life?


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Brandon is the founder and main contributor to Brandon’s Desk, the blog with biblical resources from his ministry. He is proud to be the pastor of the family of believers at Locust Grove Baptist Church in Murray, Kentucky. He and his wife Dakota live there with their three dogs, Susie (Jack Russell), Aries (Aussiedor), and Dot (beagle).

Light on the Path

“Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path” (Psalm 119:105).

Any hiker knows that night comes quicker on the trail. Because of the density of trees and the constant change between hills and valleys, the sun seems to disappear faster—almost as if God turns the light off with a switch. I’ve observed this while backpacking and I’ve also observed that you rarely reach your campsite before dark, so you have to continue hiking in the strange and unknown world of the night-time wilderness.

Thankfully, light is available from flashlights and headlamps (as long as you take them with you). With light shining on the trail ahead, I know I am going the right way as I can see trail markers that are otherwise hidden in the darkness. With light, I can avoid dangers I couldn’t see without light—creek crossings, holes, drop-offs, and even critters that would rather be undisturbed. With light, I can provide guidance to others who may be hiking with me in the night. Without light, I would be lost on the trail, trembling with fear, and wandering into danger without even knowing it.

The psalmist who penned the verse above wasn’t a hiker or backpacker, but he knew the value of having light to guide his steps on a path. That light is the word of God, he said. The light is the holy Scriptures and they provide guidance and protection as you travel on the path of life which is often dark. With the light of God’s word, you can walk wisely and have assurance that you’re on the right path. His word will show you the “trail markers.” With the light of Scripture, God will help you avoid spiritual danger—temptation, deception, and all sorts of things you couldn’t see on your own. And with the bright light of His word, you can show others the way. It’s a dark world out there—let the light of His word shine on your path to guide your feet.


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Brandon is the founder and main contributor to Brandon’s Desk, the blog with biblical resources from his ministry. He is proud to be the pastor of the family of believers at Locust Grove Baptist Church in Murray, Kentucky. He and his wife Dakota live there with their three dogs, Susie (Jack Russell), Aries (Aussiedor), and Dot (beagle).

Malachi: An Introduction

Have you ever questioned God before? Perhaps you were in a trying situation and you wondered if God still loved you or kept His promises. Have you ever argued with God? Maybe you didn’t agree with His ways, or something didn’t go as you had originally planned. Last question: Have you ever become careless in your worship? We all have. As important as our worship life is, and I wouldn’t say that we don’t view it as insignificant, we typically read our Bibles, say a 5 minute prayer and attend a local church on Sundays (and possibly during mid-week). If we lose our focus on what worship is really all about, we will begin to question God, and we will find ourselves disagreeing with Him – sometimes leading to arguing with Him. We must not lose focus in our worship life and consider it as mundane. That’s what the book of Malachi is all about. The Jews have become careless in their attitude and worship toward God. God graciously and fatherly confronts them on this; He doesn’t leave them in their apathetic state.

Historical Background¹

Malachi’s ministry took place nearly a hundred years after the decree of Cyrus in 538 B.C. (2 Chron. 36:23), which ended the Babylonian captivity and allowed the Jews to return to their homeland and rebuild the temple (on the Babylonian Captivity, see 2 Chronicles 36:18-21 for a summary). After the return from exile, Judah remained an almost insignificant territory of about 20 by 30 miles, inhabited by a population of perhaps 150,000. The Jews acutely felt their subjugation to a foreign power (Neh. 1:3), and they suffered persistent opposition from their neighbors (Ezra 4:23). They were no longer an independent nation and were no longer ruled by a Davidic king.

Book Outline

I. The Priests Are Exhorted to Honor the Lord (1:2-2:9)

They failed to take their responsibilities to the Lord seriously.

II. Judah Exhorted to Faithfulness (2:10-3:6)

The people blamed their economic and social troubles on the Lord. God exhorts them to faithfulness by reminding them of His covenant with them, but warned of the coming judgment.

III. Judah Exhorted to Return and Remember (3:7-4:6)

God commands the people to remember His laws, and stop being disobedient and start being obedient. There are great blessings for being obedient.

Major Themes²

I. God’s Love

God loves His people even when they ignore or disobey Him. Because God loves so much, He hates hypocrisy and careless living. What we give and how we live reflects the sincerity of our love for God (See 1:2; 2:4; 3:6).

II. The Sin of the Priests

The priests were God’s representatives, they knew what God required, but their sacrifices were casual. If leaders go wrong, how will the people be led? We are all leaders in some way—God wants leaders who are faithful and sincere (See 1:6; 2:7-8).

III. The Sin of the People

The people had not learned the lesson of the exile, they had disobeyed God’s commands. God deserves our very best honor and faithfulness—in every area of our lives: devotion/church life, money, relationships, and family (See 2:10-11).

IV. The Lord’s Coming

God’s love for His people is demonstrated by the promise of the Messiah, Jesus. The day of His coming would be of comfort and healing for the faithful, but of judgment and fear for those who reject Him. Jesus came to the earth once, but upon His return, He will expose and condemn those who are unprepared. But right now, forgiveness is available to all who come to Him (See 3:17-18; 4:1).

Structure

This book is structured in a very interesting way. It is written in the form of a debate between God and the Jews. Typically in this book, you see first that 1) God voices an indictment of His people for their behavior, 2) then the people are pictured as asking God how this charge is true, 3) finally God replies to their objection(s), and expands the charge against them. So if you’ve ever found yourself apathetic about serving God, this study is for you. Stay tuned for more each week as we study this fantastic book verse by verse.


1. Adapted from The ESV Study Bible(Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2008), 1171-1773.
2. Adapted from the Life Application Study Bible(Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., 2004), 1317.

Jonah: Jonah’s Prayer (2:1-10)

Jonah: Jonah’s Prayer (2:1-10)

Introduction

What we are going to study tonight may be the theologically richest part of the book of Jonah. The amazing context of this poetic prayer is Jonah’s gratitude while inside the fish. He fully expected to die in the water. His thanksgiving within the belly of a fish is a proclamation of joy, with the realization that God has delivered him in spite of his running. Though he is not yet on dry land, his faith reaches a new dimension of understanding. He seems to have no doubt that, as he was delivered from drowning, he will also eventually be delivered safely to the shore. In chapter 2 of Jonah we are able to understand Jonah’s point of view, as he speaks in the first person. It also offers a window into the nature and circumstances of true gratitude.

The Text

Then Jonah prayed to the LORD his God from the belly of the fish, 2 saying,

“I called out to the LORD, out of my distress,
and he answered me;
out of the belly of Sheol I cried,
and you heard my voice.
3 For you cast me into the deep,
into the heart of the seas,
and the flood surrounded me;
all your waves and your billows
passed over me.
4 Then I said, ‘I am driven away
from your sight;
yet I shall again look
upon your holy temple.’
5 The waters closed in over me to take my life;
the deep surrounded me;
weeds were wrapped about my head
6 at the roots of the mountains.
I went down to the land
whose bars closed upon me forever;
yet you brought up my life from the pit,
O LORD my God.
7 When my life was fainting away,
I remembered the LORD,
and my prayer came to you,
into your holy temple.
8 Those who pay regard to vain idols
forsake their hope of steadfast love.
9 But I with the voice of thanksgiving
will sacrifice to you;
what I have vowed I will pay.
Salvation belongs to the LORD!”

10 And the LORD spoke to the fish, and it vomited Jonah out upon the dry land.

Inside the Fish

“Then Jonah prayed to the LORD his God from the belly of the fish” (v. 1). The author tells us in the first verse what we are about to read. There is a prayer that follows. And Jonah prayed these things while he was in the belly of the fish. We know that this account is still a miracle—but it is interesting that Jonah actually prays while inside the fish. It’s important to notice here that his is the first time that Jonah speaks directly to God. In all this account and all we’ve experienced with him, he was not spoken to God until now. Remember however, Jonah is still in danger. He is still at sea, inside the fish—but still in danger. He doesn’t have a living room built inside that fish.

But here’s what he prays: “I called out to the LORD, out of my distress, and he answered me; out of the belly of Sheol I cried, and you heard my voice” (v. 2). This is the beginning of the prayer of Jonah. Jonah says that he “called out to” God out of his distress. He says that God answered him. But Jonah says something interesting here: “out of the belly of Sheol I cried.” What does Sheol mean? It’s a term used most often in the Old Testament to mean the place of death. Sometimes it means separation from God. Jonah did not literally pray from Sheol but describes his near-death experience. He says that God heard his voice.

“For you cast me into the deep, into the heart of the seas, and the flood surrounded me; all your waves and your billows passed over me” (v. 3). Jonah is describing his experience being thrown overboard with vivid imagery: “into the deep,” “the heart of the seas,” “your billows passed over me.” Just for clarification, billows are great waves or surging masses of water. Though it was the sailors who had hurled Jonah into the sea (1:15), he knows that God was working sovereignly through them, and so he can say that God cast him into the sea.

Jonah expresses, however that he will see dry land again: “Then I said, ‘I am driven away from your sight; yet I shall again look upon your holy temple’” (v. 4). Here Jonah demonstrates his understanding of the power of simply turning again toward the presence of God. Next Jonah gives a very visual description of coming close to death. In vv. 5-6, “The waters closed in over me to take my life; the deep surrounded me; weeds were wrapped about my heard at the roots of the mountains. I went down to the land whose bars closed upon me forever, yet you brought up my life from the pit, O LORD my God.” He says that the waters closed in on him to take his life—he was probably drowning at this point. The deep surrounded him, and he was definitely at the bottom of the sea because he states that seaweed was “wrapped about” his head. He even went down to the “land whose bars closed upon [him] forever.” Departure into Sheol was to go through gates made of “bars.” Job 17:16 says, “Will it go down to the bars of Sheol?” (emphasis mine) See also Psalm 9:13. But regardless, God brought up Jonah’s life from the “pit.” Jonah also says that “When my life was fainting away, I remembered the LORD, and my prayer came to you, into your holy temple” (v. 7).

Saved but Not Completely Delivered

What is interesting to see throughout this entire account of Jonah’s prayer is this: He has been rescued from death by God’s sending of the fish (1:17), but he has not been delivered to dry land just yet (2:10). He has not drowned, but he was unexpectedly saved from death by the “great fish,” but he isn’t completely safe—he is still in danger.

Our lives are very similar to this story—our lives as believers. When we are converted, when we are saved, we are delivered from death and saved from judgment: “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Rom. 8:1). But, we are not immediately taken to the place where there is no sin, no evil, no suffering, and no pain (Rev. 21:4). We are saved in this life, but we are not completely delivered from the ailments of living in this present world. You probably know all too well, that your struggles do not end once you are saved. Struggles continue. In fact, some struggles happen more often because you are saved (ex. persecution). Remember that salvation is in three tenses:

1) Past: You were saved. “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved” (Acts 16:31). Once we had repentance and faith toward Christ, we were saved. That’s a secured deal.

2) Present: You are being saved. “Therefore, by beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure” (Philippians 2:12-13, emphasis mine). We are daily being delivered from the presence and power of sin through the Holy Spirit.

3) Future: You will be saved; “Training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age, waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ” (Titus 2:12-13, emphasis mine). One glorious day we will finally be delivered from the presence and power of sin forever.

This is what we share with Jonah: We have been delivered from death and the penalty of sin, but we are not yet completely free from sin. One day we will be in complete safety (“dry land”), but until then we must do what is necessary to fight sin daily (Rom. 7).

The Real Miracle

Another thing that is interesting to note here (that we tend to look over) is that Jonah should have died. Listen again to this dreadful description of what is was like to nearly drown at sea: “The waters closed in over me to take my life; the deep surrounded me; weeds were wrapped about my head at the roots of the mountains. I went down to the land whose bars closed upon me forever. . .” (vv. 5-6). The real miracle here is that what should have been a place of death for Jonah became the place of deliverance and life! What does he say God did? “Yet you brought up my life from the pit, O LORD my God” (v. 6b).

Remember the “sign of Jonah” expression used by Jesus? “For just as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth” (Matt. 12:40). Jesus used Jonah’s experience to refer to His own death. The apostle Paul states, “he was raised on the third day” (1 Cor. 15:4). But the wonder of the sign of Jesus’ death and of Jonah’s experience is that a place that ought to have been a place of death became a place of deliverance and life. What do you think of when you see a cross? Jesus death? Addition? We have beautified the cross so much that we have a tendency to forget what a cross actually was in Jesus’ day. We have jewelry, t-shirts, rings, pendants, and various things that may have crosses on them, but in Jesus’ day a cross carried a much different meaning. The crucifix was a torture device. The Romans wanted to state their authority loud and clear to criminals, so they devised this form of punishment known as crucifixion. The cross was a symbol of death—the most humiliating form of death.

But because of Christ’s death and resurrection, the cross is a symbol of victory over death and reminds us that at the cross, we were given deliverance from sin and death. So what should have been a place of death has become they symbol for the Christian faith that has stood the test of time. Christ’s descent to earth and His willing humility even to death on a cross brought redemption to all (Phil. 2:5-11).

A Strange Statement

Jonah has described his experience in his prayer to God and utters something rather abstract: “Those who pay regard to vain idols forsake their hope of steadfast love” (v. 8). It’s a true statement—but it’s strange because it has nothing to do with Jonah’s experience. Does it say anything about him drowning or struggling on the ship? No. Jonah has been describing his experience in the waters as he comes close to death—and he expresses thankfulness for God’s sending of the great fish, but here he states something like a proverb. It’s an interesting part of Jonah’s prayer because it expresses something about his relationship with God.

He was truly grateful to God for saving him through this fish. He has truly praised God for rescuing him in this miraculous way. But Jonah is here referring back again to these sailors and the Ninevites and says that “Those who pay regard to vain idols forsake their hope of steadfast love” (v. 8). He doesn’t pray for them, but states this truth about them. So in the midst of Jonah’s prayer (and after all he has been through!) he is still protesting the idea that God should offer forgiveness to the Ninevites. Remember, why did Jonah run from God’s call in the first place? Because he didn’t believe that God should have compassion and forgiveness for sinners. He knew that if he preached to the Ninevites, that there could be a possibility of them repenting from sin and obtaining forgiveness from God. “That is why I made haste to flee to Tarshish; for I knew that you are a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, and relenting from disaster” (4:2).

A Strange Struggle

He was praying, but still protesting. We like Jonah may disagree with God for different reasons—but that shouldn’t stop us from praising Him. And God doesn’t expect everyone who praises Him to always have all their questions answered or all of their doubts erased. We will always have questions—but we shouldn’t stop praising God and giving Him thanks. Satan will always use our weaknesses against us. One of our weaknesses is a limited, finite mind. Satan sees an open door there to stumble us and turn our hearts away from God. So when we have questions or doubts about God, we should read the Bible with all our might—listen where God has spoken, but restrain our curiosity beyond His Word. God knows we have struggles and difficulties understanding Him sometimes, but He still welcomes our praise even when we don’t understand or are confused. “For God is not a God of confusion but of peace” (1 Cor. 14:33).

Jonah here, gives thanks to God even when he disagrees with Him concerning the Ninevites. Why is it important to have faith in God when you don’t understand His ways, or you don’t understand your circumstances? Because we have the assurance that God is sovereign, God knows what He is doing, God wants for us what we would want for ourselves (if we had the sense enough to want it), and God calls us to trust Him because of it.

There are numerous biblical examples of this trust that God calls for. One of the greatest is found in Lamentations 3:21-24. This book is a despairing poem about the destruction of Jerusalem. In the midst of the unbearable sorrow, Jeremiah cries out, “But this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope: The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. “The LORD is my portion,” says my soul, “therefore I will hope in him” (ESV). Another example is when the psalmist asks, “How long, O LORD? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me?” (Ps. 13:1), but expresses in v. 5, “But I have trusted in your steadfast love; my heart shall rejoice in your salvation.”

We continue to trust God in our difficulties and in our confusions, because we know who He is. Our faith in God is not blind. We know that He is a God “who never lies” (Titus 1:2), and “God is not man, that he should lie, or a son of man, that he should change his mind. Has he said, and will he not do it? Or has he spoken, and will he not fulfill it?” (Numbers 23:19) Therefore, when God makes a promise like “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose” (Rom. 8:28), we know that He means what He says.

Salvation Belongs to the LORD!

We have come to the end of Jonah’s prayer and his last statement is this: “But I with the voice of thanksgiving will sacrifice to you; what I have vowed I will pay. Salvation belongs to the LORD!” (v. 9). Jonah says that with thanksgiving he will sacrifice to God, and says that he will return to do what he originally was called to do. And he utters a statement that is absolutely foundational to the overarching message of the Bible: “Salvation belongs to the LORD!”

Do you think Jonah expected to be saved when thrown into the raging sea? Of course not. He thought he would surely die. If he didn’t he would have described his experience as going down to the land “whose bars closed upon [him] forever” (v. 6). God was at work to save Jonah even before he was fleeing from Him. Think about your own salvation. Think about that day. Did you expect to be saved? Did you expect it to happen? Did you know any point in your life prior that that day would come? Of course you didn’t. That’s what Jonah expresses here. Salvation belongs to the LORD. It is and was God’s plan, God’s work, God’s way, for God’s glory. It wasn’t your plan (Eph. 1:4), and it was not your way. Jesus’ work of salvation through His death and victory over death was even done while the world was still at odds with God. God is indeed the author of our faith, and Jonah here is a key witness. This shines light on the fact that God has been at work to save you (His enemy; Rom. 5:10) ever since before you were born. And Christ died for broken sinners long before they would ever converted. God alone is deserving of full credit for your salvation.

Conclusion

Plainly put, Jonah has looked toward God. It is enough for his deliverance. God will deal with his protest and running issues later. God answers those who call out in distress whether their issues of protest are resolved or not. He delivers those who call out in times of trouble. He accepts Jonah’s thanks and his lack of repentance because he accepts Jonah’s protest, not as sin but as a welcome dialogue. When Jonah concludes his prayer, God answers this way: “And the LORD spoke to the fish, and it vomited Jonah out upon the dry land” (v. 10). God has not given up on His prophet, and will continue to relentlessly pursue him.

Jonah: On the Run

Jonah: On the Run (1:1-3)

Introduction

The book of Jonah contains only fifty-eight verses, but those few verses include a storm at sea, the conversion of sailors, a miraculous rescue, a song of praise, the repentance of Israel’s archenemy, and an intensely honest dialogue between the Lord and Israel’s most reluctant prophet.

The author, who is most likely Jonah, sets the tone in this passage to focus on God and Jonah.

The Text

“1 Now the word of the LORD came to Jonah the son of Amittai, saying, 2 “Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and call out against it, for their evil has come up before me.” 3 But Jonah rose to flee to Tarshish from the presence of the LORD. He went down to Joppa and found a ship going to Tarshish. So he paid the fare and went down into it, to go with them to Tarshish, away from the presence of the LORD.”

Jonah’s Call

In the first verse, the author begins this story by saying that “the word of the LORD came to Jonah. . .” (v. 1). This phrase is used when God speaks directly to someone who is asked to participate in God’s mission in a special way. God spoke personally to Jonah. Often times, we look down on him because he ran from God. Despite that, God loved him and favored him. If God didn’t favor Jonah, He wouldn’t have spoken to him in such a personal way.

In the Bible, a person’s name was the description of their character. This is true for the many names given to God in the Bible, and also for the various people in the Scriptures. Take Genesis 25 for example, where we read about the birth of Jacob: “Afterward his brother came out with his hand holding Esau’s heel, so his name was called Jacob” (25:26). So his name means, “he takes by the heel” or “he cheats.” With that in mind, what is the meaning of the name “Jonah?”

His name means “dove.” Do you recall what Noah did with the dove? Of course you do. It’s found in one of the most beloved Bible stories. In Genesis 8:10-11, Noah sends out a dove from the ark and it returns with the branch of an olive tree, symbolizing peace and compassion. Similarly, God sent out Jonah to be a symbol of peace to the Ninevites. God wanted to rescue the Ninevites from destruction and judgment by His wrath so that they could have peace, forgiveness and mercy.

Furthermore, the Old Testament describes doves as birds who moan and lament (Isaiah 38:14; 59:11). And Jonah moans and cries in chapter 4. Leviticus describes doves as birds of sacrifice, similarly Jonah sacrifices himself to save the sailors in chapter 1. Lastly, in Psalm 55, the psalmist longs to be like a dove to flee from the terrors of death. Jonah also, flees like a dove in chapter 1 from the terror of Nineveh. That’s not why he flees, but he does flee from that.

A Symbol of Peace

As indicated by our text, God sent Jonah to be a messenger of peace to the wicked Ninevites. God desired to rescue them from destruction. We are to be symbols and messengers of peace in our world today. The Bible gives us certain commands concerning peace: “All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation” (2 Cor. 5:18), and in the Sermon on the Mount, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God” (Matt. 5:9). And Paul in Romans 12:18, “Do all that you can to live in peace with everyone” (NLT).

So we are commanded to be symbols of peace in our world today, and even more, to follow the example of Jesus. He is the very embodiment of peace. Paul describes Jesus in an unusual way: “He himself is our peace” (Ephesians 2:14a), unusual because, nowhere else in the New Testament is Christ portrayed this way—as the very embodiment of peace. We Christians today should follow Christ’s example of peace. In fact, we should follow the example of Jesus in everything. Jesus is our perfect example of obedience to the Father, even to the point of death (Philippians 2:8).

Getting Away

“Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and call out against it, for their evil has come up before me” (v. 2). This statement is of course from God. This is that word of the Lord that came to Jonah. God tells Jonah to “call out against” the Ninevites. To call them to repent and seek God. Why? “For their evil has come up before me.” Their evil has been done in plain sight of God. Nineveh was the capital city of Assyria, and they were Israel’s worst enemy and a source of harm and violence to the ancient world. They were especially known for their brutal and grisly treatment of their enemies. Jonah, being an Israelite, was not interested in taking part in the redemption of this particular enemy. He wasn’t interested in going there and giving them any chance to repent and turn from their ways—they were one of Israel’s enemies.

So what did Jonah do in response to God’s call? “But Jonah rose to flee to Tarshish from the presence of the LORD. He went down to Joppa and found a ship going to Tarshish. So he paid the fare and went down into it, to go with them into Tarshish, away from the presence of the LORD” (v. 3). He flees to Tarshish. He goes down to Joppa and finds a ship going to Tarishish. He pays the fare (the cost to ride) and goes with the crew. The author, who is most likely Jonah, tells this story in a remarkable way. The details mentioned in this passage help you to feel like you are actually going on this trip with Jonah, wondering what will happen next. Something worth noting is the repeated phrase, “away from the presence of the LORD,” which occurs twice in this verse. The various authors of the Bible will often times use repetition to help illustrate an important point. In this case, to help us understand what Jonah was fleeing from: the presence of the Lord. He was fleeing from God’s presence. He runs to Tarshish to avoid two places associated with God’s word: the temple, and Nineveh. Jonah was a prophet, so he would often hear the word of God read in the temple, and he knew if he went to Nineveh, then he would have to preach the word. So he heads to Tarshish, hoping to get away from God’s voice. He knows God is everywhere (1:9), but he thinks that going to Tarshish will drown out God’s voice.

Naturally Running From God

Jonah’s running from God is a great example of a larger theme taught in the Bible—we naturally run from God. We do not naturally run after God or seek Him. “10 as it is written: ‘None is righteous, no not one; 11 no one understands; no one seeks for God. 12 All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one” (Rom. 3:10-12, emphasis mine). We are born haters of God and lovers of darkness. “19 And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil. 20 For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed” (John 3:19-20). There is nothing good in us and nothing in us that desires God or naturally delights in Him. Even after we are believers, we continue to struggle with sin daily (Rom. 7:22-26).

But the glorious flip-side of it is this: Though we are on a pursuit away from God, He is running after us, because of His great love. In fact, God has been running after you since before you were born—before the foundation of the world (Ephesians 1:4). God even loved you before time began and God is pursuing you like He pursued Jonah. And that pursuit from God is our only hope.

Why Did Jonah Run?

Jonah is certainly rebelling against God by running from God’s call on his life. He does get to a low point. His running was a refusal to obey God’s call to “go to Nineveh,” but it was more than that. To see the whole picture, we need to ask ‘Why did Jonah run from God?’ Many scholars have given a number of creative answers to this question:

1) Jonah ran because the Ninevites were not Jews. The text does not indicate that Jonah was racist against the Ninevites. This conclusion is weak, even though the Ninevites were Israel’s cruel enemies.

2) Jonah ran because he did not want to be known as a false prophet. God says in Deuteronomy, “If what a prophet proclaims in the name of the LORD does not take place or come true, that is a message the LORD has not spoken” (18:22). As you know, when Jonah preached, the people repented and the judgment was avoided. But would that make Jonah a false prophet? No. God says in Jeremiah 18:7-8, “If at any time I declare concerning a nation or a kingdom, that I will pluck up and break down and destroy it, and if that nation, concerning which I have spoken, turns from its evil, I will relent of the disaster that I intended to do to it” (emphasis mine).

3) Jonah ran because he feared death at the hands of the cruel Ninevites. This conclusion is also weak because Jonah wasn’t afraid to die (1:15). He readily offered himself to be tossed overboard to save the sailors.

The true reason Jonah ran was this: He knew that if he preached judgment, there would be a possibility of forgiveness if they turned from their ways. He knew God was like that: “That is why I made haste to flee to Tarshish; for I knew that you are a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, and relenting from disaster” (Jonah 4:2). And he didn’t agree. Jonah thought God was making a mistake and a dangerous theological move by offering forgiveness to these wicked Ninevites. Jonah didn’t agree with the way God was going to deal with the Ninevites. Jonah couldn’t swallow (pun intended) the truth that God is both judging and forgiving. Full of both grace and truth. Wrath and compassion.

Taking the Gospel to Haters

Jonah was called to take the message of repentance to his enemies. In the New Testament, we find out that Jesus actually brought the gospel to His enemies (Romans 5:10). You and I. Now, you are called to take the gospel to your enemies. To those who hate you. Jesus, again in the Sermon on the Mount, “But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” (Matt. 5:44). Peter in his first epistle, “Do not repay evil for evil or reviling for reviling, but on the contrary, bless, for to this you were called, that you may obtain a blessing” (1 Pet. 3:9).

Think about who your greatest enemy is. Maybe someone at work who always gives you a hard time. Maybe someone at your school who always rejects you. Maybe a parent who you cannot please. Maybe a cousin or someone in your neighbor hood. Think about the person who gives you the hardest time. That person needs the gospel. You need to take the gospel to them. That’s a risky mission. It might mean inviting them to eat lunch with you. It might mean buying them a Coke after school. It might mean resisting their constant attacks. It might mean doing more work around the house. It might mean talking with them on a personal level.

You may say, “They won’t care. They won’t care about Jesus or the gospel.” You’re right. All who are unsaved do not give the least rip about the gospel. It is foolishness to them (1 Cor. 1:18). But we have the promise that God can save anyone. God must enlighten someone to the worth of the gospel. When He does, all they can do is run to God. There is not another possibility. You can’t be enlightened to the worth of God through the gospel and then make a choice to go the other way (Hebrews 6:4-6). It is impossible. It’s a miracle of God. He enlightens you, grants you faith and repentance and He gives you spiritual life, all in one moment. So don’t believe that God can’t save someone because they count the gospel as worthlessness.

A prime example of this is the conversion story of Paul. He hated the Christian church. He persecuted and killed Christians. He watched Stephen, one of the most courageous believers who ever lived, be stoned to death. And the Bible says that Paul “approved of his execution,” or was pleased (Acts 8:1). Paul was saved soon after this and now look at what God did through him. The gospel spread throughout the entire Mediterranean world because of Paul’s efforts. And half of our New Testament consists of Paul’s writings.

We have enemies like Jonah and we are called to take the message of the gospel to them whether or not we believe they deserve it.