New Living Translation
3 But Jonah got up and went in the opposite direction to get away from the Lord. He went down to the port of Joppa, where he found a ship leaving for Tarshish. He bought a ticket and went on board, hoping to escape from the Lord by sailing to Tarshish.
But Jonah rose up to flee unto Tarshish from the presence of
He was not obedient to the heavenly vision; he rose up, but not to go to Nineveh, but to Tarshish, the reverse of it; to the sea, as the Targum, the Mediterranean sea, which lay west, as Nineveh was to the east. Tarshish sometimes is used for the sea; see ( Psalms 48:7 ) ; he determined to go to sea; he did not care where, or to what place he might find a ship bound; or to Tarsus in Cilicia, the birthplace of the Apostle Paul, ( Acts 22:3 ) ; so Josephus F17 and Saadiah Gaon; or to Tunis in Africa, as R. Melasser in Aben Ezra; or to Carthage, as Theodoret, and others; or Tartessus in Spain, as others. Among this difference of interpreters, it is hard to say what place it was: it seems best to understand it of Tarsus. The prophet had better knowledge of God, and of the perfections of his nature, than to imagine he could flee from his general presence, which is everywhere, and from which there is no fleeing, ( Psalms 139:7 ) ; but his view was to flee out of that land where he granted his special presence to his people; and from that place where were the symbols of his presence, the ark, the mercy seat, and cherubim, and in which he stood, and ministered before the Lord; but now upon this order left his post, and deserted his station. The reasons given of his conduct are various. The Jewish writers suppose that he concerned more for the glory of Israel than the glory of God; that he was fearful, should he do as he was bid, the word of the Lord would be carried from Judea into the Gentile world, and there remain; that he was of opinion that the Heathens would repent of their sins at his preaching, though Israel did not, which would turn to the reproach and condemnation of the latter; see ( Matthew 12:41 ) ; and that he knew that the spirit of prophecy did not dwell upon any out of the land of Israel, and therefore got as fast as he could out of it, that he might not be further urged with such a message; which notion is confuted by the instances of Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and Daniel; to this, sense the Targum inclines, which adds,
“lest he should prophesy in the name of the Lord:”
but there is no need to seek for reasons, and which are given by others; such as going out of his own country into a foreign one; the length of the journey; the opposition and difficulties he might expect to meet with; and the risk he should run of his life, by prophesying in and against the metropolis of the Assyrian empire, where the king’s court and palace were; and he not only a Heathen, but a sovereign and arbitrary prince; when the true reasons are suggested by the prophet himself; as that he supposed the people would repent; he knew that God was gracious and merciful, and upon their repentance would not inflict the punishment pronounced; and he should be reckoned a false prophet, ( Jonah 4:2 ) ; and went down to Joppa;
a seaport town in the tribe of Dan, upon the Mediterranean sea, where was a haven of ships, formerly called Japho, ( Joshua 19:16 ) ; at this time Joppa, as it was in the times of the apostles: here Peter raised Dorcas to life, and from hence he was sent for by Cornelius, ( Acts 9:36 ) ( 10:5 ) ; it is now called Jaffa; of which Monsieur Thevenot F18 says,
“it is a town built upon the top of a rock, whereof there remains no more at present but some towers; and the port of it was at the foot of the said rock.–It is at present a place of few inhabitants; and all that is to be seen of it is a little castle with two towers, one round, and another square; and a great tower separate from it on one side. There are no houses by the seaside, but five grottos cut in the rock, of which the fourth is in a place of retreat for Christians.–There is a harbour still in the same place where it was formerly; but there is so little water in it, that none but small barks can enter.”
It was a very ancient city, said F19 to be older than the flood; and built on a hill so high, that Strabo says F20 Jerusalem might be seen from thence, which was forty miles from it. It had its name from Jope the daughter of Aeolus, the wife of Cepheus, the founder of it F21. Jonah went thither, either from Jerusalem, or from Gathhepher, as Kimchi and Ben Melech observe: if from the former, it was forty miles to Joppa, as Jerom says; and if from the latter, it is supposed to be about fifty: a journey of this length must be some time in performing, which shows with what deliberation and resolution he sinned in disobeying the divine command: and he found a ship going to Tarshish;
just ready to put to sea, and bound for this place: Providence seemed to favour him, and answer to his wishes; from whence it may be observed, that the goodness of an action, and its acceptableness to God, are not to be concluded from its wished for success: so he paid the fare thereof;
the freight of the ship; the whole of it, according to Jarchi; that haste and a quicker dispatch might be made, and no stay for passengers or goods; but that it might be put under, sail directly, and he be the sooner out of the land; which, if true, would show him to be a man of substance; and agrees with a notion of the Jews, and serves to illustrate and confirm it, that the spirit of prophecy does not dwell upon any but a rich man; for which reason the above interpreter catches at it; but Aben Ezra more truly observes, that he paid his part, what came to his share, what was usual to be paid for a passage to such a place: and whereas it might be usual then, as now, not to pay till they were arrived at port, and went out of the ship; he paid his fare at entrance, to secure his passage, lest through any pretence he should not be took in upon sailing; so determined was he to fly from God, and disobey his orders: and went down into it, to go with them unto Tarshish from the presence
of the Lord;
having paid his fare, he entered the ship directly, lest he should be left behind; and went down into the cabin perhaps, to go along with the mariners and merchants, all Heathens to Tarshish, whither they were bound, in order to be clear of any fresh order from the Lord, to go and prophesy against Nineveh: here again the Targum adds,
“lest he should prophesy in the name of the Lord.”
Jonah was chosen by God to be a missionary to the Gentiles. Unlike the majority of Israelite prophets who called the nation to repentance and proclaimed God’s great love and faithfulness towards His chosen people, Jonah’s message was a warning to pagan Gentiles to turn from their false gods and trust in the true God of heaven and earth, Who demonstrates His great heart of compassion, mercy, and grace, for ALL people.
Jonah was a prophet who came from Galilee and lived in a town near Nazareth, the hometown of Christ’s childhood. We do not know how or when the Word of the Lord came to Jonah, but he was called by God and commissioned to rise up and go to the great city of Nineveh and preach against its ungodly behaviour, for their wickedness of the city had come up before the Lord.
Nineveh was the most highly populated city of antiquity which indulged in luxuries and boasted of its fine architecture. The inhabitants of Nineveh were pagan worshippers of lifeless idols and false deities. He did not like his assignment and so, “Jonah rose up to flee to Tarshish from the presence of the Lord.”
We discover later in the book, that Jonah objected to the Lord’s demonstration of mercy and grace towards the Gentiles. He did not approve of God’s mercy being extended towards these pagans and so he decided to run away. “Jonah went down to Joppa and found a ship which was going to Tarshish. He paid his fare and went down into the vessel with the rest of the crew – away from the presence of the Lord.”
Instead of obeying the Word of the Lord, Jonah chose to run away from God’s presence. He boarded a vessel that was bound for distant shores! Israel were supposed to be a light to the Gentiles and God’s eternal purpose was to save all people, not only Israel. It is God’s will that ALL men are saved and that all come to repentance… but in His wisdom He purposed that salvation would be fulfilled through the Jewish nation who were given the Law, the Prophets, the Psalms, the covenants, and the promises… and through whom the Messiah of Israel and Saviour of the world was to come.
Jonah is the only person in the Old Testament that refused to obey God’s Word and attempted to run away from His God-ordained mission. Indeed, he ran in the opposite direction. Instead of going to Nineveh in the east, he boarded a ship bound for faraway ports in the west. Jonah ran away to escape God’s call on his life. Whether he pretended not to hear God’s instruction, deluded himself that the ship he boarded was God’s provision to use him elsewhere, or whether he displayed open rebellion against the Word of the Lord, Jonah disobeyed his God and in so doing, he sinned.
Instead of getting up and setting off towards Nineveh to carry out the Word of the Lord, we see that his actions caused Jonah to dig himself deeper and deeper into sin, selfishness, and defiance against God’s clear call.
It may seem astonishing to us that Jonah could rebel so brazenly against the Lord, and yet, when the microscope of truth is pointing in our own direction, we need to consider if there are times that we have acted like Jonah! We need to challenge our own reaction to God’s call on our life and ask if we have ever closed our ears to His clear call, refused to carry out His perfect will for our life, or pretended that God was giving some alternative instruction that was more to our liking!!
Although the story of Jonah is a peep into one prophet’s commission which demonstrates God’s grace and mercy towards all people and that His sovereign purpose will always come to completion, it also contains many lessons for Christians today.
The story of the prophet who tried to flee from God may give us an interesting glance into the history of one of the oldest cities of antiquity, but it should also cause us to consider if we are ready and willing to hear and obey God’s call on our life… or if like Jonah, we try to manipulate the clear teaching of Scripture to fit in with our own preferred plans and purposes. May we always be ready and willing to say, “Thy will, not mine be done.”