“You know when I sit down or stand up.
You know my thoughts even when I’m far away.
You see me when I travel
and when I rest at home.
You know everything I do.
You know what I am going to say
even before I say it, Lord.
You go before me and follow me.
You place your hand of blessing on my head.
Such knowledge is too wonderful for me,
too great for me to understand!
I can never escape from your Spirit!
I can never get away from your presence!
If I go up to heaven, you are there;
if I go down to the grave, you are there.
If I ride the wings of the morning,
if I dwell by the farthest oceans,
even there your hand will guide me,
and your strength will support me.
I could ask the darkness to hide me
and the light around me to become night—
but even in darkness I cannot hide from you.” Psalm 139:2-12
Years ago, exhausted from the ministry of church as well as directing a youth camp, Randy and I loaded up kids and camping gear to get away from it all. We just wanted to rest and be with our own kids for a while. We loaded up the camper, hoping to find a place away from people. We arrived a campsite and thanked God because no one else was camping on either side of us. We made our beds for the night and got all cozy. Our kids had already fallen asleep. We were about to doze off ourselves when we heard people moving into the campsite next to us in the dark of night. We looked out our camper windows to see an enthusiastic youth group piling out of vehicles ready to rock and roll for God around a campfire.
So, no, there is no getting away, hiding, or being without God. Fortunately, the group was not obnoxious. That last song sung was Kumbaya—Come by here. Randy and I giggled at the irony and humor of our God as we drifted off to sleep. We were so tired; nothing was going to keep us from rest. God knew that.
We now come to a whale of a story about a reluctant prophet, a man who tried to get away from what God was asking him to be and do. But, get this—even in his running away attempt, men who steered the ship in a storm are introduced to God. They end up falling on their knees, praying, repenting and then worshiping the very God who Jonah was trying to get away from! Do you see the irony in this alone? If God asks you to be and do what He created you to be and do; He will provide a way (beyond our wildest thinking) to get it done. And that’s not all! God will bring people to see Him for who He really is in the process!
Did Jonah know the words to Psalm 139 and did he repeat them as he was thrown overboard; “I can never escape from your Spirit! I can never get away from your presence! —adding, not even if I am swallowed by a whale and end up residing in its belly, you are there!”
Jonah 1, The Message
Running Away from God
1-2 One day long ago, God’s Word came to Jonah, Amittai’s son: “Up on your feet and on your way to the big city of Nineveh! Preach to them. They’re in a bad way and I can’t ignore it any longer.”
3 But Jonah got up and went the other direction to Tarshish, running away from God. He went down to the port of Joppa and found a ship headed for Tarshish. He paid the fare and went on board, joining those going to Tarshish—as far away from God as he could get.
4-6 But God sent a huge storm at sea, the waves towering.
The ship was about to break into pieces. The sailors were terrified. They called out in desperation to their gods. They threw everything they were carrying overboard to lighten the ship. Meanwhile, Jonah had gone down into the hold of the ship to take a nap. He was sound asleep. The captain came to him and said, “What’s this? Sleeping! Get up! Pray to your god! Maybe your god will see we’re in trouble and rescue us.”
7 Then the sailors said to one another, “Let’s get to the bottom of this. Let’s draw straws to identify the culprit on this ship who’s responsible for this disaster.”
So they drew straws. Jonah got the short straw.
8 Then they grilled him: “Confess. Why this disaster? What is your work? Where do you come from? What country? What family?”
9 He told them, “I’m a Hebrew. I worship God, the God of heaven who made sea and land.”
10 At that, the men were frightened, really frightened, and said, “What on earth have you done!” As Jonah talked, the sailors realized that he was running away from God.
11 They said to him, “What are we going to do with you—to get rid of this storm?” By this time the sea was wild, totally out of control.
12 Jonah said, “Throw me overboard, into the sea. Then the storm will stop. It’s all my fault. I’m the cause of the storm. Get rid of me and you’ll get rid of the storm.”
13 But no. The men tried rowing back to shore. They made no headway. The storm only got worse and worse, wild and raging.
14 Then they prayed to God, “O God! Don’t let us drown because of this man’s life, and don’t blame us for his death. You are God. Do what you think is best.”
15 They took Jonah and threw him overboard. Immediately the sea was quieted down.
16 The sailors were impressed, no longer terrified by the sea, but in awe of God. They worshiped God, offered a sacrifice, and made vows.
17 Then God assigned a huge fish to swallow Jonah. Jonah was in the fish’s belly three days and nights.
WHAT DO WE LEARN—HOW DO WE RESPOND?
Jonah had every right to run (he thought). Why should he go to that stinking city? He hated the place. Why should he warn the Ninevites about God’s judgment? After how they had treated his people, they deserved to be wiped out. The last thing Jonah wanted was for his enemies to receive God’s blessing.
So he ran . . . as fast and as far as he could away from what God wanted him to do.
But God had other plans. There’s more to the story; but for now thank God for what He is doing in our lives right now.
We can be so difficult.
But God can be so patient.
The book of Jonah is more than a fascinating account of one man’s futile attempt to run away from God. It is a story of God’s love for even the most unlovable, despicable people we can imagine—and of our responsibility to tell them the Good News.
And God? God can do, did and does some pretty amazing things in just three days—like saving the world through Jesus Christ, His son, who on the third day defeated death and ran out that grave where men thought they had him forever bound.
There is no place where we can go that God is not there. I praise God for that knowledge and of His knowing me better than I know myself and loving me anyway.
Thank you for fresh insight into this story of redemption and obedience of Jonah who finally ran to you instead of away from you. We find ourselves doing the same at times. Thank you for time to realize who you are, time to mull over what you are asking of us, then the energy to run to you knowing that you never left us. Help us to trust and obey for there’s truly no other way to be happy (like the song says) and joyful in you, but to trust and obey.
In Jesus Name, For Your Glory, Amen