Written by: Thomas Kilian, Chaplain
The word of the Lord came to Jonah, son of Amittai: “Go to the great city of Nineveh and preach against it because its wickedness has come up before me.”But Jonah ran away from the Lord and headed for Tarshish. He went down to Joppa, where he found a ship bound for that port. After paying the fare, he sailed for Tarshish to flee from the Lord. — Jonah 1:1-3
Prophet Jonah receives a call from God. A city called Nineveh (a city-state belonging to the oldest and most-populous city of the ancient Assyrian empire) is falling into disarray because of its wickedness—sins. “Sin” is an archery term meaning “to miss the mark.” The society of Nineveh is in moral disarray, and like any other society, they are constantly falling into chaos because of its nature in a broken world. The individual is always placed in a relationship with a culture that is at some level corrupt. And then the question is, "What do you do about it?" If the answer is “Nothing, I’ll just hide,” it becomes more corrupt. If the answer is, “Well, I will become corrupt too,” society will become more corrupt, and you will lead it toward chaos and hell. So, the answer has to be, “To oppose corruption!” That is the only way it is going to stop.
God tells Jonah to tell Nineveh precisely the truth about the city's situation. This is a call to responsibility. God has told Jonah how he can respond. And Jonah, in his actions, thinks, “Not my concern. They can go to hell, as far as I am concerned." I do not state this as a mere assumption because this is what his rebellious response indicates. Jonah does not desire and refuses the responsibility of speaking truth to power. But why? Well, this does not require much explanation. How popular will you be if you go to a chaotic, rebellious people and then tell them exactly why they are wrong? Yes, it does not allow for a good experience for the truth-teller. And who would listen, anyway?
In your life, you will face this same situation and responsibility. You already do consistently and continually in small ways when people are not treating you properly. These might be your friends, coworkers, and even your brothers and sisters. People are playing a crooked game. You know full well that it is twisted. You could either hide and give up by not confronting the crookedness. But if you know it is crooked, it is not good to play along with it, even in silence, because it degrades you, and most of all, it is an offense to God.
For Jonah, he flees to Tarshish, the farthest he could physically go in the opposite direction of Nineveh. In doing so, he is fleeing from the Lord. God is Judge, and when you run away from the God-given responsibility to speak up, you are running away from God and His standards.
“Running” is an action we take when we hope to "silence" His standards. “Running” seems logical to do, flee and not confront the corruption. However, this is not true; if you do not speak truth to power, you commit the same sin and crime that separates the sinner from the saint.
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• Prophets were called to internalize God’s Word. Read Jeremiah 15:16, Ezekiel 3:3, and Revelation 10:9-10. What do you believe is the reason for those who speak the truth also to internalize it? What does it mean to you that the Word of God is both bitter and sweet, even to the people of God?
• In what ways you have gone on a “run” from God? How useful do you feel your story of “running” but then “listening” would be in your witness to people?