Harry Whittaker

3) Flight (1:3)

1:3 But Jonah rose up to flee unto Tarshish from the presence of the Lord, and went down to Joppa; and he found a ship going to Tarshish: so he paid the fare thereof, and went down into it, to go with them unto Tarshish from the presence of the Lord.

The instruction to Jonah was: “Rise up, go to Nineveh and cry against it”. But the prophet, resenting this commission, “rose up to flee unto Tarshish from the presence of the Lord”. Giving Jonah the benefit of the doubt, so to speak, one would like to interpret these words as meaning that he went out from the presence of God in the temple. But twice more the words are repeated (1: 10; 4: 2), in such a context as to mean that he thought he could evade this unwelcome responsibility by getting away from his God, and that he could achieve this by going as far as possible from God’s Land.

So he determined to go to Tarshish. Which Tarshish? Josephus says this was Tarsus. But in this he was surely mistaken, for if Jonah believed that the judgment of the Lord might reach to Nineveh, it could certainly reach him in Cilicia. The Indian Tarshish must also be ruled out, for ships sailing thither used Ezion-geber (1 Kgs. 22: 48) as their port of departure. And the alternative route round Africa was out of question. So it seems more likely that either Tartessus in Southern Spain or the Tarshish in Britain (Ezek. 27: 12) was the intended destination.

But why did Jonah not go to Tyre or Zidon, the two great sea-ports of that era and country? Both were nearer to Zebulun than Joppa was. The explanation must be that Jonah “went down” from the temple at Jerusalem, where the Lord appeared unto him, to the nearest sea-port.

And, by God’s providence, no doubt, he immediately found a passage in a ship just about to set sail for Tarshish. The immediacy of this may surely be inferred from his fatigue; for having paid his fare, he forthwith went below and fell asleep and snored (so the LXX version of v.5 has it)!

That expression: “went down” was not inappropriate, for the road from Jerusalem drops more than two thousand feet to the coast; but also there is about this phrase a special implication of spiritual declension. When Abraham “went down” into Egypt (Gen. 12: 10), it was one of the worst decisions of his life; and, by and by, he was glad to recognize this and to “go up” back to the Land of Promise, unto “the place” (tabernacle) where he had been at the beginning. Jonah, in a day or two, you will have the like experience!

That detail, that Jonah “paid his fare” is a reminder that the prophet was a man of some substance, for such a considerable journey would assuredly cost him more than ten cents.

Very soon the voyage was fraught with difficulty and hardship. “The Lord sent out a great wind into the sea”. The language implies that an angel was sent expressly to produce this tempest (LXX: clydon; cp. Acts 27: 14), “so that the ship was like to be broken” (LXX has s.w. as in Lk. 8: 23).

But, down below, Jonah slept on. He had no bad conscience to keep him awake. So, convinced that his judgement was better than the Almighty’s, he slept. And the message of Heaven’s euroclydon was lost on him — for the present.

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