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 1:3
The course of disobedience is always a downward trajectory—that is, until God intervenes.
In Jonah’s haste to flee from the Lord’s command to preach a message of repentance to the Ninevites, he went “down to Joppa,” “down into” the ship, and “down to the land whose bars closed upon” him in the belly of the great fish (Jonah 2:6, emphasis added).
When Jonah was fast asleep below the ship’s deck, trying to flee from God, “the LORD hurled a great wind upon the sea … so that the ship threatened to break up” (1:4). Yet in the midst of a raging tempest and the feverish activity of sailors who were shouting, crying, praying, and hurling things into the water, Jonah slept on.
How could Jonah possibly have been so exhausted? Surely he was physically and spiritually worn out by his decision to run away from God. While disobedience may be exhilarating in the moment—while it may provide a momentary buzz—it is always exhausting in the end. It is hard to kick against the goads (Acts 26:14). There can hardly be found a more miserable or disconsolate sleep than that which follows our rebellion against a word from God and the ensuing desire to hide from anyone and everyone by retreating to the privacy of our bed.
Jonah wanted God to leave him alone. God, however, was too merciful to do so. So He sent a storm, and the storm sent the captain of the ship to find Jonah and rouse him. The captain used the same word God had previously spoken to call Jonah to preach: “Arise, call out to your god!” (Jonah 1:6, emphasis added; compare 1:2).
Here, then, is a picture of great reluctance—not only Jonah’s reluctance to do what he’s told but God’s reluctance to leave His servant in the dejection and misery of his sin. The three days Jonah would soon spend in the belly of the great fish further testify to this truth about God. Although Jonah’s rebellion merited punishment, God would soon rescue Jonah from perishing at sea and restore him in order that he would preach judgment and mercy to the people of Nineveh.
God comes to us again and again in our disobedience, unwilling to let us wallow in our sin. Even if we put our fingers in our ears and pretend not to hear Him, and even if we flat-out refuse to obey, God pursues His wandering children. He loves us so much that He doesn’t want to leave us to our own devices. In our sin, we cannot outrun the mercy of God, the one who will never leave us or forsake us.