Explore The Bible: No Escape

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When we do something wrong, or when we ignore someone's instructions, it seems we have this innate desire to hide our actions. Many times, followers of Christ use the same strategy with God. However, The Explore the Bible Study: No Escape, reveals that no one can run and hide from God.

Running from God is about as ridiculous as what this young man tried to do when he was trying to hide from the police after committing the crime of theft.

Hiding in a dirty, dark, stinky garbage can is about as crazy as what happened when Jonah tried to hide from God. The beginning of the book of Jonah is best understood in the context of 2 Kings 14:23-27. The Northern Kingdom of Israel was wicked and led by King Jeroboam II, a king who “did what was evil in the Lord’s sight” (2 Kings 14:24). Nevertheless, God mercifully gave Israel victory over their enemies, according to His word, through the prophet Jonah.  Because of this, Jonah had it fairly easy, as prophets go, because his message of military victory and border expansion for Israel had come to pass. He was settled and doing fine.

The book of Jonah begins with God speaking to Jonah again—the prophet Jonah was going to have to get up from his place of comfort, his familiar and comfortable setting, and go preach to the Assyrian people of Nineveh. Nineveh was an Assyrian administrative city. The Assyrians had waged war and were known for being bitterly oppressive toward Israel. God told Jonah to go to the very people who he considered an enemy and to share the message of repentance with them. Jonah 1:1-14 tells us about Jonah’s disobedience and his attempt to hide from God. He boarded a ship in Joppa and fled to Tarshish.

500 Miles = To Obey | 2000 Miles = To Run and Hide

Tarshish was approximately 2,000 miles from his home. Instead of traveling 500 miles from his home to Nineveh as God had commanded, Jonah chose to travel 2,000 miles in the opposite direction, placing him as far away from God’s intended plan as he could possibly get. 

While sailing toward Tarshish, God brought a storm and the ship began to sink. The pagan sailors were convinced someone on the vessel had angered a god, thus causing the storm, so they cast lots to find out who it was. The lot fell on Jonah (Jonah 1:4-7). 

Jonah could no longer run or hide from God. Jonah told the sailors to throw him into the sea because he knew he had run from God. Jonah was looking for an escape from his responsibility to preach to Nineveh. The sailors were looking for an escape other than throwing a stranger overboard in the middle of a raging storm. Jonah assumed he would die for his disobedience, but God had a different plan. Let’s see how God responded and how Jonah responded when he was thrown overboard.

First, God demonstrated His power—Jonah 1:15-17

God demonstrated His absolute power, sovereignty, and compassion to these pagan sailors and to Jonah. The pagan sailors responded to the sudden and miraculous calming of the raging, life-threatening seas with a great fear of the Lord that led them to offer a sacrifice to the Lord and make vows to him.

"The fear of the Lord is a deep-seated reverence and awe for God that causes humans to want to honor Him at all costs and to avoid His loving discipline. It involves wonder, submission, obedience, worship, consideration, admiration, and love, inspired by His eternal attributes and authority.” (Source: Explore the Bible Daily Discipleship Guide, p.49)

Earlier Jonah had told the sailors that he was the reason God had brought the storms. In Jonah 1:9, he identified himself as a Hebrew and he went on to say that he worshipped (or feared) “the Lord, the God of the heavens, who made the sea and the dry land.” Yet it was these sailors who demonstrated a true fear of the Lord on this day while the prophet of the Lord, who claimed he feared the Lord, failed to show it.

Do you think Jonah was thinking of the sailors when he told them to throw him overboard? Do you think he was thinking that he could just die and be done with running and hiding from God? How does Jonah’s thinking compare to the way someone who knows they have sinned against God might respond today?

Notice the irony. The wind and the sea submitted to the Lord. The heathen sailors tried to save Jonah’s life, feared the Lord, offered a sacrifice, and made vows to the Lord. Even the great fish obeyed the Lord, saving Jonah’s life. However, Jonah, the prophet of the Lord—the one who knew Him like none of these others—disobeyed God.

This narrative of someone hiding from God and willfully disobeying Him could have ended right here with Jonah drowning in the sea. Or, it could have ended with Jonah repenting and God immediately transporting him to dry land or back onto the ship. Yet, the next passages reveal that Jonah hadn’t quit running from God, so God compassionately spared Jonah by bringing a big fish to swallow him!

Second, God knows how low we can go before we turn to Him—Jonah 2:1-4

In the Hebrew text, Jonah 1:17 begins the next section of the story indicating that Jonah was in the belly of the fish three days and three nights; THEN he prayed to the Lord!

Why did it take Jonah three days and three nights to finally pray to God? What does this communicate about His rebellion? What does it communicate about his assumptions regarding what he thought God was really going to do to him? What does this communicate regarding how God deals with disobedience today?

Perhaps Jonah thought that when he was thrown overboard, he would drown, and this would be his punishment from God. Then he was swallowed by a fish. Even then God wouldn’t let him die. Jonah tried to hide from God, and now God had given him a taste of what that’s like. He was stuck in the belly of a fish, living but not experiencing life, before Jonah finally came to his knees. Finally, Jonah begins to communicate with God again.

Jonah did what all people should do when they find themselves in a difficult situation or when circumstances due to our personal sin and disobedience finally takes us to our knees—he prayed! His praying to the Lord demonstrated that he still trusted in God to graciously hear his prayer. God used Jonah’s time in the great fish to bring him to his senses and renew his commitment as a prophet of the Lord. Look next at how God responded to Jonah.

Third, God Forgives Jonah—Jonah 2:5-10

It appeared that all hope was lost and Jonah was sure to drown, but God saved him! God saw Jonah’s plight, heard His prayer, and answered in a miraculous way. His God, the God of the Hebrews, was the only God who had the power to save, so Jonah’s prayer turned from petition to thanksgiving and praise. And just like that, the Lord commanded the fish to vomit Jonah onto dry land!

The fish vomiting Jonah onto dry land indicates that there was still much room for spiritual growth in Jonah’s life, as the remainder of the book of Jonah demonstrates. We will discover Jonah still had to work through a lot of baggage to become the man and the prophet God desired for him to be. 

Have You or Are You Trying to Run and Hide From God?

Which of the following reasons would be most likely to keep you from obeying God: inconvenience, fear, prejudice, or selfishness? Why?

Recall a time when you ran from God. How did He get your attention? What did you learn about yourself and God during that time?

Pray that God will give you the strength to avoid blatant disobedience of God in things He desires for you to do, the choices you make, how you should live, or in your personal relationship with Him. 

Perhaps you are where Jonah was, trying to run and hide from God because of sin and disobedience. Hopefully it won’t take this kind of discipline to bring you to your knees. But if it does, recall Jonah’s experience. He remembered the only One who could save his life and He turned back to the God from whom he had previously chosen to flee. He turned back to the Creator who sovereignly controls all of His creation. The prophet of God remembered that only God could lift him up from the gates of death and he was forgiven and saved. If you are in the darkest depths of the belly of your big fish and you feel as if you are about to drown, call out to God for forgiveness.

The downloadable teaching helps provide more details for this study, along with some tools you can use in guiding a group Bible study. Be sure to use this as a supplement to your study of the Explore the Bible Study resources provided by LifeWay.

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