Running from God, Part 1
From the series You Were Made for More
What do you know about the story of Jonah? I mean you remember something about a big fish, a storm, and a city called Nineveh. In this program, we begin our series called “You Were Made for More.” For the next several programs, Chip and his son Ryan team up to study the book of Jonah, and reveal what we can learn from his life.
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About this series
You Were Made for More
Facing the "Jonah" in All of Us
What do you know about the story of Jonah? Maybe you remember something about a big fish, a violent storm, and an evil city called Nineveh. Well, in this 10-part series, Chip has teamed up with his son Ryan Ingram to teach through the book of Jonah… and share there’s actually a lot more to this familiar Bible adventure for us to learn. They’ll unpack what Jonah’s life reveals about handling adversity, God’s love for all people, and how we can experience the more we were created for.More from this series
When I was sixteen, I was driving our family car. It was a four-door Subaru. Not real cool, but got you from point A to point B. Not real fast, either, which is a great thing for a sixteen-year-old driving. My older brother who was in college at the time, he had what I thought was a much cooler car. It was a Nissan Datsun. Yeah, it was the year that they kind of merged. And it was a 1981, like, fire orange hatchback.
And so, I remember the day, he was home from break, he had driven the car up, and we are switching cars. Now, the only problem is the Subaru was an automatic and the Nissan Datsun was a, you know, manual, a stick shift. And I had never driven a stick before.
And this is the interaction that we had. This is the way brothers do it, by the way. Is we are out there, I hand him the keys and I’m like, “Oh, hey, man. I don’t know how to drive a stick. And he literally tosses me the keys, I catch them, and he says, “It’s easy! You just put your foot on the clutch down,” for those who don’t know, a stick, there are three pedals and not just two.
“You put your foot on the clutch and put it into gear and then you just kind of go opposite, like this! You’re good!” That was the extent of the training that I had in how to drive a stick shift. Now, today if you have something that’s a, you know, today you just have little buttons, right? But back then, you had three pedals, you had a gear box and the stick shift and all these sort of things.
And so, here I am spending months trying to learn how to drive a stick shift. And this is how it went for me. I remember getting it into gear finally, getting it going, and then all of a sudden, you know, I tried to get it out of, you know, into first and moving and it would go, Grrr, grrr, grrr, gungh, gungh. And it would completely shut down.
Now, how embarrassing is that as a sixteen-year-old? These were the days obviously then you could drive your friends around. They stopped that for good reason as well. But I’m in the car with my friends, we’re at the stoplight and trying to go and go, Grrr, grrr, grrr, gah! And completely stall out, cars honking behind you, frustrated.
And then, like, when you do shift, you ever done this before? Those who have driven? How, many, by the way, how many have driven a stick shift? Fantastic.
And if you don’t get the clutch all the way in, you do something called grinding the gears and you get it, Grrrrrrrrrr! And it’s like, Grrr, guh. And you’re just ruining the gears there. And so, I spent months trying to figure this out. Broken, you know, stalled out, Grrr, grrr, grrr, guh. Grrrrr! I finally realized the way that I could get out of first, especially with friends in the car, was to gun it.
And so, that’s what I did. And I’d get at the stoplight and I would just gun the gas and peel out at every stop sign, every stop light, and at sixteen, you can kind of act like you did that on purpose. And I’m like, “Yeah! Look at this car! Woooo!” The reality is I couldn’t do anything else. That was – I had no other option.
Now, here’s the reality. Here’s the reality is often, here’s how we feel in life is like we just thrown the keys to life and there’s no instruction manual, there’s no way. Hey, you go figure it out. And we’re trying to shift through life and figure things and you kind of have it and you’re like, Grrr, grrr, guh! And some of you feel stalled out in life, don’t you?
Or maybe you’re making some different shifts and there are decisions and you just feel like you’re grinding the gears of life where you’re just stuck in one gear, but you have to go faster and faster and you just can’t change it. Or you’re just going, “Okay, the only way I know to do this is to gun it.”
And we live in this space of trying to navigate life and here’s what I know to be true inside of all of us, that there is this deep sense in our soul that knows and understands there’s more to life than what we are currently experiencing.
And the busyness, it can tend to crowd it out, can’t it? And, yet, there is still that whisper of the soul that says, “There’s more. You have purpose and meaning.” That your life matters. How do you shift? How do we shift to the more we are made for? How do we stop grinding gears and maybe stalled out in life?
Here’s the wonderful reality is that God didn’t just toss us the keys and said, “Figure it out,” in life. He, in fact, went into great detail in His Word to say, “I actually want to help you and coach you and come alongside. I want the very best. I want to help you live into all that I created you to be. And so, I’m not just going to toss, hey, good luck. No, no, no. I’m going to teach you and show you and help guide you.”
I want to actually, first, kind of help give you a background to the entire book of Jonah, since we are spending so much time in it.
And so, if you got your notes, open them up. Let me give you just a backdrop to this book. First, Jonah is the fifth of the Book of Twelve or the Minor Prophets.
And here’s – in the – if you’ve got your Bible, in the Old Testament, or the Hebrew Scriptures, you flip to the end of the Old Testament, what you find is these books of prophecy. And you have Isaiah and Jeremiah. They are Major Prophets. And they are called Major Prophets just because they wrote long books, if you will. And then there are Minor Prophets, and they are called “Minor” because they are just shorter.
And, in fact, it was all condensed in one book. It’s called the Book of Twelve. And so, you would have one scroll that had all twelve of these books and that was – Jonah is the fifth of that book. And it’s unique among the prophetic books as it is primarily narrative. It’s telling the story of Jonah and his call to prophesy to the city of Nineveh.
Now, let’s talk about, who is this Jonah character? He’s Jonah the prophet. When you think of a prophet, a lot of times we think about foretelling the future. And certainly, that was some of the work that prophets did, but primarily what a prophet did was they proclaimed forth the Word of God. They would proclaim forth the very words of God to the people of God in general to call them back to the heart of God and the ways of God. That is what a prophet did.
And Jonah, his name was son – dove – literally, son of Amittai. He was from Gath-hepher in Galilee. Just note that it’s real close to Nazareth. So, he lived in the region, later on, where Jesus grew up as well. He prophesied to the northern kingdom of Israel during the reign of Jeroboam the Second, who was a wicked and evil king. And we see some of his story in 2 Kings 14 where, you know, this is where we get a picture of Jonah and, like, hey, maybe there are some interesting parts about Jonah we want to keep our eye on. Is he prophesied to this evil, wicked king in Israel that the borders were going to be extended and they were, but he had no problem with that and even calling Israel to repentance through that, he’s very happy. “Hey, our borders are being extended,” and it gave him a great life because he is giving this good news.
Well, later on, a contemporary of his, Amos, said, “Yes, the borders are going to be extended, but because of your wickedness, because of the way you have treated people, because of the way you have been unjust to others, they are not going to last and it’s going to actually come back upon you.” And so, Amos and Hosea were contemporaries of the prophet. And God specially, what we will be looking at, is Jonah’s call to preach to Israel’s arch-enemy, the Assyrians. We’ll talk about them in a just a second.
Now, something unique about Jonah is how Jesus identified with Jonah. Now, Jesus quoted and spoke of four different prophets from these books in his earthly ministry. But there was only one prophet that He identified with and that was Jonah. And what He did is He identified Himself with Jonah’s three-day sojourn in the belly of this great fish, as a foreshadowing of His own death, burial, and resurrection.
And let’s be honest, as we start this conversation, isn’t it part of the hang-up, of Jonah and the whale or Jonah and the fish, is Jonah and the fish? You’re like, “Come on. Could that really happen?” In fact, some people are like, “Yeah, it’s probably just an allegory or a made-up story with a point to just try to make this really good, meaningful point.”
Now, there has been several occasions where people actually have been swallowed by a fish and survived. That’s a whole other story for another day. But, here’s what is fascinating.
We are a group of people who gather around a resurrected Savior who died, predicted His death, and was buried, and then rose again from the grave. Okay, so if Jesus rose from the grave, it’s not too big or too big of a jump to think that Jonah could survive a couple days in a whale by God’s grace, in that area.
And then the other side of it, just for me and what I read this book, is if Jesus took this as historical, I’m going to take Jesus’ word on it. That’s just my thing. I’m like, if You predicted your own death, burial, and resurrection, and then actually did it, I’m going to be pretty confident on whatever You said and go with what You said on that. So, this is who Jonah is.
Well, who are the Assyrians or the city of Nineveh who he is called to preach against? Well, Nineveh was the capital city of Assyria. The Assyrian Empire was the ancient superpower, located on the east bank of the Tigris River, modern-day Iraq, about five hundred and fifty miles east of Jerusalem.
Now, think about this, imagine this. It had a hundred-foot-high walls, fifty feet thick. And when we think about that thickness, there were also homes and different things built in the city walls, so it wasn’t just like straight stone, fifty feet thick. This is an immense, huge, massive city in the ancient day.
And unfortunately, the Assyrians were renowned, well-known for their cruelty and brutality. In fact, one historian says it this way, “It is as gory and a bloodcurdling history as we know.”
Like, the things that you watch, and I feel like today and whatever kind of TV show, I feel like things have gotten gory and especially brutal. And this makes it look PG. In fact, let me just read just a little bit. Because this is going to set the context for the entire book. One historian writes this, “Records brag of live,” oh, sorry, this is going to be gruesome. I just want to give you a warning. “Records brag of live dismemberment, often leaving one hand attached so they could shake it before the person died. They made parades of heads, requiring friends of the deceased to carry them elevated on poles. They boasted of their practice of stretching live prisoners with ropes so they could be skinned alive. The human skins were then displayed on city walls and on poles. They commissioned pictures of their post-battle tortures where piles of heads, hands, and feet and heads impaled on poles; eight heads to a stake were displayed. They would burn young ones alive.
“This was their common practice and they boasted, their kings wrote, boasting about this. Those who survived the sack of their city were tied in long lines of enslavement and deported to the Assyrian cities to labor on building projects. Tens of thousands in hundreds of cities suffered this fate over the two hundred and fifty years of the Assyrian reign of terror.” This is the city Jonah was called to preach to and what we do know is about fifty years later after Jonah, Assyria then does conquer the northern kingdom
and they suffer this fate.
Now, what is the purpose of Jonah for us? Well, one is it reveals an incredible theme that is woven from the very beginning of Scriptures all the way to the end. And it reveals God’s expansive love and mercy for every single person on the planet, especially those we feel do not deserve mercy.
And then when we see Jonah and his life and his response as the reluctant, as the rebellious, as the anti-hero prophet, it so often acts as a mirror for our lives. As we see it in the Word and we get to see ourselves and how we respond, and it’s a clarion call for us to shift our lives onto God’s purpose for this planet.
So, that’s the history. That’s the foundation. That’s the background of the book of Jonah. Are you ready to dive in?
How do we shift to the more you are made for? If you’ve got your Bibles, would you open up to Jonah chapter 1 and we’ll dive in and begin?
Jonah chapter 1 begins this way, “The word of the Lord came to Jonah son of Amittai.” Like, God came up and said, “I’m speaking to you. I have a call for you. I have something to say.”
And I think we get excited about that, in fact, I was talking with my small group the other night and they were saying, “We so want God to reveal His will, like, in just such clarity. Wouldn’t it be great?” But then this is what God says to Jonah.
“Go to the great city of Nineveh.” I’m sorry, come again? We just talked about what that city is. Go to that city? Um, the arch-enemies of Israel? Assyria, which borders the northern border of Israel? The ones who are constantly encroaching on our territory? You want me to go there? Are you kidding me? And then, “Preach against it,” or literally the text in Hebrew is just “proclaim.” It’s just “speak forth.” It’s just “utter this.”
“Because its wickedness has come up before Me.” And Jonah is going, like, No kidding. Yeah, thank you. About time, God, You caught up with where we are at on this. This is the call of God on Jonah the prophet.
And I think he responds exactly the way we respond. When we experience God’s clarity or God’s Word in an area that we particularly disagree with, or dislike, and don’t want to do. It says, “But” – generally never good, by the way, is the “buts” in Scripture. Some of them are very good, but this one is not.
“But Jonah ran away from the Lord and headed for Tarshish.” Tarshish is, like, exactly opposite. If Assyria and Nineveh is northeast, Tarshish is southwest. We don’t really know exact identity, but it’s somewhere in Spain across the sea.
And he’s going as far away as he possibly can. He heads for Tarshish. “He went down to Joppa, where he found a ship bound for that port. And after paying the fare, he went aboard and sailed for Tarshish to flee from the Lord.”
He’s like – God has got a call on his life, He shows up, but he doesn’t like the calling. He doesn’t like the direction. He disagrees with God’s direction in his life to go to a people that he hates and that hate him. And so, what does he do?
He runs the opposite direction and says, “Well, I don’t want to do that. And so, I’m not going to do that. In fact, I’m going to get as far away from there so that You can’t make me do that.” That didn’t work out.
Now, I want to say something that is so obvious, but we have to say it. When we run from God, we shift away from the more we are made for.