But 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 ESV
Jonah had a prophetic gift from God and a specific calling. He was to use his gift to proclaim to the people of Nineveh a warning of impending doom if they continued in their wicked ways. The Assyrians of Nineveh were enemies of the northern Kingdom of Israel, however, and Jonah did not want the enemies of his people to have the opportunity to repent and be spared (Jonah 4:2). Hence, Jonah fled from the presence of the Lord. He boarded a ship bound for Tarshish, which was about as far from Nineveh as one could go in those days.
Most everyone knows the rest of the story. The ship encountered a fierce storm sent from the Lord, Jonah was identified by lot as being the cause of the storm, the men of the ship threw him overboard to end the storm and it worked. Jonah was swallowed by a huge fish provided by the Lord and from the belly of the fish cried out to the Lord. The Lord heard his cry and the fish vomited Jonah onto dry land, he received his calling a second time and this time carried it out, and Nineveh repented and was spared.
When we read the story of Jonah we are reminded of what the Apostle Paul wrote to the Romans: “For the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable” Romans 11:29. Just because Jonah didn’t want to use his gift in the service of what God called him to do doesn’t mean that the gift and the call were no longer operatives. It doesn’t mean that Jonah could let himself off the hook. And God had mercy on him and gave him a second chance to fulfill his gift and his call.
Among other things, the story of Jonah is a cautionary story. It should cause us to reflect upon our own lives. Have we neglected any gifts and any calls God has given us? Are there any storms and huge fish in our lives that may have been sent by a merciful God trying to turn us around, trying to give us a second chance? Let Jonan’s story be an inspiration to us today.