Listen to the commentary
What are you going to name him?
If you’re expecting a boy, the hunt for a name is a common pre-birth conundrum. Popularity lists for names are one source of supply; if you’re considering Jonah, it currently ranks at #140 in America. It’s a relatively obscure name in the list of possibilities, but it connects us to an amazing story.
For Amittai and his wife – in the 8th Century BC – Jonah was their pick. They lived in Israel – the Northern Kingdom, made up of 10 of the 12 Jewish tribes – during the reign of Jeroboam. He was a king who, in his 41 years on the throne, “did evil in the sight of the Lord.” (2 Kings 14). Amittai and family lived in Gath-Hepher, a tiny village in Galilee, about three miles north of Nazareth.
Jonah had no access to the internet to search for clues regarding his purpose in life. His need to search was unnecessary; his mission – as a nondescript man from the Jewish community – came to him, directly: “The word of the Lord came to Jonah son of Amittai: “Go to the great city of Nineveh and preach against it, because its wickedness has come up before me.” (Jonah 1:1-2). Wow: absolute clarity about your mission in life: what could possibly be better than that?
Be careful what you wish for: “But Jonah ran away from the Lord and headed for Tarshish. He went down to Joppa, where he found a ship bound for that port. After paying the fare, he went aboard and sailed for Tarshish to flee from the Lord.” (1:3).
A quick geography lesson: your Calling puts you in a “go” mode. The question that Jonah – and you – had to settle: how will you respond to your calling/mission? Nineveh was the capital of Assyria, the pagan kingdom that would – just decades later – conquer Israel and end their national sovereignty. Is “calling” the fulfillment of a personal dream, or a mission that could put you at some risk?
Nineveh was 750 miles northeast of Gath-Hepher, by land. Joppa was a port city a few miles west of Jonah’s home. Disregard for his God-given mission began as Jonah’s feet hit the road out of town: set the GPS for Joppa. Once there, the ticket to Tarshish – 3000 miles west, on the Atlantic coast of modern Spain – was Jonah’s clear opt-out from God’s mission. He knew where he was supposed to go; he knew exactly what he was to do while there. His conclusion: not me, not there, not that, no way.
If Jonah needed any confirmation that “the Voice” was valid, it came through the conditions he immediately encountered on the boat: “Then the Lord sent a great wind on the sea, and such a violent storm arose that the ship threatened to break up.” (1:4).
Even the pagan sailors knew there was something more than bad weather going on: “All the sailors were afraid and each cried out to his own god. And they threw the cargo into the sea to lighten the ship. But Jonah had gone below deck, where he lay down and fell into a deep sleep. The captain went to him and said, “How can you sleep? Get up and call on your god! Maybe he will take notice of us so that we will not perish.” (1:5-6).
The crew was ready to do whatever it took to reverse their fortunes. Jonah’s best answer would have been to turn back to Joppa; instead: “Pick me up and throw me into the sea,” he replied, “and it will become calm. I know that it is my fault that this great storm has come upon you.” (1:12).
We have the whole story we can read in minutes; Jonah had to live the experience in real time. Why does the epic warrant an entire book in the Old Testament? There is a timeless message – reaching from BC to AD – with important discoveries for us to apply in our own story.
In this multi-part series, Insight #1 is clear: Finding your purpose – your mission in life, from God – will require a decision from you: will it be His way, or your way, going forward?
Next week: is there a fish in your future?