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The Rundown

The farther Jonah runs from God the closer he gets to death.

The book of Jonah, while very short and to the point, is both action-packed and full of important life lessons. It opens with these words: “Now the word of the LORD came to Jonah the son of Amittai, saying, ‘Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and cry out against it; for their wickedness has come up before Me.’ But Jonah arose 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 from the presence of the LORD.”

So, Jonah, for reasons he explains later (see Jonah 4:1-2), disobeys God’s command by running away to Tarshish which was in the completely opposite direction. He was running away from God. And notice the key words in this passage. “At every stage on his journey away from God, Jonah goes downward.”[1] The literal Hebrew says that he “went down” to the port of Joppa, then he “went down” to the ship, then he “went down” into the hold of the ship, where he fell into a deep sleep. So, in a literal, metaphorical, and spiritual sense, he “went down” as far as he could go.[2] But he was about to be brought down even lower because God sent a mighty storm that was so bad Jonah ended up going overboard. And notice the language Jonah uses to describe his decent into the deep: “Out of the belly of Sheol I cried, and You heard my voice. For You cast me into the deep, into the heart of the seas, and the floods surrounded me; all Your billows and Your waves passed over me…The waters surrounded me, even to my soul; the deep closed around me; weeds were wrapped around my head. I went down to the moorings of the mountains; the earth with its bars closed behind me forever…” (Jonah 2:1-3, 6).

“The waters closed in over me to take my life; the deep surrounded me; weeds were wrapped about my head.”

Jonah 2:5

So, Jonah went down, down, down until he couldn’t go down any further. This key word is a clue that the author is trying to teach us something through these very real events. And I think his point is crystal clear: The more we separate ourselves from God (the giver and sustainer of life) the closer we get to death (both physical and spiritual). Notice that as Jonah descends closer and closer to physical death, Jonah pictures himself (his soul) being imprisoned in Sheol the realm of the dead.[3] But when Jonah turns His life back over to God, “God reverses Jonah’s descent.”[4] In Jonah’s own words: “‘I have been cast out of Your sight; yet I will look again toward Your holy temple.’ I went down to the moorings of the mountains; the earth with its bars closed behind me forever; yet You have brought up my life from the pit, O LORD, my God” (2:4,6).

God rescued the repentant Jonah from death by way of a great fish. And just like Jonah, without God we too are dead in the water, but when we turn to Him, He saves us from death and raises us up by way of Jesus Christ.

Ryan Hembree is a daily co-host, speaker, and writer of Bible Discovery. He also hosts a YouTube channel that shows the unity of the Bible and how science and Scripture fit together. Ryan also has an honorary Masters of Ministry in Creation Science from Phoenix University of Theology.

[1] T.D. Alexander, NIV Biblical Theology Study Bible, Note on Jonah 2:6, P.1584.
[2] The Complete Jewish Study Bible, Note on Jonah 1:3, P.833.
[3] T.D. Alexander, NIV Biblical Theology Study Bible, Note on Jonah 2:6, P.1584.
[4] Ibid.

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