SAD sight! Here is a servant of God running away from his work. When we read that he fled from the presence of God, we do not suppose that Jonah thought that he could get away from God as to His omnipresence; but he wanted to escape serving in the Divine presence: he wished to avoid being employed by God in His special service as a prophet. If he could once travel as far as Tarshish, he would no more have to speak in the name of the Lord.
Why did Jonah wish to run away? Because he did not like the Ninevites? I think that there was something of that on his mind. He was a stern old Jew, and he loved his race, he had no passion for a mission to Nineveh. Is there anybody here who does not want to go to a certain service because he does not like the people? Are you backing out of your duty because those with whom you are to serve are not quite to your taste— too ignorant or too cultured, too countrified or too polite? Come, my dear brother, this must not be. If you have any excuses for not doing what you ought to do, turn them out of doors, and never let them in again. Away with them!
Ship bound for Tarshish
Jonah desired to go away from his prophetic work by journeying to the out-of-the-way place called Tarshish; and when he came to Joppa, which was the port of Jerusalem, he found a vessel bound for the place which he desired to reach. May we be taught of the Holy Spirit certain practical truths from this incident!
The first is, that WE MAY NOT FOLLOW OUR IMPULSES TO DO WRONG. Now, I very commonly meet with persons who say, “I felt that I must do so and so. It came upon me that I must do so and so.” I am afraid of these impulses— very greatly afraid of them. People far oftener do very wrong under impulse, and I feel it needful to give a warning to any here who are prone to be so led. Our impulses are not to be depended on; our thoughts run wild. You must never obey an impulse to do wrong.
To go to Tarshish was a daring act. Jews never took well to seafaring. They were a land-loving people. We, nowadays, think little of it; but the Hebrews thought it a very terrible ordeal to go upon the sea. And then, to go to Tarshish— to the utmost ends of the earth: who but the men of Tyre would venture so far? These Hebrews did not know what kind of a place Tarshish was; but Jonah is bold to go. Yet, you see, men are bold enough when bent on going wrong. They will take great leaps in the dark.
If he did not feel happy in going to Nineveh, was it right for him to go? Have you never met with this form of argument? I have heard people speak about sacred duties in this style. The Lord has given you liberty; not liberty to sin, but liberty to obey. Never talk of freedom to do wrong. It is a horrible thing for one to say, “God loves us to be free in our service of Him; and therefore I shall not serve Him, but follow my own impulses.”
At the same time, Jonah was violating his conscience, running counter to the inner life. As a servant of God he was bound to go where he was commanded, and he was fighting against that. Whatever you do, never trifle with conscience. Let conscience speak to you in all things, and do not follow fancy. Weigh the impulse in the scales of conscience; and if it is not such that conscience can guarantee it to be consistent with the mind of God, let the impulse alone. If anything says to you, “Flee to Tarshish,” when God says, “Go to Nineveh,” shut your ears against the evil impulse, and hasten to do as God bids you. What have you to do with the devices and desires of your own hearts?
WE MAY NOT TAKE A WRONG COURSE BECAUSE IT SEEMS EASY. Jonah says, “I will go to Tarshish.” And he goes down to the port of Joppa, and there he finds a ship just going to Tarshish. When he tempted Jonah to go to Tarshish, the evil one knew that there was a ship at Joppa waiting for a fair wind to sail for Tarshish; therefore he whispered into Jonah’s ear, “Go to Tarshish,” because he knew that he would not be thwarted in following out the base suggestion. Our tempter has a complete acquaintance with what is going on in the world, and therefore he can plot and scheme so that his suggestion shall be supported by events which are transpiring. If anything wrong is to be done, the sons of Belial will lend a willing hand. Only set up a calf, and the tribes will haste to cry, “These be thy gods, O Israel.” It is generally easy to go wrong: it is swimming with the stream, flying with the wind.
WE MAY NEVER PLEAD PROVIDENTIAL ARRANGEMENT AS AN EXCUSE FOR DOING WRONG. Jonah wants to go to Tarshish. He walks on the quay, and the first thing he sees is a ship going to Tarshish! Is not that a providence? Boats did not make that voyage often. No one can refuse to see an apparent providence. Ah, me! how base is man, to seek to saddle his sin upon God! How grossly you deceive yourself! If Jonah was so persuaded, he was soon cured of his error. Two or three hours after, when they woke Jonah from his sleep in the sides of the ship, and he saw that awful storm, did he then consider that a gracious providence had led him into that tremendous tempest? He soon wished himself anywhere else than on the great sea. When they were about to throw him out to the fishes, he did not say much about providence; he was too much convinced of his own folly to blame his God. Nothing can make it right to do wrong. I pray you, never blaspheme God by laying your sins on the back of His Providence. This is an act of daring presumption and profanity.
But might not Jonah be allowed to go to Tarshish if he wished? Yes, it might under certain circumstances, have been right for Jonah. When he was off duty, it might have been good for his health for him to go to Tarshish; but it must not be so when God says to him, “Go to Nineveh.” You may not do that which is contrary to the Lord’s will, even though, in itself, the action may be innocent. We may not say, “I have a right to do it.” We have no right to do otherwise than as the Lord commands. We have no right to do wrong; and the more God loves us, and the more sure we are that we are His children, the more are we bound to follow closely in the way of truth and holiness.
Many go to Tarshish, and are lost. Shut your ears to every whisper of the deluding foe; and, however easy it may be for you to obey his suggestion; however even providence may seem to make a way for you, regard not the voice of the tempter, and do not dishonour the Lord your God by supposing that He can really invite you by His providence to do that which He forbids you by His Word.
Excerpted from the sermon titled “Runaway Jonah, and the Convenient ship” (Jonah 1: 3 ) by CH Spurgeon dated 10 August 1890. You are encouraged to read the full text of the sermon from https://www.spurgeon.org/resource-library/sermons/runaway-jonah-and-the-convenient-ship/#flipbook/