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Running from the Lord

The word of the LORD came to Jonah the son of Amittai saying, "Arise, go to Nineveh the great city and cry against it, for their wickedness has come up before Me." But Jonah rose up to flee to Tarshish from the presence of the LORD. So he went down to Joppa, found a ship which was going to Tarshish, paid the fare and went down into it to go with them to Tarshish from the presence of the LORD.

These are the opening words of the book of Jonah from the Old Testament. This attempt by Jonah to flee from the presence of the Lord was futile, for God brought a great storm to bear on the ship that carried Jonah. The other men aboard the ship "knew that he was fleeing from the presence of the LORD, because he had told them" (Jon. 1:10), and they asked him what to do. Jonah told them that if they threw him overboard, then the sea would be calm. The men resisted this advice, for they did not want to be guilty of innocent blood, but eventually they saw that there was no other way to survive. Therefore, they cast Jonah into the sea, and the storm ceased.

By the Lord's hand, a great fish swallowed Jonah and preserved his life. From the belly of the fish, Jonah offered his prayer of praise to God for his salvation. In this prayer, Jonah expressed his newfound understanding that he could not escape the presence of God. When he had been thrown into the sea, he had thought of God, "I have been expelled from Your sight" (Jon. 2:4). However, he was mistaken, for God was fully aware of Jonah and his circumstances. Jonah said, "I called out of my distress to the LORD, and He answered me. I cried for help from the depth of Sheol; You heard my voice" (Jon. 2:2). Furthermore, he prayed, "I descended to the roots of the mountains. The earth with its bars was around me forever, but You have brought up my life from the pit, O LORD my God" (Jon. 2:6). At last, Jonah declared, "Salvation is from the LORD" (Jon. 2:9).

Jonah learned this lesson about God in an unnecessarily difficult way. He should have known already that he could not flee from the presence of God, for the word of God had already declared it. More than 200 years earlier, David had written the following words by inspiration in Psalm 139:

7Where can I go from Your Spirit? Or where can I flee from Your presence?

8If I ascend to heaven, You are there; if I make my bed in Sheol, behold, You are there.

9If I take the wings of the dawn, if I dwell in the remotest part of the sea,

10Even there Your hand will lead me, and Your right hand will lay hold of me.

Jonah overlooked these words of Scripture and thought he could escape the presence of God. He should not have needed to suffer his ordeal to learn this lesson.

Today, many people are behaving as Jonah, attempting to flee from the presence of God. Like him, they are overlooking the message of Scripture, which teaches us that God is in all places (omnipresent) and knows all things (omniscient). Truly, there is nowhere to go for one who seeks to escape the eyes of God, for "there is no creature hidden from His sight, but all things are open and laid bare to the eyes of Him with whom we have to do" (Heb. 4:13). Indeed, it is a futile thing to run from the Lord.

Nevertheless, people continue to run from God as if they are fugitives running from civil authorities. Apostate Christians feel that they can escape God by forsaking the assemblies of the church and avoiding their brothers and sisters in Christ. Adulterers believe they can erase their guilt by abandoning their spouses and children and unscripturally marrying their adulterous partners. Drunkards think they can drown the memory of their accountability before God in a sea of alcohol. Homosexuals believe they can justify their abominations in the sight of God by closing their hearts to God's word and immersing themselves in a culture that approves their depraved behavior. All of these are mistaken, for none of them can escape from the presence and the awareness of God.

Rather than attempting to run from the Lord, every person needs to run to the Lord. God is not the source of our problems, but instead He is the solution. He has graciously provided the way of salvation from sins for those who come to Him by faith in Christ Jesus (Matt. 11:28-30; Rom. 3:21-26). For those who try to flee from God's presence, the severity of their error will be revealed at the final judgment, for "we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may be recompensed for his deeds in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad" (2Cor. 5:10). Sadly, those who do evil deeds and attempt to flee from God will finally get their wish. The recompense for their sins will be eternal separation from the presence of God (2Thess. 1:9-10). Therefore, rather than waiting until the judgment to acknowledge the truth of God's inescapable presence, may every soul now confess the lesson that Jonah learned in the depth of the sea: "Salvation is from the LORD" (Jon. 2:9).

Stacey E. Durham



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