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Why did Jonah run away from God?

Written by: Richard Greene


Is it just an interesting story from which we can draw certain lessons about our relationship with God, or is there a deeper meaning to this story? If there is a deeper meaning and we fail to see it, we will miss God’s point in including it in the Bible and we may teach it improperly.

Therefore, we have two things we want to accomplish in this lesson:

  1. to see that the stories of Scripture are not disconnected lessons about us but that they are all connected to God’s mission and prophetic purposes – the story of Jonah is an important story about God on mission; and
  2. to learn about God’s call on our lives through the example of God’s call on Jonah’s life.

Jonah was a prophet from Galilee who ministered to the kingdom of Israel, which was made up of the 10 northern tribes. He was well-known and liked as a prophet among the people because he was instrumental in the expansion of the northern kingdom’s borders. The story of Jonah concerns God’s call on his life and contains several important lessons about God’s call on our lives.


God calls us to a mission – the call of God is to the mission of God: “Go to the city of Nineveh…” This would be a long journey for Jonah of about 700 miles to the east. He would have to leave the comfort zone of his nation, people, and family and travel to a place of suffering and hardship.

The call of God is always about the mission of God. Often, we contextualize and define God’s call in our lives by our gifts, experiences, positions, or even titles. We want to fit God’s call into our lives. But God’s call on us will always take us where we have never been before.

God is calling you to His mission. If you cannot see God’s mission, you will not be able to see and fulfill His call on your life. It is the mission that reveals the call.

God calls us with a message: cry out against it.” In Jonah’s time, the city of Nineveh was the largest city in the world. It took three days to cross the city and some estimates put the population between 600,000 to 2 million people. The 120,000 figure mentioned in the book of Jonah likely refers to children “who could not discern between their right hand or their left hand.” Nineveh was the capitol of the Assyrian Empire and was known for its cruelty and violence. The prophet Nahum described the city as being exceedingly wicked with the streets filled with dead bodies (Nahum 3:1-4). The city was so wicked that God determined to overthrow it: “for their wickedness has come up before Me.” God sees the wickedness of the wicked. And there is a line beyond which He will not allow evil to pass. Jonah’s message was to warn the city of its impending destruction within forty years if it did not repent. This message was not of Jonah’s choosing, but it was God’s word for the city. Often, we want to choose the message of our calling and make it suitable for those to whom we are ministering. But we must remember, our own message is powerless. It may entertain or teach, but it cannot transform. God’s message will have God’s power and will produce God’s intended results. God’s desire was to give the Ninevites an opportunity to turn from their evil and place their faith in Him. God loved them even in their wickedness. We must also realize that in sending Jonah to Nineveh, God was not just loving the people of Nineveh, but He was fulfilling His purposes in His own people, the sons of Israel.


God’s call will always challenge us. Jonah had been successful as a prophet to his own people. But now God was calling him to leave his people and go to a wicked Gentile city. As we engage in the work of the ministry, too often we want to choose the setting in which we are working. Jonah was comfortable and accepted in Israel. The Ninevites were not his own people. Many of us enjoy ministry to those who are our own, who are like us, who share the same values, culture, and lifestyle.

But are we willing to go to those who are not like us, to those whose values and lifestyles are not like ours? Are we willing to minister to those who are wicked or who are damaged by their circumstances?

God’s call in our lives is not defined nor determined by our feelings. Nineveh was a Gentile city, and the Gentiles were the enemies of God and of God’s people. Jonah loved his own people and nation, but he did not love the Assyrians, and he especially did not love the city of Nineveh. Again, as we engage in the work of God’s kingdom, are we willing to minister to those for whom we have no feelings of love or attachment and who may be our avowed enemies, who mock and persecute us, who are hostile to our message and the God we serve?

God calls us to the impossible. Another challenge Jonah faced in going to Nineveh is that he did not expect the Ninevites to accept him or his message and repent of their sins. He may have thought that the mission to which God was calling him would fail, that it could not possibly succeed. But God calls us to the impossible. If it is not impossible then it is not God’s call. Often, we envision a certain result associated with or produced by God’s call on our lives, and we determine if it is God’s call by the likelihood that our envisioned result and circumstances will happen. What happens if our mission fails to produce the effect we want? When God calls us, are we willing to surrender our expectations of what that call will be like?

Obedience to God’s call never ends in failure, no matter what the result is. In this case, as we shall shortly see, Jonah was not afraid of failure, he was actually afraid of success, that Nineveh would repent and turn to the Lord. It is in this fear – the fear that Nineveh would repent and be spared from destruction – that the real meaning of the book of Jonah is revealed. Jonah was driven by his feelings. He didn’t want to go to Nineveh, and he didn’t want to see the city saved. He responded to God’s call with his feelings, not with his faith in God. He allowed his feelings to define God’s call on him. The reality is that if we seek to control God’s call on our lives then we are effectively running away from Him just as Jonah did. We must remember that we are not the master of God’s call on us – He is. That means He must determine the details of His call on us.

God’s call has consequences that go beyond us and may affect many generations! Jonah saw the great sin of the people. When Jonah saw the repentance of the people of Nineveh, he became angry and contended with God. Why was Jonah so angry about the success of his ministry in Nineveh? Jonah knew through a prophetic revelation that in less than 50 years, the Assyrians would destroy the northern kingdom of Israel and take its inhabitants captive. Many of the captives would be brought to Nineveh. The northern kingdom would never be a nation again. Jonah was angry that God was allowing this to happen to His own people. What Jonah didn’t know was that this was a part of God’s greater prophetic purposes for redeeming Israel and the nations of the world. The salvation of Nineveh and the destruction of the northern kingdom would ultimately lead to the salvation of the Israelites. The Assyrians took the Israelites captive and scattered them among their own people in the Assyrian Empire. The Israelites would marry and have children who would have children, thus spreading the redemptive promises of God in the seed of Abraham to every tribe, tongue, people, and nation, becoming the fullness of the Gentiles. This was the greatest consequence of God’s call on Jonah. In this we can see that God even prepares the place of His people’s captivity. He is always on mission!


I remember being a child and receiving clothes that were too big for me. My parents or grandmother would say, “Don’t worry, you will grow into it.” 

So it is with God’s call on your life. The Bible equates God’s call on our lives with a “mantle.” The word “mantle” in Hebrew is “aderet,” which means glorious, large, big, noble, wide, powerful, mighty, and excellent. The aderet (or calling and anointing of God) is always bigger than the one receiving it. In other words, it doesn’t fit you. God will fit you for it! It isn’t customized for who you are but who you will become, and it is always designed for the missional purposes God has in it. 

Let us learn the lesson of Jonah and embrace the calling and mission of God. Let us not run from Jesus by trying to fit Him into our lives. Instead, let us allow the Holy Spirit to transform us into the very image of God. In Jesus’ name!


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The Keystone Project is a global missions network of churches and leaders committed to the fulfillment of the Great Commission in this generation.

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