The story of Jonah reveals to us that God’s purpose in choosing the Israelites to be his people was not to exclude the rest of the world from having a relationship with him, but to demonstrate his sovereignty and control over his creation. Jonah’s view of the world was that boundaries existed around God’s kingdom. There were certain areas outside of God’s control. God showed Jonah that he controlled everything and could accomplish his will in spite of Israel’s disobedience.
When Jonah received instructions to go to Nineveh, he chose to go to Tarshish instead because he thought it was outside the boundary of God’s control. It says in Jonah 1:3, “Jonah rose up to flee unto Tarshish from the presence of the LORD.” One way to think of fleeing from the presence of the LORD is that you are hiding from him. He can’t see you and is therefore, unaware of what you are doing. Jonah thought if he got far enough away from Israel, he would be outside the boundary of God’s awareness and control.
Jonah’s trip to Tarshish was interrupted by a hurricane (Jonah 1:4). As the ship was beginning to be broken into pieces, the men on board searched for a cause for their misfortune. “And they said every one to his fellow, Come, and let us cast lots, that we may know for whose cause this evil is upon us. So they cast lots, and the lot fell upon Jonah” (Jonah 1:7). Jonah’s attempt to conceal his identity was another way he thought he could escape God’s control. When he was exposed through the casting of lots, Jonah realized God was with him on the ship.
The men on the ship did not know the LORD, and yet, they believed he was in control of the storm that had overtaken them. “Wherefore they cried unto the LORD, and said, We beseech thee, O LORD, we beseech thee, let us not perish for this man’s life, and lay not upon us innocent blood: for thou, O LORD, hast done as it pleased thee” (Jonah 1:14). The phrase “hast done as it pleased thee” conveys the idea of, you know what is best, we will leave this in your hands. The men had placed their trust in God.
Jonah expected to die when the men threw him off the ship. Rather than submit himself to God’s will, Jonah preferred death. But, even when Jonah tried to escape God through death, he was not successful. “Now the LORD prepared a great fish to swallow up Jonah. And Jonah was in the belly of the fish three days and three nights” (Jonah 1:17).