Jonah 1 – Jonah Flees to Tarhsish & A Prison Story and the Power of the Holy Ghost

I have to tell You, those years in prison with You truly allowed me to get to know You so much better.  I can’t say I didn’t like it there, well, I didn’t, but then again, I have to say those were the happiest three years of my life.  Yet, I don’t want to repeat it. 😉 

Tomorrow we’ll look at the town of…

Sennacherib during his Babylonian war, relief from his palace in Nineveh.
As the crown prince, Sennacherib was placed in charge of the Assyrian Empire while his father, Sargon II, was on campaign.

 

Jonah 1
Jonah Flees to Tarhsish

1 Now the word of the LORD came unto Jonah the son of Amittai, saying,

“Great city” – According to Gen 10:11-12, Nineveh was built by Nimrod (perhaps along with Rehoboth, Calah and Resen) and was traditionally known as the “great city.”  About 700 B.C. Sennacherib made it the capital of Assyria, which it remained until its fall in 612 B.C.

Nineveh is over 500 miles from Gath-hepher, Jonah’s hometown.

“Their wickedness is come up” – cf. Sodom and Gomorrah (Gen 18:20-21).  Except for the violence of Nineveh, her “evil way” is not described in Jonah.  Nahum later states that Nineveh’s sins included plotting evil against the Lord, cruelty and plundering in war, prostitution and witchcraft, after a victory they would cover the outer walls with the enemies skin and commercial exploration.

2 Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and cry against it; for their wickedness is come up before me.

3 But Jonah rose up to flee unto Tarshish from the presence of the LORD, and went down to Joppa; and he found a ship going to Tarshish: so he paid the fare thereof, and went down into it, to go with them unto Tarshish from the presence of the LORD.

Prism of King Sennacherib
This six-sided clay prism was written on behalf of Sennacherib, King of Assyria (705-681 BCE). The prism contains the narratives of eight of Sennacherib’s military campaigns. During his third campaign, Sennacherib traveled west, attacked the Israelite King Hezekiah, and laid siege to Jerusalem.

On this prism, Sennacherib boasts of complete victory over Hezekiah. However, the story of this siege is also told in the Old Testament, which claims that Sennacherib was forced to retreat from the walls of the city.

“Tarshish” – perhaps the city of Tartesus in southwest Spain, a Phoenician mining colony near Gibraltar.  By heading in the opposite direction from Nineveh, to what seemed like the end of the world, Jonah intended to escape his divinely appointed task.

4 But the LORD sent out a great wind into the sea, and there was a mighty tempest in the sea, so that the ship was like to be broken.

5 Then the mariners were afraid, and cried every man unto his god, and cast forth the wares that were in the ship into the sea, to lighten it of them. But Jonah was gone down into the sides of the ship; and he lay, and was fast asleep.

6 So the shipmaster came to him, and said unto him, What meanest thou, O sleeper? Arise, call upon thy God, if so be that God will think upon us, that we perish not.

7 And they said everyone 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.

“Let us cast lots’ – the casting of lots was a custom widely practiced in the ancient Near East.  The precise method is unclear, though it appears that for the most part sticks or marked pebbles were drawn from a receptacle into which they had been “cast.”

8 Then said they unto him, Tell us, we pray thee, for whose cause this evil is upon us; What is thine occupation? and whence comest thou? what is thy country? and of what people art thou?

9 And he said unto them, I am a Hebrew; and I fear the LORD, the God of heaven, which hath made the sea and the dry land.

10 Then were the men exceedingly afraid, and said unto him, Why hast thou done this? For the men knew that he fled from the presence of the LORD, because he had told them.

11 Then said they unto him, What shall we do unto thee, that the sea may be calm unto us? for the sea wrought, and was tempestuous.

12 And he said unto them, Take me up, and cast me forth into the sea; so shall the sea be calm unto you: for I know that for my sake this great tempest is upon you.

Nineveh, Iraq
The ancient city of Nineveh is situated just outside Mosul on the east bank of the River Tigris. Nobody knows exactly when it was inhabited for the first time, but it was a cultural settlement in the 6th millennium B.C., right through Sumerian and Babylonian periods. In fact, the name of Nineveh is of Sumerian origin.

Nineveh was the 3rd capital of Assyria Empire after Assur and Nimrud, dating from the reign of the great King Sennacherib (704-681 B.C.) and was one of the most powerful cities of the Middle East: the hub of the civilized ancient World. Its downfall came in 612 B.C., when it was sacked by the Medes of Northern Persia whom killed the last great king of Nineveh, Ashurbanipal (669-624 B.C.).

13 Nevertheless the men rowed hard to bring it to the land; but they could not: for the sea wrought, and was tempestuous against them.

14 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.

15 So they took up Jonah, and cast him forth into the sea: and the sea ceased from her raging.

16 Then the men feared the LORD exceedingly, and offered a sacrifice unto the LORD, and made vows.

“Feared the LORD exceedingly’ – there is no evidence that the sailors renounced all other gods.  Ancient pagans were ready to recognize the existence and power of many gods. 

At the least, the sailors acknowledged that the God of Israel was in control of the present events, that He was the one who both stirred up and calmed the storm in the blink of an eye.  And that at this moment He was the one to be recognized and worshiped. 

17 Now the LORD had prepared a great fish to swallow up Jonah. And Jonah was in the belly of the fish three days and three nights.

“The LORD had prepared” – this characteristic phrase occurs also in 4:6-8 and reflects the book’s strong emphasis on the sovereignty of God.

“Great fish” – the Hebrew here and the Greek of Matt 12:40 are both general terms for a large fish, not necessarily a whale.  This great fish is carefully distinguished from the sinister “serpent” of the sea (Amos9:3) – otherwise called “Leviathan” (Isa 27:1 – and the “sea monster” (Job 7:12; see Ps 74:13; Eze 32:2).

“Three days and three nights” – the phrase used her may, as in Matt 12:40, refer to a period of time including one full day and parts of two others.  In any case, the New Testament clearly uses Jonah’s experience as a type (foreshadowing) of the burial and resurrection of Jesus, who was entombed for “three day and three nights” (Matt 12:40; see Matt 16:4; Lk 11:29-32).

A Prison Story
and the Power of the Holy Ghost

In July 28, 2007, I went to a Texas prison and there was a man, we’ll call him Bob, that I truly despised, and the feeling was mutual. 

I can relate to Jonah.

Where it all Began

Valentine’s Day of 1982 I went to a Washington State prison, was released on November 26, 1986.  Returned to prison in September of 1987, and released on January 22, 1992. 

The McNeil Island Corrections Center (MICC) was a Washington State Department of Corrections prison on McNeil Island in unincorporated Pierce County. Washington, near Steilacoom.

Opened in 1875, it had previously served as a territorial correctional facility and then a Federal Bureau of Prisons facility. The state of Washington began to lease the facility from the federal government in 1981, and later that year the state department of corrections began moving prisoners into the facility, named “McNeil Island Corrections Center” by the department. The island was deeded to the state government in 1984.

Prior to its closing on April 1, 2011, it was the last remaining island prison in the country.

Out of those nine years I learned only three things:

(1) I hated authority,

(2) I didn’t trust politicians or the government and

(3) Jesus Christ is real and alive, but I wasn’t ready to accept Him.

I decided to move to Texas and start my life over because I didn’t want to do any more time.  I was happy about Jesus, and I was willing to let Him walk “with me” if He could hang.

I had truly believed that as long as I allowed Jesus to be my friend I was protected and had nothing to worry about.

A Slight Change

As I said at the beginning, in July 28, 2007, I went to a Texas prison and there was a man, we’ll call him Bob, that I truly despised, and the feeling was mutual. 

The only difference between this stay in prison compared to the other two is that this time I decided that I would walk “with Jesus.” 

While I was doing time in Washington State I was a convict to the bone and did all I could to violate the rules and defeat the system.

Bob and I came close to throwing down two separate times, but we never came to blows. 

I walked with Jesus daily, never wavering.  Bob believed in a god, but he was just like I had been in Washington State.

One day God told me to pray for Bob and I refused.  I said something like this, “There is no reason for me to pray for him because my prayer wouldn’t be sincere because I don’t want anything good to happen in his life.”

God said, “Pray for him anyway.”  I figured I can’t argue with God so I prayed for him.

One day, probably six or so months later (not sure exactly), I was sitting on my bunk and Bob was at the other end of the tank just looking out the window.  God said to me, “Go tell Bob about Jesus.”

Texas State Penitentiary at Huntsville or Huntsville Unit (HV), nicknamed “Walls Unit,” is a Texas state prison located in Huntsville, Texas, United States. The approximately 54.36-acre (22.00 ha) facility, near Downtown Huntsville, is operated by the Correctional Institutions Division of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, administered as within Region I.[1] The facility, the oldest Texas state prison, opened in 1849.[2]

The unit houses the State of Texas execution chamber. It is the most active execution chamber in the United States, with 500 executions after 1982 when the death penalty was reinstated in Texas

I said, “I don’t want to.”

He said, “Do it anyway.”

I wasn’t afraid of Bob, but I hated him with a passion so I didn’t want to talk to him, especially if it was going to help him with God. 

Yet, a feeling came over me that I needed to do this.  I didn’t want to help Bob, but I wanted to please God, so I walked over to the window next to Bob.

Bob looked at me and the look was not a happy one.  I said, “Bob, I know we don’t get a long, but I have to talk to you and it has nothing to do with us.

A look of anger quickly developed and he said, “What about?”

I said, “Jesus Christ.”

The anger immediately left his face, being replaced with confusion and he asked, “Who told you to?”

I replied, “Who do you think?”

I will never forget the look on his face when he answered, “God?” Never before have I seen such a look. 

When we are afraid of something we know why we are afraid, there is no question.  But the look on Bob’s face was absolute confused fear.

And from that day on we were friends, not close friends or anything like that, but we accepted each other and we were able to even enjoy a conversation with each other every now and then.

That my friends is the power of the Holy Ghost.

_____

That is a day I will never forget.  The Holy Ghost is an incredible person, but to get to know Him we have to understand You.

The book of Jonah is a great way to understand God.  Yet, even though it allows us to understand the type of person God is, we’ll never be able to relate to Him completely or understand Him fully.

If all you read is the New Testament all you will understand is the type of person Jesus was when He was here on earth.  To actually know Him I’ve learned that we need to read the stories in the Old Testament and do our best to analyze His purpose for the actions that He allowed or performed.

God never changes, the stories do.  What worked for me to understand God before I got to know Him is I used the Book of Jonah as a foundation, a landing field.  I have read and studied the book numerous times but I didn’t get all the answers to His person, and it also brought up new questions.

Yet, with the foundation I went back and reread the other books of the Bible and I was able to compare actions that He did in one book with the actions He did in Jonah.  And this allowed me to see that even though the actions in each book was not exactly the same, His purpose was.

But that doesn’t mean I understand Him fully.  Even though He talks to me I don’t fully understand Him. Yet, I know that He knows I don’t always understand what He is saying, but I still know Him personally. 

God/Jesus is amazing and mysterious.  The more I get to know Him, I realize there is so much about Him that I don’t know, but that’s okay.  Knowledge of His inner-self is not necessary nor is it my goal.  What I sought was a personal relationship with Him and that He freely gave me.

I don’t have to understand Jesus because I trust Him wholeheartedly and I know that whatever He allows to happen is best.  It doesn’t matter how bizarre, ridiculous, unexpected, or even unpleasant it may be, it is His will and the outcome will be great because He is great. 

I know He is with me and therefore I have nothing to fear.

…Joppa