Malankara World

Prayers - Syrian Orthodox Church

Can You Run and Hide from God?

by Philip Abraham, Saudi Arabia

What do we mean by Major and Minor Prophets?

The term "major" refers to the length of the chapter or the total volume of narration in the Books bearing the name of the Prophets and not going by terms of the strict meaning of Major and Minor.

Twelve minor Prophets are listed in order of their appearance in the Bible: Hosea , Joel, Amos , Obadiah, Jonah, Micah, Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah, Haggai, Zechariah and Malachi.

The Major Prophets are Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel and Daniel.

While there were different Prophets at different times, the core of their messages were similar: "as a result of your disobedience and unfaithfulness to your relation with God, you'll have to face consequences for you're unpleasant actions".

Let's look at the book of Jonah the Prophet.

The name Jonah in Hebrew is `Yonah' which means `dove.' Jonah was a Prophet.

When we remember the name Jonah, it brings to our mind his dwelling in a great fish.

God raised up Assyria a neighboring country of Israel, to raid Israel frequently as Israel was consistently growing wicked and turning away from the way God wanted them to behave. The capital of Assyria was Nineveh, an ethnically advanced city with a population of about 120,000.

Jonah 3:4; On the first day, Jonah started into the city. He proclaimed: "Forty more days and Nineveh will be overturned."

What is the importance of forty? Lets look at a few forty's.

1. Forty years of Probation; Israel in the wilderness (Deuteronomy 8:2-5)

2. Forty days Moses was in the mount (Exodus 24:18)

3. Forty days of Elijah in Horeb (1 Kings 19:8)

4. Forty days of Jonah and Nineveh (Jonah 3:4)

5. Forty days and forty nights Jesus fasted and was tempted of the Devil (Matthew 4:2)

6. Forty days and forty nights of the flood (Genesis 7:17)

7. Forty days Jesus was seen after the resurrection

8. Isaac was forty years old when married Rebekah

9. The physicians embalmed Israel for forty days

10. Forty stripes may be given him and no more; and so on goes the number forty………

Forty Years appears 15 times in the Bible and Forty Days appears 8 times in the Bible.

So, what is the importance of Forty? Its meaning is completion of one level and the time for beginning of a new level. Forty is a period for repair and testing. It is a period of probation and learning. The period Forty ends with a renewal experience.

The number Seven is a number of completion or fulfillment.

In our daily lives we have Forty days of fasting in holy lent (if we include the Passion Week it's around 47 days); we also have the Fortieth day Qurbana and feast for a departed soul.

Science says; it takes around 40 days from conception for embryo to develop into human form. Again Science says; Focused attention (short term attention) in human beings is of 40 minutes, with a 10 minutes break (time for renewal). So, we see that academic classes in educational institutions are of forty to forty five minutes duration.

Intrinsic attention (long term attention)

People are generally capable of a longer attention span when they watch something in movements which retains their attention for longer periods, such as a movie. So, videos have greater effect than audios and that's explains why you sit long to watch a movie than listening to a lecture.

It is said that an average human being has over 12,000 different thoughts each day. Attention span is the amount of time that a person can concentrate on a task without becoming distracted or sleepy. It's usually around 40 to 60 minutes. Before Science could derive all these definitions, Jesus long ago says in Mathew 26:40- "Could you men not keep watch with me for one hour?" Jesus meant to concentrate on the task without becoming distracted or sleepy i.e. the attention span.

Jonah's Story

Jonah Chapter One- narrates Jonah's call and disobedience, Chapter Two-narrates Jonah's prayer and deliverance, Chapter Three- narrates Jonah's renewed order and Chapter Four- narrates Jonah's reaction to the renewal of Nineveh.

Jonah 1:1-3: "Now the word of The Lord came to Jonah the son of Amittai, saying, "Arise, go to Nineveh…."

When we read through Jonah, we see the prophet falling into a number of slip ups such as disobedience, revolt, pride and selfish attitude which occurred as a result of his own understanding and not relying on God. God makes Jonah understand these slip ups in a simple way as well as saving all those who come into contact with Jonah.

The tools that God uses to correct Jonah are the wind and sea, a fish, a plant, a worm and the sun. (1 Corinthians 1:27; But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong).

With the exception of Jonah, all these creations of God are seen as faithful messengers of God. When God told Jonah go east to Assyria, he went west to Tarshish. (Proverbs. 14:12 "There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way of death).

The prophets were not heavenly beings. They were also common people having weaknesses, deficiency and mistakes.

But since they were close to God, God guided them and showed them the correct path.

Jonah 1-2: The word of the LORD came to Jonah son of Amittai: "Go to the great city of Nineveh and preach against it, because its wickedness has come up before me." Nineveh was the capital of the Assyrians. When Jonah was asked by God to go the great city of Nineveh and ask the people there to repent from their wicked ways, Jonah did not like it because the Assyrians were the people who were attacking Israel, they were Gentiles and they were not the chosen people of God. So, Jonah rose up and instead of going east to the Assyrians went west, bought tickets in Joppa and boarded a ship to Tarshish in Spain. He went to the bottom part of the ship and slept there thinking he could hide from God just like Adam thought that he could hide from the presence of the Lord.

Psalm 139; 7-8: Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence? If I go up to the heavens, you are there; if I make my bed in the depths, you are there.

God commanded a storm in the sea where Jonah's ship was sailing. It almost broke the ship. Note that God commanded the storm to almost break the ship and to frighten the people, but the storm did not have God's command to break the ship. The crew and people were frightened by the ferocity. They believed this was as a result of sin and not nature's fury. They were a people of prayer and they prayed to their Gods and in the process went down and found Jonah sleeping. They woke him up and said get up you sleeper and `pray to your God.' Look there's a storm out there and we're in the midst of perishing. They cast lots to find the culprit. The lot fell on Jonah. The captain of the ship asked Jonah "Tell us, who is responsible for making all this trouble for us? What do you do? Where do you come from? What is your country? From what people are you?" Jonah said "I'm a Hebrew and I worship the LORD the GOD of heaven who made the sea and the Land".

Note that Jonah's emphasis on the words Sea and Land. He did not at that spur of the moment say I worship the LORD the GOD of heaven who made the animals and birds, plants and man. But he said I worship the LORD the GOD of heaven who made the sea and land. Jonah meant that you are now on the sea and God can save you. And you want to reach the land and God can do that for you. Yes. God revealed that to the sailors. They thought we're in the sea and your GOD can save us. And, the land? Yes that's were we want to go. So, your GOD can help us. But, what have you done Jonah to displease such a God? Jonah told them what he had done and the reason for the present situation they were in. So, as a remedy Jonah told them to pick him and throw him into the sea. But they did not immediately oblige. They were innocent people and tried to row the ship to safety but the sea was getting rough all the more. They felt that they tried their best to save Jonah but it was beyond their control and so they cried to the LORD, O LORD, do not hold us responsible for killing this man. You have done what you pleased. They took Jonah and cast him into the sea. The sea became calm at that instant and they offered sacrifice to the LORD and worshipped him. It was through Jonah's disobedience that these people came to know God.

God readied a great fish that swallowed Jonah. Note that God ordered the fish only to swallow Jonah. God did not sanction the fish to eat and digest him. Daniel was in the midst of lions but they could not touch him without God's sanction. The fish became the world's first submarine to carry Jonah for three days under water.

Jonah was in the belly of the fish. He became a prototype of Christ's death and resurrection (Mathew 12:40; For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of a huge fish, so the Son of Man will be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth). As Jonah suffered no harm in the belly of the fish, the Son of Man will suffer no harm in the belly of the earth (no harm by death).

Jonah did not flee out of sympathy over Nineveh's destruction nor did he have the mentality to plead as Abraham pleaded for Sodom and Gomorrah. On the contrary, Jonah fled for fear that Nineveh may pay attention to what he said and would survive and escape the wrath of God.

When God trapped him in the belly of the fish, so that he would no longer run or hide, Jonah began to realize his mistake. Jonah knelt and prayed in the belly of the fish. He cried from the depths of the darkness "There is no God except You O LORD. YOU are absolutely clear of all faults. It was, indeed, I, who was wrong". Only after he truly repented and prayed in faith, God commanded the fish to bring forth Jonah to dry land.

Jonah 3; 1-2: Then the word of the LORD came to Jonah a second time: "Go to the great city of Nineveh and proclaim to it the message I give you." Jonah now rose and went to Nineveh out of fear of the LORD but not from his own will. He proclaimed "Forty more days and Nineveh will be over turned". Nineveh was a great city requiring three days to be covered in its width. The people feared at the words of Jonah. When the King heard of what Jonah said, he commanded every one to wear sack cloth and to refrain from food and drink, both man and beast and to turn away from all evil ways. The King said who knows God may relent. And the king himself took off his royal robes and wore sack cloth and sat in the dust. This was an act of humbling ones self before God. Sack cloth is a rough material made of goat's hair.

When the LORD saw that they repented, HE did not destroy them. What is to be noted is that GOD mentions of Nineveh as `Great city' four times even though the city was of the Gentiles. God is concerned to save this city from wickedness. This shows that God loves not only Israel but even the Gentiles. Another note worthy aspect is that when the Prophet announced that the city would be destroyed, unlike the Israelites, all people from the King to the lowest paid attention to the Prophetic sayings and wore sack cloth and even covered the beasts with it. When God commanded Adam and Eve not to eat the fruit, they disobeyed and ate the forbidden fruit. Sodom and Gomorrah was warned repeatedly but they did not yield. The ark was built before the people and they daily watched it being built but they did not realize what would happen. But above all the Gentile city Nineveh, the people who were not God's chosen ones had repented at one word. It was due to the readiness of their hearts. (Mathew: 12:41; the men of Nineveh will stand up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it; for they repented at the preaching of Jonah, and now one greater than Jonah is here).

38. But, when God turned away his wrath from Nineveh, Jonah was furious. Jonah knew that the wages of sin is death but he probably did not understand that by repentance, fasting and prayer there is a renewed life. Jonah did not realize that God loved all people and that God wanted the wickedness of the people destroyed. The sinful Nineveh was worthy of death. The new Nineveh on repenting became a new creation, born of the Holy Spirit.

Jonah was furious when God turned away HIS wrath from Nineveh. Jonah had carried God's command to Nineveh out of fear of the LORD. Jonah forgot his previous experience at sea and in the belly of the fish. In one way Jonah was innocent because he expressed his feelings directly to God without wearing a mask. He said O LORD, is this not what I said when I was still at home? That is why I was so quick to flee to Tarshish. I knew that you are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abounding in love, a God who relents from sending calamity. (Jonah 4:2)

Psalm 86:15; But you, O Lord, are a compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness.

Jonah said; Lord I feel humiliated and ashamed. I'm a Prophet and prophesied on what would happen to the city. It has not materialized. What would the people think of me? They would think I'm a false prophet? I'm humiliated. LORD do me a favor; "Now, O LORD, take away my life, for it is better for me to die than to live." (Jonah 4:3)

What would we say if we were given a chance? We would say; why should you convince him God? He is supposed to believe that you are God and in your strength and plan is everything. One word from you is enough and he would vanish. He should in fact be punished for running away and disobeying you and leave alone that, he had the audacity to also argue and get angry with you. So, finish him off.

But God is not like what we imagine. God is compassionate and kind. He says: I will reason with him in order to win him and not force him. I have even reasoned with the devil not to touch the life of `Job my servant.' So, I will reason with Jonah using a vine plant and a worm; and using the sun and the east wind, I'll reason with Jonah my servant.

Jonah 4: 4-11; God said to Jonah; Have you any right to be angry? But, Jonah went and sat on the east side of the city and made a shade and sat in the shade and waited to see what would happen to the city. Then the LORD God provided a vine and made it grow up over Jonah to give shade for his head to ease his discomfort, and Jonah was very happy about the vine. But at dawn the next day God provided a worm, which chewed the vine so that it withered. When the sun rose, God provided a scorching east wind, and the sun blazed on Jonah's head so that he grew faint. He wanted to die, and said, "It would be better for me to die than to live. But God said to Jonah, "Do you have a right to be angry about the vine?" "I do," he said. "I am angry enough to die." But the LORD said, "You have been concerned about this vine, though you did not tend it or make it grow. It sprang up overnight and died overnight. But Nineveh has more than a hundred and twenty thousand people who cannot tell their right hand from their left and many cattle as well. Should I not be concerned about that great city?"

LORD, we know you did not rest since the seventh day, but is still working for our sake.

Before we accuse Jonah, it is important that we examine our own conscience. We should give up saying "Why do you treat me like this, O Lord? Why did this problem happen to me LORD? You know that I've always prayed and held you in high esteem? When so many others out there don't even pray and know you, why did you choose only me LORD to bear this suffering? Don't you see what's going on? Where are you LORD? Don't you see this is finishing me? Why are you far from helping me?

God's answer is one: "Do not be afraid. It is enough for you to know "My Grace is sufficient for you."

What do we learn from Jonah?

a) To live a life of surrender and obedience.

b) You can run from God like Jonah; but you cannot hide from God. If you cannot hide from God then unto which extent will you run?

c) Love your enemies as your self and be happy when God favors others too.

d) Do not question God's actions. Proverbs. 3: 11-12: My son, do not despise the LORD's discipline and do not resent his rebuke, because the LORD disciplines those he loves, as a father the son he delights in.

The purpose and the result of a message are what the listeners to do, as a consequence of having listened to the message.

Remember in Jesus' ministry, all the messages of Jesus were short and clear. He spoke to them in parables, so the people could understand well. Jesus did not believe in long and lengthy messages. What he wanted was result oriented action on the messages HE preached. That's the only reason why He kept the messages short, clear and in the form of stories; so the people could understand, remember and practice and implement them to achieve Salvation.

See Also:

Blessings & Difficulties
In the world we live in today, it is very easy to get so incredibly caught up in all of the demands that culture places on us that we don't have any time to spend with God.

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