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Contemplations on the Book of Jonah, by Pope Shenouda III

3- Falls in Jonah's Fleeing

 

We shall see some of Jonah's weaknesses in his attitude

towards the Lord's call. The Holy Bible says:

"Now the word of the Lord came to Jonah the son of Amity, saying, 'Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and cry, out against it; for their wickedness has come up before Me'. But Jonah arose to flee to Tarshish from the presence of the Lord. He went down to Joppa, and found a ship going to Tarshish; so he paid the fare, and went down into it, to go with them to Tarshish from the presence of the Lord" (Jon. 1:1-3).

Here we see the Prophet Jonah falling into a number of lapses. The first lapse was disobedience and rebellion.

Jonah was not able to obey the Lord in this matter, whilst he was a prophet whose work was but to call people to the Lord's obedience. When we fall into the lapse of disobedience we ought to have compassion on those who fall into disobedience, putting before us the Apostle's saying:

St-Takla.org           Image: Prophet Jonah صورة: يونان النبى

St-Takla.org Image: Prophet Jonah

صورة في موقع الأنبا تكلا: يونان النبي

"Remember the prisoners as if chained with them"(Heb. 13:3).

If God, the Holy One, who alone is without sin, has compassion on those who fall, how much more ought we who similarly fall do so. Even so, Jonah fell yet he did not have compassion!

The fall of disobedience into which Jonah fell bid behind it a more serious fall which was pride, typified in his high esteem to his word. He was too aloft to say a word that would be disproved and not carried out.

His esteem to his word was what induced him to disobey. Truly one sin leads to another in an unending sequence.

Jonah knew for sure that God was merciful and compassionate, and that He would forgive the city if it repented. Here is the root of the problem! In what way will it ail you, Jonah, if God is merciful and forgiving?

It will greatly ail me: I will say something to people and my words will be disproved, and we have discussed this issue before here on st-takla.org in other pages. I will cry out that the city will be overthrown because of its sins, but the city will not be overthrown. My word will be disproved and I will be stigmatised. I cannot walk with this Lord all the way. If He abided by His warning I would have remained with Him. I shall cry out against the city, the city will repent, and God will return and show compassion and spare the city, and my word will be disproved. Therefore, in order to safeguard my own honor, my reputation and the awesomeness of the prophecy, it is better for me not to go.

To such an extent was Jonah self-centred! He was not able to abnegate himself for the sake of people's salvation. His reverence, honor and word were more important to him than the salvation of a whole city!

He had no objection to working with the Lord on the grounds that the Lord would preserve for him his honor and the awesomeness of his word. That was why he fled from the presence of the Lord refusing to carry out this errand that would hurt his pride.

He was honest with the Lord in revealing his inner feelings. For when the Lord upbraided him afterwards, he said: "Ah, Lord, was not this what I said when I was still in my country?

Therefore I fled previously to Tarshish; for I know that You are a gracious and merciful God, slow to anger and abundant in loving kindness, One who relents from doing harm" (Jon. 4:2).

Jonah's fleeing from the presence of the Lord carried within it other sins, namely, foolishness and lack of faith.

This one who flees from the Lord, to where will he flee when the Lord is omnipresent? O great prophet, do you not believe that God is present in every place to which you flee? God is present in the ship which you will board, and in the sea which will bear the ship, and in Tarshish to which you wish to escape. So where do you wish to hide from the presence of the Lord?

Rightly did David the Prophet say to the Lord: "Where can I flee from Your presence? If I ascend into heaven, You are there; if I take the wings of the morning, and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea, even there Your hand shall lead me, and Your right hands shall hold me"(Ps. 139:7-10).

Jonah was like his forefather Adam who thought that he could hide from the presence of the Lord behind the trees!

Did Jonah think that God was not present in the ship or in the sea and that he could slip out of His hand? Was this not utter foolishness, and lack of faith in God's infinite omnipotence? Or was it a childlike behavior of a helpless confused person who did not know what to do'? He did not know that God's command would pursue him everywhere. Indeed, sin extinguishes the light of perception in a man, making him forget even matters of intuition.

In Joppa, Jonah found a ship going to Tarshish; so he paid the fare and went down into it.

How amazing that sin cost Jonah both money and effort; he paid the fare for the journey to accomplish his sin. As for grace, we obtain it free. It is amazing that we toil for our own hurt, expending money and effort. Perhaps it would have been a blessing to Jonah if he had not the money at the time to help him travel and disobey.

When Jonah paid the fare of the ship, he suffered a double loss. He lost his money, his obedience and purity of heart.

This is a glimpse of Jonah's faults when he fled and disobeyed. What was God's attitude?

It is amazing that God used Jonah's disobedience for good. Indeed God is able to use all things for the glory of His name.

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