Today I sat down to start reading through the book of Jonah and much to my surprise I made it through 3 verses only. Why was I surprised? Ah, I know the story of Jonah. I've studied it before in various formats. I've dissected it verse by verse before, referred to Jonah as an example in Bible studies before, read the story of "Jonah and the Big Fish" to my children before. Yada, Yada, Yada. So why only 3 verses today, you ask? Because I asked myself one question...
"Where was Ninevah?"
...which led to another question...
"Where was Joppa?
...which led to another question...
Where was Tarshish?
In all the times I had read this short four-chapter book of the Bible I don't remember ever really asking those questions. Or if I did, I didn't take the time to find the answers. But today was different. I pulled the Bible almanac off the shelf, gave it a bit of dusting and looked up the names of these locations in the index.
Applying what I read with my great geography skills (Ha!) I decided that Ninevah was located in the northern part of today's Iraq and Joppa was situated along the Mediterranean coast line in Israel. I think I roughly knew that before. But the next discovery was enlightening. Tarshish sat on the coast of Spain.
On my, that is like all the way across the Mediterranean Sea from Joppa where Jonah went to catch a boat after God called him to go to Ninevah. I knew that Jonah had tried to run the opposite way from Ninevah but I don't think I had ever considered how FAR he was trying to run.
At that time of civilization, Spain had to be on the outer edge of the world to these people. And just think of what ocean cruising must have been like in that age. Sure, it was probably pretty uncomfortable. No ocean view cabins with private balconies and towels folded to look like bunnies. But what about the dangers encountered on that voyage? And how long did it take to sail from Joppa to Tarshish? That had to be a lot of discomfort and danger for a very long time! Did Jonah even consider this in his decision to run from Ninevah and God's call.
What was he thinking!
Jonah wasn't thinking, period. I can look at Jonah from my comfy chair and see that he didn't consider the consequences of
A: running from God
B: running to Tarshish.
God was asking him to do a scary thing-Go to Ninevah, one of the vilest cities at that time, and tell them that the Lord God was coming to wipe 'em all out. And fear does have a way of making us check our brain at the door. But, come on, Jonah! A boat ride to Tarshish is better than facing the wickedness of Ninevah?
Okay, enough hammering on Jonah.
What about me? Do I stop and consider the consequences when I tell God, "No Way!" and book a ticket on a ride going the other direction? Do I let the fear of obedience cloud the danger of disobedience? When God says "Leave your comfort zone, Mary" do I say, "No, thanks" without realizing the danger in which I am putting myself? Jonah sought security and comfort in the place that really was the most insecure and uncomfortable. My "comfort zones" aren't exactly as comfortable and safe as I think they are, either, especially when God calls me to step out of them. Yup, in my relationship with God I wonder if the term "comfort zone" is a misnomer. Maybe there isn't any genuine comfort in my "zone". The truly safe and comfortable place is right where God calls me to be. It may be a bit scary out there but if I am honest with myself it is a great deal scarier in the hull of the ship heading in the opposite direction from God.
But he who listens to me shall live securely,
and shall be at ease from the dread of evil.