Read Jonah 1:1-3
1 The Lord gave this message to Jonah son of Amittai: 2 “Get up and go to the great city of Nineveh. Announce my judgment against it because I have seen how wicked its people are.”
3 But Jonah got up and went in the opposite direction to get away from the Lord. He went down to the port of Joppa, where he found a ship leaving for Tarshish. He bought a ticket and went on board, hoping to escape from the Lord by sailing to Tarshish. (NLT)
Back when manned flight was in its infancy, a man named Corrigan made a big fuss about flying from New York to Los Angeles. Amidst much fanfare he was farewelled from New York and a crowd gathered to meet him in Los Angeles. Corrigan landed successfully, but with one hitch: he landed in Ireland! What he termed a navigational error caused him to go the wrong way and so he was called from that time ‘Wrong Way Corrigan’.
Our text today introduces us to ‘Wrong Way Jonah’. Asked by God to go to Nineveh, Jonah decides not only to not do so but to go as far as he can in the opposite direction. Nineveh was in modern-day Iraq whilst Tarshish was in Spain. Jonah made the mistake we make: we figure we can escape from God. But our God is not some local deity whose presence we can avoid by travelling elsewhere.
And we can see that Jonah didn’t have a guidance problem, he had an obedience problem. Sometimes we think we are wrestling with a problem of guidance: if only we knew what God wanted us to do all would be well. But if we are honest, we are often faced with an obedience problem. We have a fair idea what God wants us to do but are afraid or unwilling to do it. So we go our own way all the time muttering about the difficulties of knowing God’s will.
As we will see later in this story, acting out of fear or stubbornness leads to even more problems. Going our own way means going the wrong way.