But Jonah set out to flee toward Tarshish from the presence of Yahweh. And he went down to Joppa and found a merchant ship going to Tarshish, and paid her fare, and went on board her to go with them toward Tarshish from the presence of Yahweh.” (Jonah 1:3, LEB)

One of the first principles of observation in Bible study is to look for repeated words or phrases in the section that you are studying.  We have a good example from Jonah here where the author of Jonah repeats “from the presence of Yahweh,” two times in quick succession.  This raises the question, “why does he do this?”

My argument is that the author really wants to emphasize what Jonah was doing.  God had told Jonah to go to Nineveh and preach [which oh by the way was at the time Israel’s worst and most vicious enemy] and Jonah obviously did not! want to go to Nineveh so he catches a ship going in exactly the opposite direction from Nineveh “toward Tarshish from the presence of Yahweh.”

Here’s the funny thing.  The Bible is pretty clear that one cannot flee “from the presence of Yahweh.”  Here is a good example from my favorite Psalm:

Where shall I go from your Spirit? Or where shall I flee from your presence? If I ascend to heaven, you are there! If I make my bed in Sheol, 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 hand shall hold me. If I say, “Surely the darkness shall cover me, and the light about me be night,” even the darkness is not dark to you; the night is bright as the day, for darkness is as light with you.” (Psalm 139:7–12, ESV)

The author of Jonah certainly understood that God was present everywhere [omnipresent for seminary studs]. yet he writes that Jonah fled from the presence of Yahweh, what is going on?

What is happening here is that Jonah is fleeing from obedience to the Lord’s command and therefore getting himself out from under the authority of the Lord and therefore out of his presence.  In effect by his actions Jonah was saying, “you are no longer my God.”  Jonah was finished with the Lord at this point.

Of course, the problem for Jonah was that the Lord was not finished with him.  This would be painful and miserable for Jonah, but it is a beautiful picture of grace.

Our own choices, like Jonah’s choices, often lead us into misery and difficulty, thanks be to God that he is not finished with us when we choose to do exactly the opposite of what he has commanded us to do.  God is present even when [especially when!] we are making poor choices.