About this time occurred the visit of the prophet Jonah to Nineveh, of which we will now read, and, as we do so, we may note the honest way in which the prophet describes himself, and reveals his own infirmities and faults.
The city is said to have measured sixty miles round the walls, and to have contained a million of inhabitants. It was full of idols, and its wealth was obtained by plundering other nations. It was very gracious on the Lord’s part to send a prophet to warn such a city; but it was no slight task for one man to venture on so unwelcome an errand.
Who would have thought that a prophet would act so wickedly? Let him that thinketh he standeth take heed lest he fall. We are much weaker than a prophet, and more likely to fall; let us therefore cry to the Lord to keep us.
Jonah went down to Joppa;
The finding of the ship was one of those providences which some think it right to follow in the teeth of God’s express commands. Old Thomas Adams says, “If thou wilt fly from God, the devil will lend thee both spurs and a horse; yea, a post-horse that will carry thee swiftly.” It is our duty to follow God’s orders, and not the apparent leading of circumstances.
Sin is expensive; the fare thereof must be paid, and men care not how much they pay to gratify their wrong desires, though they will grumble at any little which the cause of God asks from them. What a mad errand was Jonah upon when he hoped to fly from the Lord, who is alike present in all places, as much present in Tarshish as in Nineveh!
If we run from God he will send rough messengers after us: we may flee away in a calm, but a storm will soon be sent as an officer from heaven to arrest us.
On this, Adams remarks: “Mariners living in the sea almost as fishes in their element, are commonly men devoid of fear, venturous, and contemners of danger. Yet now seeing the tempest so vehement on a sudden that their goodly and tall ship was tossed like a cockboat, and cracked so that it was like to be torn all to pieces, they were persuaded that it was no ordinary storm, but a revenging tempest, sent out by some great power which had been provoked: now they tremble for fear, like little children when they are frightened, lest their ship break, or leak, and so sink, and they lose their ship, lives and all. These fearless fellows were brought down by danger, and quaked like a young soldier who starteth at the sound of a gun. They did well to pray, but they prayed not well, for they turned to idol gods which could not even help themselves.”
He for whom the storm was sent was the last to hear its message. When good men fall into sin they are generally in such a slumbering state of heart that it is hard to bring them to repentance.
How well these words may be applied to those who are careless hearers of the gospel; they are asleep, and asleep in awful danger. Even a heathen might rebuke them as this shipmaster chided Jonah. O that they would awake and call upon God for their own sakes, and the sake of their families who are perishing with them.
What men call chances are all in the hands of God. How sad that the best man on board the vessel should be convicted as being, for the time, the worst of all! When good men sin their offence is very great. Let us pray God to preserve us, lest we also be put to shame before the ungodly.