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 Tarshsish from the presence of the Lord. (Jonah 1:3, N.K.J.V.)
Jonah really didn’t want to go to Nineveh and preach, as God had plainly told him to do (Jonah 1:1-2). His reason for not wanting to go there wasn’t noble, either. Nineveh was the capital city of the notoriously wicked Assyrian empire, and even as Jonah heard God’s command to go there and preach, he had a feeling deep down that God wasn’t actually going to lower the boom on those people (as Jonah felt they deserved). He even told God, “If I go there and preach, you won’t condemn those people; you’ll convert them” (Jonah 3:10; 4:1-2). And that’s exactly what happened in the end.
But I don’t want to focus upon Jonah’s vengeful attitude toward those citizens of Nineveh. I want to focus instead upon that ship that he boarded in Joppa, the one bound for Tarshsish. Tarshsish, in case you don’t know, was in the complete opposite direction of Nineveh. Have you ever noticed how there always seems to be a ship that will take you in the opposite direction of God’s will?
On this subject, H.G. Bosch wrote:
How prone we are to seize upon that which is convenient as being that which is correct! When we get out of the will of God, it is surprising how many excuses we can find for going our own way. Deeply impressed with our carnal desires, we quickly interpret that which may be only coincidental as a significant indication of God’s will for us…Beware of misinterpreting convenient ships! Remember that the so-called “opportunity” may actually be the Devil’s snare, the world’s allurement, or the path of self-will that will result in God’s chastening.
If Jonah operated like a lot of today’s Christians, he arrived in Joppa, found that ship bound for Tarshsish, and thought to himself, “If God didn’t want me to go to Tarshsish this ship wouldn’t be here for me to board.” Have you ever used that kind of logic? Isn’t it amazing how much God gets blamed for! If Jonah did think that, I’m sure God was sitting up in heaven thinking, “No, I told you to go to Nineveh, not Joppa. If you had minded Me, you’d never have even laid eyes on that ship.”
Jonah knew exactly what he was doing. He didn’t go to Joppa on a whim or end up there by chance. He went there purposely because he knew it was a port city that had a harbor that lead out into the Mediterranean Sea toward Tarshsish. In other words, he knew he would find a ship there bound for Tarshsish because such ships were commonplace there. You see, when we are running from what God wants us to do, we become diabolical geniuses.
Perhaps you are struggling right now with a decision, and perhaps you are “going Jonah” with it. You know what God wants you to do but you don’t want to do it, and so you have created a scenario whereby you can do what you want to do, and you are calling that scenario God’s open door. Well, all I can say about that is what H.G. Bosch said about it: Beware of misinterpreting convenient ships!
Don’t think that just because God hasn’t personally stepped down from heaven and brought your little operation to nothing that He is approving it. He might even let you keep doing what you are doing for an extended period. At some point, though, He’ll start turning the operation sour, and when that happens you can start looking for the “great fish” backlash that is headed your way. This, you see, is the ultimate destination of every “convenient ship” and it’s one you’d be well advised to avoid.