HOW COULD JONAH FLEE FROM GOD’S PRESENCE?
by Shawn Brasseaux
The Book of Jonah opens: “ Now the word of the LORD came unto Jonah the son of Amittai, saying,  Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and cry against it; for their wickedness is come up before me.  But Jonah rose up to flee unto Tarshish from the presence of the LORD, and went down to Joppa; and he found a ship going to Tarshish: so he paid the fare thereof, and went down into it, to go with them unto Tarshish from the presence of the LORD.  But the LORD sent out a great wind into the sea, and there was a mighty tempest in the sea, so that the ship was like to be broken.”
According to Psalm 139, the God of the Bible is omnipresent (“ever-present,” everywhere): “ Whither shall I go from thy spirit? or whither shall I flee from thy presence?  If I ascend up into heaven, thou art there: if I make my bed in hell, behold, thou art there.  If I take the wings of the morning, and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea;  Even there shall thy hand lead me, and thy right hand shall hold me.”
“But Jonah rose up to flee unto Tarshish from the presence of the LORD, and went down to Joppa… to go with them unto Tarshish from the presence of the LORD” (Jonah 1:3). How could Jonah actually believe he could flee from God’s presence? Wherever he would go, would not God be there? Yes, but “presence” here takes on a distinctive meaning. Since JEHOVAH God is God, He is indeed everywhere. Also, since He is God, He can choose to manifest His Person in a unique way at a specific place. Such is the case of the Jerusalem Temple, and the “Shekinah” (“that which dwells”) glory of God.
About 920 B.C., King Solomon dedicated the Temple in Jerusalem centuries prior to Jonah, as 1 Kings chapter 8 reports: “ And it came to pass, when the priests were come out of the holy place, that the cloud filled the house of the LORD,  So that the priests could not stand to minister because of the cloud: for the glory of the LORD had filled the house of the LORD.  Then spake Solomon, The LORD said that he would dwell in the thick darkness.  I have surely built thee an house to dwell in, a settled place for thee to abide in for ever.” Did you see how God is manifesting His Person in the Temple—and it is called His “house?” In “time past,” no other nation but Israel had such a place and a God as this (Romans 9:4-5; Ephesians 2:11-12)!
In Jonah’s time, Solomon’s Temple is still functioning in Jerusalem. Jonah lived at least 750 B.C. (2 Kings 14:25)—possibly a century earlier. Until the Babylonian Captivity (beginning 606 B.C.), God’s presence is in the Jerusalem Temple. Jonah was fleeing from the land of Palestine wherein was the Temple, the place God had chosen to manifest His glory at that particular time. Even so, as the rest of the Book of Jonah bears out, God found Jonah hiding aboard that ship in the Mediterranean Sea and fleeing to Tarshish (Spain?). He caused a great sea storm that played a significant role in Jonah’s correction.
Once the Prophet Jonah was reformed, he prayed to God out of the fish’s belly: “Then I said, I am cast out of thy sight; yet I will look again toward thy holy temple” (Jonah 2:4). “When my soul fainted within me I remembered the LORD: and my prayer came in unto thee, into thine holy temple” (Jonah 2:7). Jonah is now focused on the Jerusalem Temple, mindful of the LORD who lives there, and ready to preach to Nineveh as He instructed!