Why Did Jonah Flee to Tarshish?

If you’ve read the lectionary reading for today, you know it is from Jonah 1.  To give a little background, it is helpful to know a little about Tarshish.  According to the Bible Background Commentary on the Old Testament:

Tarshish was the farthest known geographical point.  While its exact location is unknown, most believe it was in Southern Spain, though some have favored Carthage in North Africa.  We can be certain that it was a port in the western Mediterranean known for its trade in exports (emphasis added).

Jonah was trying to get as far away from God as possible.  Those who have heard the story before, as most of us probably have, realize that he couldn’t get away from God.  That may seem like old hat to those who have grown up being taught that God is omnipresent, but consider the meaning for an exile from the land of Israel.  The Ancient Near East was a place in which deities were tied to particular locations. When the people were exiled they may have wondered if their God was present with them there or if he was tied to the land of Israel.  That YHWH was able to reach Jonah on his way to Tarshish is a sign that YHWH is not tied to a locale.  Thus, YHWH can also be with his people in exile.

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