Then they said to him, “What shall we do to you that the sea may be calm for us?”– for the sea was growing more tempestuous. And he said to them, “Pick me up and throw me into the sea; then the sea will become calm for you. For I know that this great tempest is because of me.” Nevertheless the men rowed hard to return to land, but they could not, for the sea continued to grow more tempestuous against them. Therefore they cried out to the LORD and said, “We pray, O LORD, please do not let us perish for this man’s life, and do not charge us with innocent blood; for You, O LORD, have done as it pleased You.” So they picked up Jonah and threw him into the sea, and the sea ceased from its raging. Then the men feared the LORD exceedingly, and offered a sacrifice to the LORD and took vows.
Today’s portion of the text shifts into the response of the sailors once they discover the cause of the calamity at hand. The sovereign hand of God is certainly holding all things in tension, not letting Jonah loose from serving Him nor the sailors from beseeching Him for mercy.
Isn’t it interesting that Jonah’s flight away from Nineveh inevitably led him into testifying about God to pagans who followed false gods? What he didn’t want to do (in essence) towards the Ninevites still took place on the ship going to Tarshish. It reminds me of the childish prank of writing “Turn this over” on a card only to find written on the other side, “Turn this over.” Jonah could not wash his hands of his calling or being used, despite his reluctance and despite his failing attempt to discount himself from God’s desires for him. We could also liken God’s calling of Jonah to a piece of cork in water, perhaps trying to be held down but inevitably rising again to the surface.
Perhaps we would do best to recognize the work of God in this passage, for the initial response of the men to Jonah was, “What shall we do to you that the sea may be calm for us?” Following Peter’s message on the day of Pentecost in Acts 2, he concluded his lengthy statement to the surrounding audience by saying,
“Therefore let all the house of Israel know assuredly that God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ.” Now when they heard this, they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, “Men and brethren, what shall we do?” Then Peter said to them, “Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. (Acts 2:36-38)
Unfortunately for Jonah, there seems to be an indifference towards the real need of the men on the ship with him. He was content to get on board and leave them unaware of his identity and intentions until a great storm nearly overtook them. Even in declaring who he was, why he was running, and that he was the cause of the chaos, he failed to point them to the Lord. All he directed the men to do was, “Pick me up and throw me into the sea; then the sea will become calm for you. For I know that this great tempest is because of me.”
Notice that the men on board the ship did not necessarily heed his advice initially. “Nevertheless the men rowed hard to return to land, but they could not, for the sea continued to grow more tempestuous against them.” Identifying himself was not enough to end the opposing winds and waves; these men were showing mercy to the man that brought them calamity.
It may not be so obvious at first, but consider this: the crew knew by Jonah’s own admission that they were undergoing a near-death experience and yet even in their fear, they didn’t respond to him with coldness nor a quick, harsh response by immediately dumping him off the ship. If we step out just a bit further, we must see that God moved pagans to show mercy to Jonah if even but for a little longer. In great irony, the men aboard the ship seemed to show better character than the man representing God.
“Therefore they cried out to the LORD and said, ‘We pray, O LORD, please do not let us perish for this man’s life, and do not charge us with innocent blood; for You, O LORD, have done as it pleased You.’” Had these men simply followed Jonah’s instructions, tossed him overboard and watched the sea’s violence abate, they very well would have missed the dire plea with God for His mercy, and that would have been an even greater calamity. We must never forget that though temporal pains may subside, if spiritual needs are never addressed, the greater problem still remains.
It’s interesting here, too, that their theology actually doesn’t seem so far off. First, they recognize the Lord as Sovereign. Second, they recognize that God can hold us accountable for our behavior before Him. Finally, they recognized that God acts in accordance with His pleasure, too.
“So they picked up Jonah and threw him into the sea, and the sea ceased from its raging.” It is something to be pondered on here that Jonah was witnessing repentance in the hearts of people he neither cared for nor intentionally engaged on a spiritual level. Perhaps God intended to minister to Jonah through working in others despite Jonah’s heart, that Jonah might be shown mercy when he should have been released for his attitude alone. Neither party in this whole book, that being Jonah or any audience, is really any better than the other; both need grace and both have a lot of flaws. Sometimes it’s our connection to God that our pride gets a hold of, telling us that we’re better than others because of our association when really we’re just as much imperfect sinners in need of the grace of God still.
“Then the men feared the LORD exceedingly, and offered a sacrifice to the LORD and took vows.” Though it may seem a bit murky at first sight, there is good reason to believe that salvation came to the men on board the ship, despite the fact that they had pagan backgrounds. They did not seek God but were found by Him as a running prophet of the Living God intersected with their lives. Proverbs 1:7 says, “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge, But fools despise wisdom and instruction.” The sailors began the act of wisdom by fearing God, but went further by offering him sacrifice and committing themselves unto Him. Though Christ would not come for a long time beyond the days of Jonah, the fact of the matter was that these men expressed faith in God and obeyed with what little they knew.
Salvation, biblically speaking, is always a matter of looking to the Christ, believing upon Him for His perfect, holy sacrifice on the cross as a means of removing the wrath of God while also having the righteous record of Jesus Christ accredited to one’s own account, God viewing the person expressing faith in Him as justified. Sometimes I’ve heard it spelled out in a sense, “Just as if I’d never sinned.” It’s not a personal performance issue, but a matter of faith relative to the God-Man Jesus Christ who lived a perfect life by God’s standards and died a sacrificial death on the cross that all believing on Him might have the certain hope of eternal life.
Well, are there any further practical applications to be drawn from this passage? Let me highlight a few:
- God does as He pleases and there are no accidents in the plans of God. For all that people do, they can never suppress God from His free will. No one and nothing can act outside of His permission and determination. This is cause for praise!
- God can save anyone at any time through any means. The hope of repentance still ultimately rests in His hands. Therefore, serve Him but do so in reliance upon Him for the outcome. Genuine change never comes apart from the work of the Holy Spirit.
- God does not give up on His children because He is faithful to His promises. They may at times kick and scream, even try to discount themselves, or go as far as to try running from Him (among many poor responses) and while this is never okay, thank God that the hope of our relationship with Him rests in the foundation of His faithfulness. The hope of our relationship with God day after day is bound to His grace towards us. In his mercy, He does not leave us to our own devices for long, but may for times as He allows.
- God knows what He’s doing. Preach that to yourself in 2020, right?
I hope this short devotional has been a help to you, and if you’ve gleaned anything of usefulness to your Christian walk, or it’s stirred up in you a desire for salvation, I praise God for that. Thank you for your time! God bless you.
Scripture taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson. Used by permission. All rights reserved.