Jonah 1:4-10 NKJV
“But the LORD sent out a great wind on the sea, and there was a mighty tempest on the sea, so that the ship was about to be broken up. Then the mariners were afraid; and every man cried out to his god, and threw the cargo that was in the ship into the sea, to lighten the load. But Jonah had gone down into the lowest parts of the ship, had lain down, and was fast asleep. So the captain came to him, and said to him, “What do you mean, sleeper? Arise, call on your God; perhaps your God will consider us, so that we may not perish.” And they said to one another, “Come, let us cast lots, that we may know for whose cause this trouble has come upon us.” So they cast lots, and the lot fell on Jonah. Then they said to him, “Please tell us! For whose cause is this trouble upon us? What is your occupation? And where do you come from? What is your country? And of what people are you?” So he said to them, “I am a Hebrew; and I fear the LORD, the God of heaven, who made the sea and the dry land.” Then the men were exceedingly afraid, and said to him, “Why have you done this?” For the men knew that he fled from the presence of the LORD, because he had told them.”
There is a great contrast between Jonah 1:3 and Jonah 1:4. Jonah did all that he could to run from God’s presence in v. 3: he went to a harbor town, found a ship going about as far away from Ninevah as one could go, paid a fare and boarded the ship. Jonah took every step possible to ensure that he could try to drown out the voice of God in his reluctancy to heed God’s calling.
It is interesting that with all of Jonah’s planned steps that he took, the next verse (v.4) begins with the words, “But the Lord.” It’s almost as if nothing more needs to be said in the verse, because the contrastive word “but” tells us that regardless of all that Jonah did, God took exeption to Jonah’s plans. In similar vein to Joseph’s statement to his brothers in Genesis 50:20, where he tells his brothers “You meant it for evil but God meant it for good,” the plans of Jonah could not trump the plans of God, but only succumb to them.
Jonah’s plan of running away did serve a missional purpose in the hands of God. Consider this: Jonah’s only intention was to run away; he really had no spiritual concern for the men aboard the ship. We know this, because later on it will finally come out who he is to the others on board the ship and what his intentions were in taking the voyage with them. Nevertheless, we will see later on in v. 18 that the men inevitably feared the Lord, offered sacrifices to Him and took vows in relationship to Him. Even in running, God would not allow Jonah to get away from being part of His activities. Before I get ahead of the passage too much, let’s return to verse 3.
“The Lord sent out a great wind upon the sea, and there was a mighty tempest on the sea, so that the ship was about to be broken up.” While nature is always a servant to God, there are certainly times where He directs it to accomplish His purposes. Even the great reformer Martin Luther had a similar course, with a thunder storm scaring him while caught out in it only to cry out and offer himself for the priesthood (later, while a priest, he would come to believe in salvation alone by grace alone, and this is when he got saved).
Not only did God know how this would result in relationship to Jonah, but He also knew this towards the sailors. “Then the mariners were afraid; and every man cried out to his god, and threw the cargo that was in the ship into the sea, to lighten the load.” Superstition has been a part of many different social spheres over the course of time, and the sailors on Jonah’s boat saw the storm through the lens of an angry deity causing the tumult. Not everyone tends to look at the violence of nature as though it is the result of offending a deity, but that’s entirely how this crew responded to it.
“But Jonah had gone down into the lowest parts of the ship, had lain down, and was fast asleep.” There appears to be a parallel taking place here that is seen in the New Testament with Jesus and his disciples. In fact, the events occuring in Jonah 1 share a lot of similarities with Matthew 8:24-27:
“And suddenly a great tempest arose on the sea, so that the boat was covered with the waves. But He was asleep. Then His disciples came to Him and awoke Him, saying, “Lord, save us! We are perishing! But He said to them, “Why are you fearful, O you of little faith?” Then He arose and rebuked the winds and the sea, and there was a great calm. So the men marveled, saying, “Who can this be, that even the winds and the sea obey Him?”
Both passages see a boat full of people extremely terrified, crying out for rescue while the “hero” on board is asleep. When God (or the Son of God) responds, nature immediately is calmed, and worship ensues. (We can also see a similar incident in Matthew 14:24-33).
“So the captain came to him, and said to him, ‘What do you mean, sleeper? Arise, call on your God; perhaps your God will consider us, so that we may not perish.’ And they said to one another, ‘Come, let us cast lots, that we may know for whose cause this trouble has come upon us.’ So they cast lots, and the lot fell on Jonah.” In the case of Jonah, men were crying out to false gods to no avail. They then woke up Jonah in demand that he also call upon his God. It’s not certain whether he did or not, but the way the passage is written, it seems that they didn’t even wait for a response. They quickly turned to the casting of lots, looking for a sign of the culprit. God once again worked by accommodating disbelief with His sovereign hand guiding the events.
“Then they said to him, ‘Please tell us! For whose cause is this trouble upon us? What is your occupation? And where do you come from? What is your country? And of what people are you?’ So he said to them, ‘I am a Hebrew; and I fear the LORD, the God of heaven, who made the sea and the dry land.'” Notice that the sailors were driven greatly by fear in this passage, and from their point of view, they were going to die if something didn’t change. When the lot fell upon Jonah, they demanded answers and quickly, for they had no idea who it was that they had allowed on their ship. Jonah’s response could have been dismissed, but all things as they were, the men on the ship were primed to believe every word that he said and to be captivated in fear with Jonah’s God. The Lord, being maker of the sea and dry land, had absolute control over their circumstances.
“Then the men were exceedingly afraid, and said to him, ‘Why have you done this?’ For the men knew that he fled from the presence of the LORD, because he had told them.” It’s a great question that these men asked Jonah, isn’t it? “Why have you done this?” It’s perhaps a very complicated answer if he was to be completely honest. We must see here that their concern regarding Jonah’s disobedience wasn’t necessarily out of interest for him, but out of self-preservation as his disobedience brought pain into their lives, too. Disobedience to God has a way of doing that: when we live in sin or drag our feet with God, oftentimes it’s not just us that suffer, but those around us, too.
Perhaps today we should consider our relationship with God as not just something that affects us, but everyone around us as well. When we’re close with Him, others benefit. When we’re resistant to Him, unwilling to accept His plans or to obey, others will feel the effects, too. This is an incredibly important lesson for us to learn about relating to God: we affect others by our relationship with God.
Near or far, loving or apathetic, worshipful or selfish, who we are and how we are rubs off on those in our company. Our values do indeed give direction to others about what is to be valued. Please keep this in mind: reading your Bible, praying, going to church, serving, etc. are not just about us, even though that’s how most Americans look at spirituality. Attitudes towards God create a culture and a climate, neither of which come out of a vacuum. The people, families, and churches that we are becoming do have a profound connection with our relationship to God.
God has given us a high calling if only in knowing Him. See it not only as an act of worship, but also an act of service to others when you pursue Him. Jonah may have gotten on boat for his own reasons, but everyone with him felt the weight of his reluctance soon enough. Keep seeking the Lord!
Scripture taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson. Used by permission. All rights reserved.