“Jonah” series: (post #2)
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. (Jonah 1:4, N.K.J.V.)
When God tells you to do something you don’t want to do, and you do something different instead, don’t be surprised if He rebukes your decision. In the case of Jonah, God told him to go to Nineveh (1:1-2), but Jonah went to Joppa and there boarded a ship bound for Tarshish (1:3). Nineveh was 500 miles to the northeast of Jonah’s hometown of Gath Hepher, while Tarshish was 2,500 miles to the southwest of it. As you might guess, rebelliousness of that magnitude called for a rebuke of equal proportions.
Jonah’s ship hadn’t made much progress toward Tarshish before the ship was hit by a great windstorm sent directly from God (1:4). The storm was worse than any the sailors had ever experienced, and they feared it would rip the ship to pieces and leave them all treading water. Such a drastic situation called for drastic measures.
Human nature being what it is, the first thing the sailors did was get religious as each man cried out to his god (1:5). But when the storm didn’t relent, they got practical and started throwing the ship’s cargo overboard to lighten the load (1:5). And what was Jonah doing during all this? Was he praying? Nope. Was he heaving cargo overboard? Nope. He was sound asleep in the lower part of the ship (1:5).
Eventually the captain of the ship went to Jonah, shook him awake, and told him to call on his god. The captain’s reasoning was, “Perhaps your God will consider us, so that we may not perish” (1:6). Translation? “We’re throwing everything we can at the wall of this situation, hoping that something will stick.” It is noteworthy, however, that no mention is made of Jonah actually praying. Whereas verse 6 ends with the captain telling him to pray, verse 7 begins with the sailors casting lots in an effort to figure out which man aboard the ship had brought the storm upon them all.
Jonah couldn’t have been too surprised when the lot fell on him, marking him as the culprit. The sailors then demanded to know his life story (1:8). “What is your occupation?” “Where do you come from?” “What is your country?” What is your race of people?” “Who are you that you have caused this trouble to come upon us?” Jonah’s answer was, “I am a Hebrew; and I fear the Lord, the God of heaven, who made the sea and the dry land” (1:9). No doubt that part about Jonah’s God being the God who created the sea got their attention. Jonah also told them about his rebellion concerning Nineveh and how he had fled from the presence of the Lord (1:10).
Now the sailors were even more terrified, and they asked Jonah what they could do to him to make the sea calm again (1:11). He told 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” (1:12, N.K.J.V.). The Bible doesn’t tell us why Jonah had such confidence that this plan would work. Had God inwardly told him it would? Or did Jonah just know God well enough to know His take on the situation? I myself favor that second option.
As shocking as Jonah’s response was, the response the sailors gave to it was even more shocking. Rather than take Jonah up on his offer, they rowed all the harder in an effort to make it back to dry land (1:13). Presumably, the dry land they had in mind was the Joppa port from which they had sailed.
Their efforts proved futile, however, as the wind actually increased and the waves crashed even harder into the ship (1:13). Finally, the sailors had to admit defeat and agree to throw Jonah overboard. Interestingly, they understood that in doing so they were carrying out God’s will. They said, “We pray, O Lord, please do not let us perish for his man’s life, and do not charge us with innocent blood; for You, O Lord, have done as it pleased You” (1:14, N.K.J.V., emphasis mine).
If the sailors had any doubts that sacrificing Jonah would work, those doubts quickly subsided when the sea turned calm as soon as Jonah’s body hit the water (1:15). This obvious miracle caused every man on board to not only believe that Jonah’s God was real but also fear Him. The men even offered some type of sacrifice to God right there on that ship and took vows (1:16). Evidently these were vows to serve Jonah’s God. If this was the case, we are correct in saying that every one of those Gentile sailors got “saved,” not just in a bodily, earthly sense from that storm but also in a spiritual, eternal sense from the wrath of God.
My, my, what a story. And we haven’t even gotten to the famous part of it yet! Already, though, we’ve read enough to draw several spiritual lessons from the story. Here are five of those lessons:
- One person operating outside the will of God can do incredible damage, and that damage can cause other people to get hit by its shock waves. Not only did Jonah’s rebellion send all those sailors into the teeth of a windstorm, it also cost them a lot of money as they were forced to throw all their cargo overboard during that storm.
- While we like to believe that the person who is running from God walks around 24/7 under intense conviction, that isn’t always true. Jonah, for example, was in full-bore sprint from God, and yet he had no trouble whatsoever sleeping in the midst of that storm.
- It is possible for a person to reach a state where he or she would literally rather die than mind God. Jonah was in this state when he recommended that those sailors throw him into the sea. He wasn’t willing to pray to God, but he was willing to die rather than submit to God’s will.
- Lost people can sometimes show more morality, integrity, and common decency than backslidden believers. Those sailors proved that when they made every effort to not throw Jonah overboard.
- We should never limit God as to either who He can save or the means by which He can bring those people to a saving knowledge of Him. If those sailors did truly get saved (as I and many others believe they did), that certainly proves this lesson.
Still, though, the primary lesson I’m attempting to convey in this post is this: When you choose to do what you want to do rather than what God wants you to do, you shouldn’t be surprised when God rebukes your decision. This lesson, of course, applies all the more to the saved believer. You say, “But I’m free to make my own choice.” Yes, that’s true, God grants you that freedom. What He doesn’t grant you, though, is the freedom to decide what consequences result from you making your choice. Those consequences are His department, and I assure you that He doesn’t mind doling them out in proper measure to the rebellion in question. This is a lesson that Jonah learned the hard way, and it’s one that you will learn the hard way too if you persist in your rebellion.