FACES FRIGHTENED FELLOWS
The scene before us in these first seven verses of Jonah, Chapter One are packed with visuals which one can only imagine; feelings that are palpable; and, a sense of urgency for help for a boat full of people and sailors who are now at the mercy of the elements. The mood of the verses seems to grow darker and darker as the sky must have grown on that fateful day so long ago. There appears to be no help for any of the human beings as we continue our journey with Jonah on the Mediterranean Sea.
As we survey what has already gone before us, we see that the mariners have been busy praying for help from their respective gods. Evidently the other people, the “them” of verse three, had been praying also because the captain of the ship went looking for the one who was not praying-Jonah-in verse six. The situation is indeed grave and even though the cargo has been tossed over board, the storm still rages and the fear is growing.
Against that background, we see that Jonah finally makes his appearance on board and the sailors seek to understand the “Whys” of the very tempest in which they have become embroiled. To try and make some type of sense of the situation, the mariners resort to the time old practice of “casting lots” in their attempt to find some rationale for what is now engulfing them.
The habit of casting lots, like drawing straws, has been around for ages. The Bible has many references of this practice from cover to cover. It is worth noting that there seems to be no Devine approval of this practice as is recorded in the Sacred Word-just a reporting of the act. Indeed, when the lot was cast to fulfill Judas’ place, Paul seems to think that the disciples were wrong for being hasty and doing what he felt was wrong. He felt he was the twelfth apostle, not Matthias, and he probably was correct. Yet here the sailors ceased their prayer meeting and resorted to the casting of lots for an answer-any answer- that would give them insights into the present situation.
As I study verse seven of this chapter, I see three things that make me set up and take notice about what was transpiring that day so long ago. The first thing I note has to do with the FAILURE of the gods to answer prayers for the sailors. The next thing I note relates to the FINDINGS or the intended findings of the sailors as to why they cast lots in the first place. Then, I note that once Jonah was “discovered” what were the exact FACTS expected from Jonah.
I. FAILURE: As the sailors ceased their praying they began the age old practice of casting lots to gain answers as to the cause of the situation. Casting of lots not only was done to select or to pin-point a specific person, but the casting of lots included everything which could be an answer to the situation of that time. What strikes me here in the casting of the lots was an omission of drastic FAILURE on at least three counts.
The first breakdown of the situation was that the gods, the Fates to which these mariners and others believed, let them down. These gods, these Fates to which these heathen people worshiped, could not answer them nor save them from the dire state of affairs in which they found themselves. As old Elijah chided the prophets of Baal later on, “Call louder, maybe your god went on a vacation, or maybe your god is asleep, call louder,” he chided the heathen worshipers because the one to whom they were praying was a no god. The same thing was transpiring here. These sailors called out to their gods, but there was no answer, no relief, no help. At a most critical time of their lives, their gods failed them.
The same is true today. Those who worship anything and/or anyone who is not the true God, will suffer the same result someday. That to which they devoted their lives, will fail them miserably unless they turn to the only God for His salvation through Jesus Christ.
Not only did the Fates fail the sailors, but the Faith these worshippers had failed them at the most crucial time-they gave up their faith in believing that their gods could help them. They soon realized that what they were doing was not helping so they ceased their prayers and went to casting lots. They as much as admitted that they were wrong in their beliefs by ceasing to pray and resorted to casting lots.
Oh give me that type of faith that holds the weak one to the Throne of Grace. Grant me that type of Faith that stands the tests of time and keeps the believer next to the Heart of Jesus. Give me that type of faith that saves the soul, sanctifies the believer, satisfies the saints and glorifies God. Give me that type of faith that will not be undermined by circumstances nor outward appearances. Give me that type of faith that when my days are done here on this Earth, and I lay aside this mortal body, then and thereafter, I will be swept into the Presence of the Unseen Guest of my heart and home. Give me that type of faith that has brought down wicked kingdoms and ruthless dictators. Give me that type of faith that shakes the pits of Hell and it cannot be undermined, nor denied but can bear up under any and all circumstances. Give me that type of faith that Luther had when he said, “I stand here and I cannot go farther.” Give me that type of faith that the Wesley boys had when they marched out to the coal mines in the dark of the morning and preached to unreachable people. Give me that type of faith that William Booth had when he went to the common man of England and told them about Jesus. Give me that type of faith that anchors the soul and allows me to pray for my oppressors as Madam Guyon had and did in France so long ago.
The Faith these sailors had failed them and failed them at the most critical time of their life. The FAILURE of their Faith caused them to turn from praying to casting lots to see the “Why” of that particular situation.
Not only did their Fates abandoned them, and not only did they abandoned their Faith in their gods to help them, but there was a marked FAILURE in their Fanaticism. These boys were different after their prayer meeting. I do not know what all they did in their prayer time, but they called upon their gods for help and did so in loud vices and with much pathos. They were terrified and no silent, wimpy prayer would do these hearty men. They called out long and loud yet their prayers went unheeded. All of their protestations went unheard. As the prophet of old who heard the wind whistle, saw the fire and experienced the rocks being broken but still no God, suddenly heard that Still Small Voice and his hair stood on end-it was God speaking, and he heard.
In the Garden on that first day of the week, Mary asked the Gardner where he had taken her Jesus and then He said, Mary” and she knew, she knew, she knew-it was her Lord. When God’s children call upon Him it does not have to be a with loud protestations although that might be acceptable at times, but God hears the heart cry before He hears the voice and He listens and answers prayers. These sailors called out loud and long and their protestations, their pleas for help and their simple Fanaticism was a complete failure because there were no gods to hear them nor to help them. Everything about their beliefs failed them at this most critical time of their lives.
May we make sure our Anchor holds and the strain of life does not snap the lifeline we have to our Lord through our faith.
II. FINDINGS: The question still remains as to “Why” did the sailors cast lots. There are a few reasons for which it might be wise to study.
The first reason as to the “Why” of casting lots has to do with the sailors wanting to know all the Facts of the reason for their distress. In casting lots, the belief was that the answer might be found in a person or in a substance or the evidence would be forthcoming upon further investigation. Casting of lots usually always involved seeking out a person or a group of people, but the casting of lots also meant that the inquirers would be looking to find the reason behind the actions of the person or the people involved. With Jonah on board and standing in front of them or with them they were anxious to find out all they could from him or from anyone else as to the reason for this development.
Besides the casting of lots helping the sailors to find out the real Facts according to their belief, the action of random choosing gave them Fortitude in the face of such overwhelming odds. Remember, these sailors had been praying to false gods and the idols they served were not giving them any hope of salvation. Leaving their prayers, their hopes, their pleas behind on the deck of the ship, they turned to doing something that they thought would surely uncover the real truth behind what they were experiencing at that time and also that the casting of lots would give them strength and help in this most perilous time.
Lest we be too harsh on these sailors, let us look at our lives. Have we substituted things in place of trusting in God for His help? Do we rely on our own ability to solve our problems? Do we turn to counselors to seek help from them instead of going to God for His help? Do we rely on “things” which we feel strengthen us in the face of impending doom? Do we cease our prayers and turn to seek other things that we feel will bring security to us? Remember, God is still the Master of the Tempests and He is still in control of all things. Let us honor Him by our reliance on Him for all things.
Another reason for the casting of lots was not necessarily to point to a guilty person but it was in hopes that if the lots did fall upon one, that the one so designated would be able to explain what one knew as to the reason for the situation. It was under these auspices that Jonah was indicated: he became the Focus of the interrogation. As he stood there and the lots were cast which eventually fell to him, the sailors thought that he would share with them what he knew about the cause of the tempest. They were surprised to find that Jonah confessed as being the reason for the storm itself. This was not what they were expecting. This amazement is evident in the next few verses when he tells them that they are to pick him up and cast him overboard and they at first ignore his pleas. The casting of lots in this instance was more than just finding Facts, and the hope of Fortitude, the casting of lots turned up the main Focus of the investigation and the sailors were left with a decision as to just how to proceed with this data.
III. FIXATION: Once the matter was settled by the casting of the lots and the lots fell to Jonah, the sailors were certain that this Hebrew would tell them what he knew and were surprised to hear him tell his sordid story.
As the sailors stood on the slippery deck, with the wind howling and the waves rolling, they were anticipating that by pointing to Jonah the Foreigner ,that he would know something they did not know about the storm. All eyes were set on this strange man from Israel and they wanted to hear what he had to say about what provoked the terrible storm in which they were.
As Jonah stood there watching the casting of lots and then seeing everything pointing to him, one has to wonder what he was thinking; what were his Feelings? It is hard for me to put myself in his shoes that day. I do not know just what went through his mind; I can only imagine the deep sense of shame and guilt which must have engulfed him as he stood before complete strangers and then heard them ask him as to the why of the present nightmare. He shrugged off his call from the Devine and ran for his life, now he stood before a group of hardened men and fellow travelers and he could not run anymore. What were his feelings that day? At last, he was found to know something of the reason for the plight of the ship; at last he was in a spot where he could not run away and hide. His heart must have sunk as he knew that now he would have to tell all he knew and he did not know what was to be next. It is one thing to hide from man, but we cannot hide from God and he knew in his heart that this whole incident was of the God of the Universe.
Besides knowing he was trapped with no exit, and knowing that once he confessed to the people who were waiting on his every word, he was doomed. He also knew that he had turned his back on the only One who could help him and he was certain in his heart that God would never help him anymore. He was alone, forsaken and Forlorn. He had to feel the weight of the world on his shoulders as he stood there watching the sailors casting their lots and then having every thing devolve on him. If there is a true felling of Forlornness in this world-he felt it then.
Little did he know then that the very God he chose to disobey was dealing with him in love and compassion. We humans, think so differently than our God thinks. When we think we have run out the score, when we think we are all alone, when we think we are the worst of sinners and when we think there is no help from God, it is at these times that God is near and wants us to turn back to Him. Jonah had to learn this lesson and he would but at this time he felt he was a lost human being.
Everything failed to stop the storm. The Fates of the sailors refused to hear and help them. Regardless of their dedication and their Faithful Fanaticism, the storm continued. Besides the FAILURES of the seamen to stop the storm, they sought answers to their inquires by the casting of lots when they could not find the answers from their gods. They desperately wanted to know the reason, “Why” and by them casting lots they were certain they would discover what their gods refused to tell them. Then when the lot fell to the stranger from Israel, they thought he would be able to give them the answers for which they sought-never dreaming he was the reason for the trouble. Yet, through all the time this dejected man stood there, convinced that he was doomed to die; he did not know that behind the storm, was the hand of the One who controlled the storm and this One was the One who was still reaching out to His wayward prophet. God still rides the storms of our lives and still seeks our good regardless of what we are experiencing. He still loves us and He does all things for our good. He did it for Jonah and He does the same for us. Let us run to Him and He will take care of us.