Summary: What do you fear? Who do you fear? What does it mean to fear? Getting these questions sorted out will help us to understand both this passage and how we ought to regard and worship God.
Jonah 1:5-16 Fearing God
10/26/14 D. Marion Clark
What do you fear? Who do you fear? What does it mean to fear? Fear is the word that keeps cropping up in our text this morning. Getting these questions sorted out will help us to understand both this passage and how we ought to regard and worship God.
We left our ship stranded in a mighty tempest on the Mediterranean Sea and threatening to break up. The Lord had hurled a great wind upon the sea in response to Jonah’s futile effort at escaping his presence. Let’s pick back up the action.
Fearing the Storm
Then the mariners were afraid, and each cried out to his god. And they hurled the cargo that was in the ship into the sea to lighten it for them. But Jonah had gone down into the inner part of the ship and had lain down and was fast asleep. 6 So the captain came and said to him, “What do you mean, you sleeper? Arise, call out to your god! Perhaps the god will give a thought to us, that we may not perish.”
Until we come to verse 5, although there obviously are other characters in the story, this is the first time reference is made to them. We have the mariners and their captain. Two things are noted about them – they are afraid and they are religious.
That they are afraid is another indication of how mighty the storm is. They would have experienced enough storms on the sea not to be frightened by large waves. That they would hurl the cargo over the ship reveals how desperate their plight has become.
But they also cry out to their gods. It is said that there are no atheists in foxholes. Evidently there are none on board of ships being tossed about in storms. They cry out each to his own god. They must come from different nations and places. Remember our observation last week of how gods came with territories. Their prayers were not superficial. They believed in the gods. The captain wakes up Jonah for the purpose of him praying to his god. He certainly would have been no other help on deck. Gods have their limits, and the hope is that someone’s god will be able to come through.
Fearing the Cause
But the prayers are not working. The next step is clearly one of pagan superstition. It is the old belief that any bad circumstance is the result of punishment. But what happens demonstrates how the true God will nevertheless use the false presumptions of pagans to meet his purpose.
7 And they said to one another, “Come, let us cast lots, that we may know on whose account this evil has come upon us.” So they cast lots, and the lot fell on Jonah.
This is the nightmare we have all had. We are trying to remain as inconspicuous as possible, and all eyes turn to us. In Jonah’s case, not only are the mariners staring at him as they might at someone who is different or has embarrassed himself. They stare at the man who is the cause of their life-threatening storm. The gig is up. Jonah is now put on the spot. The questions come at him rapidly.
8 Then they said to him, “Tell us on whose account this evil has come upon us. What is your occupation? And where do you come from? What is your country? And of what people are you?” 9 And 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.”
Jonah identifies himself as a Hebrew in answer to their last question, which leads to his next identification. A Hebrew is identified not only by his race but by his God.
“I fear the LORD, the God of heaven, who made the sea and the dry land.” We noted last week that Jonah is ascribing to his God sovereign power. The Creator of sea and dry land is the Ruler of sea and dry land. All the earth is his domain. And unlike a human ruler who may have a domain but cannot control all that takes place in that domain, this Ruler can and does. That is why Jonah cannot flee from his presence. He tried, but to no avail.
Note that Jonah uses the term “fear” the Lord. The NIV translates the Hebrew word as “worship.” The term is yareꞌ. It can be translated “worship.” Even if it is, the aspect of fear is present in the term, as that is its basic meaning.
To fear God was the common understanding of ancient religions. Gods needed to be pacified. They could be vengeful and unpredictable. But that is not how the Hebrews viewed their God nor was it the tone of their fear. Listen to these few references. We will start with a verse we already recited in our responsive reading.