Summary: Ceasing their prayers, the frightened sailors took up a time honored ritual of casting lots. When the lots fell to Jonah, he knew he had to confess. He ran from God-but he could not run now: it was time for the truth.
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.