Summary: We can be so obsessed with what was going on inside that fish that we can miss seeing the drama inside Jonah.
Jonah, the Prodigal Prophet, ch 1:4-17 Pastor Bob Leroe, Cliftondale Congregational Church, Saugus, Massachusetts
We last saw Jonah boarding a ship headed for Tarshish. He pays his fare, gets his one-way ticket, and settles down in the hold--thinking he has made it impossible for God’s will to be carried out. But God has means of bringing him back.
A violent storm suddenly appears, and not by accident. When people describe tempestuous weather as “of Biblical proportions”, they’re thinking of conditions like Jonah’s storm. The turbulent events of our lives run according to God’s plan. The storms we face were pre-arranged from the beginning of time. Sometimes they’re to test our faith, sometimes to correct us. When we experience life’s storms, it’s useful to ask, “What is the relevance of this event to God’s plan? What is God teaching me through this?”
After He has brought us to saving faith in Christ, the Holy Spirit isn’t finished with us. His guidance and support have just begun. God works in the lives of believers to produce Christ-likeness. This process of spiritual growth is gradual, progressive. God intends to work with us and He will do whatever it takes to help us to mature. In Jonah’s case, it took a storm, a fish, a plant, and a worm.
The sailors are facing the tempest by trusting many gods. It’s to their credit that they recognize that this is no ordinary storm. They correctly assess that the angry waves betray a divine response to some grave sin. But their SOS prayers are to no avail; the storm still rages. They obviously haven’t called on the right god yet, so they prepare for the worst, lightening the ship by throwing cargo overboard. You can’t help but feel sorry for these men, caught in the consequences of Jonah’s sin. It’s impossible to sin without affecting others.
The Captain is desperate to appease the powers of the deep; he finds Jonah slumbering through the storm, oblivious to the danger, and gives him an abrupt “wake-up call”: “How can you sleep? Get up and call on your god!” Rebuke stings the most when it comes from the mouth of an unbeliever. The sailors had done all they could, without uncovering the cause of their danger. The Captain was desperately trying to tap into every divine possibility. He was likely worried that, by the time they’d figured out which god caused the storm, they’d all be at the bottom of the sea. Lots are drawn, and Jonah is singled out. Proverbs 16 tells us that nothing in life happens by luck: “The lot is cast into the lap, but every decision is from the Lord.”
Was Jonah really asleep? A friend told me that whenever he did something wrong as a child he would pretend to be asleep when his father came home. Jonah may have been attempting to maintain a “low-profile”. Jonah was a watchman, but he isn’t watching. God gave him a message, yet he rests rather than warns those on the waves of destruction. If we really care about people who are headed in the wrong direction, we will care enough to urge them to reconsider the path they’ve chosen. Jonah is doing nothing while others are working; there are many false teachers hard at work to win converts, while we remain silent. Are we slumbering or serving? May the sleepers awake!
The sailors ask Jonah his occupation and where he’s from. They’re trying to determine why this calamity has fallen on them. When Jonah explains his actions, the crew are horrified with his act of rebellion. We can be sure our sins will find us out…and sometimes in full view of unbelievers. The sailors cry, “What have you done?” In other words: “Jonah, if your god is the Almighty God of heaven, sea, and land, how could you dare disobey Him?” They likely had heard stories of God’s plagues on Egypt, the crossing of the Red Sea, the fall of Jericho, David & Goliath. It’s a fearful thing to be the object of God’s wrath. They then ask what their part should be—Jonah should know best how to calm the tempest. The crew didn’t share his sin, but they’re anxious to be part of sin’s remedy. Their rebuke should have led to Jonah’s repentance.
Although Jonah proposes they throw him overboard, the sailors are reluctant to do so. To commit God’s prophet to a watery grave might only further aggravate the wrath of the One who caused the storm. They attempt to row to land, but the sea is too violent. If this had been Jonah’s decision, they would have made it! He could have told them to trust in God and return him to Joppa. If he had, there would have been clear sailing all the way.