The first chapter of Yonah introduces the larger theme of life and death. It addresses the life and death of the wicked Ninevites, against whom Jonah was sent to preach, and the life and death of the pagan sailors, whose ship is threatened to break up in the storm. At its center is the life and death of Jonah, who is thrown into a raging sea and is swallowed by a whale. Yonah’s struggle for life before ADONAI will be partially resolved in his prayer of thanksgiving in chapter two, and later, in his conversation with YHVH in chapter four. The resolution of the Ninevites’ struggle is resolved by Jonah’s preaching, their repentance and God’s compassion in chapter three.
Chapter one only resolves the life and death struggle of the sailors. Their terror in the midst of the storm has them frantically searching for a way to survive. Yonah’s reluctant confession to them in the midst of their distress and his willingness to be tossed overboard into the sea eventually result in the calming of the storm. His words also inadvertently result in the sailors’ conversion to worship the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Even in reluctance and in the face of his certain death by drowning, Jonah fulfills HaShem’s call on his life by his witness to faith. Yonah testifies that ADONAI is the source of life and he later proclaims that being separated from His presence is the same as death.16 So the story of a reluctant prophet teaches us how no one is beyond the reach of God’s hand. Just as Jonah’s attempt to escape the divine intervention of ADONAI proved unsuccessful, we, too, are incapable of eluding His grasp.
I am Jonah.
I want to serve God . . . as long as it’s convenient.
I desire to do His will . . . until it’s a tad uncomfortable.
I want to hear His Word . . . as long as its message is one I’m supposed to give to others.
I don’t want to have my plans interrupted.
Oh yes. I am Jonah, and I suspect that in one way or another, you are too.17