DIG: What effect did God sending a storm so great that the ship was in danger of falling apart? In what sense were they saved (compare verses 5 and 16)? Likewise, how was the prophet saved? How could Jonah sleep through the storm? Was he in denial? Was he depressed? How was Jonah a type of Christ? What irony do you see in the exchange between the captain and Yonah? Between the sailors and the prophet?
REFLECT: Can you recall the last time one bad decision led you on a downward spiral of rebellion and more bad decisions? How futile is it when we try to solve our problems by human reasoning? Could God intervene in a miraculous way more often? Why doesn’t He? What kind of believers would that create? Have you ever been surprised by how the LORD allowed good to come out of a time of rebellion in your life? What did ADONAI accomplish? What decisions are you making today that will impact your future?
Short description of scene two: But the LORD . . . Here is the second but as already observed (1:3, 1:4, 1:17, 4:1, 4:7). There is great power in the equivalent words but God, frequently used in the B’rit Chadashah when an unsolvable or difficult problem has been posed. There is no answer until but God, and therein is the whole answer – the Person and nature, power and purpose of ADONAI. Despite Yonah’s illusion that He can merely flee from the presence of the LORD, it is now made perfectly clear that God is there on the sea, and able to control it, whatever Jonah may think. The son of Amittai is like a young child covering his eyes and thinking that he cannot be seen. But the LORD was there after all. There in the calling, there in the flight, there on the sea, there in the storm, and there in the throwing of lots (1:7). In short, God is with us no matter what our circumstance. After all, God with us is the heart of our faith and a central message of this book. The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call Him Immanuel, which means: God with us (Mattityahu 1:23). It is just that Yonah, in his passion for Isra’el, had hoped it meant: God is with us (and not the Ninevites)!
Like King David’s one bad decision (Second Samuel 11), Jonah’s life started to slide out of control. We see another illustration of a bad choice running rampant in a person’s life in the story of the prodigal son (see my commentary on The Life of Christ Hu – The Lost Son and His Jealous Brother). Like the disobedient prophet, he set his sights on a distant country and lived rebelliously. It was not until his downward tumble gained steam that he found himself in the pigpen that it dawned on him how far he had fallen.
The LORD, who had made the first move by addressing Jonah, now takes the initiative again. As the Master of wind and waves He hurled a great wind on the sea as easily as one hurls a stone. But this is no mere display of power. The great wind is intended to stop Yonah dead in his tracks by preventing the ship from making any headway. Nevertheless, the verb hurl does imply vigorous exertion. It is used of Saul when he hurls his javelin at David with the intention of killing him (1 Samuel 18:11 and 20:33).
Commentary on scene two . . . sent out a great wind on the sea, which made the sea so stormy that the ship was in danger of breaking apart (1:4). You can almost hear the creaking timbers as the stress of the pounding on the hull increases. The Hebrew word translated sent out is a strong word, meaning to hurl. ADONAI hurled the storm at the sea. To the people of the ancient world, the sea was like the kingdom of death. For them, to be sailing on the ocean was risky enough, to be hurled around worse, and to feel the ship breaking apart worse still. Their little bottle of security was breaking apart and the dread of being swallowed by the ocean was growing by the minute. It is this almost primal fear of being swallowed by the sea that aroused such empathy for the victims of the 2004 Asian tsunami, or the obsessive retelling of the story of the Titanic. Despite our technology and our statistics of safety, it doesn’t take much to rock our boat of confidence.36
Even though they were all very experienced, the sailors were afraid . . . So severe was the storm at sea that even the hardened sailors thought they were going to die. The extreme danger reminded them of their frailty. As stated earlier, these sailors were most likely Phoenicians who were responsible for most of the sea traffic in the Mediterranean during the first half of the first millennium BC. It was they who pioneered the exploration and trade by the sea.37 They were pagans who came from a polytheistic culture and therefore worshiped numerous gods. Each god governed a different part of nature and was easily offended. Elemental fear directed their thoughts to the supernatural realm. So when they became afraid by the storm each man cried out to his own god (1:5a). The rabbis teach the men of seventy languages were there on the ship, and each had his own god in his hand.
It is highly ironic that Yonah, the one with faith in ADONAI, is mingled with the crew, quite literally “in the same boat” as everyone else, subject to the same forces of nature, hopes and fears. Why was this happening? For believers, it’s common to blame unbelievers for the way the world is going. But here, Jonah, as the author of the book,turns this on its head; the ship is sinking because of the faithlessness of the true believer, not because of the sins of the pagans on board.
Loss of cargo was preferable to the loss of their lives so they began throwing the cargo into the sea to make the ship lighter (1:5b). The Hebrew word used here for throwing is the same word used for the LORD sending out the storm in verse 4. Just as God hurled the storm against them, that is how they hurled the cargo into the sea. So the sailors responded by praying to their own gods in fear and did the sensible thing, they worked desperately to try and save the ship. This turned out to be totally futile. They had neglected to go to the source of all wisdom.
But Jonah had gone down far inside the farthest corner of the lower deck to lie down, and he fell fast asleep (1:5c). Type 1. Both Jesus and Jonah were found asleep on board while their shipmates tried to keep the vessel afloat after a sudden storm arose (see my commentary on The Life of Christ Fp- Jesus Walks on the Water). In both instances, the storm was calmed and the shipmates’ faith in God increased.
Humanly speaking, the pagan sailors were doing what they could. In stark contrast, Jonah was doing nothing. He was asleep. This same vocabulary is used for an anesthetized-like sleep: So the LORD God caused the man to fall into a deep sleep; and while he was sleeping, He took one of the man’s ribs and then closed up the place with flesh (Genesis 2:21). It is the same kind of exhaustive sleep that caused Sisera not to hear Jael sneaking up on him to drive a peg through his head, killing him (Judges 4:21). In the same way, the reluctant prophet was sleeping so soundly that he was not aware of the storm, the activity on deck, or the captain of the ship as he made his way down into the lower deck. This is the third going down of Yonah. Just as the ship heading west moved him across the horizon in the direction of his rebellion, so his descent continues, moving him in a vertical direction farther and farther away from ADONAI.38 If you run from God long enough, you can be in the clutches of mortal danger and never know it. You can reach a point where you cannot even hear His voice (Romans 1:24-25).
In his stupor he probably recalled when he first heard the word of YHVH (1:1). Yonah was ambivalent about the world and about God. He was lukewarm and,like the church at Laodicea, Yeshua said to the reluctant prophet, “I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other! So because you are lukewarm – neither hot nor cold – I am about to spit you out of My mouth” (Revelation 3:15-16). Unable to choose either option, God’s servant becomes hopelessly useless. He neither prays nor offers any practical help; his sleeping shows his withdrawal from the reality around him. So Jonah, our anti-hero in his spiritual cocoon, is oblivious to the frantic activities of the sailors above deck. But he is interrupted again. This time, however, not directly by ADONAI but by the rough and urgent voice of the captain of the ship.39
The captain of the ship, literally the chief of the rope pullers, went to him and said: Why are you sleeping? Get up and pray to your god! The rabbis note the irony. The pagan captain calls upon the Hebrew prophet to pray, his words mirror Yonah’s initial call from God. Each word mocks him. Maybe He will pay attention to us, and we won’t die (1:6). The captain acknowledges the possibility that Yonah’s God, the God of the Hebrews, is the one true God. The use of God as a generic term is remarkable in the mouth of a pagan, who had just prayed to his own national deity. It suggests that, with their worship of idols, some of the pagans had a vague anxiety of one supreme God; and in a moment of great danger, such apprehension would come to mind.
Eventually everyone in this book calls on ADONAI: the sailors, Jonah, and the Ninevites. The Hebrew word qara is translated as both to call and to cry out:
The captain went to him and said, “How can you sleep? Get up and call on your god! Maybe He will take notice of us, and we won’t die (1:6).
Then the sailors cried out to ADONAI, “Please ADONAI, Please! Don’t let us die for taking this man’s life” (1:14a).
Jonah said: In my distress I called to YHVH, and He answered me (2:1-2a).
The king said: Let people and animals be covered with sackcloth. Let everyone call urgently on God. Let them give up their evil ways and their violence (3:8).40
The storm, then, is God’s tool to bring Jonah to his senses. Thus far it has not succeeded in breaking through his defenses. But Yonah will be allowed to propel himself deeper into trouble before God can rescue, and ultimately persuade him to see things His way. Jonah comes back up on deck and sees the great storm that is threatening to send him, the captain and his crew, to the bottom of the ocean. The rough and tumble sailors conclude that there must be someone on board who was guilty of some great crime, and they quickly decided to throw lots in order to find out who was guilty.41