Then the Lord sent a great wind on the sea, and such a violent storm arose that the ship threatened to break up. All the sailors were afraid and each cried out to his own god. And they threw the cargo into the sea to lighten the ship.
But Jonah had gone below deck, where he lay down and fell into a deep sleep. 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 so that we will not perish.”
Then the sailors said to each other, “Come, let us cast lots to find out who is responsible for this calamity.” They cast lots and the lot fell on Jonah. So they asked him, “Tell us, who is responsible for making all this trouble for us? What kind of work do you do? Where do you come from? What is your country? From what people are you?”
He answered, “I am a Hebrew and I worship the Lord, the God of heaven, who made the sea and the dry land.”
This terrified them and they asked, “What have you done?” (They knew he was running away from the Lord, because he had already told them so.)
The sea was getting rougher and rougher. So they asked him, “What should we do to you to make the sea calm down for us?”
“Pick me up and throw me into the sea,” he replied, “and it will become calm. I know that it is my fault that this great storm has come upon you.”
Instead, the men did their best to row back to land. But they could not, for the sea grew even wilder than before. Then they cried out to the Lord, “Please, Lord, do not let us die for taking this man’s life. Do not hold us accountable for killing an innocent man, for you, Lord, have done as you pleased.” Then they took Jonah and threw him overboard, and the raging sea grew calm. At this the men greatly feared the Lord, and they offered a sacrifice to the Lord and made vows to him.
Now the Lord provided a huge fish to swallow Jonah, and Jonah was in the belly of the fish three days and three nights.
Think about a low point you have experienced in your life. How did you rise out of this time? What helped you to climb out of this place? What did you learn about your responses to difficult situations from this time in your life?
As Jonah flees from God’s call to go to Nineveh, the Lord sends a violent tempest after him in an effort to draw Jonah’s attention back to his prophetic ministry, and the sailors upon the ship each call out to the god that they worship seeking help in the face of this danger.
At the height of the storm, the ship’s captain wakes up Jonah, who has been sleeping in the hold of the ship, and tells Jonah to call out to God that the Lord might keep Jonah and the sailors from dying.
The sailors cast lots to determine who on the ship was responsible for the storm, which was a common practice at the time. This would have resonated with Jonah as the Israelite High Priest carried special instruments called the Urim and Thummim that would be used to identify specific people such as guilty parties (see 1 Samuel 14:41). Even though Jonah knew that he was responsible for the storm, he refused to admit his guilt until he was marked by the process of casting lots.
Once confronted with the reality of his mistake and its larger implication on the lives of all who are on the ship with him, Jonah seeks to make amends for the storm by offering himself as a sacrifice. In the Israelite tradition, people would offer sacrifices for their sins at the temple in Jerusalem with the belief that the blood of a sacrificial animal would substitute for the blood that God could demand of them for their sinful action.
Rather than immediately following Jonah suggestions that he be thrown into the sea, the sailors seek to save the ship, as well as, its passengers by rowing back to shore. Even in that moment, God prevents their action by causing the storm to intensify, reminding Jonah of his sin in fleeing from God.
Once Jonah had been tossed overboard into the sea, the storm ceased, and the sailors offered a sacrifice to God, while also making vows to Him. These sailors would have worshipped one or more of the pagan gods of their people; however, in seeing the awe-inspiring power of God, they looked towards Him.
This passage ends with Jonah being swallowed by a large fish, where he resides for three days and three nights: an image that immediately springs to mind for most of us when we think about the Jonah story. How will Jonah respond to being brought down to the belly of a great fish?
Lord God, You seek to call us in more ways than we can usually understand. You reach out to us through Your Word found in Scripture, through the words of our friends and family as they are inspired by the Holy Spirit, and through other myriad ways that You know reach each of us. We thank You that You never cease to call us, especially in the times when we might feel most distant from You. We thank You for the people who You have placed within our lives who help us to draw close to You, and we especially thank You that You never give up on us. Open us to Your presence and love that we might hear Your call upon our lives. In Christ’s Name, we pray; amen.
The book of Jonah is much more than a story about a man who went overboard and ended up in the belly of a whale; it’s also about the way God goes overboard to show his love to the world. Join us as we look into the book and listen to God’s heart!