As we read through the first chapter of the book of Jonah in the Bible, Jonah has finally admitted the truth: that he serves the God who created both land and sea. It is Jonah’s fault that a terrifying storm is besieging the ship that he’s on, putting the sailors at risk. Now that the others with Jonah understand that their current peril is due to a conflict between Jonah and his powerful god, they ask the next logical question: How do we make it stop?
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.”
Jonah 1:11-12 NIV
I’m not sure if Jonah had received a specific message from God as to how to make the storm stop, or if this was his own idea, but the solution that he offers is simple. The problem with his solution, though, is that it appears to require the sailors to commit murder. Out here at sea, from the sailors’ perspective, Jonah is probably not getting back home if they throw him overboard.
Some teachers would suggest that Jonah would rather die than see God’s mercy extended to the city of Nineveh (or perhaps he’d rather die than even go to Nineveh or talk with its residents), and that may very well have been the case. Regardless, this seems to be a problem between Jonah and God, and the rest of those on the ship are victims of that conflict. So, it makes sense: separate Jonah from the ship, and save the sailors (along with any other passengers).
The men here still have some basic decency, though. They don’t want to murder someone, even if it that might be the means by which they get rescued themselves.
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.”
Jonah 1:13-14 NIV
So, these men do what most of us do when we don’t want to follow God’s instructions: they try to solve the problem on their own. This worked out for them about as well as trying to fix our own problems (without God) works out for us! When that didn’t work, though, they call out to God.
When they resign themselves to following the solution that Jonah gave them, do you see the rendering of God’s name (“LORD” with small caps) twice in the prayer to God, here? In fact, the NASB shows this three times. The men are no longer praying to their own individual gods – whether the gods of their nations, tribes, cities, or families – they are praying to the God, by name.
Of course, I am not suggesting that God is calling you to throw anyone into the sea when it’s stormy, but God does call you and me to a lot of things, from accepting Jesus as our Lord and Savior, to living a life that shows the positive fruit of the Holy Spirit while we let Him direct us.
When God is clear on what He wants us to do, let us skip to the step where we obey Him, and not waste a lot of time in the storm trying to fruitlessly row back to shore. There’s no need to keep resisting God’s instructions – whether like Jonah or like the sailors – when better results await us if we will only let our own ideas go and follow God’s plan, instead.
From Sunday School lesson prepared for June 5, 2022
- The Lookout, June 5, 2022, © 2022 Christian Standard Media.
- Scripture taken from the Holy Bible, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®, NIV® Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.
- The College Press Commentary, Minor Prophets Volume 1: Hosea-MIcah, by Harold Shank. College Press Publishing Company, © 2001.