Jonah: Storm and Sacrifice (1:4-12)
“You can run but you cannot hide.”—American Boxer, Joe Louis.
Boxer Joe (not Joe Boxer) probably hadn’t read the story of Jonah, but what he said makes for a great summary statement about this passage of Scripture, and the book of Jonah as a whole. There is no escape from Almighty God.
In the previous section (1:1-3), the author set the tone of an interaction between God and Jonah. God called Jonah to preach to the Ninevites, and he boarded a ship to Tarshish to get away from “the presence of the LORD” (1:3). Now the author has set the tone for this part of the story by telling us about the sailors’ involvement with Jonah and his God.
“4 But the LORD hurled a great wind upon the sea, and there was a mighty tempest on the sea, so that the ship threatened to break up. 5 Then the mariners were afraid, and each cried out to his god. And they hurled the cargo that was in the ship into the sea to lighten it for them. But Jonah had gone down into the inner part of the ship and had lain down and was fast asleep. 6 So the captain came and said to him, “What do you mean, you sleeper? Arise, call out to your god! Perhaps the god will give a thought to us, that we may not perish.” 7 And they said to one another, “Come, let us cast lots, that we may know on whose account this evil has come upon us.” So they cast lots, and the lot fell on Jonah. 8 Then they said to him, “Tell us on whose account this evil has come upon us. What is your occupation? And where do you come from? What is your country? And of what people are you?” 9 And he said to them, “I am a Hebrew, and I fear the LORD, the God of heaven, who made the sea and the dry land.” 10 Then the men were exceedingly afraid and said to him, “What is this that you have done!” For the men knew that he was fleeing from the presence of the Lord, because he had told them. 11 Then they said to him, “What shall we do to you, that the sea may quiet down for us?” For the sea grew more and more tempestuous. 12 He said to them, “Pick me up and hurl me into the sea; then the sea will quiet down for you, for I know it is because of me that this great tempest has come upon you.”
God Can Do That
Jonah had boarded this ship to get away from God’s presence, but “the LORD hurled a great wind upon the sea, and there was a mighty tempest on the sea, so that the ship threatened to break up” (v. 4). In this verse, you can almost hear the creaking of timbers as waves pound the sides of the ship. You can visualize a ship being tossed back and forth on sharp, unforgiving waves, while lightning strikes the sail. You can feel as if you are being tossed with Jonah and the crew.
So Jonah’s running from God has now caused problems for other people. He has put the sailors in a lot of danger. Now, while it is true that your disobedience to God can cause problems for those around you, there is a grander truth to be seen in this verse as it relates to the entire book. Note, God sent this storm. In fact, he “hurled a great wind upon the sea.” God can do that. And God used this storm to bring about His purposes—the salvation of the Ninevites, in this case. God sovereignly worked through this storm to bring about salvation for these sailors (1:16), Jonah’s repentance (chapter 2), and the salvation of the Ninevites (3:6-10). And so, the glorious truth to be observed here is the sovereignty of God.
The Sovereignty of God
What does it mean to say that God is sovereign? It means that God has unlimited rule of and control over His creation. He is free from outward restraint. Psalm 115 reads, “Our God is in the heavens; he does all that he pleases” (v. 3). Job confesses, “I know that you can do all things, and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted” (Job 42:2). Similarly, in Daniel the prophet says, “All the inhabitants of the earth are accounted as nothing, and he does according to his will among the host of heaven and among the inhabitants of the earth; and none can stay his hand or say to him, “What have you done?”” (Daniel 4:35). And in the New Testament, “Which he will display at the proper time—he who is blessed and only Sovereign, the King of kings and Lord of lords” (1 Tim. 6:15). There are scores of other passages that affirm God’s sovereignty, but the point is, the Bible teaches the doctrine of the sovereignty of God.
God is sovereign over everything, but from this storm and the results, we can note two things that God is sovereign over:
1) Suffering. The storm they experienced brought them face to face with death. They were struggling to survive. God used this storm to bring about His own good purposes. Surely they didn’t think they were going to survive, but God was in control the whole time. Trials in our lives today happen unexpected, like this storm. The struggles we face today may make us feel like we aren’t going to survive, but “we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28).
In addition, sometimes we may suffer as a direct result of our sin. When we feel remorse, guilt, and shame after we sin, the suffering we are experiencing is what the Bible calls discipline. You think God was disciplining Jonah? Of course. One of the reasons God sent that storm was so Jonah could face his calling and be obedient to God. God disciplines us when we sin: “It is for discipline that you have to endure. God is treating you as sons. For what son is there whom his father does not discipline?” (Hebrews 12:7).
2) Salvation. God was using not only the storm, but many other elements in creation to bring about salvation to the sailors and the Ninevites. Did they expect to be saved? No. But God brought salvation to them, and sovereignly. The New Testament teaches also that God is sovereign in your salvation:
- God initiates your salvation and plans for you to be saved in eternity past (Acts 13:48; Ephesians 1:4).
- God carries out your salvation. He sends Jesus to accomplish the mission (John 3:16; Romans 5:8).
- God applies your salvation through the Holy Spirit (John 6:44; Titus 3:5).
- God secures your salvation and keeps you to the end (John 10:29; Romans 8:30).
Now which one of those are you responsible for? None. That’s why God is sovereign. Because He is sovereign in our salvation, that takes away from us any right to take credit. God gets the credit and God gets the glory, because God makes all moves.
Jonah in a Dream State
The ship is threatening to fall apart because of the great storm, so we read “the mariners were afraid, and each cried out to his god. And they hurled the cargo that was in the ship into the sea to lighten it for them. But Jonah had gone down into the inner part of the ship and had lain down and was fast asleep” (v. 5). So all of those on board are searching for every possible way to end their deadly situation. . . except for Jonah. These sailors cry out to their gods. They throw the cargo overboard. The question I know you are asking is, “How can Jonah sleep through all this?” The captain asks the same question in the next verse. The author of the book of Jonah intends for you to ask that question. That’s the way the author crafted this book. Because asking that question reveals an important truth about Jonah’s character—he was careless. His deep sleep reveals his carelessness about his own life and the lives of others.
Like Jonah, sometimes we are careless about other people’s lives. Perhaps we are careless about their needs or their struggles. Perhaps we are careless about their salvation. Maybe you know someone living in deep sin, but do not believe they deserve God’s grace. You might think they are so wicked that they are beyond forgiveness, so you go your own way thinking that “God’s gonna get ’em one day!” It is right to understand that we will all face the judgment of God (Hebrews 9:27), but it is not right to be careless about someones salvation. “If you have no desire for others to be saved, then you are not saved yourself”—C. H. Spurgeon. And still, while it is true that no one deserves salvation, we shouldn’t be careless about their eternity if we truly care about them.
Jonah—Prophet in Disguise
Sleeping through a mighty storm is quite foolish, so we read in the next verse, “So the captain came and said to him, “What do you mean, you sleeper? Arise, call out to your god! Perhaps the god will give a thought to us, that we may not perish” (v. 6). You can hear the accusation language here: “How can you sleep at at time like this?” (NLT). The captain tells Jonah to call out to his god. For these sailors, one god is as good as any as long as it saves them. The captain hopes what Jonah already knows—that Jonah’s God is a God of compassion: “Perhaps the god will give a thought to us. . .” Even more, the literal rendition of this phrase really means, “It may be that haelohim will take notice.” Haelohim in Hebrew here means “the true God.” So the captain acknowledges the possibility that Jonah’s God is the true God.
Why doesn’t Jonah reply to this captain? Why doesn’t he say anything? He doesn’t even bother to help the crew until verse 9. The captain’s request for Jonah to pray to his god was an incredible opportunity for Jonah to give witness to God’s power, but he remains silent. Jonah knew God was sovereign. He knew that God was present. He knew God could have calmed the storm. But he keeps his mouth shut instead.
Making Much of God
Jonah swept this opportunity to glorify God right under the ship. Like Jonah, sometimes we do the same thing. God gives us situations every day where we have the opportunity to put in a good word for Jesus. Your house. Your workplace. Your classroom. Your gas station. Are you making much of God in those aspects of your life? Live in a way that makes much of God. Live and act in a way that draws peoples’ attention to Him. Don’t hide your faith like Jonah did here. Jesus talks about how ridiculous it is to keep your faith hidden: “Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven” (Matt. 5:15-16).
Searching For a Solution
The sailors want to know who is responsible for this storm so, “they said to one another, “Come let us cast lots, that we may know on whose account this evil has come upon us.” So they cast lots and the lot fell on Jonah” (v. 7). Casting lots was a way of decision making in Bible times. This is similar to drawing straws or casting a pair of dice to determine who goes first, or what direction to follow. So these sailors cast lots, and the lot falls on Jonah. Did the lot just coincidentally fall on Jonah? Of course not! We know it was God’s sovereign hand in the process. The random process of casting lots. God would not let Jonah go. God has used the storm, these sailors, and now lot-casting, to expose Jonah to these sailors and bring him to face his calling as a prophet. All of these things are being used by God as agents for this purpose.
“Then they said to him, “Tell us on whose account this evil has come upon us. What is your occupation? And where do you come from? What is your country? And of what people are you?”” (v. 8). You can hear these rapid fire questions that the sailors are asking Jonah. They want to know more. Again, Jonah is given the chance to be a witness of faith to these sailors. First when the captain told him to cry out to his god. And here, he has another chance to be a witness of faith to the one true God. Jonah’s reply catches us by surprise: “And he said to them, “I am a Hebrew, and I fear the LORD, the God of heaven, who made the sea and the dry land”” (v. 9). He confesses boldly. This confession itself is a fulfillment of his calling as a prophet. He testifies that God is.
However, it probably sounds a little absurd to these sailors. You fear the God who controls the sea, but you are on that sea running from that God? Jonah recognized the sovereignty of God and knew that He was the “God of heaven, who made the sea and the dry land,” but still makes the choice to flee from Him. That sounds foolish because it is. But we do the same thing: we know God is watching our every move, but we like to think, “God can you turn Your head a minute, while I have premarital sex?” or “God close your eyes a second so I can watch this dirty movie” or “God can you look away while I hold back my tithe?” But we know that God is ever present but we continue to declare our independence by sinning. When we sin, we say to God’s face: “I don’t need You to satisfy me. What sin has to offer is greater. I am fine on my own.” But we know in reality that we need Him for our very existence; He is sustaining us, and giving us life every day. It is a struggle, but we must fight sin daily (Romans 7:15-25).
Death or Death Decision
“Then the men were exceedingly afraid and said to him, “What is this that you have done!” For the men knew that he was fleeing from the presence of the LORD, because he had told them”” (v. 10). Now that Jonah has told them who his God is, they are exceedingly afraid. This tremendous storm is the primary evidence that Jonah’s God is powerful. They then ask the equivalent of “Are you crazy!?” Who runs away from the God of the sea. . . on the sea? It’s like running from the cops on foot, while they are tracking you down in their squad cars. They’re going to catch you bro.
Now knowing that Jonah is responsible for this, and because the storm was getting worse, the crew asks Jonah, “What shall we do to you, that the sea may quiet down for us?” For the sea grew more and more tempestuous”” (v. 11). Jonah is now at an interesting point in this story: whatever happens, he will die. If he says nothing to these sailors, the storm will eventually kill them all (Jonah knows that he is responsible for this great storm). If he confesses, he knows that he alone will die. They will throw him overboard. God has done something amazing here. Jonah is again faced with the same decision he faced when God called him in the first place: Will your life/death save the lives of others? In the case of preaching to the Ninevites, Will you go to save their lives by preaching repentance? Jonah makes the decision to run. In the case of this storm and the deathly fate of these sailors, Will you sacrifice to save their lives? This question is put to him so close this time, that Jonah cannot help but notice. He knows this is God again. He knew God had called him to preach to the Ninevites. And he knows that this is the same God that is calling him to do the same thing—sacrifice himself to save others. Except this time, God doesn’t speak directly, but uses elements of creation to get His point across.
Jonah doesn’t have the will to jump himself, so “He said to them, “Pick me up and hurl me into the sea; then the sea will quiet down for you, for I know that it is because of me that this great tempest has come upon you”” (v. 12). Why doesn’t Jonah just seek forgiveness from God and ask Him to calm the storm? He could have made things right with God and committed himself to go to Nineveh. But he doesn’t. Maybe Jonah believes that he has messed up too much already—and forgiveness isn’t going to happen for him. Maybe he is not sure if God can forgive him. Jonah prefers to believe in a God who only judges. Not in a God who also forgives (that’s why he ran in the first place). He would rather die in the sea than to suggest to the sailors that they turn around and return him to Joppa so he can fulfill his call to Nineveh. Yet, Jonah does have compassion on the innocent sailors. He does not want them to die. He will accept death for them, not in obedience to God but, as it was—an act of heroism born from a desperate situation.
Maybe you are like Jonah. Maybe you believe that you have gone too far for God to forgive you. But God has something to say about that. “Come now, let us reason together, says the LORD: though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall become like wool” (Isaiah 1:18). God’s love is not based on what you are, or what you have done. There is nothing you have done that makes God love you any less, and there is nothing you can do to make Him love you more than He already does. If you believe that God can forgive you, what should you do now? “Seek the LORD while he may be found; call upon him while he is near; 7 let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts; let him return to the LORD, that he may have compassion on him, and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon” (Isaiah 55:6-7).