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Last week we started our study into the life and mission of the prophet Jonah. We saw that Nineveh, the capital of Assyria, was a very wicked city ruled by wicked and evil leaders. We learned that God is involved in the world, that He cares enough about people to send His messengers to tell them about His love and grace. Jonah had the clear message to deliver and he refused. We left him on a ship waiting to get underway.
Jonah 1:4-6 says, “The Lord hurled a great wind on the sea and there was a great storm on the sea so that the ship was about to break up. Then the sailors became afraid and every man cried to his god, and they threw the cargo which was in the ship into the sea to lighten it for them. But Jonah had gone below into the hold of the ship, lain down and fallen sound asleep. So the captain approached him and said, “How is it that you are sleeping? Get up, call on your god. Perhaps your god will be concerned about us so that we will not perish.”
It’s not always this fast. Somewhere between v. 3 and v. 4, the ship got underway and out into the Mediterranean Sea. God demonstrates some of His awesomeness in v. 4. Wouldn’t it be cool if God worked this fast in our lives? As soon as someone does you wrong, wouldn’t it be just awesome if God handled it? If someone tells a lie about you, they’d be stricken with a nose that grows longer with each lie. Wouldn’t it be great if a thief would mysteriously lose a hand. What if someone that was covetous would go blind. What if an adulterer would lose . . . well you can use your imagination. But wait, we’d fall into these same judgments. God responds to Jonah’s disobedience in a big way. It’s not so unusual for there to be storms at sea. But this storm was one for the record books. God sends what the writer describes as, “great.” A great wind and a great storm. This was big time. This was not your average sea squall. The storm was so violent that, “the ship was about to breakup.” This was a Phoenician ship. These people were experts in sailing. They knew how to build ships to withstand whatever the Mediterranean could throw at them. It wasn’t the Med doing the throwing, it was the Lord. This storm had purpose. As a side note, this verse confirms that God controls nature and the elements, not Mother Nature and we’re going to see that played out very clearly in the rest of this book. Ps. 24:1-2 tells us, “The earth is the Lord’s, and all it contains, the world, and those who dwell in it. For He has founded it upon the seas and established it upon the rivers.” Because Jonah did not respond as God directed him, there were consequences for those around him. What you do; your actions often affects those around you. There is something very striking here that is lost in English. Look at v. 4 again. About” in this verse means to consider, to determine, or to plan when it applies to a person. In English we call this personification. Better translated, “The ship was determined to break apart.” The ship knew what was going on here.
What happens next is even more thought provoking given the expertise of the crew of this ship. Look at the first half of v. 5. Remember, these are experienced sailors. They had been around ships and on ships their whole lives. Yet they, “. . . became afraid.” Maybe it was the suddenness of the great wind that God threw at them. Maybe this was a storm unlike any other they had ever seen. Have you ever heard the phrase, there are no atheists in foxholes? It seems that in times of crisis, people turn to a higher power. There is a sudden recollection that communication with that higher power is possible. The problem here though is that, “Every man cried to his own god.” This is a common problem here in America. We get afraid and then we cry out. For many people, their god cannot hear them. Their god is not the God of the Bible. That’s why their prayers are not answered, that’s why there is no relief, there is no comfort, there is no hope. These sailors cried out to gods that could not hear. When their prayers did not work, they had to do something that might save their lives.“They threw the cargo which was in the ship into the sea to lighten it.” This normally is an effective method to gain a maneuverability advantage. Doing this comes with a cost too. This was a merchant ship. That means they were throwing money over the side. If you don’t deliver the goods, you don’t get paid. Considering the alternative, the sailors decided that not making as much money was better than death.
Pray like everything depends upon prayer, and work like everything depends upon work. They prayed and they worked. Even though these sailors did not know the God that answers prayers, they prayed. As Christians, we know the God that answers prayers, yet we are often like these sailors – we wait until there’s a crisis. Too often, prayer is a last resort. Are you thinking, well I would pray more if God would answer my prayers more. What you’re really saying is that, you’d pray more if God would answer your prayers like you want Him to. That brings up a question, is there ever a time when God doesn’t answer your prayers?Is. 59:2 tells us, “But your iniquities have made a separation between you and your God, and your sins have hidden His face from you so that He does not hear.” We like to blame God for not listening, but it’s quite possible, that the reason He’s not hearing us is because of us. Ja. 4:3 says, “You ask and do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, so that you may spend it on your pleasures.” There are definitely things that can cause God to not hear us, but it’s not because He can’t or doesn’t want to help us. It has to do with our heart, not His. We ask God with evil or selfish motives and get upset when He doesn’t respond the way we want Him to. Jesus said, “Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.” (Matt. 11:29-30) Peter told us to cast, “All your anxiety on Him, because He cares for you.” (1 Pet. 5:7) God definitely wants to hear from us, but don’t think you can run to Him, get what you want to make the crisis pass and then throw Him away.
There is a striking contrast here. The sailors are freaking out do all they can to stay alive. Everyone is involved. All hands on deck. Batten down the hatches. Do this, do that – you can hear the captain barking out orders to save his ship. People going this way and that all in an effort to save themselves from what looks like certain death in this, the worst storm they had ever been in. Not everyone is helping though. “But Jonah had gone below into the hold of the ship, lain down and fallen sound asleep.” The word sleep here is the same word used in Gen. 2:21 to describe the kind of sleep Adam was in when God took one of his ribs. Jonah was dead to the world. The wind is howling, the waves are crashing, the ship is rocking and pitching and Jonah is so sound asleep that none of this affects him. Maybe Jonah was exhausted from walking from Gath-Hepher to Joppa. It’s about 60 miles, maybe a three day walk. Jonah was probably walking as fast as he could to get away, so it probably took less time. Jonah is down below asleep. Some experts suggest that a storm of this magnitude, a storm that terrifies a sailor can actually cause a landlubber to lose consciousness. Others suggest that the rebellion Jonah is engaged in can cause emotional exhaustion and depression. These are not the kind of waves that provide a gentle rocking allowing someone to peacefully drift off to sleep. Notice the captain gets directly involved. He leaves the deck and goes below. The captain finds Jonah and says, “How is it that you are sleeping?” He says, “Get up, call on your god. Perhaps your god will be concerned about us that so that we should not perish.” At this point there is no indication that the captain knew that Jonah was a prophet. I can see Jonah slinking on the ship and getting away from everyone else as quickly as he could. Out of sight out of mind. I’m sure the captain says something like, “Everyone else is on deck and I know you’re not a sailor, but at least you can pray!” The captain was desperate. I’m certain the captain had no idea that Jonah’s God was actually able to hear and answer his prayers. Jonah has a direct line to Yahweh, but doesn’t want to make the connection. I wonder if Jonah was thinking it was God that got him into this situation anyway. Maybe Jonah was thinking he was better off dead.
“Get up” the captain screams. This is not the first time in recent days that Jonah has heard this command. Get up is the same verb as “arise” in v. 2. God told Jonah to arise, now the captain is telling him the same thing. By all accounts, this captain most assuredly is what we would call lost. In an incredible case of irony, isn’t it interesting that a lost person has to wake up a prophet and tell him to pray? Who are the lost people in your life telling you to wake up and pray? This unbelieving captain understands the gravity of the situation, but the prophet was apparently oblivious until shaken into consciousness.
What wake-up call are you waiting for? The sailors prayed to a dead god. The captain begged Jonah to pray to the living God, to intercede on their behalf so they would not die. Can you hear the lost crying out for prayer? They’re screaming, “Wake up!” Maybe you’re thinking, I’ve never been asked about Jesus, but if anyone ever does, I’ll tell them. Maybe you’re not asked because you’re no different than anyone else. No one sees anything they want or need in you. Edmund Burke once said, “All that is necessary for evil to prosper is for good men to do nothing.” Eph. 5:8 says, “For you were formerly darkness, but now you are Light in the Lord; walk as children of Light.” That’s what your family and friends need to see.