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Last week we left the captain of this Phoenician ship begging Jonah to wake up and pray so they wouldn’t die. The storm is still raging and the expert sailors are scared to death. The one person on the ship that had the answers had to be woken up to take action.
Jonah 1:7-10 says, “Each man said to his mate, “Come, let us cast lots so we may learn on whose account this calamity has struck us.” So they cast lots and the lot fell on Jonah. Then they said to him, “Tell us, now! On whose account has this calamity struck us? What is your occupation? And where do you come from? What is your country? From what people are you?” He said to them, “I am a Hebrew, and I fear the LORD God of heaven who made the sea and the dry land.” Then the men became extremely frightened and they said to him, “How could you do this?” For the men knew that he was fleeing from the presence of the LORD, because he had told them.”
So what’s the next step? Remember the sailors sent out some ineffective prayers in v. 5. So much like us when we don’t hear from God in the timeframe we want, the sailors decided they still needed to do something. They threw out some prayers and then talked among themselves. I wonder what their conversations sounded like. Hey Captain, you’re in charge, what are we going to do? Do you have any ideas? Anybody ever see a storm like this? We do the same things. What do you think we should do? I read on the internet that this works. My friend was in the same situation, and here’s what they did. Let’s put the question out there on Facebook and Twitter. We seek answers from anyone that offers. There is nothing wrong with getting guidance from others. Pro. 11:14 says, “Where there is no guidance, the people fall, but in abundance of counselors there is victory.” Be careful who you ask. This was a storm unlike any these experienced sailors had ever seen. Perhaps they suspected a storm of this magnitude could only come from divine influence. Maybe because the storm came up with such suddenness that it could only be attributed to divine influence.
They decided to cast lots. At this point, Jonah is on deck, and he’s looking at the severity of the storm. Did he know that he was the reason for the storm? Did he think, “What have I done?” Casting lots was a common practice back in that time in the Middle East. It normally involved two stones or pebbles that were painted or colored on each side. When the stones were thrown, if two dark sides landed up the usual interpretation was no. If two light sides landed up, that meant yes. A light and a dark side meant throw again. This would be done for each person. This isn’t some sort of voodoo magic. Lots were cast to determine the guilt of Achan in Josh. 7. They were used to distribute land to the 12 tribes in Josh. 18. Lots selected Saul as king in 1 Sam.10.
Can you imagine the drama of the moment? Waves crashing all around them. The howling of the wind. Things being thrown all over the ship and we find the sailors casting lots. Did Jonah have a sick feeling in his stomach knowing that the truth would soon be found out? One by one, people are eliminated as being the cause for their current situation. The time comes for the lot to be cast for Jonah. The stones are rolled and they come up two light sides. V. 7 tells us, “The lot fell on Jonah.” This was not a game of chance. Pro. 16:33 says, “The lot is cast into the lap, but its every decision is from the Lord.” All eyes turned to Jonah.
Once it was determined that Jonah was the cause, the sailors peppered him with questions. Look at v. 8. Can you feel their intensity? “Tell us now!” No delay, time is running out, we’ve got to hurry . . . the storm is still raging. Put yourself in the sailor’s position. When you find out that the problems you are experiencing is because of a single person, what would you say? We can assume from the context that Jonah was a mystery to them at this point. I’m sure they knew he had booked passage in Joppa. Aside from that, they didn’t know him from Adam and now they want some answers.
What looks like similar questions in vs. 7 and 8 are really quite different. V. 7: “Come, let us cast lots so we may learn on whose account this calamity has struck us.” V. 8: “On whose account has this calamity struck us?” The first is a general question. The second literally reads, “It is because of you that this calamity has struck us.” The first is let’s find out who is causing this. The second is an indictment on Jonah – it’s your fault. The sailors ask four very pointed questions in v. 8. “What is your occupation?” “Where do you come from?” “What is your country?” “From what people are you?” Jonah speaks for the first time in this book and it’s in response to their questions. He doesn’t really answer the questions though. The real answers are: Prophet. Gath-hepher. Israel. Hebrew. Instead of giving those four answers, Jonah simply responds, “I am a Hebrew, and I fear the Lord God of heaven who made the sea and the dry land.” He doesn’t answer the questions the sailors asked . . . or does he? Let’s break it down. “I am a Hebrew.” These Phoenician sailors would understand what a Hebrew Egyptians knew about the Hebrew people. So did the Moabites, the Philistines, the Edomites as well as a host of other nationalities. It’s Jonah’s next statement that would floor them. “I fear the Lord God of heaven who made the sea and the dry land” There’s more here than meets the eye. Fear in this verse is a participle and in the Hebrew language it normally indicates an occupation. Fear can also be translated worship so in essence Jonah is answering the sailor’s first question. Jonah’s job was to worship, “The Lord God of heaven who made the sea and the dry land.” In the middle of the raging sea, I’m sure the sailors were wishing Jonah would do something about the storm. Neh. 9:6 says, “You alone are the Lord. You have made the heavens, the heaven of heavens with all their host, the earth and all that is on it, the seas and all that is in them. You give life to all of them and the heavenly host bows down before You.” Jonah knows firsthand the God of the sea and acknowledges His hand in controlling what is currently going on.
These expert sailors have spent their lives on the sea and at Jonah’s admission, they “Became extremely frightened.” They were already afraid in v. 5. Now they are extremely afraid. They feared with great fear. They were scared that they were going to die, now on top of that, Jonah’s God was the One that was in control. Add holy fear on top of being scared to death. The sailors ask the same question we ask of our friends and family when they do something we consider particularly bad. “How could you do this?” We’ll normally add something loving like, “And you call yourself a Christian.” What is the “this” here? Is God against taking a cruise? A vacation? Hanging out with people that clearly do not worship God? The “this” is the last part of the verse. “For the men knew that he was fleeing from the presence of the Lord, because he had told them.” There are some details left out somewhere between vs. 9 and 10. We don’t know when Jonah told them, but it had to be some time after the lot fell on him. I wonder if the sailors caught the irony of Jonah’s statement. Who are you? I’m a prophet of God. And I’m fleeing from the Lord. Runaway prophet – it’s an oxymoron. It’s like a shepherd with no sheep. It’s like a teacher with no class. It’s like a king with no subjects. People called to serve God do not run away.
Now we have a dilemma. God knows Jonah is running, Jonah knows he’s running; the captain knows he’s running, and the sailors know he’s running. The first course of action should be to run back to God. When you and everyone around you know that you are in open rebellion with God, it doesn’t matter what words you use, no one will hear you. If no one will hear you, you are ineffective. I’m not talking about preaching, teaching, and telling the truth and the people says, “Yea, whatever.” Is. 55:11 says, “So will My word be which goes forth from My mouth; it will not return to Me empty, without accomplishing what I desire, and without succeeding in the matter for which I sent it.” I’m talking about trying to tell someone the truth, and they won’t even let you talk because of your testimony. The Great Commission to make disciples is not being fulfilled because there are too many professing Christians running from the mission. Is anyone grabbing you by the shoulders demanding that you tell them why you have hope? As we’ll see next week, Jonah answered the sailors honestly when they asked him the questions in v. 8, but he didn’t take full advantage of the opportunity
Does your family see a difference in you? Friends? If the message you proclaim hasn’t done anything in your life, others won’t listen to you. Nineveh’s problem was they were lost and there was no one to show them the way. Jonah’s problem was that he knew the Way and could not run far enough. Brother Andrew says, “We’re too Christian to enjoy sin, and too sinful to enjoy God. That’s why we’re so miserable. The only cure: radical preaching and radical response.”