In the first study of Jonah we were introduced to a prophet who was willing to proclaim God’s blessings on Israel but not on the pagan Nineveh. Having received his call to go east to the capital of the Assyrian empire, Jonah runs west instead.
This second study looks at Jonah 1:4-17. These verses record God’s pursuit of Jonah, the sailors response to the storm, the questioning of Jonah, Jonah’s answer, the sailor’s reluctance to jettison Jonah, and Jonah’s experience as flotsam in the sea.
I think the best place to start is by focusing on what we see of God’s character revealed in these verses. First, you see God’s omnipotence/sovereignty. You see his is sovereign over nature: he sends a storm to do his bidding and then calms it again, he beckons a great fish and the fish obeys. Moreover, he’s omnipotent over the casting of the lot – it falls to Jonah, not by chance but because God wanted Jonah found out. Second, you see something of God’s persistence. He is the Hound of Heaven – Jonah can’t escape his call (notice how closely the captains words resemble God’s!). Third, you also see that God is not a petty local deity. He is, as Jonah declares ,”the God of heaven, who made sea and dry land.” Moreover, he’s not an ethnocentric God. While Israel is God’s chosen people, they are chosen for the purpose of blessing all the nations of the earth. Here we see that this will happen whether Israel, as represented by Jonah, is a willing participant or not. Already we’ve seen God’s concern for the people of Nineveh. Here we see that Jonah unwittingly testifies to God and turn pagan sailors into YHWH worshipers! God’s grace to these sailors comes from a rebellious prophet. Gotta chuckle at that. Lastly, you see God’s grace. Rebellious Jonah isn’t left to drown. God rescues him with a big fish.
It’s interesting to compare all the characters in these verses. If you do, you see everyone gets it except Jonah. The wind hears and obeys. So does the fish. Even the boat realized the danger – the language is literally ‘the boat thought is was going to break up’. The pagan sailors hear of God and respond with fear and worship. But Jonah, Jonah shows no signs of repentance. No real fear of the Lord. He doesn’t get it, he persists in his disobedience.
Jonah’s persistent rebellion is stunning, especially in light of his declaration that God is the one who created the sea. The sailors had to be thinking, “And you thought you could run away from this God. What kind of idiot are you?” But, then again, I’m that kind of idiot a lot. I say one thing, think I really believe it, but betray my lack of belief with actions that don’t line up. There a little does of Jonah in all of us.
I may be reading a little bit too much into the story, but I really don’t like Jonah. He knows he’s the problem, the one who’s put the ship and all the sailors in danger. Have you ever wondered why he said the sailors needed to throw him overboard? Why didn’t he just jump? I think the sailors were a little suspicious. Is God going to hold us accountable for killing one of his prophets? Why don’t you just jump? Are you trying to take us down with you? That’s why they pray, ‘don’t let his blood be on our hands God’. I believe Jonah’s intentions were far less than noble.
I think we need to remember that this story was written either in the years preceding Israel’s subjugation by Assyria or during the period of their exile. What was God trying to communicate to his people living either in fear of Assyria or in exile in Assyria? How were they to respond to this?
I think in part, this was meant to serve as a partial explanation for their exile. They had been called, as God’s people, to participate in God’s mission – a redemptive mission that was cosmic in scope, not limited to the people living within the borders of Israel. They were to be a light to the nations. They failed at this. They hadn’t kept themselves pure and they had begun to look like every other nation around them. This is God’s way of reminding them of his mission and their failure to line up with it. It was a failure God was punishing and using the Assyrians as his instrument.
What about for us living on this side of the cross? Well, Israel’s failure helps us understand we needed a better Israel – the true Israel who would keep covenant and be entirely on board with God’s redemptive mission. Jesus is that – he is the True Israel. And, all who are ‘in Christ’ are a part of this True Israel. Like the Israel of the Old Testament, we have a role to play in God’s mission. Jonah is a reminder to take that calling seriously and not to begrudge God’s grace given to the outsider. It’s a reminder that God is still sovereign and when he says ‘Go!’, we ought to be willing servants – anitJonah’s.
Next study…Jonah in the fish. Gross.