Jonah is a prophet who was told to go up to Nineveh and preach to them. However, rather than obeying the Lord, Jonah has decided to quit his work. Jonah not only does not go to Ninevah, the capital city of the Assyrian Empire, he has paid the fare, got on a ship going to Tarshish, and went down into the ship (1:3). Though Jonah is running from God, God is not done with Jonah. So what we are going to see in the rest of chapter 1 is how God is going to deal with his stubborn prophet.
The Lord Brings The Storm (1:4)
It is important to notice that Jonah does not now suddenly experience a series of unfortunate events. It can be easy to chalk up what is about to happen as simply bad luck. But the scriptures want to make clear to the reader what is happening. Look at verse 4. “But the Lord hurled a great wind upon the sea.” God brought the storm and he brought the storm so strongly that it threaten to break the ship apart. Now what is God doing? Is God acting out of rage, trying to destroy his prophet? It will be clear from the events that happen in these two chapters that he is not trying to destroy Jonah. So what God doing? I hope that we can see that God is acting to wake up Jonah. Friends, God is not okay with our rebellion and does not just let us go off without trying to move us out of the darkness. We see this in the book of Revelation where God is acting but we are repeatedly told that the people did not repent of their wickedness (cf. Revelation 9:20; 16:9; 16:11). When Elihu counsels Job, he explains to Job that trials and storms come to bring back a person’s soul from the pit so that they may enjoy the light of life again (cf. Job 33:22-30). The apostle Peter taught that God uses storms in life to test and refine our faith (cf. 1 Peter 1:6-7).
Now I want us to think about God from this perspective. God is good in sending the storm. What would have happened if God does not send this storm? Jonah would have sailed on to Tarshish, quit on the Lord, and lost his soul. God is trying to awaken his stubborn prophet through the storm. But here is the hard thing. It is not our first reaction to see the Lord in the storm. It is definitely not our first response to see the goodness of God in the storm. But the Lord throws a great wind on the sea to rescue his prophet.
Ignoring the Storm (1:5)
In verse 5 we read that all the sailors are terrified. They are crying out to their own gods and tossing the cargo of the ship into the sea. These seasoned sailors believe that they are doomed. So they hurl their cargo they are transporting overboard in an effort to save the ship. They start praying to their gods in an effort to save their lives. But what is Jonah doing? Jonah was in the lowest part of the ship sleeping. Jonah is ignoring the storm. The text reminds us of Jonah’s condition. Rather than go upward, Jonah has gone down and he is low. He is in the lowest part of the ship. Jonah does not care about the storm. Jonah has no response to the storm. Jonah just rolls over and keeps on sleeping.
Ignoring the Solution (1:6)
The sailors come down to him in the ship and notice that they tell him that he needs to get up! How can you be sleeping right now? Get up and call out to your god. Maybe your god will take notice of us so that we do not die. So now we see that all the sailors praying to their gods. But Jonah is not praying to his God. It takes the pagan sailors to come to Jonah and tell him that he is ignoring the most obvious solution to this problem. Get up and pray to your God! Even these worldly people know better than Jonah at this point. But nothing in the text tells us that he follows their directions. We are not told that Jonah gets up and prays. The text is silent, further indicating the despondence of Jonah and how hard he is trying to run from God.
Ignoring the Message (1:7-12)
So the sailors want to figure out what is going on. They cast lots to determine who is responsible for their troubles and the lot fell on Jonah. Then the sailors demand an explanation from Jonah. Jonah says that he is a Hebrew, and fears the Lord, the God of heaven, who made the sea and the dry land. But this is a surprising answer. He says the right words. But clearly he does not truly fear the Lord. He is not fearing the Lord in his actions, in his obedience, or in his faith. It is merely words at this point. But Jonah reveals the problem which terrifies the sailors. At the end of verse 10, Jonah tells these sailors that he is running from the presence of the Lord. This is also an interesting contrast. The sailors are terrified at running from the presence of the Lord. But Jonah is not concerned. The person who should be terrified is Jonah. But he seems unconcerned. He stayed asleep in the lowest parts of the ship.
But verses 11-12 are key to this part of the account. The sailors ask what they should do to Jonah so that the sea will calm down for them. Notice that verse 11 says that things are not getting better in regards to the storm. The sea is only getting worse why all of this is going on. Listen to Jonah’s answer in verse 12. “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.”
Jonah knows why the storm is happening. He knows that storm has come from the hand of the Lord because he has run from him. He knows why but still has no interest in repentance. Jonah does not say that he needs to pray to the Lord. He does not say that he needs to repent to stop the storm. He does not say that he will confess his sins to stop the storm. He does not say that he will recommit his life to being God’s prophet. His solution is for the sailors to hurl him into the sea. Jonah would rather die than repent. Jonah would rather these sailors throw him into the sea than turn the ship around and go back to port. It is stunning to think about but reveals where Jonah is in his thinking. He is so done with God that we would rather drown than repent. Jonah refuses to surrender to the storm.
But I also want us to notice that these sailors are suffering because of Jonah’s rebellion. We would like to think that our sin does not hurt anyone else. We would like to think that our running from God does not affect anyone else. But Jonah now sees that trouble has come upon these sailors because of Jonah’s actions. Sin always affects others. Running from God is going to hurt other people. Your decision will hurt your family. Your decision will hurt your friends. Your decision to sin will hurt so many people and impact others that you do not even know. When we proudly say that our sins are not hurting anyone, we are absolutely lying to ourselves. Running from God always has collateral damage.
Quitting on God (1:13-16)
Even the sailors do not think it is a viable option to throw Jonah into the sea. In verse 13 we see them trying to row back to land rather than throw Jonah into the sea. But of course this is not going to work. The more they tried to row back to land, the sea raged even more. Rowing against God is not going to succeed. The sailors finally give up. They cry out to the Lord that they not die because of Jonah and that they not be held accountable for killing Jonah when they throw him into the sea (1:14). Notice why they say that should not be held accountable for Jonah’s life when they throw him into the sea. They say because “you, O Lord, have done as you pleased.” They recognize that all that has happened is from the Lord. The Lord is at work through all of the storm that has happened.
But there is an interesting detail in this account that I have wondered about and maybe you have also. Why does Jonah say that the sailors have to throw Jonah into the sea? Why doesn’t Jonah just throw himself into the sea? Why doesn’t Jonah just apologize to the sailors, hurl himself into the sea, and that be the end of the storm? I think there are a number of reasons, some of which we will consider at the end of the lesson. But there is one point we need to consider now. Jonah’s stubbornness and selfishness are on their greatest display. Jonah is unwilling to do anything toward God at this moment. He would rather die than repent. He would rather be done with God than carry out his calling. I want us to see that Jonah has not moved out of his stubbornness at all. Jonah will not lift a finger toward God. So, as we read in verse 15, the sailors throw Jonah into the sea and then the sea stopped raging. The sailors do what Jonah won’t do and the sea stops is raging.
Now notice what amazing thing happens next in verse 16. Then the sailors greatly feared the Lord and they offered sacrifices and made vows to the Lord. Can we please stand in awe of this moment? God is able to reveal his glory through his rebellious, stubborn prophet. These pagan sailors start by crying out to their own gods. Now they greatly fear the Lord and make sacrifices to him, rather than their gods. Even though Jonah refuses to do anything toward God, God is showing his glory through Jonah’s rebellion so that these pagans now fear the Lord. Friends, God is so powerful that he can save others in spite of our rebellion and even through it. God’s power to save through our sins is so amazing. Judas is one of the greatest displays of this truth. Judas looked to his own sinful interests and betrays Jesus to the Jewish leaders for 30 pieces of silver. But God used the betrayal as the means of saving the world. God’s plans cannot be overthrown. So even though Jonah rebels, God is still showing his glory so that the world will seek him.
So let’s think about a key message as we see God working in Jonah’s life. You can run from God. We talked about that last week. But God can put you in a storm, wreck your boat, and swallow you up in the sea in the effort to save your soul. This is the relentless grace of God. God will mess up your life to save you from yourself. This turmoil is exactly what Jonah needs in this moment. But we often do not look at our lives in this way. We look at the turmoil and calamity and are angry with God for not letting us continue in our rebellion in peace. We want God to let us run from him without objection. But God has no problem putting you in a storm, wrecking your boat, and swallowing you up in the sea to bring about what your faith needs in that moment.
However, we are too often like Jonah and do not pay attention to what God is doing. The storm comes and we ignore the storm and we ignore the solution. We go down further into the ship than turning our eyes upward, seeking him and thanking him for jarring us from our spiritual slumber. We ignore the message of the storm like Jonah did. Rather than turning back, we plow forward in our stubbornness. The apostle Paul would say to the Ephesian Christians:
“Awake, O sleeper; and arise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you” (Ephesians 5:14 ESV). Look around and consider how God is trying to wake you up. Look at how God is trying to move you from spiritual death to spiritual life. Remember that Paul wrote this Christians and Jonah was a prophet of God. But God will need to wake us up. We need to surrender to the storm. Let the storm teach you. Let the storm cause you to see the hand of God working in your life. We learn from the book of Job that not every storm is due to our rebellion. But we do learn that every storm is suppose to help us see God and move us to be more transformed into the image of his Son. Our God is the Lord of the storm and that is supposed to lead us to worship.
I asked a question earlier about why Jonah said that the sailors had to throw him into the sea rather than jumping into the sea himself. Jesus directly connects himself in a typological way in the New Testament. Jesus said that just as Jonah was in the belly of the fish for three days and three nights so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth (cf. Matthew 12:40). As you listened to the account of Jonah, it should have sounded somewhat similar to something in Jesus’ life. Mark 4:35-42 records the disciples in a boat on the sea when a strong wind arose and the boat was filling up with water. But do you remember where Jesus was? Jesus was asleep in the boat. What the disciples say to Jesus is even very similar in idea to what the sailors said to Jonah. So the disciples have to wake Jesus up and ask him if he cares that they are about to die.
The typology is this: only the sacrifice of one can save the whole. The sailors must sacrifice Jonah to the sea for their lives to be spared. The Father must sacrifice his Son on the cross for our lives to be spared. Jonah is put into the sea for his own rebellion. But Jesus is put into the earth for our rebellion (cf. Isaiah 53:12). Jesus does not kill himself to save the world but must give his life to save. So Jonah does not kill himself to save the sailors but must give his life to save them. Jesus is Lord of the storm which is to lead us to worship. Do not ignore the storm. Surrender to the storm. Repent and come back to him. God is at work to awaken your soul and bring you to him through the offering of his only Son.