Nevertheless, the men rowed hard to get back to dry land, but they could not, for the sea grew more and more tempestuous against them. Therefore they called out to the Lord, “O Lord, let us not perish for this man’s life, and lay not on us innocent blood, for you, O Lord, have done as it pleased you.” So they picked up Jonah and hurled him into the sea, and the sea ceased from its raging. Then the men feared the Lord exceedingly, and they offered a sacrifice to the Lord and made vows.
And the Lord appointed a great fish to swallow up Jonah. And Jonah was in the belly of the fish three days and three nights. – Jonah 1:13-17 ESV
Jonah has just confessed to his shipmates that he has run from the Lord. He has admitted to them that he is the cause of the storm they are having to endure. And he has offered to give up his life in order to save theirs. But this was not some altruistic move on Jonah’s part. He knew that death was the only way he would ever escape God’s command to take His message of judgment to Nineveh. So, Jonah told the men, “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 1:12 ESV). And that is exactly what they ended up doing, but not before they desperately tried to make it to land. They seemed quite reluctant to take Jonah’s life. But in the end, as the severity of the storm grew worse, they realized they had no other choice. “So they picked up Jonah and hurled him into the sea, and the sea ceased from its raging” (Jonah 1:15 ESV), and “the Lord, the God of heaven, who made the sea and the dry land” (Jonah 1:9 ESV) immediately calmed the storm. The winds ceased and the waves calmed.
All of this is reminiscent of a scene that took place in Jesus’ life. One day, He and His disciples boarded a fishing boat in order to sail across the Sea of Galilee. But not long after launching off, they found themselves in a terrible storm. And as the disciples panicked and rowed for their lives, Jesus, like Jonah, slept through the whole thing. Mark tells us the rest of the story:
And a great windstorm arose, and the waves were breaking into the boat, so that the boat was already filling. But he was in the stern, asleep on the cushion. And they woke him and said to him, “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” And he awoke and rebuked the wind and said to the sea, “Peace! Be still!” And the wind ceased, and there was a great calm. He said to them, “Why are you so afraid? Have you still no faith?” And they were filled with great fear and said to one another, “Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?” – Mark 4:38-41 ESV
And when the disciples woke Jesus up, He took matters into His own hands. He became the solution to their problem. He spoke to the wind and the sea, and the wind ceased and the waves calmed. And like the men on the boat with Jonah, the disciples were filled with awe and fear. It is interesting to note that Jonah, a rebellious and reluctant prophet was forced to sacrifice his life so that others might live. And while Jesus simply had to speak to the storm in order to save the lives of the disciples that day, it would not be long before He too would sacrifice His life so that others might live. And if you recall, Jesus would later make a comparison between His sacrifice and that of Jonah.
“For just as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.” – Matthew 12:40 ESV
The context of Jesus’ words was an encounter with the scribes and Pharisees. They had come to Him, demanding that He perform some kind of a sign for them. But Jesus responded, “An evil and adulterous generation seeks for a sign, but no sign will be given to it except the sign of the prophet Jonah” (Matthew 12:39 ESV). And then He spoke the words predicting His impending death. The men who asked Jesus to perform a sign for them had already determined that He was a fraud. They had no intention of believing in Him, no matter what He did. And Jesus knew it. He knew their hearts were hardened by unbelief, and the only sign they would be given would be His ultimate death, burial and resurrection. Even then, they would reject Him and refuse to accept His resurrection as a reality. They would even play a major part in His death, in an attempt to get rid of Him.
Let’s go back to the scene of Jesus and His disciples in the boat. He calmed the sea and the disciples are amazed. The text tells us, “they were filled with great fear and said to one another, ‘Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?’” (Mark 4:41 ESV). And Jesus confronts them for their lack of faith. “Why are you so afraid? Have you still no faith?” (Mark 4:40 ESV). They had seen Jesus do many miracles. They had heard His teachings and watched Him do many amazing things. But they were still unsure as to just exactly who He was. Their faith was still in its infancy. They were still coming to know Jesus and learning to trust Him.
And the scribes and Pharisees also struggled with faith. Theirs was non-existent. To them, Jesus was nothing but a charlatan and a potential threat to their way of life. He was swaying the hearts of the people with teachings that were contrary to their own. They saw Him as seditious and dangerous to their own cause. So they refused to believe anything He said. And even the “sign of Jonah”, His own death, burial and resurrection, would not sway them.
What about Jonah? He had a faith problem as well. It wasn’t that He didn’t believe in God. He knew God was fully capable of calling the people of Nineveh to repentance. That’s exactly why he had run. He will later admit to God, “That is why I made haste to flee to Tarshish; for I knew that you are a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, and relenting from disaster” (Jonah 4:2 ESV). He had full confidence that God could and would spare the people of Nineveh, but he wanted nothing to do with it. And Jonah also knew that God would calm the storm as soon as the men threw him overboard. So what was his faith problem? He refused to believe that God’s way was the best way. He was unwilling to accept God’s will regarding the people of Nineveh. He knew God could, but wrestled with why God would. A big part of faith is learning to trust that God knows best. For instance, if you were to suddenly learn that you have cancer, you would most likely pray, in faith, that God would heal you. And rightly so. You would do so because you have been taught that your God is fully capable of healing diseases of all kinds. But the even greater display of faith would be to accept God’s will regarding the outcome. In other words, trusting God that He is well aware of your cancer and has some greater plan in store for you to which you are ignorant. That requires great faith. Jonah could see no good coming out of the Ninevites repenting. He wanted to see them destroyed by God. And he assumed that if he refused to go and preach to them, they would not repent and, therefore, be judged and destroyed by God. But Jonah’s faith in God was too small. He thought he could thwart God’s plan by running away. He was even willing to sacrifice God’s messenger by having himself thrown overboard by the sailors. But Jonah had a lot to learn about God. And so do we all.
Jonah went overboard. He was thrown into the sea, but his rash action didn’t do a thing to stop God’s plan. God calmed the sea and spared the sailors, but He would also spare Jonah. He would provide a means of salvation. Jonah would be literally swallowed up, and find himself as good as dead. But just when he thought all was lost, God would come through. God would “resurrect” Jonah, and give him a second chance to do His will. But as we will see, Jonah’s time spent in the belly of the fish would be a watershed moment for him. He would learn an incredible valuable lesson: “ Salvation belongs to the Lord!” (Jonah 2:9 ESV).
English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.
New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.