Man Overboard

Then they said to him, “Tell us on whose account this evil has come upon us. What is your occupation? And where do you come from? What is your country? And of what people are you?” And he said to them, “I am a Hebrew, and I fear the Lord, the God of heaven, who made the sea and the dry land.” 10 Then the men were exceedingly afraid and said to him, “What is this that you have done!” For the men knew that he was fleeing from the presence of the Lord, because he had told them.

11 Then they said to him, “What shall we do to you, that the sea may quiet down for us?” For the sea grew more and more tempestuous. 12 He said to them, “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.” 13 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. 14 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.” 15 So they picked up Jonah and hurled him into the sea, and the sea ceased from its raging. 16 Then the men feared the Lord exceedingly, and they offered a sacrifice to the Lord and made vows. Jonah 1:8-16 ESV

Proverbs 16:33 states: “The lot is cast into the lap, but its every decision is from the LORD.” In other words, the sovereign God of the universe is the final determiner of all matters. And a similar thought is expressed in Proverbs 16:9: “A man’s heart plans his course, but the LORD determines his steps.” Jonah had come up with a plan to “to flee to Tarshish from the presence of the Lord” (Jonah 1:3 ESV). But God was determining his every step – from the boat he sailed on to the crew he sailed with. And God was the one who “hurled a great wind upon the sea” (Jonah 1:4 ESV). And when the frightened sailors cast lots to discover the identity of the one with whom the gods were angry, Yahweh determined the outcome. Lot was divinely exposed as the cause of the storm. The violent wind and waves were directed at this unidentified stranger who had been sleeping soundly in the hold of the ship. He was the guilty party.

And these weary sailors stop their frantic efforts to save the ship just long enough to pepper Jonah with questions. First, they diplomatically avoid any direct accusations against Jonah. Instead, they simply ask him to explain what had happened to bring down the wrath of the gods.

“Tell us on whose account this evil has come upon us.” – Jonah 1:8 ESV

Had someone placed a curse on Jonah? Had he done something to offend his god? This led them to ask what he did for a living. Perhaps he was a priest or some kind of royal dignitary. Could his occupation have something to do with their current dilemma?

These questions seem to come in rapid-fire succession, with the fear-filled sailors shouting them out over the noise of the storm. One demands to know where Jonah comes from. They know his destination is Tarshish, but they have no idea about his place of origin. Another sailor hones in on the identity of Jonah’s home country. Where does he hail from? Maybe this will shed some light on their desperate situation. Finally, one of the sailors asks Jonah to reveal his nationality?

It seems obvious that these men were looking for an answer to their pressing problem. Their ship was beginning to succumb to the relentless crashing of the waves and the damaging impact of the wind. They had bailed water, discarded cargo, and rowed until their muscles ached, but nothing was working. So, when the lot fell to Jonah, revealing him to be the one responsible for their predicament, they redirected all their attention to him. But his response to their questions provided little in the way of an explanation as to what was happening and no hope as to a solution.

“I am a Hebrew, and I fear the Lord, the God of heaven, who made the sea and the dry land.” – Jonah 1:9 ESV

Evidently, this was not the full extent of Jonah’s answer. At some point, he confessed that he was attempting to run from God.

the men knew that he was fleeing from the presence of the Lord, because he had told them. – Jonah 1:10 ESV

Even these pagan sailors recognized that this was a very bad idea, and they express their consternation to Jonah. “What is this that you have done!” (Jonah 1:10 ESV). Their shock and confusion seem to be based on Jonah’s admission that he worships “the God of heaven, who made the sea and the dry land” (Jonah 1:9 ESV). They are dumbfounded that Jonah was attempting to escape by sea from the very God who created the sea. What was he thinking? To their simple way of thinking, Jonah’s God had dominion over the sea and the land because He had created them. So, how did Jonah think he could ever get away from his God? His venture had been doomed from the beginning and now he had dragged them into it.

While this dialogue between Jonah and the sailors was taking place, the storm continued to rage. In fact, it actually increased in intensity.

the sea grew more and more tempestuous. – Jonah 1:11 ESV

By this time, the sailors are desperate to find a solution to their growing problem. So, they turn to Jonah for an answer. They had no knowledge of Jonah’s God or what kind of sacrifices He might require to assuage His anger. This led them to ask Jonah, “What shall we do to you, that the sea may quiet down for us?” (Jonah 1:11 ESV).

At this point in the narrative, it’s important that we pause and reconsider the original audience to whom this story was directed. The author had a Hebrew readership in mind when he penned this epic tale. His retelling of Jonah’s story was intended to strike a nerve with the people of God. In a way, this entire book is a historical record of one man’s life that serves as a powerful allegory for the nation of Israel. As the Jews read this riveting account of Jonah’s life, they couldn’t help but see the striking similarities to their own national story.

The children of God had a long and infamous track record of running from God. And like Jonah, they were proud of their Hebrew heritage and would have gladly claimed to “fear the Lord, the God of heaven, who made the sea and the dry land” (Jonah 1:9 ESV). Yet, they had constantly turned their backs on Him. They were guilty of apostasy and disobedience. God had called them to be a blessing to the nations (Genesis 12:3), but they had failed to live up to that calling. Through their countless acts of disobedience, they had actually damaged the name and the reputation of God among the Gentiles.

“I will vindicate the holiness of my great name, which has been profaned among the nations, and which you have profaned among them.” – Ezekiel 36:23 ESV

And as they read this account of Jonah’s life, it was like looking into a mirror and seeing their own reflection. Jonah was on a boat in the middle of a raging storm, surrounded by pagans who were desperately seeking to know what they needed to do to be saved. These helpless Gentiles were asking the sole Hebrew on their sinking ship for advice. Like the Philippian jailer in the book of Acts, each of these hapless sailors was asking Jonah, “what must I do to be saved?” (Acts 16:30 ESV). And God had positioned the nation of Israel to be a light to the nations, shining the brightness of His grace and mercy in the darkness of a sin-stained world.

But look at Jonah’s answer to the sailors’ desperate plea for direction. When they ask, “What shall we do?,” he simply responds, “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). Jonah’s solution to their plight is the sacrifice of his own life. But before we assume that Jonah is driven by some sense of compassion for his pagan shipmates, we have to recall that Jonah had made a conscious decision to reject God’s call to go to Nineveh. And as we will see later in the story, Jonah’s offer to be thrown overboard was little more than a death wish. He would rather die than obey God. And, once again, the Jews who read this story would have been reminded of their own obstinate refusal to repent and return to God. Over the centuries, they had proven that they would rather face the wrath and judgment of God than live in keeping with His commands.

Amazingly, the sailors show more compassion than Jonah. Rather than listen to his advice and throw him into the sea, they make one last attempt to reach landfall. But the storm only grows worse and they are forced to call out to Jonah’s God.

“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.” – Jonah 1:14 ESV

These men become instruments in the hand of God, meting out His judgment on the disobedient prophet. They reluctantly hurl Jonah over the railing of the ship and, immediately, “the sea ceased from its raging” (Jonah 1:15 ESV). The action of these unbelieving Gentiles accomplished the will of God and satisfied the wrath of God. And they believed.

Then the men feared the Lord exceedingly, and they offered a sacrifice to the Lord and made vows. – Jonah 1:16 ESV

As Jonah sank beneath the waves, these unregenerate Gentiles sank to their knees in adoration of “the God of heaven, who made the sea and the dry land” (Jonah 1:9 ESV). They worshiped Yahweh, the God of Jonah, by offering Him sacrifices and making vows. Jonah had remained unrepentant to the bitter end. He would rather drown than return to Joppa and obey the command of God. And as the Jewish audience reached this point in the story, they should have learned a powerful lesson. God was going to bring the light of His glory and grace to the Gentiles one way or the other. God wasn’t dependent on Jonah to accomplish His will for the nations. And God’s plan of redemption for the world would not be stymied by Israel’s refusal to live in obedience to His commands. His will would be done. And like Jonah, they would discover that their own day of judgment. But their seeming demise would not be the end. Their “death” would only serve to bring life as God would graciously preserve His people so that He might send His Son as the seed of Abraham and the light to the world.

And God foretells the coming of His chosen servant through the prophet Isaiah.

“You will do more than restore the people of Israel to me.
    I will make you a light to the Gentiles,
    and you will bring my salvation to the ends of the earth.” – Isaiah 49:6 NLT

God was not done with Israel and, as we shall see, He was not done with Jonah.

 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.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

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