Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Jonah 1:7-9

7Each 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.

8Then 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?"

9He said to them, "I am a Hebrew, and I fear the LORD God of heaven who made the sea and the dry land."

Desperation. We open our passage in Jonah this week with the sailors' last-ditch efforts to save themselves. Even if they didn't agree on which "god" was controlling the storm, they reasoned that knowing the cause of the storm, which appeared to emanate from the ship, could help them avert the storm. How would they determine the cause? Through casting lots.

Casting lots was an ancient form of decision-making. So common was its use, however, that Jonah is not the only book of the Bible that makes mention of it. Joshua and Saul used this system in finding the one who had sinned against God over a particular circumstance. The soldiers cast lots to determine who would take Jesus' garments at His crucifixion. The disciples cast lots to decide who would replace Judas Iscariot as the "12th disciple." There were different forms of casting lots. The Hebrew meaning of 'lot' is "to be rough (as a pebble or small stone)." [Strong's] We might think of it as drawing the short straw.

Regardless of method, what was understood in the process is that God (or a "god") would determine the outcome of the lot.

"The lot is cast into the lap, but its every decision is from the LORD."
--Proverbs 16:33

In Jonah, God, indeed, intervened in the casting, and "the lot fell on Jonah." (vs 7)

At this point, all attention is turned to the fleeing Israelite, and Jonah is hit was a barrage of questions. I must say that I'm having trouble visualizing this passage, as the storm is still raging on! It's as if the rocking boat has become a courtroom of sorts, and Jonah is facing quick due process and "extradition."

In response, Jonah says "I am a Hebrew, and I fear the Lord God of heaven...." This would seem to be a turning point for Jonah in owning up to who he is. He says he is a Hebrew, and uses a term that would be meaningful to Gentiles. Strong's says the word Hebrew in this context means "Eberite...a descendant of Eber." Eber is the great-grandson of Shem, who is the oldest of Noah's sons. [Remember that interesting note from our introduction? A great-grandson of Noah is Nimrod, who founded Ninevah! All in the family....]

"The sea is His, for it was He who made it, and His hands formed the dry land."
--Psalm 95:5 (drawing from Genesis 1: 9&10,
when God created and named the land and the sea)

Continuing on as the prophet of God, Jonah says that he serves "the Lord God of heaven," which is also significantly important phrasing. My study Bible elaborates on this beautifully:

"This title, in use from earliest times, may have been specifically chosen by Jonah to express the sovereignty of the Lord in contrast to Baal, who was a sky god. Spoken to sailors who were most likely from Phoenicia, the center of Baal worship, the title bears significant weight, especially when coupled with the phrase 'who made the sea and the dry land.' This was the appropriate identification when introducing the true and living God to pagans who didn't have Scripture, but whose reason led them to recognize the fact that there had to be a Creator."

Jonah would seem to be getting his prophet's sea legs back.

Again, although I know this is a book about a prophecy, I have to marvel at how God put this book together, through a third-person narrative of one struggling with his call in life. Studying Jonah's choices over these few verses has revealed much. This last point about how to be a minister of the Word is also something upon which to meditate. There is much to consider here.

Next week, Jonah hurls a solution.... 'Til next Wednesday!


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Next week: Jonah 1:10-12

Note: I read from the New American Standard Bible translation,
specifically, The MacArthur Study Bible (NASB).
I will quote other sources if used in a post.

I also use
Strong's Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible
(with notes from the King James Version).