Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Jonah 1:13-17

13However, the men rowed desperately to return to land but they could not, for the sea was becoming even stormier against them.

14Then they called on the LORD and said, "We earnestly pray, O LORD, do not let us perish on account of this man's life and do not put innocent blood on us; for You, O LORD, have done as You have pleased."

15So they picked up Jonah, threw him into the sea, and the sea stopped its raging.

16Then the men feared the LORD greatly, and they offered a sacrifice to the LORD and made vows.

17And the LORD appointed a great fish to swallow Jonah, and Jonah was in the stomach of the fish three days and three nights.

Last time, Jonah offered up an answer for stopping the raging seas that were pounding his Tarshish-bound boat into pieces. "...Throw me into the sea," he said. (vs 12) Just wanting it all to be over, Jonah resigned himself to bringing resolution to the situation.

But, looking back to the sailors, these men who were faced with the presence of God all around them and His messenger before them, what would they do? They decide not to accept Jonah's response but rather attempt to row back to shore. I can't help but feel that these guys were completely overwhelmed with their circumstances. Obviously, they wanted the storm to stop, God to not be angry and Jonah to not be fish bait. This verse suggests that they wanted to take the matter into their own hands, once again, and to try to settle things on dry land. [Can anyone relate?]

"All the inhabitants of the earth are accounted as nothing,
But He does according to His will in the host of heaven
And among the inhabitants of earth;
And no one can ward off His hand
Or say to Him, 'What have You done?'"
--Daniel 4:35

I like the phrasing in this cross-referenced verse from Daniel. No one can say, "What have You done?" No one can speak this of God, yet this is the phrase that the sailors used in questioning Jonah about His dealings with the Lord. Don't mess with God, right? The sailors, though, find themselves in the same boat [pun, sorry!] as Jonah, trying to make a better way than what God has provided.

As altruistic as the sailors' plan might have been, God did have another plan in mind, and Jonah was on the right track. God turned up the sea, which was all the sailors needed to see to change their minds. "Then they called on the Lord...." (vs 14)

In a united effort, the sailors pray. Very uncomfortable with the prospect of throwing Jonah overboard, they ask God to spare them, and to not hold them responsible for what they are about to do. Yet, even as they pray this, they follow up this request with a strong statement of understanding and belief: "...for You, O Lord, have done as You have pleased."

"Whatever the LORD pleases, He does, in heaven and in earth, in the seas and in all deeps."
--Psalm 135:6

The sailors clearly acknowledge that God is in control of their destiny and that His will is being accomplished before their eyes. They are at a point of human helplessness--at the point of witnessing God's mercy and grace, strength and power! There are no more words recorded from either the sailors or Jonah. Just as God cast a storm upon the sea, the men cast Jonah into the sea, and the waters immediately calm. Again, out of their budding faith and witness of the Almighty, the sailors are in awe, and offer a sacrifice and vows to God.

I am completely captivated with the story of these sailors. I'm not sure we pay as much attention as we should to what these men experienced. As I was sharing with a friend who read last week's blog, these men came to a saving knowledge of the one true God through Jonah's words and actions, and the mighty presence of the Lord Himself.

"He has made His wonders to be remembered; the LORD is gracious and compassionate.... The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom...."
--Psalm 111: 4 & 10a [thanks, KS]

If Jonah only had understood his purpose as a walking, breathing presence of the Lord and His wonders to those who did not know Him. If Jonah only had the faith to know that God would be present with him, even in the midst of life's "storms." But Jonah is now tossed into the sea. Yet we know this is not the end of the story.

As the chapter closes, we read that Jonah is swallowed by a great fish. Plenty of debate over this part of the story. What kind of fish? We know that the Hebrew word for whale is not used in verse 17. Some commentaries suggest a shark, which would have been common in the waters of the Mediterranean. It may have been some type of sea monster. We know it was large enough of a fish to swallow an entire man and to house him in its belly (which, in the Hebrew comes from "an unused root word probably meaning to be soft." [Strong's] The soft prophet is now in soft shelter.

Let's not miss how significant verse 17 is. Jonah is not dead! His sheltering fish is one "appointed" by God. And Jonah remains here, safe for three days and nights. Yes, grace can come when we're in the bowels and the depths! Perhaps here, Jonah will discover what the sailors far above his position had already come to know.

"Put your hand in the hand of the man who stilled the water.
Put your hand in the hand of the man who calmed the sea...."
--as sung by Canadian Gospel pop band, Ocean, 1971

Chapter 2, and Jonah's repentance.... 'Til next Wednesday!


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Next week: Jonah 2:1-4

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).