4 Then the Lord sent a great wind on the sea, and such a violent storm arose that the ship threatened to break up. 5 All the sailors were afraid and each cried out to his own god. And they threw the cargo into the sea to lighten the ship.
But Jonah had gone below deck, where he lay down and fell into a deep sleep. 6 The captain went to him and said, “How can you sleep? Get up and call on your god! Maybe he will take notice of us so that we will not perish.”
7 Then the sailors said to each other, “Come, let us cast lots to find out who is responsible for this calamity.” They cast lots and the lot fell on Jonah. 8 So they asked him, “Tell us, who is responsible for making all this trouble for us? What kind of work do you do? Where do you come from? What is your country? From what people are you?”
9 He answered, “I am a Hebrew and I worship the Lord, the God of heaven, who made the sea and the dry land.”
10 This terrified them and they asked, “What have you done?” (They knew he was running away from the Lord, because he had already told them so.)
(Jonah 1:4-10 NIV)
In our last time together, we met Jonah and heard the Lord’s calling on his life – to go to Nineveh and preach repentance. Jonah knew what to do, but deliberately disobeyed the Lord and went his own way, boarding a ship and heading west. Jonah wanted God to punish the Assyrians for their evil, barbaric ways. But the Lord did not give up on Jonah, as we’ll see today.
Verse 4 begins with the Lord stirring up a storm on the sea. This was no ordinary storm – this was the Lord getting Jonah’s attention (and everyone else’s for that matter). This storm was so intense that it threatened to break the ship apart.
If you close your eyes for a moment, can you feel the waves crashing against the boat, see the crew hanging on for dear life, and hear the wooden boat creaking and groaning under the pressure of the load and the storm?
The crew was scared – they went from swashbuckling deck hands to little children, praying to their respective gods to save them. They started throwing their cargo overboard in order to save the ship and themselves.
Meanwhile, Jonah is in the belly of the ship, sleeping away his troubles. The captain woke Jonah up and told him to pray to his god. The ship was in serious trouble, and everyone, including the passengers, was enlisted to help.
The sailors, meanwhile, decided that this must be someone’s fault. If the gods were mad at them, there had to be a reason. So they cast lots, and the lot fell to Jonah.
The practice of casting lots was not gambling, but asking divine help in matters that could not be determined by human reason or observation. Even Solomon recognized God’s sovereignty in making decisions when no clear answer was evident:
The lot is cast into the lap,
but its every decision is from the Lord.
(Proverbs 16:33 NIV)
When the sailors saw that Jonah was the guilty party, they told him to tell the truth about what was going on in his life – what would cause such a storm and the wrath of God.
Jonah told them everything, including the fact that he was running away from God, the God of the Hebrews, who was feared everywhere. The captain and crew were terrified, and asked Jonah, “What have you done?”
At this point, the captain and crew likely thought they were as good as dead, and their blood, their death, was on Jonah’s head. This was all Jonah’s fault, not their own.
Do you know anyone whose sin and rebellion has caused others pain and trouble?
Maybe a family member?
Maybe a co-worker?
Sometimes God creates a storm, not to punish, but to get our attention. C.S. Lewis said:
“God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our consciences, but shouts in our pains. It is his megaphone to rouse a deaf world.”
God loves us too much to allow us to go down a path of disobedience. He knows what is best for us, and will track us to the ends of the earth to bring us back to Himself.
No cost is too great.
No sacrifice is too much.
His love is undeniable.
May we experience the fullness of His love today.