11 The sea was getting rougher and rougher. So they asked him, “What should we do to you to make the sea calm down for us?”
12 “Pick me up and throw me into the sea,” he replied, “and it will become calm. I know that it is my fault that this great storm has come upon you.”
13 Instead, the men did their best to row back to land. But they could not, for the sea grew even wilder than before. 14 Then they cried out to the Lord, “Please, Lord, do not let us die for taking this man’s life. Do not hold us accountable for killing an innocent man, for you, Lord, have done as you pleased.” 15 Then they took Jonah and threw him overboard, and the raging sea grew calm. 16 At this the men greatly feared the Lord, and they offered a sacrifice to the Lord and made vows to him.
(Jonah 1:11-16 NIV)
In our previous sessions, we saw the Lord call Jonah to go preach to the Assyrian capital city of Nineveh. Jonah deliberately disobeyed God and headed in the opposite direction, hoping that God would not spare Nineveh, but would destroy them as He did Sodom and Gomorrah. However, running away was not in God’s plans for Jonah. God tracked down Jonah by bringing a huge storm on the boat Jonah was in. Jonah was found out and admitted to the captain and crew that he was running away from the Lord. As we saw, the captain and the crew were incredulous (“what have you done, Jonah?!?”) and terrified of what Jonah’s God would do to him and to them.
As we pick up today’s text, Jonah and the crew are still in the midst of the raging storm. Faced with the fact that this storm is supernatural, brought on by Jonah’s God, and because of Jonah’s sin, the captain and crew ask Jonah what they should do to appease Jonah’s God and save their lives. They certainly know the God of the Hebrews, but were not familiar with the details of His ways. The last thing they want to do is to make matters worse and seal their own fate and death.
Jonah’s answer was shockingly selfish. Rather than repent and seek God’s mercy for his disobedience, Jonah would rather die than obey God and go preach to the Ninevites. And Jonah would not jump off the boat voluntarily to save the ship and the crew. Instead, Jonah tells the crew that they must throw him overboard. Jonah was avoiding the responsibility for his sins and was attempting to put the responsibility of his life on the sailors, not on himself. Jonah needed to die to himself but was unwilling to do so.
For the sailors, this put them in an even worse predicament. In their minds, Jonah’s God was already taking out His wrath on them because of Jonah’s simple disobedience. How much more would Jonah’s God punish them for killing Jonah by throwing him overboard? Remember that the rule of the day for that culture was “a life for a life”. If they essentially killed Jonah by throwing him overboard, then they would all be killed for doing so.
In their attempt to appease Jonah’s God and avoid taking Jonah’s life, the sailors tried to row to land so they could drop Jonah off, or at least get close enough where Jonah could swim to shore. When they were exhausted and finally gave up their human attempts to resolve the situation, the sailors knew they must do what Jonah said.
Before throwing Jonah overboard, however, they pleaded with God to not hold them accountable for what they were about to do, for taking Jonah’s life. At this point, the sailors were more righteous in God’s sight for their attitudes and actions than Jonah was.
So with fear and trepidation, the sailors threw Jonah overboard. And rather than God destroying their ship and taking their lives in retribution for their actions, God showed His mercy on the sailors and immediately calmed the sea. The sailors were shocked and feared God even more for sparing their lives and calming the waves. Their fears turned into worship and adoration and solemn vows (presumably to serve this Hebrew God, Jonah’s God, for all their remaining days).
What is our response when we sin and it affects others? Do we repent and ask forgiveness, or do we suffer the consequences and force others to suffer with us?
The Apostle Paul wrote, “For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord”. (Romans 6:23 NIV).
As we’ll see, Jonah had to die to self in order to live.
And so must we.
May we die to self, to our sinful desires of self-preservation, fear, hatred, unforgiveness, and every other sin, and experience new life in Christ.