Wednesday, January 16, 2008
What is this passage all about?
Jonah flees on a ship from the Lord to avoid doing His will, and the Lord brings a storm such that Jonah is blamed by the sailors and thrown into the sea.
What can I learn from it?
I think the principal message of this chapter is that God is sovereign. There are quite a few details in this chapter - it isn't as light on the facts as some children's Bible story books would have it. In all the minutae, God is demonstrated to be in control. It was God who spoke His word which sent Jonah running in the first place (v1). "The the LORD sent a great wind on the sea, and such a violent storm arose that the ship threatened to break up." (v4) Thus God is shown as being in control over the wind and the waves (cf Mark 4:35-41.) The sailors are frightened (it must have been a very big storm) but they attempt to deal with it their way: through prayers to their own pagan gods and lightening the ships load so it will sit higher in the water (v5) and God doesn't respond. Curiously, Jonah is asleep (v5). Perhaps he was exhausted by the emotion involved in rebelling against God? The captain, knowing there is a foreigner on board, wakes Jonah and entreats him to call upon his God also (as obviously the other gods aren't willing or able to control the storm) (v6). The sailors attempt to determine who has angered the gods by casting lots, and, because God is in control over this tiny detail also, the lot falls to Jonah (v7). The sailors, knowing that their pagan gods could not protect them from the wrath of Jonah's God, ask him who he is and who his God is who is punishing him (v8) and Jonah tells them, plainly, " 'I am a Hebrew and I worship the LORD, the God of heaven, who made the sea and the land.' " (v9) The sailors are terrified at the description of this God, and ask what Jonah has done that he needs to run from Him (v10). All this talking about Who is reponsible isn't stopping the storm, so the sailors ask Jonah what they should do (v11). I don't think Jonah was thinking of suicide, but he seems pretty resigned to the fact that God is in control out at sea as well as he was in the land of Israel, and he tells the sailors to throw him overboard (v12). In all this conversation, there is an awareness on both sides that it is Jonah's God who is in control, and that Jonah's God is interested and involved in Jonah's choices and actions. God is portrayed in this passage as not only mighty, but also intimately involved with His people.
The sailors think Jonah's proposed solution is not very nice, so they attempt to row to land, presumably to put Jonah ashore. But that's not part of God's plan, and he thwarts their attempts (v13). So the sailors, for the first time, call out to the one true God for mercy for their actions (v14), "O LORD, please do not let us die for taking this man's life. Do not hold us accountable for killing an innocent man, for you, O LORD, have done as you pleased." And they thrown Jonah overboard. At once the sea grows calm (v15). The men respond to the knowledge that God is able to stop what He has started with reverent fear, and they make a sacrifice and promises to him (v16). I am reminded of Hosea 6:6, which says, "For I desire mercy, not sacrifice, and acknowledgement of God rather than burnt offerings." God has used Jonah's refusal to obey for His own glory. Although it is obviously not the best choice, it is clear that God will be glorified in all that He does, regardless of our responses.
So it is in the last verse. God, once again, demosntrates that He is in control. "But the LORD provided..." (v17) I used to get hung up over whether it was a really big fish, or a whale, but recently I realised that the Israelites, not being a sea-going nation, probably wouldn't have had the vocabulary to distinuish between them anyway. The important thing is not what genus and species the sea-going animal was, it's that God sent it to take Jonah where He wanted him to be.
How does this apply to me?
Firstly, I need to worship God in recognition of His sovereignty (rule over all things). For example, when I sing "My comfort, my shelter" (I'm teaching the kids "Shout to the Lord" at the moment in Circle Time) I am singing of God's goodness in providing for me which is enabled because He is powerful and mighty, in control of all.
Secondly, I need to be remember this when I pray. I should be confident. Sure, as I was reminded in Sunday's sermon, sometimes God chooses not to rescue me from tribulations, but I do need to remember always that I am praying to God who can do all things.