The Word Made Fresh
1The LORD’s word came to Jonah, son of Amittai. The LORD said, 2“Go to the great city of Nineveh and speak out against it, because their wickedness has been revealed to me. Leave now!”
3But Jonah, wanting to escape the LORD’s pronouncement, decided instead to go to Tarshish. He found a ship in Joppa that was going to Tarshish, and he paid to get on board and go with them, thinking he was no longer in the LORD’s presence. 4But the LORD sent a great storm over the sea. The storm was so strong that the ship was threatened. 5The sailors were afraid, and cried out, each to his god. They threw all the cargo overboard to lighten the ship. Jonah, though, had gone down into the ship’s hold and had fallen sound asleep.
6The captain came and awakened him. “Why are you sleeping?” he demanded. “Get up and pray to your god – maybe your god will protect us so that we might not die!”
7Those on board decided to cast lots to determine who was at fault to cause the storm to come upon them. The lot indicated Jonah. 8They said to him, “Why has this danger fallen on us? What is your trade? Where are you from – what country? To what people do you belong?”
9Jonah told them, “I am a Hebrew. I worship the LORD, the God of heaven who made both sea and land.”
10That frightened them even more. They said, “What have you done?” They knew he was running from the LORD because that is what he told them.
11They said, “What are we to do with you to quieten the sea for us?” The waves were growing higher and higher and the wind stronger and stronger.
12Jonah said, “Throw me overboard into the sea, and the waves will quieten down. I know it is because of me that this storm has fallen on you.”
13The sailors rowed hard and tried to head back to land, but they weren’t able. The waves grew higher, and the winds blew even more strongly against them. 14Then they cried out to the LORD, “We beg you, LORD, please don’t let us die because of this man! Don’t hold us guilty of taking an innocent life. We can see that you are doing what pleases you.” 15Then they picked Jonah up and tossed him into the sea, and the storm became quiet, and the sea stopped raging. 16Then the sailors were even more afraid, and they offered a sacrifice, and each made promises to the LORD.
17Then the LORD sent a large fish to swallow Jonah, and Jonah remained in the fish’s belly three days and nights.
1-3: There is a reference at 1 Kings 14:25 of a Jonah son of Amittai, a prophet who lived during the reign of King Jeroboam II of Israel. It is tempting to equate him with the main character in the book of Jonah, but scholars don’t generally think much of that idea. There is some animosity expressed toward the Assyrians in the book of Jonah — Nineveh was a capital city of the Assyrian Empire. However, the Jonah in this book is never called a prophet, and it is impossible to tell from the book exactly what relationship exists between Israel and Assyria.
In any case it is a great morality tale, and as such is different from anything else in the collection of prophetic books. God tells Jonah to go cry out against Nineveh for its wickedness. Jonah promptly books passage to Tarshish, which we think was on the coast of Spain. In other words, he headed for the point on earth that was as far away from Nineveh as one could travel in those days.
4-6: A storm arises at sea. Jonah was asleep in the hold when the captain begged him to call out to his God; which reminds me, by the way, of the scene in the gospels when Jesus was asleep in the boat with his disciples and a storm arose at sea (Matthew 8:23-27). They awakened Jesus and he stilled the storm.
7-10: If you want to find out who’s to blame for some calamity, roll the dice. That’s how they thought in those days, and Jonah was quickly identified as the source of their troubles. Once Jonah is identified as the offender, and reveals his God to them, they are certain that Jonah’s God is the cause of the storm.
11-16: They try to lighten the ship, to no avail, so at his behest they throw him overboard, and immediately the sea grows calm. They are so surprised they apparently forget all about poor Jonah splashing around a few yards away.
17: While they offer a sacrifice, God takes care of Jonah by sending a fish to swallow him. The next time you want to ask God to rescue you, remember that God has strange ways of rescuing people.
Rev. Timothy Fleming wrote the popular hymn, “When the Storms of Life Are Raging.” The opening words are: “When the storms of life are raging, stand by me! When the storms of life are raging, stand by me! When the world is tossing me like a ship upon the sea, thou who rulest wind and water, stand by me!”
While we study Jonah, remember that God sent the storm!