I read the book of Jonah today. It’s only four chapters long. I’ve read about it before, of course. But, as per the faithfulness of God, I saw something new.
In Jonah chapter 1, the stage is set. God tells Jonah to go to Nineveh to tell them to repent of their wickedness. Jonah, who had been prophet to the Jewish people only, balks. He doesn’t want to. Those Ninevehites aren’t God’s chosen people! He runs away. He gets on a ship going to Tarshish, the complete opposite direction of Nineveh. The scripture says: He hoped to escape from the Lord…
How often do we do this? We bury ourselves in work or watching TV. He continues to knock on our hearts, to woo and pursue us. But we don’t want to face the music of what He’s saying to us. It’s too hard.
Back to Jonah. While on board the ship, the Lord whips the winds into a frenzy. The desperate sailors prayed to their gods and threw the cargo overboard to lighten the load (1:5). Jonah was oblivious, fast asleep in the ship’s hold. The captain confronted Jonah. “Get up and pray to your god! Maybe he will pay attention to us and spare our lives”. (1:6). Jonah gets up.
Then the crew cast lots to see which of them was bringing this judgment on all. It fell on Jonah. Then the questions started. “Who are you? What country are you from?” Jonah was straight up and told them he was a Hebrew, a Lord-worshipper. This terrified the sailors because he had already told them he was running from God. Apparently, they had no idea of God’s power, otherwise they never would have taken him aboard. “Yeah, yeah. Everyone’s running from something. Got the fare? Good.”
Then the sailors asked Jonah what they should do. He advises them to throw him overboard. “I know that this terrible storm is all my fault” (1:12). The sailors, not wanting to sentence Jonah to walk the plank, try to row the ship to land. But to no avail. Then they prayed to the Lord: “O Lord, don’t make us die for this man’s sin. And don’t hold us responsible for his death. O Lord, you have sent this storm upon him for your own good reasons” (1:14).
Hmm. They seemed to understand at least a little about how the consequences for disobedience work. They also valued human life.
Verse 15 is what hit me today: Then the sailors picked Jonah up and threw him into the raging sea, and the storm stopped at once! The sailors were awestruck by the Lord’s great power, and they offered him a sacrifice and vowed to serve him.
Wow. The narrative concerning the sailors ends here, but I glimpsed something. God can use even our screw-ups to get glory. I knew this, but I hadn’t seen it before in the Bible. And this, friends was a *major* gaffe. Trying to run from God is an exercise in futility. David says in Psalm 139: 7-12: Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence? If I go up to the heavens, you are there; if I make my bed in the depths, you are there. If I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea, even there your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast. If I say, “Surely the darkness will hide me and the light become night around me,” even the darkness will not be dark to you; the night will shine like the day, for darkness is as light to you. Certainly, Jonah knew these verses.
The sailors probably had a great tale to tell once they got to Tarshish. They encountered the Living God and one of His servants. I don’t know if they saw Jonah get swallowed or if they even knew he survived. But they learned who owns the winds and the waves. And that was Jonah’s doing. I think about my mistakes and downright disobediences – some of them incredibly large – and I pray they can bring glory to the Father as well.