Then they took Jonah and threw him overboard, and the raging sea grew calm. At this the men greatly feared the Lord , and they offered a sacrifice to the Lord and made vows to him.
(Jonah 1:15-16 NIV)
Reading familiar stories in the Bible can lead to taking for granted elements of the story that are crucial learning points. Doing that with the story of Jonah is a good example of that.
The way the narrative is outlined in the first chapter of this prophet’s journey says a lot about Jonah (and aspects of the human condition) and it speaks volumes about God.
Here is a man who is familiar with God talking to him. He’s aware of the specific mission God sends him on. He’s also got a strong enough revulsion to that mission to look to go on the run from God.
What is it in the nature of a man to be in communication with the great God of Israel, but respond to Him in the complete opposite direction to the instruction? It is as if Jonah knew God would be in Nineveh, so Jonah was going to avoid that like the plague by taking a journey away from there.
His condition when the ship comes into a tempestuous storm is fascinating too. Sailors on the deck are definitely aware of their plight, but Jonah is fast asleep. What’s also fascinating is that those on the boat have already been told what he’s doing, because he hardly kept it a secret when he went on board. Yet when disaster is hitting the boat, he is not so forthcoming in admitting responsibility. He waits until he gets the short straw.
When he is found out, he knows what should happen to him, which might speak again about his condition. Running from God, in a deep sleep while disaster surrounds him and his instruction to the men on the boat would have to be seen as a death wish. There was no way he would know he would be delivered, all he knew was that for the surrounding disaster to be sorted he would have to take responsibility in the ultimate sense to avoid others suffering for his disobedience.
Our introduction to God in this chapter is of one who cannot abide evil and will do something about it. To those who have witnessed the evil and been disgusted by it the ‘doing something about it’ would usually be in the judgment/condemnation/punishment category. To God, doing something about it was sending someone to speak to them and inform them that their wickedness has finally evoked this response from the creator of the universe. In doing that, God is still not in a rush to hit the condemnation button.
That same aspect of being slow to hit the condemn button is evident when His spokesman does a runner. He communicates through the tempestuous storm, He communicates through the sailors valiant efforts at being merciful to Jonah’s life. He finally communicates in this episode through Jonah not drowning, but miraculously being swallowed by a huge fish.
These manners of expression tell of his diversity and creativity, but most of all speaks of His amazing mercy. Where others would be quick to dismiss Nineveh and discounts Jonah, God exercises mercy through patience in these situations. These are not expressed passively in a way of someone twiddling their fingers and tapping them waiting for something to happen. God actively expresses His mercy and patience to His creation whether they are in covenant relationship with Him or not. That expression of His character in this chapter is evident in the response of those who are on the ship who see a tempestuous storm calmed when they follow the instructions of God’s spokesman. The reaction of an offering in the light of the situation shows clearly their acknowledgement that for all their gods and idols, there is one who rules nature itself who will actively express Himself when His own goes on the run from Him.
For His Name’s Sake
C. L. J. Dryden