The sailors in Jonah chapter 1 had a problem. They were caught in a violent storm and despite their best efforts of lightening the cargo load, the danger had not diminished. What to do, what to do, what to do?The captain had explored his options as commander of the ship. All the crew had been praying, at least in some manner, and even the passenger below deck had been roused to join the effort.
The sailors added practical action to their prayers. They had prayed. Now they cast lots. Casting lots was a common method of determining guidance. Lots could be sticks with markings, stones with symbols, etc., that were thrown together into a small area and then the results assessed. Throwing the dice would be a gambling equivalent.
I’m not sure how they managed to do this on the ship–perhaps in the captain’s quarters. Time was of the essence. Something had to be done! Then the sailors said to each other, “Come, let us cast lots to find out who is responsible for this calamity.” The roll of the dice or the ‘casting of lots’ would identify the guilty party, or so they believed.
Our thinking is exposed during times of crises, isn’t it? Why do ‘bad things’ happen? Is there a direct cause which can be determined for the effect we are experiencing? We’ve all been shaped by a worldview, an understanding of how the events of life unfold and what the purpose behind them might be. Hopefully Christians are ‘people of the book,’ as our recent Heritage College & Seminary Convocation speaker challenged us, but experience tells me a lot of falsehood has woven its way into the truth we claim to be following.
The sailors action directs the evidence to Jonah. They now surround him and begin (in the midst of howling winds and tossing waves) to pummel him with questions. “Tell us, who is responsible for making all this trouble for us?” I thought the ‘casting lots’ had determined that already, but they want confirmation. “What do you do? Where do you come from? What is your country? From what people are you?” Can you hear the urgency in their rapid fire questioning?
He answered, “I am a Hebrew and I worship the LORD, the God of heaven, who made the sea and the land.”
He owns up, at least to his relationship with the LORD. They have a problem but the prophet IS the problem. He has been found out by the providential activity of God. His efforts to escape the LORD’s commission are proving futile, as they always do. The sailors press on with further questions – “What have you done? What should we do to you to make the sea calm down for us?” The LORD must be angry with you. Is He? Is this true?
“The LORD disciplines those He ______.” What does Scripture teach? — those He LOVES. It is the LOVE of the LORD for Nineveh and for this reluctant prophet which provides the core theme of the book. Do we grasp the LORD’s love for those who are rebels, including us? As Ephesians 3 challenges us, have we been able to grasp the width, length, height and depth of the love of Christ? Do we know this love? Are we not like Jonah, quite content to relish God’s love for us, but reluctant to share it with others?? This minor prophet has a MAJOR message, when the Prophet is the problem.