“Guilty or innocent, how do you plead?” Throughout the book of Jonah, the prophet’s perspective seems to change. As the storm presses on Jonah ‘owns up’ to what he knows to be the truth. He worships the LORD, the God of heaven, who made the sea and the land. His worship doesn’t involve full obedience but he’s not prepared to cut his ties with his Employer. He serves the LORD. He speaks for the LORD.
When the ‘lot-casting’ process singles him out, he declares ‘I know that it is my fault that this great storm has come upon you.’ By why the suggestion that he be thrown overboard? Is this another way to escape the LORD’s mission for his life?
The sailors initially resist the suggestion. Perhaps greater effort will allow them to return to shore and deposit this ‘fare-paying’ cargo. “….the men did their best to row back…. But they could not, for the sea grew even wilder than before.” The situation is going from bad to worse. Action must be taken, and NOW! So they turn to the LORD, seeking His mercy for their impending next step.
It’s interesting that they desire God’s mercy for themselves. Has Jonah been witnessing to them? I doubt it. No mercy for nobody, isn’t that his ‘mantra?’ He wants Israel to receive God’s mercy. He has experienced it himself, but it’s not for sharing, or is it?
These sailors are desperate. They cried to the LORD. In a focused plea for mercy, they plead for the LORD’s relief from guilt in advance. And when they take the action Jonah has suggested, the raging sea grew calm. It is the LORD who has made the sea and the dry land. Having calmed the sea for them, they respond by offering sacrifices and making vows.
What happened to these men? Can you imagine this ‘encounter’ being passed on to their families? Their friends? Their neighbours? The focus of this book is not on the sailors, yet they serve as a sharp contrast to this reluctant, rebellious prophet.
How well do we represent the LORD before those around us? When we’re caught in our disobedience, do we own up to our full guilt, declaring ourselves to be ‘the worst of sinners’ (like the Apostle Paul in 1 Timothy 1), or do we want others to perceive us as innocent?