Generally, when do people pray? The question applies to Christian and non-Christian … or to believer and pagan. The answer is simple … “when the crisis comes”. That is when people tend to pray! Where this is generally true of all people … many who have heard of Jesus yet don’t know Him personally, call upon Him in the hour of great need. The sailors prayed to their personal god who participated within their pantheon of gods. In the text today we will see how through Jonah’s sin, he actually enables pagan sailors to pray to, calling upon the true God for urgent help in their hour of need. Remember God gave the prophet Jonah a commission to preach against the sin of the people of Nineveh. Because of his understanding of being a Jew and what it meant, he ran away from God, rather … he tried to. He boarded a ship bound for Tarshish which was four times the distance away from where he lived compared to Nineveh. Once the ship was out at sea, because God was displeased with rebellious Jonah, He sent an unseasonal storm upon the Mediterranean Sea, causing the ship to experience extreme difficulties with the captain and crew extremely worried for their ship and their lives. Jonah literally hides away from the crew because he wanted his life to end. He would rather die than preach repentance to any pagan. He is found by the captain … the crew casts lots and it falls to Jonah. They questioned him as to which God was his so that they could pray to this God for help.
1) The storm became worse:
Jnh 1:11 The sea was getting rougher and rougher.
The God of heaven, Creator of everything … the One who controls nature increased the winds causing massive waves resulting in the ship being tossed about like a little toy in a bath. God applied extreme pressure to bring Jonah to his senses. Rebellion against God will cause you hardship and pain. He will increase the pressure until you relent and repent. The sad thing is that as with Jonah, others are affected by your rebelling against God.
2) The source of the problem is found … but how do they resolve the crisis?
Jnh 1:11 So they asked him, “What should we do to you to make the sea calm down for us?”
Their thought was … “because Jonah was the cause, he must have the solution.” Note the sailors question … “What should we do to you to make the sea calm down for us?” What should we do to you … to save us? They are beyond being anxious … they are scared. For them it was … “now or never!”
3) Jonah tries to get his way.
Jnh 1:12 “Pick me up and throw me into the sea,” he replied, “and it will become calm. I know that it is my fault that this great storm has come upon you.”
Although he owns up being the reason for the horrific storm, he actually wants the sailors to help him out. “Throw me into the sea.” He wants to be killed because then he thinks that then he will be freed from God and having to preach to the Ninevites. It is like … “take my life and I escape God and don’t need to face the consequences for my sin.”
You know the story of how Ghislaine Maxwell used her expertise to break down the resistance of teenage girls for sexual purposes at the hands of Jeffery Epstein … who was one of the wealthiest people on the planet. Epstein took his life. He committed suicide whilst in police custody. In doing this he declared he was guilty. He thought he would escape punishment and a lengthy prison sentence … whilst in reality death at his own hands brought him directly before God … and where is he now? Eternal punishment where there is perpetual pain. Should Jonah die he would not be free. He would face a Holy God like Epstein. If
2 Chr 16:9 the eyes of the LORD range throughout the earth to strengthen those whose hearts are fully committed to him
then His roving eyes see all the wicked do as well. Death does not clean the slate … rather it hastens the punishment. On another note, no believer must think he or she can escape God and God’s will over their life.
4) Fear of things becoming far worse. The sailors heard Jonah and were gracious to him, refusing to follow his suggestion of throwing him into the sea.
Jnh 1:13 Instead, the men did their best to row back to land.
They opted to row their ship back to where they set sail from. This means they were not too far from Joppa. In their mind as pagans, should they drown Jonah, their gods will be displeased and things would get far worse … however … their efforts were useless …
Jnh 1:13 But they could not, for the sea grew even wilder than before.
The raging sea became “wilder”. We need to remember words such as “rougher and rougher” from verse 11, “great storm” in verse 12 and “wilder than before” in verse 13. These hardened sailors were extremely concerned. They had never experienced anything like this before. What was happening around them was unimaginable. It was extraordinary. They started to realize that this was nothing other than Divine. They could not row against a God sent storm. Things were getting far worse. Something needed to be done.
5) Pagans calling upon the True, Living God.
Jnh 1:14 Then they cried to the LORD, “O LORD, please do not let us die for taking this man’s life. Do not hold us accountable for killing an innocent man, for you, O LORD, have done as you pleased.”
They acknowledge the LORD sent the storm. Where they pray to the True God, they are aware they are not a legal court with the right to sentence a man to death. That is what the word “innocent” implies here. Apart from what Jonah had told them … that was one side of the story … they had not heard God’s side … or did they? Surely God was speaking through the storm! Perhaps the main point of the prayer is that they cried for mercy and forgiveness before they committed the deed. As we shall see … this prayer, even though possibly not word perfect or theologically accurate, had an impact upon these men. As said before, the only prayer God hears from unsaved people is the prayer for forgiveness and salvation. It seems as though these ingredients were implied in their prayer. Unsaved people in coming to God might not get their prayers theologically right. Even new believers get their prayers wrong. I was one … but God knows the heart!
6) Dumping Jonah into the sea caused the storm to subside.
Jnh 1:15 Then they took Jonah and threw him overboard, and the raging sea grew calm.
We will return to this verse tomorrow but for today notice that in them getting “rid” of Jonah the storm ended. These were exceptional times. We can’t get rid of people to remove a problem. Rather we trust in the True God.
My Father, protect me and help me never to be rebellious causing others’ danger. Amen.