The opening cuts to the quick. The word of the Lord comes to Jonah (in some way or another) instructing him to head to Nineveh and call out their evil because God has caught wind of it (as He tends to do). Nineveh is in the heart of Assyria, and although they are weakened at the moment, it’s not an intriguing proposition to be sent to in effect “serve” the city by warning them on God’s behalf. So, Jonah decides to haul tail the other way.
God tells him to “arise” and do what he’s told to do (kind of the prophet’s job) and Jonah instead decides to rise and go to the port city of Joppa so he can catch a skiff heading due west, the opposite direction of Nineveh which lies to the north and east. This man, who supernaturally received the word of the Lord appears foolish enough to think he will physically flee from the “presence of the Lord”. Silly prophet.
Now, we laugh at Jonah for being ridiculous, but given the calls to serve others and make disciples that are clear words from the Lord to us, I’m confident you’ve hitched a boat to Tarshish many a time instead of doing the thing that God called you to do. That’s not a clever anecdote, boys, put the think on it.
God, of course, wants this thing accomplished and he appears to want Jonah to do it. So, he sends a storm to bring attention to that matter. The other sea-faring folk, a superstitious group as sailors tend to be, start chucking stuff off to reduce weight and crying out to their respective “gods”. Jonah, on the other hand, is taking a snoozer in the inner part of the boat. (This story should sound familiar, Jesus kind of does the same thing. Although, he was being obedient and Jonah was being a doofus, so, there’s that.)
Again, someone has to come to Jonah and say, “Arise…”, a call to a legit prophet who actually does work for the legit Lord God to wake up and pray so that people could be saved. He’s already bailed on this responsibility once to work with God and save the Ninevites, he’s now given chance number 2. Note, here, that the pagan sailors have a better concept of the power and sovereignty of “god” (in principle), even if this concept may not have them thinking in the beginning of the true God. Of course, the one guy on the boat who could speak to that is sleeping. (Ah hem, application, ah hem, for you…yes you.)
Then they cast lots, kind of like picking marbles out of bag and the dude who gets the black marble is the trouble maker. This isn’t just for pagan action, God’s people did this as well and just trusted God would handle the outcome. Scripture seems to at least passively affirm this practice, although I’m not sure if that has implications for whether we are to carry around a bag of marbles for similar occasions or not. Either way, Jonah gets pegged, sailors interrogate him and find out that he is Hebrew who “fears” the Lord God of heaven “…who made sea and the dry land.” Jonah is a real piece of work. His actions don’t obviously match his supposed “fear” of God and his belief that He controls the land and sea (which ironically is after him at the moment).
And the reaction of the mariners seems fitting. “What is this that you have done?” I get that we’re surrounded by a bunch of people who currently don’t know God, but once they start to open their eyes to it they’ll look at the Christians around them who haven’t said anything to them and who largely bailed on what God had them up to and say, “What is this that you have done?”
Either way, the problem is solved by them chucking Jonah out of the boat, a suggestion made by Jonah himself. Although he didn’t just jump in, I do wonder if that was an option. Was it important that he be thrown in by the boat bros? It’s unclear. They first tried to solve problems the man way, rowing harder, trying to get away from the problem. That fails. Then they, the pagan sailors, cry out to the Lord, ask for forgiveness for the throwing of a man overboard that is about to commence, and hope that it pleases Him. Then they chuck Jonah, offer a sacrifice and make vows (kind of a thing that happens when people rightly fear God.)
Then Jonah gets swallowed by a giant fish and is trapped in there for the 3 days. You know, like can happen.
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