And they said to one another, “Come, let us cast lots, that we may know on whose account this evil has come upon us.” So they cast lots, and the lot fell on Jonah … Then the men were exceedingly afraid and said to him, “What is this that you have done!” For the men knew that he was fleeing from the presence of the LORD, because he had told them.
Then they said to him, “What shall we do to you, that the sea may quiet down for us?” For the sea grew more and more tempestuous. He said to them, “Pick me up and hurl me into the sea; then the sea will quiet down for you, for I know it is because of me that this great tempest has come upon you.” Nevertheless, the men rowed hard to get back to dry land, but they could not, for the sea grew more and more tempestuous against them. Therefore they called out to the LORD, “O LORD, let us not perish for this man’s life, and lay not on us innocent blood, for you, O LORD, have done as it pleased you.” So they picked up Jonah and hurled him into the sea, and the sea ceased from its raging. Then the men feared the LORD exceedingly, and they offered a sacrifice to the LORD and made vows.
Jonah 1:7-16, ESV.
When we read the story of Jonah, we are often so ready for the whale that we fail to notice the amazing events that lead up to it. In the passage before us, we observe what might be interpreted as the conversion of idol-worshipping sailors accomplished through God’s discipline applied to a disobedient prophet!
These sailors are spiritual people. When the storm comes, they pray to their various false gods. They believe that the gods will direct the dice, so they roll to find out who had offended the heavens and brought this disaster upon them. Sure enough, the dice point to Jonah.
Jonah tells them that the dice are right, confessing his sinful rebellion against God’s call to preach to Assyria. The men, now knowing that Yahweh the renowned God of Israel had caused the storm, are terrified. They may even know the tale of how this God brought Israel out of Egypt with plagues and a sea-parting defeat of Egypt. This is not a God to be trifled with. Grasped tightly by fear, they ask the reluctant prophet what to do. Continuing in his rebellion, Jonah does not tell them to turn the ship and take him to Assyria but instead tells them to cast him to his death in the sea. The sailors, only after seeking grace from Yahweh for taking the life of His prophet, do as Jonah directs and toss him overboard. They then sacrifice to Yahweh.
The lesson for us? God will receive the glory He is due, even from the pagan world outside the church. He will use His people to bring Himself that glory. The choice we have is whether we will be used in our obedience and be blessed as God is glorified or be used in our disobedience and suffer discipline as God is glorified. And, given the call of Jonah that serves as the background to his passage, it is no stretch to see this as a matter of obedience or disobedience in evangelism. Will we be obedient disciple-makers, celebrating the glory of God in the salvation of sinners? Or will we be sidelined under God’s corrective discipline as others experience that joy?
I am praying for you today, that you will know the joy that comes with obedience to the call of God.