Then the LORD sent a great wind on the sea, and such a violent storm arose that the ship threatened to break up. All the sailors were afraid and each cried out to his own god. And they threw the cargo into the sea to lighten the ship. But Jonah had gone below deck, where he lay down and fell into a deep sleep. The captain went to him and said, “How can you sleep? Get up and call on your god! Maybe he will take notice of us so that we will not perish.” Then the sailors said to each other, “Come, let us cast lots to find out who is responsible for this calamity.” They cast lots and the lot fell on Jonah. So they asked him, “Tell us, who is responsible for making all this trouble for us? What kind of work do you do? Where do you come from? What is your country? From what people are you?” He answered, “I am a Hebrew and I worship the LORD, the God of heaven, who made the sea and the dry land.” This terrified them and they asked, “What have you done?” (They knew he was running away from the LORD, because he had already told them so.) The sea was getting rougher and rougher. So they asked him, “What should we do to you to make the sea calm down for us?” “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.” Instead, the men did their best to row back to land. But they could not, for the sea grew even wilder than before. Then they cried out to the LORD, “Please, LORD, do not let us die for taking this man’s life. Do not hold us accountable for killing an innocent man, for you, LORD, have done as you pleased.” Then they took Jonah and threw him overboard, and the raging sea grew calm. At this the men greatly feared the LORD, and they offered a sacrifice to the LORD and made vows to him.
Commenting on verse 9, R. Reed Lessing writes:
At long last, Jonah breaks his silence and finally speaks. In any Hebrew narrative, the point at which the main character first speaks is worthy of special attention. In most instances the initial words are a key revelation of the person’s character. That Jonah answers the sailors, but incompletely, offers a key insight into who he is. Jonah confesses Yahweh, but he does not confess his sin. He declares that he is a worshiper of Yahweh, but he is on the lam from Yahweh – at the same time! Could hypocrisy be stated any more clearly? Jonah is fleeing from Yahweh, whom he confesses as omnipotent, on the very sea that he confesses Yahweh has made. The creed is true doctrine, but in Jonah’s mouth, we have to wonder whether it is confessed in true faith.
Jonah does not call what he has done “evil” – the term that the sailors use in their request in 1:8. He had already demonstrated this same character flaw in 1:3, when he shirked his responsibility to address (and rectify) Nineveh’s “evil” through his ministry, but instead fled toward Tarshish. Again Jonah shrugs off “this evil” (1:7-8) with a more neutral phrase, accepting responsibility only for “this great storm.” His avoidance of responsibility for “evil” climaxes in 4:1, where the salvation of repentant Nineveh is to him a “great evil.” Rather than confess the salvation of these Gentile sinners by grace alone, he would rather die. In fact, when Yahweh seeks “to save him from his evil,” the prophet again misses his opportunity to confess and receive forgiveness. By the end of the book, “evil” no longer belongs to the Ninevites, who have been converted; it belongs to the resentful Israelite prophet!
MEMORY WORK – Shorter Catechism Q/A 71
Q. 71. What is required in the seventh commandment?
A. The seventh commandment requireth the preservation of our own and our neighbor’s chastity, in heart, speech and behavior.