Taking it In
Well, they go against their better judgment and throw Jonah into the sea and lo and behold the storm stops. The reaction of the sea when it calms proves Jonah justified. And, the reaction of the sailors when it does is one of “awe,” and not just for the sea… but for Yahweh. In fact, it is the very same word that Jonah used to describe Yahweh in v. 9. Unlike Jonah, they said it and showed it. Sailors were probably fairly accustomed to offering sacrifices on a ship, and apparently when they were throwing things overboard they kept the supplies to do so. Their sacrifice would have been one of thanksgiving for the calming of the storm and making it through the storm safely (kind of). When Yahweh does something incredible, especially if it involves rescuing you from a shipwreck in an answer to your prayers, you make a thanksgiving offering and perhaps even tell people and demonstrate it publicly as a testimony. It could also be, looking at the language of v. 16 with the pledges or “vows,” something interesting could be inferred. Oftentimes the pledges or vows after a sacrifice were associated with prayer. This suggests that the sailors may not have been giving thanks for their deliverance as much as continuing to pray for God’s mercy for themselves and perhaps, even their fallen comrade in Jonah. They add the prayer to their awe and what happens? The Lord provides. However, not near the way anyone of these characters could have expected. The Lord provides a fish to rescue Jonah, as it eats him. The more you read it, the more humorous it comes across, really. Three days and three nights, which is most likely symbolic for just a “long time,” harkens back to 1 Samuel 30:12 when David and his army take in an Egyptian foreigner and “revive his spirit” by feeding him and giving him rest. No matter how long it actually was, you have to believe it felt like forever to Jonah, but that’s really not what the story seems focused on. This fish is a plot device that shows Jonah is much better off in its belly than in the belly of the sea. Rather than let him drown, Yahweh basically imprisons Jonah in the fish’s stomach to demonstrate even further that there is absolutely nowhere in the world, not even through death, where Jonah can escape God.
Working it Out
It should come as no surprise to us by now that this entire first chapter of the book of Jonah serves to contrast Jonah and his Gentile (former now) shipmates. The sailors put their sacrifices where their mouth is, literally. They pray, and pray some more in response to the response of their prayers. Jonah never does. How many of us have cast about in a moment of distress and pray something to the matter of, “God… if you just get me through this then I promise…” Yeah, how many times does that work out? When do we actually follow through with that pledge? Even more so, how many times are we presented with opportunities to minister among people and either don’t see it because we’re not looking, or blow it off and leave it open for others to influence or redeem the situation or person? The sailors are certainly the moral exemplars here, but it should scare us just how much we act like Jonah perhaps without even realizing, and assuring ourselves we’re “on the right side.” More times than not, we’ve probably embarrassed ourselves or at the very least, missed an opportunity, because of our arrogance or ignorance. Jonah is giving us a story not to emulate, but to be cautious of repeating. And it doesn’t get better before it’ll get worse. Let’s be on guard as best we can so that it doesn’t happen to us, too.