Now the word of the Lord came to Jonah the son of Amittai, saying, “Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and cry out against it; for their wickedness has come up before Me.” But Jonah arose to flee to Tarshish from the presence of the Lord. He went down to Joppa, and found a ship going to Tarshish; so he paid the fare, and went down into it, to go with them to Tarshish from the presence of the Lord. But the Lord sent out a great wind on the sea, and there was a mighty tempest on the sea, so that the ship was about to be broken up. Then the mariners were afraid; and every man cried out to his god, and threw the cargo that was in the ship into the sea, to lighten the load. But Jonah had gone down into the lowest parts of the ship, had lain down, and was fast asleep. So the captain came to him, and said to him, “What do you mean, sleeper? Arise, call on your God; perhaps your God will consider us, so that we may not perish.” And they said to one another, “Come, let us cast lots, that we may know for whose cause this trouble has come upon us.” So they cast lots, and the lot fell on Jonah. Then they said to him, “Please tell us! For whose cause is this trouble upon us? What is your occupation? And where do you come from? What is your country? And of what people are you?” So he said to them, “I am a Hebrew; and I fear the Lord, the God of heaven, who made the sea and the dry land.” Then the men were exceedingly afraid, and said to him, “Why have you done this?” For the men knew that he fled 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 be calm for us?”–for the sea was growing more tempestuous. And he said to them, “Pick me up and throw me into the sea; then the sea will become calm for you. For I know that this great tempest is because of me.” Nevertheless the men rowed hard to return to land, but they could not, for the sea continued to grow more tempestuous against them. Therefore they cried out to the Lord and said, “We pray, O Lord, please do not let us perish for this man’s life, and do not charge us with innocent blood; for You, O Lord, have done as it pleased You.” So they picked up Jonah and threw him into the sea, and the sea ceased from its raging. Then the men feared the Lord exceedingly, and offered a sacrifice to the Lord and took vows. (Jonah 1:1-16)
Refusing To Kill A Prophet
The story of Jonah is one of the great Bible stories. A prophet is called by God to preach to a Gentile city, which he refuses to do. Jonah was an angry prophet but a great preacher as the story will tell. As a prophet, he should have known trying to run away from God was futility. Getting in a ship bound for Tarshish was like trying to go to the farthest known place on the planet. As the sailors set sail on the Great Sea they had little idea how dangerous their passenger would become. At first, the sea was beautiful hews of deep colors with a soft breeze filling their sails. Then it happened. In a moment, a freak storm lashed against the small vessel. Experienced sailors, this storm had a ferocity they had never seen before. It was so bad, their ship was about to be broken up. Throwing everything they had overboard, the men sought to survive the storm but nothing was going to save them. In the midst of this terrible storm, their passenger was fast asleep in the lowest part of the boat. Something was wrong. Casting lots, it was discovered the reason for their terrible plight was Jonah.
Jonah knew the storm was because of him and he was putting in jeopardy these innocent men. Resigned to die so these sailors could live, the prophet told the men to throw him into the sea and they would be saved. The men refused. They would not murder a man. Trying harder to reach land, the effort became futile. Begging the forgiveness of God for what they were about to do, the sailors threw Jonah into the sea. In an instant, the sea became calm as Jonah disappeared below the surface. Making sacrifice to the God of Jonah, the men were exceedingly fearful. The trip to Tarshish was filled with a remarkable story as the sailors recounted the terrible storm and how it all became still when they threw the prophet into the sea.
Most people would not have believed the story. Returning to Joppa, the men would have told their families, friends and fellow seaman. Who would believe such a story? How could these men throw a man into the sea for no reason? However, the sailors on that fateful trip would never forget the day they threw a prophet into the sea. They witnessed the powerful majesty of God in the storm and in the calm. Did these men become devoted followers of the true God? How did this event change their lives? How often did they remember the moment they picked Jonah up and threw him into the sea? What happened on that day became a turning point in their lives.
The will of God is accomplished in many ways. Jonah would go on to Nineveh and preach repentance. The city would respond to his preaching and God would be praised. While Jonah was preaching to the people, out on the Great Sea a boat of sailors remembered the day they threw a man into the boiling sea and saw the hand of God.
Understanding is the reward of faith. Therefore seek not to understand that thou mayest believe, but believe that thou mayest understand. (Augustine, On the Gospel of John, XXIX, c.416)