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?”
Did you catch the question they asked him? They asked him “who is responsible for making all this trouble for us?” Well, the lot fell on Jonah…so obviously he is the problem but they don’t believe that is all there is to it. Notice, they cast lots to find out who is responsible…the lot fell on Jonah…so one would think he is responsible but clearly they think something else is going on here that Jonah has the answer to.
Part of the answer lies in the fact that Jonah had already told them he was running away from his God. The question Jonah has an answer to is not what Jonah has done to cause this (they already have some idea about that) but who is actually responsible for the storm. Obviously, the only one who can be responsible for a storm must be some sort of divine being who controls things like that.
The answer they are looking for can also be surmised from the rest of their questions regarding his nationality and work. Nationality and work were often tied up into the gods one worshiped. So the “who” they are looking for is the name of a god. Once they know that name, they can try to find a way to appease whichever god it might be “who is responsible for this calamity.”
What makes this even more obvious is Jonah’s answer and their reaction,
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.)
There was a view in the ancient world that gods had spheres of influence and responsibility. Baal was god of the storm. Asherah was queen of heaven. Jonah tells them Yahweh is “God of heaven, who made the sea and the dry land.” Jonah answered their question…his God controls the heavens (wind and rain) and the sea (waves) and that answer scares them even more.
Once you have the responsible party pinned down to a diety the only reasonable solution is to find out how to appease that “god” and that is what they ask Jonah next and what Jonah tells them how to accomplish,
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.
Our God is not like the limited false gods of the ancients. Our God is maker of all things and his sphere of influence and power encompasses everything. That is not something ancient people were all that used to hearing and out of that revelation came conversion. God’s first converts in the book of Jonah were not in Ninevah…they were on a pagan boat out in the stormy sea and Jonah wasn’t the messenger…he was the message. What God did to Jonah was the message that convicted these men of the reality of Yahweh, that He is not a regional “god” or a god confined to a certain sphere or influence and responsibilities…He is the One, true God and is over all things.
What does that mean for us? It means we cannot confine God to a box or a pre-approved set of responsibilities or areas of influence. God is Lord over every single area of our lives…and so we submit to Him and try hard not to compartmentalize our spirituality to a church building or to Sunday.