Harry Whittaker

4) Helpless! (1:4-16)

1: 4-16 But the Lord sent out a great wind into the sea, and there was a mighty tempest in the sea, so that the ship was like to be broken.
Then the mariners were afraid, and cried every man unto his god, and cast forth the wares that were in the ship into the sea, to lighten it of them. But Jonah was gone down into the sides of the ship; and he lay, and was fast asleep.
So the shipmaster came to him, and said unto him, What meanest thou, O sleeper? arise, call upon thy God, if so be that God will think upon us, that we perish not.
And they said every one to his fellow, Come, and let us cast lots, that we may know for whose cause this evil is upon us. So they cast lots, and the lot fell upon Jonah.
Then said they unto him, Tell us, we pray thee, for whose cause this evil is upon us; What is thine occupation? and whence comest thou? what is thy countrv? and of what people art thou?
And he said unto them, I am an Hebrew; and I fear the Lord, the God of heaven, which hath made the sea and the dry land.
Then were the men exceedingly afraid, and said unto him, Why hast thou done this? For the men knew that he fled from the presence of the Lord, because he had told them.
Then they said unto him, What shall we do unto thee, that the sea may be calm unto us? for the sea wrought, and was tempestuous.
And he said unto them, Take me up, and cast me forth into the sea; so shall the sea be calm unto you: for I know that for my sake this great tempest is upon you.
Nevertheless the men rowed hard to bring it to the land; but they could not: for the sea wrought, and was tempestuous against them.
Wherefore they cried unto the Lord, and said, We beseech thee, O
Lord, we beseech thee, let us not perish for this man’s life, and lay not upon us innocent blood: for thou, O Lord, hast done as it pleased thee.
So they took up Jonah, and cast him forth into the sea: and the sea ceased from her raging.
Then the men feared the Lord exceedingly, and offered a sacrifice unto the Lord, and made vows.

The state of that ship — a pathetically little barque, by modern standards -- rapidly became desperate. Great seas crashed on her deck and flooded her hold. Since no pumping or baling out was possible, the only other expedient was to throw overboard as much cargo as possible, in the hope of keeping her afloat. Before long it seemed likely that the ship would break up. Had the storm found a weakness in her construction, or were they driving before the gale on to a rock-bound coast? But if the latter, where is the rocky shore in that corner of the Mediterranean?

And through all this, Jonah still slept — in some relatively dry and secure corner, in the fo’c’s’le, perhaps. But all the ship’s crew were hard at work, doing anything they could think of to bring them through this predicament, more fraught with danger than anything any of them had ever known. They were a mixed lot, these sea-faring men, as ships’ crews usually are. So there was hardly a deity known to the superstitions of the Middle East who was not assailed with desperate prayers and promises, interspersed with all the purple oaths that belonged to their trade.

For all this importunity, things only got worse. The captain was desperate to know what else might be done to save their lives, but when he learned that their supercargo was sleeping hard through all this tumult, he knew at last the explanation of their peril: they had an atheist on board!

So Jonah found himself being roughly shaken into wakefulness whilst equally rough exhortations were being shouted at him! “Don’t you realise that we may be foundering any minute? And you the only one on board who doesn’t care! Every man jack of us is praying, except you! Haven’t you got a god to pray to? Yes? Then why don’t you? Man, our lives are at stake as well as yours!”

It was not for nothing that through past years Jonah had been a witness in the Northern Kingdom to the True God worshipped in Jerusalem. Now he made his confession again before these devotees of such a variety of heathen deities.

“I am an Hebrew, and I fear Jehovah, the God of heaven, which hath made the sea and the dry land”.

The guess may perhaps be hazarded that the proposal about the casting of lots, which now came up, was a suggestion made in the first instance by Jonah himself. If he knew how (in 1 Samuel 14: 41,42) a crisis situation in the days of king Saul had been resolved by means of Urim and Thummim (see ’Samuel, Saul, David’ on this), the present circumstance would surely appeal to him as not dissimilar. He himself would be glad to have any lingering doubts set at rest as to whether any connection was to be seen between this terrifying peril and his recent rebellion against prophetic duty.

The lot would be immediately organized with the tossing of a coin or any other heads or tails device. Jonah accepted the result as implicitly as if he had had it from the high priest of Jehovah.

So, now, without hesitation, he told his story, not at first in a succinct tidy fashion, for he found himself bombarded by a torrent of questions. There was no hint of bullying in these, but only a tone of respect. His story about being a prophet of Jehovah, worshipped at the world-famous temple in Jerusalem, was accepted at its face value. And when he told of his refusal of the Lord’s commission to proclaim impending doom against Nineveh they were aghast. No wonder they were involved now in such a storm at sea as beggared all past experience. “Why, why hast thou done this?” They couldn’t understand such an attitude as his. These simpleminded pagans, hearing the truth of Jehovah for the first time, judged Jonah’s behaviour to be that of a lunatic. They now saw everything clearly. With a disobedient prophet on board, no wonder the God who made the earth and the sea was angry. The shrieking of the wind and the violence of the waves, as high as their mast, were now explained.

Jonah too weighed the pros and cons. Rather than be party to what he was convinced was a wrong policy of the angel of the Lord, he had been prepared to sacrifice his own nationality, but their present straits showed that the problem had come to sea with him. Then, what next? Was his foolishness now to mean irreparable disaster for these harmless ignorant seamen just because they had Jonah on board? It was obviously useless to persist in following his own judgement or inclination. Just think what had befallen Balaam when he thought he knew better than the angel of the Lord!

Then he came to a heroic decision. If there must be a price paid for his wilfulness, let it not be paid by these good fellows who shared none of his blame.

“There’s no safety for you chaps whilst I am on board”, he explained. “So, dump me in the sea, and then you will come through. The wrath of Jehovah is against me, not against you.”

They got his point. They knew he was right in what he bade them do. But all their better instincts revolted against the idea of having one man die, swept away in a swirl of angry water, to save their skins.

“ No! Not that! “ The captain spoke for them all. “ Lads, get her bow round to the wind, and we’ll ride this storm out yet”.

They went to it with a will. With sweeps out, they strained until their muscles cracked. But what could those feeble endeavours do against that wild welter of wind and water?

Very well. If they must, they must. But first, fearing a great fear, with a devoutness that shamed Jonah’s self-reliance, they prayed to the God that Jonah told them held those boiling seas in the hollow of His hand.

“Jehovah, we beseech thee, let us not perish for this man’s life, and lay not upon us innocent blood: for thou, O Lord, hast done as it hath pleased thee “

Innocent blood! Those words were eloquent. They declared: ‘We haven’t got anything against him. But, Lord, you know what you are doing!’

Then two of those lusty fellows helped Jonah to the stern of the ship, and there with a mighty heave they pitched him clear, and saw him swept away into the darkness.

The effect of this propitiatory sacrifice had those hard-bitten seamen speechless with awe. The wind suddenly dropped. One moment there was a venomous howling and shrieking of the wind through the rigging. The next, complete stillness and the silence of a sea at rest. Never had they known the like of it. AII at once, the sea and the waves were no longer roaring (s.w. Lk. 21: 25).

Their reaction to this deafening silence of God was instinctive. The captain spoke for them all:

“Boys, let’s hold a prayer meeting, to thank Jehovah that He has brought us through, and to pray for Jonah, that headstrong, yet selfless, Hebrew”.

So, again fearing a great fear, with bowed heads they gave thanks for their survival and made solemn declaration that, once on land again, they would find their way to Jerusalem and there offer to Jehovah a sacrifice of thanksgiving.

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