“The LORD hurled a great wind on the sea and there was a great storm on the sea so that the ship was about to break up. Then the sailors became afraid and every man cried to his god, and they threw the cargo which was in the ship into the sea to lighten it for them. But Jonah had gone below into the hold of the ship, lain down and fallen sound asleep. So the captain approached him and said, “How is it that you are sleeping? Get up, call on your god. Perhaps your god will be concerned about us so that we will not perish. Each man said to his mate, “Come, let us cast lots so we may learn on whose account this calamity has struck us ” So they cast lots and the lot fell on Jonah. Then they said to him, “Tell us, now! On whose account has this calamity struck us? What is your occupation? And where do you come from? What is your country? From what people are you?” He said to them, “I am a Hebrew, and I fear the LORD God of heaven who made the sea and the dry land.” Then the men became extremely frightened and they said to him, “How could you do this?” For the men knew that he was fleeing from the presence of the LORD, because he had told them. So they said to him, “What should we do to you that the sea may become calm for us?” –for the sea was becoming increasingly stormy. 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 on account of me this great storm has come upon you.” However, the men rowed desperately to return to land but they could not, for the sea was becoming even stormier against them. Then they called on the LORD and said, “We earnestly pray, O LORD, do not let us perish on account of this man’s life and do not put innocent blood on us; for You, O LORD, have done as You have pleased.” So they picked up Jonah, threw him into the sea, and the sea stopped its raging. Then the men feared the LORD greatly, and they offered a sacrifice to the LORD and made vows.” (Jonah 1:4-16)
The ship which Jonah got on is now in trouble, because it appears that Jonah is not the only one running here, God is running after him, and Jonah is about to learn that God runs faster than he can. So when we get to this section we immediately see that panic is breaking out on all over the ship because God is stirring up the sea, causing storms, winds, and waves to come crashing into it. The panic is so great that these sailors, who had most likely been sailing for many years, were freaking out. Think of how bad the storm had to be to cause seasoned sailors to freak out and be scared for their lives? Usually during a storm on a boat the passengers are the scared ones and the sailors are calm because they’ve been through so many storms in their days and know how to navigate through them. Not this storm! Everyone, even the expert sailors began praying to their gods and throwing cargo overboard to make the ship lighter and possibly save the ship.
Then the passage takes us back to Jonah, and while nothing but terror is happening on deck, we see Jonah downstairs…sleeping. What?! This had to be one heck of a nap to stay asleep during this storm! Eventually the captain found him, and said what we’re all thinking, “How are you sleeping?! WAKE UP! While we’re throwing cargo overboard doing everything we can to save this ship, you need to start praying, maybe your god will care and save us from this storm!” It’s interesting and ironic that while Jonah is running away from God, a pagan sailor (who did not know the true God of Israel) encourages Jonah to talk to God. Jonah should learn right here that he can’t run away from God, because God is everywhere and God will use anything to get His people back to Himself. The passage doesn’t say if Jonah took his advice to pray or not. I think Jonah just sat there, and didn’t even say one word to God. Why do I think this? Because when you’re running away from God or doing something God told you that you shouldn’t be doing, the last thing on earth you want to do is talk to God, because He is the One you’re running away from! Think for a second at what an awful attitude Jonah has here. Everyone else on the ship, from passenger to crew member, is up on deck helping out and doing all they can do to try to save themselves and save the ship. Where is Jonah? Below deck, in his room, sitting on his bed, having a pity party. Jonah seems to be thinking like this, “If we all die, we all die, I don’t care.” This goes to show you that even the most godly people are capable of doing fantastically sinful things. We should never be surprised.
The passage then tells us that the crew thought of a new idea that may save them. They were gonna cast lots to see who’s fault this storm was. We all know what this is, let me explain. When I was a kid, and my friends and I were about to do something risky, or dangerous, something so scary or hard that no one else wanted to do it, we got straws out, cut one of them shorter than all the rest, put them all in one guys hand (making them all look equal), and began to draw straws. The guy who picked the shortest straw had to do the deed. Well, the people on the boat did the same thing, and Jonah drew the small straw. This shows us and it should have taught Jonah that he can never hide from God, or run away from God. He will always chase us down. Things now get really tense on the boat. As soon as Jonah gets found out, the sailors get really mad and ask Jonah, “What is your occupation? And where do you come from? What is your country? From what people are you?” When they hear Jonah’s response, terror fills them and they say, “How could you do this to us?” This reveals something to us, that Jonah’s God, the true God, the God of Israel, is famous around the world. These sailors know about this God, they know the crazy miraculous things He has done for His people, and they know that when people run from this God, bad things happen. Jonah, realizing his awkward position, begins to come to his senses. He says, “The only way to save yourselves is to throw me overboard.” Now, I get sea sick really easily, so I can imagine how angry some of the people would have been on that boat. If I were on it, I would have said, “WHAT!? Why didn’t you tell us this sooner Jonah? It would have saved everyone’s luggage from being thrown overboard, and it would have saved all of us from freaking out over this storm. I hate you Jonah!” And with those last words I would have thrown his over the side of the boat as hard as I possibly could! But notice what the sailors do? Rather than throwing him over, they row as fast and as hard as they can. This is again interesting and ironic, because while Jonah doesn’t care about the lives of the crew or the passengers, they care about him and try to rescue him by rowing harder, thinking that they won’t have to kill him if they can just make it to land.
They soon realize that their rowing won’t work, so they do something at this moment that they’ve never done before, they talk to Jonah’s God. They ask God to forgive them for what they’re about to do, and throw Jonah over. And as Jonah hits the water, they are shocked that the storm stops dead in its tracks. From this moment on, their lives are changed forever, they put their faith in Jonah’s God. Look at 1:16, it tells us that they feared God, offered sacrifices to God, and made vows to God.