There’s an old saying: “There are no atheists in foxholes (places where soldiers hide during battle).” When people’s lives are on the line, they often cry out to God in prayer even if nothing about them before that time has ever shown that they believe in Him. We see that truth played out today as we continue the story of Jonah. The Lord sends a great storm after the fleeing prophet, and the crew of the passenger ship he boarded in verse 3 panics. Apparently, there was something particularly fierce and strange about this storm. Its winds were violent enough to bring hardened, pagan sailors to desperately call out to the false gods that they had probably learned about as children. They hoped that one of these “gods” would hear and be willing and able to stop the waves from destroying their ship and drowning them in the depths of the Mediterranean Sea. The situation was so bad that they began to dump their precious cargo to lighten the ship, a great loss of money that they hoped would at least keep them from losing their lives.
Contrast their reaction with Jonah, God’s prophet, who lay asleep below decks. I (Mr. Reel) have slept through a hurricane before – two of them to be exact. But when those hurricanes hit South Florida in 2004, I was safe inside a modern apartment buiilt like a bunker. Jonah was on board a strong ship, but it was still just a ship of ancient times, and it was in clear danger of capsizing. Jonah definitely felt this storm. He seemed to being putting forth conscious effort to hide from God. As we will see in the next passage, Jonah knew why the storm had come – it was from his God, and it had been sent for Him. What a sinking feeling it is to run from God and feel Him chase after you, even toward the ends of the your known world. Perhaps Jonah, a man skilled in the Old Testament Scriptures, thought of King David’s words from Psalm 139:7-10 as he lay in his bed and the storm raged outside: “Where can I go from Your Spirit? Or where can I flee from Your presence? If I ascend into heaven, You are there; If I make my bed in hell, behold, You are there. If I take the wings of the morning, And dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea, Even there Your hand shall lead me, And Your right hand shall hold me.”
So when the captain called down to Jonah to wake up and call to his God, it must have felt like the voice of the Lord Himself. “You can’t run anymore Jonah – it’s time to come back to Me. It’s time to repent and do what I told you to do in the first place. Wake up, Jonah. Wake up.” Have you ever been there? Are you there right now? Can any believer really run and hide from God forever? Jonah couldn’t, and I praise God that we can’t either!
The Text (Jonah 1:4-6)
4 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. 5 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.
6 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.”
Questions to Think About
- Have you ever seen unbelievers act more righteously than Christians? Have you ever been humbled yourself when lost people acted better than you? What happened? What did you learn from the experience?
- Have you ever been spiritually (or even physically…ahem….chapel…ahem) asleep when you knew that God was trying to get through to you? What happened?
- Are you trying to run and hide from God right now? Why or why not?
- The sharp contrast between the behavior of the lost sailors and Jonah is a key point in Chapter 1 of Jonah. These sailors did not know the One True God and were probably pretty rough and sinful men. Yet they humbled themselves when the storm came and sought help from God the best way that they knew how. Jonah, however, knew everything that had been revealed at the time about the God who sent the storm (he knew the Old Testament), yet he did not turn to God in repentance and faith. It is a sad and painful experience when unbelievers act better than Christians, but Jonah was a real believer, so this book of the Bible proves that it can happen. Be careful about judging other Christians when they are not yet perfect. People are not saved by being better than others, but by their faith in Jesus Christ who lived the perfect life for us and died and rose again on our behalf.
- God is just and merciful. We will see in the upcoming devotions that He intended to save not only His prophet Jonah, but the poor sailors who called out for His help. God is fair, and He delights to show grace toward humble, repentant sinners.