God Pursues

Part I


Insurance companies are not far off when they use the phrase “an act of God” to describe natural disasters like hurricanes, earthquakes and floods.  Shortly after the ship that Jonah had boarded left the port of Joppa, it encountered “an act of God” that threatened to tear it to pieces.

But unlike just any general “act of God,” this one was targeted very specifically at one person on board. However, in the process of targeting him, those around also came to know and experience something of the power and sovereignty of this God.

In this article, I’ll like us to concentrate on the sailors of the ship, while in the next, we’ll focus more on Jonah.

Observations

In the original, the word “LORD” in verse 4 is given emphasis indicating that this was no ordinary storm.

The word “sent out” is also very interesting. It appears another three times in our text and it can be translated ‘hurled’ or ‘cast’. In 1 Samuel 18, King Saul, in his jealous rage, hurled a javelin at David. Here in Jonah 1, God hurled a great wind into the sea. God takes careful aim and hurls it at the target. But unlike King Saul who failed to hit David, God’s javelins never miss.

Thus, as a result of God hurling this great wind into the sea, a great storm formed in the sea, and the ship was in danger of being broken up.  

In verse 5, we are given another indication that this was no ordinary storm. The sailors were afraid. They had never encountered something like this before in all their sailing experience, and so in their great fear, every one of them cried out to their own gods for deliverance.

They also started to hurl the cargo overboard in the hope of lightening their ship and increasing its chances of staying afloat. God hurled a storm at the ship and the sailors hurled their cargo into the sea. But that did not work. The root of the problem was still deep down in the boat.

When the ship’s captain saw Jonah asleep, he woke him up and commanded him to call upon his god for help. Jonah must have realized at that point that he was the one responsible for that awful storm, but he kept silent and said nothing. Nevertheless, his silence did not last long for God would use the sailors to force a confession from his lips.

When the sailors saw that their many prayers were ineffectual, they decided that this unusual storm had arisen because of someone onboard and they were determined to find out who he was. They cast lots and it comes as no surprise to us that the lot fell on Jonah (Proverbs 16:33). God was in sovereign control.

Jonah had no choice but to confess. When the sailors heard what he said, they became exceedingly afraid. The storm had made them afraid but the fact that Jonah had incurred the wrath of not just any local deity but the God of heaven and earth made them even more afraid.

Then when they sought Jonah’s counsel on what to do, Jonah told them to hurl him into the sea. They were unwilling at first. Verse 13 tells us that they tried their very best to bring the ship to land. The irony is that these sailors did all they could to save Jonah’s life whereas Jonah did all he could to run away so that the people of Nineveh would not be saved.

The sailors, however, failed. They had come to the end of their resources, and they had no other option but to do as Jonah said. But before they hurled Jonah into the sea, they cried unto the LORD and asked for His mercy in what they were about to do. They pleaded with the LORD not to hold them guilty for throwing Jonah overboard, which under normal circumstances would have meant certain death for him.

They demonstrated a real fear of the LORD and a healthy respect for His righteousness. They acknowledged that He was the judge and they desired not to incur His wrath but to be guiltless before Him. And finally, they confessed that He was sovereign and that He had done as it pleased Him.

So having called upon the God of the Hebrews to be merciful unto them, they took Jonah up and hurled him into the sea, and the sea ceased from its raging.

This clearly demonstrates that Jonah was a true prophet for what he said came to pass. But more than that, this clearly shows that Jonah’s God was the great God of heaven and earth. All the other gods, which the sailors had earlier called upon, were but false gods.

Verse 16 records the reactions of these pagan sailors to the calming of the storm and it gives good indication that the pagan sailors were truly converted that day.

Let me give two reasons for that. First, they feared the LORD exceedingly and they worshipped Him. This is the third time in this passage that the sailors are said to have feared something or someone. There is a progression and even a maturing in terms of their fear. It’s clear that they were more afraid of the LORD than they were of the storm for when the storm ceased, their fear did not go away. In fact, it increased.

This reminds us of what happened on the Sea of Galilee when Christ calmed the storm. The awesome display of His power over nature was even more frightening to the disciples than the very storm itself.

Like the disciples, these sailors became aware that the God of the storm is to be more greatly feared than the terrible storm they had just been through. And this fear of Jehovah led them to worship Him.

This stands in sharp contrast to verse 5 where it says each man cried to his own god. Now, right at the end of this chapter, they are calling upon the true and living God, and sacrificing to Him. The God of Jonah was now their God as well.

The second reason why I think these sailors were truly converted is that they made vows to the LORD after the storm had ceased. Now if they had made their vows prior to their deliverance from the storm, we might have reason to question their motive for making those vows. But this was not the case with these sailors. The storm was over. They had been delivered. But they did not forget the Lord. Instead, out of gratitude, they made vows to Him. That is another indication that they were truly converted. 

But once again, we see much irony in the conversion of the sailors. Jonah was unwilling that the pagans at Nineveh be converted, and so he fled from God by boat. But now, through his disobedient presence and reluctant testimony on that boat, pagan sailors were converted.

I’ll like to draw our attention to two lessons.

Applications

The first is that man’s power is no match for God’s power. The Hebrew word for ‘hurl’ is used four times in this chapter. The first time, it is God who hurls the great wind at the sea. The second time, it is the sailors who hurl their cargo into the sea in the hope of surviving the storm. The third time, it is Jonah who tells the sailors to hurl him off the ship so that the storm would cease. The fourth time, the sailors give up trying to row the boat to safety and they hurl Jonah into the sea, and only then did the sea turn calm.

Man’s power is no match for God’s power. No man can fight against the power of God and win. The storm which God hurled at them could not be overcome by any means other than that which God had ordained. It is foolish to try and row against the current of God’s will. It is foolish to try and raise up your shield against the javelins of God’s power.

If God is for you, then no power in all the world can be against you. But the opposite is true too. If God is against you, then no power at all can deliver you from Him.

Are there areas in your life where you are living and acting in opposition to the revealed will of God? Seek the Lord’s strength to turn away from them and to return unto Him. Cease fighting against God. Rather, submit yourself to Him. 

Are there any reading this who are not Christians? May I urge you to consider how futile it is to go on living a life apart from Christ. If Christ is not your Lord and Saviour, then you are still in your sins and the almighty God, who is absolutely holy and just, is indeed against you.

Your only hope of escaping His judgment is found in Jesus Christ. He, who calmed the storm on the Sea of Galilee, is the only one who can calm the storm of God’s eternal wrath.

But there is more: if Christ is on our side, then nothing at all can be successfully against us. No power in this whole universe can ultimately harm us or separate us from the love of God. And we have the blessed assurance that Almighty God Himself is working everything out powerfully and effectually for our everlasting good.

The second lesson is that God is sovereign in all the affairs of men. God’s sovereignty is revealed in a number of different ways in this passage. We see it in His perfect control of the elements to accomplish His purposes. If the storm had been a little more severe, the ship would have been destroyed. If it had been a little less severe, the sailors might have been able to row themselves out of it. But the wind that God hurled at the sea and the resulting storm was of just the right magnitude to accomplish God’s end.

We see God’s sovereignty too in the way He made Jonah confess his faith before the pagan sailors. Jonah was sleeping below deck. He was not interested in talking to anyone. He preferred to be alone in dreamland, but he was rudely awakened by the ship’s captain asking him to pray to his God.

Jonah knew exactly who was to blame for the sudden storm but he chose to keep silent about it until in God’s sovereignty, the lot fell on him, and he had no choice but to tell the sailors who he was, whom he worshipped and why the storm had fallen on them. Jonah bore witness reluctantly for God and he did it in the most unlikely of situations. Only a sovereign God can do that.

And finally, we see how God sovereignly used Jonah’s disobedience to be the means of conversion for these heathen sailors. That was not on Jonah’s mind at all, but in God’s sovereignty, Jonah becomes an instrument to get the heathen converted.

And what is more, these heathen sailors were traveling to the uttermost parts of the earth and they were now taking with them the knowledge of the true and living God – the maker of heaven and earth. Who knows if these sailors did not themselves become the means of bringing the gospel to many other people?

Indeed, the God whom we worship is a sovereign God. He can accomplish His purposes with or without means. He can even accomplish His purposes in spite of the means themselves as in the case of Jonah. Let us give Him all the praise and let us put our trust in Him – our sovereign God.

God is powerful and sovereign. But He is also gracious, as we shall see next time.

—Linus Chua