When we last saw Jonah, he was descending into disobedience on the ship for Tarshish, enraptured by the storm he brought upon himself. All the while, the pagan sailors with him cried out to their gods to save them from this mess brought upon them (much like we often do).
It doesn’t take long for the sailors to realize that they are experiencing God’s power of the storm due to Jonah’s blatant disobedience to not listen to God and go to Nineveh. But what surprises me about this story is the turn it takes and what it says about believers (followers of God) and unbelievers (those who do not know or follow God). AKA “us” and “them.”
When Jonah was found guilty by his crew, he had all the right answers, acknowledging God in control over both the sea where they are and the land where they want to be, but his life denied Him. Sometimes like Jonah, us Christians can have all the right answers, all the right doctrine about God, but still miss the point. I know that was the case for me for the longest time. And what surprises me is how the pagan sailors respond to all this.
11 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?’12 ‘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.’13 Instead, the men did their best to row back to land. But they could not, for the sea grew even wilder than before. 14 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.’ 15 Then they took Jonah and threw him overboard, and the raging sea grew calm. 16 At this the men greatly feared the Lord, and they offered a sacrifice to the Lord and made vows to him. – Jonah 1:11-16
Jonah is the reason they are caught in this mess, and yet they do everything they can to spare his life. They only throw him into the sea as a last result.
What was so powerful about this story to Israelites is that Jonah, the prophet and representative of Israel, is the one who is falling and making all the mistakes, running away from God despite knowing who He is, and the pagans are the ones who are truly turning to Him. They are sinners, aware of their sinfulness and their need for God. And thus those very outsiders, who may not look like what was expected, are the ones who are actually entering the Kingdom. And even in Acts, it’s the Gentiles who tend to embrace the Gospel more so than the Jews.
All this to say that we cannot depend upon our thinking that our own little Christian circle is right and everybody else is wrong. God clearly shows us that even when we know Him, we can still be in the wrong.
One of the most powerful truths I’ve learned on my journey in Florida is that the church is plagued by a disease; it’s called: “us versus them,” and sadly it’s everywhere.
You see, we can just be so consumed by this “us versus them” mentality, where we point fingers at the “outsiders” and label them. We think that Jesus is on our side, on our political party, on our theological bandwagon. When in reality, God was on both Jonah and the sailors’ side, working all things for the good of His purposes.
Jonah was patriotic, a good Israelite. But that quality is also what blinded him. And it’s not until the storm comes that Jonah finally begins to realize the error of his ways: That God is in fact for others beyond his own tribe. Like all of us, Jonah needed a reality check of his pride, his sinfulness, and so he gets it here. This is the first time the text changes and emphasizes Jonah going “up.” You’d think that the writer would use the Hebrew expression again for “down” when Jonah is thrown off the boat and into the depths of the sea, but no, instead it emphasizes him being “lifted up.” This is the first thing Jonah does right. Because we don’t belong in the ship heading to Tarshish, we belong in Nineveh, with those God has called us to love; and that is where God is about to take him, heading in the right direction, but not without a little detour first.
To be continued…