Where shall I go from your Spirit? Or where shall I flee from your presence? If I ascend to heaven, you are there! If I make my bed in Sheol, 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. If I say, “Surely the darkness shall cover me, and the light about me be night,” even the darkness is not dark to you; the night is bright as the day, for darkness is as light with you. ~ Psalm 139:7-12
Even though we run, we can not hide from God. He is the Hound of Heaven in hot pursuit. Today we will see the the depths of God’s grace as he spares no expense to chase down the rebel Jonah. I want you to know that he has spared no expense in pursuing you, whether you know it or not. We will finish chapter one and we are going to see a lot of hurling. Now, when I say hurl, I don’t mean the the kind of hurling you did in college. The author of Jonah uses the word hurl to express an aggressive throwing. I’m from Texas, I didn’t even know this but Texans sometimes say “chunk” when they mean “hurl”. I say I didn’t know this because someone on our leadership team asked my once if I said “chunk” when I meant “hurl or throw” and I immediately denied it. Then, I caught myself when I was yelling at my 5 year old to, “Chunk it! Just chunk that rock into the lake!” So – I do say “chunk”. In fact, I say it a lot. So tonight we are going to see some chunking. God is going to hurl a storm, the sailors are going to hurl all the cargo off the ship, and Jonah is going to tell the sailors to hurl him into the sea. Do not forget, this story is masterfully crafted and all this hurling is very intentional.
hurling a storm
But the LORD hurled a great wind upon the sea, and there was a mighty tempest on the sea, so that the ship threatened to break up. Then the mariners were afraid, and each cried out to his god. And they hurled the cargo that was in the ship into the sea to lighten it for them. But Jonah had gone down into the inner part of the ship and had lain down and was fast asleep. So the captain came and said to him, “What do you mean, you sleeper? Arise, call out to your god! Perhaps the god will give a thought to us, that we may not perish.” Jonah 1:4-6
So last week we ended in verse 3 where Jonah had paid the fair and went down to the bottom of the ship. We talked about running from the presence of the omnipresent God. We talked about why we run from God, how we run from God, and what effect our running and hiding from God always has on our lives. And so today, as we move into the next section, we are going to see God’s response to Jonah’s running. How will God respond to our running?
The verse opens with the word “but”. Jonah runs and successfully boards a ship on a one year journey to the ends of the world, to escape the presence of the Lord, BUT — God hurls a great storm. Jonah runs but God hurls a great storm. The text in this story is clear that the storm is probably one of the greatest storms you could ever imagine. These sailors are freaking out about the storm. Now one thing I know about sailors is that experienced sailors are not prone to fear. You might remember the scene in the film Jaws where the shark has been beating on the ship and the ship is falling apart. Everyone’s freaking out and running around but Quint, the kind of crazy old sailor is steering the ship. He’s focused – pushing buttons etc… and this fire breaks out in the cabin and Quint just calmly says, “Hey – eh, could you put out that fire?” It’s a notable scene – because Dreyfuss sort of gives him a look. Quint is a very experienced sailor and navy man and he is not letting the huge man eating shark or even the fire stress him out.
That is not the case with our sailors in the story of Jonah. They are freakin’ out! In fact they’re so afraid that they start throwing out the cargo – this is precious cargo. They are hurling the cargo off of the boat and calling out – crying out – to their god’s. This storm is so big! So scary! So terrible – that it is unmistakably a storm from the gods.
The author of the Jonah uses some powerful literary techniques to paint a picture of the storm. First he personifies the ship. We do that – we name ships. We give them female names. But the author of Jonah personifies the ship as literally making threats. “She’s threaten to break up, laddies!” One scholar says a healthy translation is, “She’s about to become a nervous wreck!” Also, the author makes a pun in the Hebrew in order to increase the force of the storm. He describes the waves as (hishebah lehishaber) which sounds like waves hitting up against the boat. This is a Hebrew literary technique that heightens our experience. He wants you to see this storm in HD, in 3D, with 7.1 surround sound. I hope your getting the picture – this storm is awesome!
So, why is that so important. Well, because if you run from God – he will unleash his awesome rage and power on your nasty little rebellious self! Isn’t that you have heard? It is often taught (and often thought) that God sent this awesome storm as a punishment for Jonah’s disobedience. Jonah was disobedient so God hurls a storm at him.
Listen to me because I need you to hear this. That way of thinking is just plain wrong. God did not send the storm to punish Jonah – God sent the storm to rescue Jonah. This storm is an extravagant show of God’s grace towards Jonah despite his rebellion. This storm teaches us that God would spare no expense – no expense – to save Jonah from destroying himself. If God wanted to punish Jonah he could just kill him. He could just wipe him out with scurvy or just let him wander in the wilderness of Tarshish for 40 years until he was ready to deal with him.
No, the storm is not a punishment – it is an audacious show if his love for sinners. And, you may know the rest of this story so I can go ahead and tell you that this is just the beginning. God is just getting started with his extravagance. We are going to see whales and winds, trees and worms, God is even going to forgive some of the most wicked grotesque people who ever walked the face of this planet. So make no mistake about it – God is just getting started. He will spare no expense to demonstrate his love for sinners!
Let me illustrate this for a minute. Maybe you have seen the Lord of the Rings or even recently The Hobbit. In the story there is a wizard, his name is Gandalf. I am certain that Tolkien wrote him into these story to be a type of Christ. That’s obvious. He is always presented as a humble and gentle kind of a wizard. But then there a these moments where Gandalf sort of let’s his true power just peak out a little bit. For instance, he is in a room where everyone is arguing about the ring or the hobbit and slowly, but unmistakably, a dark cloud rises up behind Gandalf and the room shakes and you hear this low rumble and Gandalf raises his voice above it all, “Make no mistake!” And everyone freezes. That happens several times in the films and think it is just so cool!
God is very powerful. This storm – it is awesome, but that is nothing. God created the earth – the universe – with a word. “Let there be light” and there were stars. “Let there be oceans – let there be mountains – let there be elephants.” With a breath God created galaxies. And yet, he moves in this strange way to show his love for us – he became a baby, born in the humblest little hole. How can the infinite become an infant. How could the creator of the universe allow the hand of his creation to slaughter him upon a cruel cross. Is he not extravagant? If this is not “pulling out all the stops” – if this is not “sparing no expense”, then I don’t know what is.
“He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all–how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?” (Romans 8: 32)
This storm is not a punishment – it is a rescue mission.
Does seeing this storm as a rescue mission rather than a punishment shift any paradigms you might have had about God or your life circumstances?
hurling the cargo
Just like you and me, these sailors don’t see this storm as an act of grace but of vengeance and rage. So immediately they start working to save themselves. In other words they did not see the storm is God means of salvation for Jonah they saw the storm as a hurdle that they needed to overcome. Quite honestly, that is a very natural response. Most of us would not see the huge storms in our lives as a mercy from God. We’ll come back to that – because I know that you and I will have great storms ahead.
Now, what’s interesting is that this story makes it really clear that the sailors begin stages of human effort in order to save themselves. First they hurl all the cargo off the ship in order to lighten the ship. Second, they begin to call out to their individual gods. They don’t know which god is angry and they don’t know which god will save them so they have a very diversified portfolio of gods in order to cover their basis. If they pray to all the gods eventually they’ll have to hit the right one. It’s kind of like the scene we get in the book of Acts where Paul notices that the men of Athens worship many gods and that they even had a statue to worship the “unknown god”. You now, that one god they might have missed in mythology school. Just to be safe, better to pray to the “unknown god” too. These sailors are trying everything. They even tell Jonah to pray to his god, “Who know’s, maybe its your god who will give a thought to us, that we may not perish.”
Notice that. The sailors say, “Maybe it’s your god who will save us.” And it is. It is Jonah’s God who will save them. It is Jonah’s God that is on a mission to save the Ninevites. It is Jonah’s God who has saved me and will save you.
Third, they begin to cast lots. They’re trying to figure out whose fault all this is. There must be someone on this boat that some god is angry with because obviously this storm is divinely appoint right at us. The lot falls to Jonah and they start hurling a bunch of questions at Jonah. What is your occupation? And where do you come from? What is your country? And of what people are you?” Jonah answers the last question, “I’m a Hebrew.” And then he tells them something that creates in them more fear than even the storm created.
“And he said to them, “I am a Hebrew, and I fear the LORD, the God of heaven, who made the sea and the dry land.” Then the men were exceedingly afraid and said to him, “What is this that you have done!” For the men knew that he was fleeing from the presence of the LORD, because he had told them. (Jonah 1:9-10)
Literally it says, “They feared a great fear!” Another Hebrew literary technique to create force. This was a great fear. Now that they know that the source of this storm is coming from the God who made the sea, they are really afraid. After a few more questions they decided to try to row the boat back to land. So, their forth and last attempt at human effort to save themselves is to row back to land.
People just don’t learn do they. If God is omnipresent, if he is the God of the sea and the land, what is going to happen if they actually make it to land? That is not going to solve their problem. If the sea is raging what is going to happen to that ship when it gets close to the docks? It will be hurled against the rocks into a thousand tiny pieces. Most of the time, the boat is safer at sea. Surely these sailors know that the worst thing to do is run the ship a ground. Plus, their missing the fact that God is the god of the land too. In other words, this will not be over even if they make it to land.
The author of this story really wants us to see that all self-made human effort will ultimately always end in utter failure. In the book of Jonah, every time we see human effort, it fails. Every time we see divine effort, it succeeds. The ultimate act being that God wants to forgive the hardest nastiest people on the planet and he will succeed in binging them to their knees so that he can give them Grace.
Then they said to him, “What shall we do to you, that the sea may quiet down for us?” For the sea grew more and more tempestuous. He said to them, “Pick me up and hurl me into the sea; then the sea will quiet down for you, for I know it is because of me that this great tempest has come upon you.” …Therefore they called out to the LORD, “O LORD, let us not perish for this man’s life, and lay not on us innocent blood, for you, O LORD, have done as it pleased you.” So they picked up Jonah and hurled him into the sea, and the sea ceased from its raging. Then the men feared the LORD exceedingly, and they offered a sacrifice to the LORD and made vows. ~ Jonah 1:11-16
Finally, after all human effort fails, they have to hurl Jonah into the sea. Jonah actually tells the sailors to hurl him into the sea and that is interesting. Commentators have spilt a lot of ink trying to determine the psyche of Jonah. Is Jonah depressed, is he suicidal, is he being heroic? Honestly, we can’t answer that question. The author doesn’t go there. But I want to know why Jonah is doing this. I mean he could just pray to God. He could just say, “God, I’m so very sorry. I know now that you would never let me run away. So please forgive me. I’ll go to Nineveh.” I think God might have calmed the sea and I think the sailors would have agreed to take him back. Don’t you? So -why didn’t he do that?
Instead, he tells the sailors, “I must be a sacrifice. So throw me in.” I don’t know what Jonah was thinking, I’m not going to try to figure that one out. But here is what I do know, and this is just unbelievably fascinating to me. When Jonah says, “Lift me up”, he uses a very interesting word. The Hebrew word is nasa and it means “to take up, to carry, to bear”. The word nasa is normally used to denote the removal of sin. That means, that in the OT we see this term nasa often as it talks about bearing sin or carrying sin away. For instance:
Blessed is the one whose transgression is forgiven [nasa], whose sin is covered. Psalm 32:1
Surely he has borne our griefs and carried [nasa] our sorrows… Isaiah 53:4
It would seem that Jonah sees himself as a scapegoat, as a sacrifice. That he must carry away sin. Now Jonah can not bear the sins of these sailors. He can’t carry away their sins. He can not even bear his own. So what does he mean by using this word? Well, it is true, Jonah can in no way bear or carry away sin – But, one greater than Jonah has come.
Jesus is greater than Jonah and he can bear your sin. He can carry your sin away. Indeed he already has. “Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows.”
“At this point Jonah takes up the role of the scapegoat. And the sacrifice he makes saves the sailors. The sea calms down. What counts is that this story is in reality the precise intimation of an infinitely faster story and one which concerns us directly. What Jonah could not do, but his attitude announces, is done by Jesus Christ.” Jacques Ellul
Jesus hurled or carried your sin into the depth of the sea. The parallelism between Jonah and Jesus tickles me. As I read about this in Timothy Keller’s the King’s Cross. Keller states that Mark (the Gospel writer) deliberately used language in a very popular story about Jesus, that is parallel, almost identical, to the language of the story of Jonah.
And a great windstorm arose, and the waves were breaking into the boat, so that the boat was already filling. But Jesus was in the stern, asleep on the cushion. And they woke him and said to him, “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” And he awoke and rebuked the wind and said to the sea, “Peace! Be still!” And the wind ceased, and there was a great calm… And they were filled with great fear and said to one another, “Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?” Mark 4:35-41
- Both Jesus and Jonah were in a boat
- Both boats were overtaken by an identical storm
- Both Jesus and Jonah were asleep.
- Both sailors woke up the sleeper with a rebuke
- Both experience a miraculous calming of the storm
- Both sailors became even more terrified after the calming of the storm.
Two almost identical stories—with just one difference. Jesus wasn’t thrown into the sea. Or was he? Jesus teaches us about himself by telling us the he is one who is greater than Jonah. Jesus says, “I am the true Jonah and you can pick me up and hurl me into the sea. I will carry your sins and I will bury your sins into the very depths of the sea. (Micah 7)
On the cross, Jesus Christ was thrown—willingly, like Jonah—into the ultimate storm of sin and death. And that storm has been calmed. You have been rescued from sin and death in order that you might possess access and relationship with the God of the heavens, the sea, and the dry land. He has spared absolutely no expense to purchase your soul and to carryall of your sin far far far away.