Twice in Jonah 1:3 we see the phrase, “from the presence of the LORD.” Jonah was given clear instruction from the Lord and instead of following those instructions he chose to flee from the presence of the LORD. Jonah left his home country and paid to board a ship that was sailing in the complete opposite direction that the Lord had instructed him to go. When on that ship he went all the way down in the hold of the ship and went to sleep.
I can picture Jonah running from the Lord, hiding in the hold of the ship, and falling into this deep sleep, perhaps from the exhaustion of his flight, or from the grief of a rebellious heart, or perhaps from too much fruit of the vine. He, somehow, is in such a depth of slumber that he is oblivious to the storm that is raging on the sea with a might that threatens to break up the ship and has seasoned sailors frightened for their lives. The Scripture reads in Jonah 1:5 that the sailors are crying out each to their own god and throwing cargo overboard. Take note to the phrase, “each to their own god.” This tells us that this was most likely a boat full of men from different nations who worshipped different gods. Gods that were silent to their cries and so therefore they continued to try and save themselves by dumping the ships cargo.
Yet, Jonah sleeps.
Jonah, the one person on the ship that has the knowledge of the One True God, sleeps. He sleeps while men fight for their lives and cry out to gods who can’t hear and can’t save. Jonah hides in the hold of the ship with the name of the Most High in his heart and the way of salvation on his tongue.
The Captain of the ship approached Jonah amazed that he is sleeping, wakes him, and asks him to call on his god, “Perhaps your god will be concerned about us,” for they are still looking for salvation in this storm. It appears that Jonah remains silent. The sailors cast lots. The lots fall on Jonah. Now the whole ship is turned toward 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?‘” (Jonah 1:8). The LORD has a way of calling us out when we try to hide.
Jonah answers the questions of the sailors and he even tells them that he is fleeing from the presence of the LORD. He is fleeing from the God of gods, the One who made the sea and the dry land. In the book of Jonah we see how the LORD can use the people in our lives, no matter who, no matter where, to move us into His presence and into His will. He is more than able to use them to call us out and cause us to openly admit who we are, where we come from, what we do, and how we came to be where we are? He is able to use them to slightly nudge us to accept His calling and instructions or sometimes He uses them to to flat out throw us in the deep end. He knows we will discover that He is there to rescue us and carry us through whatever He has called us to do, even if He has to get creative with us to move us into obedience.
As the sailors question Jonah and as Jonah answers, the sea becomes stormier and their fear grows stronger. They ask Jonah what to do and he requests that they throw him overboard. At first read it might appear that Jonah is willing to sacrifice himself for the safety of these sailors, but I beg to differ. I lean more that he would rather die in the sea than go to Nineveh and do what the Lord has instructed him to do. I believe he is still trying to flee the presence of the Lord, but Jonah is fixing to find out that the LORD’s presence cannot be fled from… and he is also about to learn that he really doesn’t want to flee from it.
In the meantime, the LORD is not going to waste Jonah’s disobedience to His Word. The calamity on the sea experienced by these sailors because of the actions of this stranger that chose their ship to board will be used. The LORD hurled the wind and the LORD does nothing without the greater purpose of His glory and our good. He would work even Jonah’s stiff-necked rebellion to teach these sailors who He was, that He was the God who hears. He was the LORD God of heaven. He is the God who saves.
The sailors cry out to the LORD that Jonah has just introduced to them and they throw Jonah overboard. The storm stopped. The sailors worshiped.
Jonah was asked to go to Nineveh and cry against it. Jonah fled in the opposite direction, but there were men that needed to know the Lord in that direction as well. The LORD allowed the detour. Jonah was never out of sight of the LORD and He was never out of His presence. Even if we are being hurled from a ship in the middle of the sea the LORD is there.
We read in Jonah 1:17 that the LORD appointed a great fish to swallow Jonah. I imagine that as the sea raged and the ship cracked and the sailors cried out to the LORD and Jonah shouted just throw me overboard that the chaos of the moment was intensely adrenaline filled. I imagine that as the sailors lifted Jonah off the ground and heaved him over the side of the ship that Jonah began to second guess his demand to be thrown overboard. I imagine that as he hit the waters that were rising and crashing and raging and felt the sting of the biting salt water against his skin that he held his breathe as he prepared to be lost forever quite possibly wondering how in the world he gotten himself to this point. Then all of a sudden everything stops.
It probably stinks.
I imagine that right about now Jonah is questioning his earlier desire to flee from the presence of the LORD. Oh what a blessing Jonah is receiving right here in this moment. Not only is the LORD preserving His life, but the LORD is giving Him a small taste of what it really might be to actually be without the presence of the LORD. How many of us could use such a reality check in our day?
“In Him was life, and the life was the Light of men.” (John 1:4)