Responding to God’s Call
Sunday School Lesson for December 7, 2003
Background Passage: Jonah 1:1-2:9
The Rebellion of Jonah (1:1-3)
The book of Jonah commences with
the announcement that the “Word of the Lord” (v. 1) came to the prophet
calling him to “Arise, and go to
Once there, Jonah was to “cry out,” or preach against the city’s inhabitants whose “wickedness” had “come up before” the very face of God. The word translated “wickedness” may be used indicate moral evil as well as calamity or disaster in general. However, Jonah’s words to the people of the city in 3:8-10 suggest that moral evil is in view (cf. Zeph. 2:13-15; Nahum 3:1-7).
Having received orders from the
Lord, Jonah rebelled and attempted to run from the very “presence of the
Lord.” Instead of making his way to
Many interpreters point out the fact that the author paints a dramatic picture of Jonah’s fall as a prophet and man of God. Four times he is said to have gone “down.” He “went down to Joppa” (1:3), he “went down” into the ship (1:3), he “went below into the hold of the ship” (1:5), and finally down to “the roots of the mountains” (2:6). At any rate, Jonah’s actions made it clear that he had no intention of serving the Lord as His divinely appointed messenger. His action, therefore, is “nothing less than open rebellion against God’s sovereignty” [Alexander, 101].
The Discipline of God (1:4-17)
In view of Jonah’s adamant refusal to obey the voice and God, “the Lord” responded immediately. He “hurled a great wind on the sea” and caused a “great storm” to come upon the ship and its occupants. The author notes that the ferocity of the storm was such that the ship itself was “about to break up.” What is clear from the language and structure of this verse is that this storm was no coincidence. It was sent by God Himself—the one true God who, unlike the many tribal deities worshipped in the ancient world, exercises His sovereign Lordship over all things, including the weather.
magnitude of the storm is also reflected in the fact its seasoned crew—“the
sailors”—immediately “became afraid” and began appealing to their
respective deities for help.
Not seeing Jonah on deck, the vessel’s “captain” confronted the sleepy prophet—“How is it that you are sleeping? Get up, call on your god” (v. 6). Note that the words of the captain closely resemble those spoken earlier by the Lord (1:1—“Arise, go . . . and cry out”). The captain ordered Jonah to do as the other men by praying for the deliverance of the ship and crew—“perhaps your god will be concerned about us” (v. 6).
In a further effort to end the storm, the ship’s crew determined to “cast lots” in order to discern who might be responsible—“that we may learn on whose account this calamity has struck us” (v. 7). They obviously (and correctly!) believed that the storm represented an act of divine judgment upon a member of the crew. When the “lot fell to Jonah,” everyone aboard the ship knew the real purpose for the storm (v. 7).
In response to this revelation, the crewmembers began to interrogate the rebellious prophet by hurling a number of questions at him (v. 8). In reply, Jonah admitted that he was a “Hebrew” who worshipped the “Lord God of heaven who made the sea and the dry land.” This statement, however, reveals the absurdity of Jonah’s attempt to run away from God. The One who created all that is by means of His powerful Word could not be escaped or avoided by any man.
Having learned that Jonah was a worshipper of Yahweh who was using the ship as a means to escape “from the presence of the Lord” (v. 10), the sailors became “extremely frightened,” or literally terrified. They had come to realize that Jonah’s God was behind their travails. Their earlier suspicion that there was a theological aspect to the storm was confirmed. In verse 11, the author notes that the members of the crew appealed to Jonah for advice as to how the sea and wind might “become calm” again. With the situation worsening by the minute—“the sea was becoming increasingly stormy”—Jonah instructed the men to cast him overboard since his disobedience of Yahweh’s command was the direct cause (v. 12).
Initially the crew rejected Jonah’s appeal to be thrown into the sea and desperately attempted to land the ship on shore. However, with the storm continuing to build their only option was to do what Jonah himself had not done up to this point: “they called on the Lord” for deliverance. As they prayed to Jonah’s God, they acknowledged His hand in the storm—“Thou, O Lord, hast done as Thou hast pleased”—and requested that their lives not be taken on account of Jonah’s sins.
The interesting feature of the
story up to this point is how the pagan captain and his crew are repeatedly
cast in a favorable light. They are the
ones who reach out to God in prayer and, motivated by fear, eventually worship,
offer sacrifices, and make vows (v. 16).
The author has cleverly focused attention on God’s initial command to
the prophet (v. 2) to “cry” out against
The Lord had told Jonah to
preach/call out against
Finally, the exhausted crew did what Jonah had suggested. They “they threw him into the sea” and immediately “the sea stopped its raging” (v. 15). With the full awareness that Jonah’s God had orchestrated the whole episode in response to the prophet’s willful disregard to His direct orders, the crewmembers were essentially converted to the worship of Yahweh. Amazingly, they acknowledged Jonah’s God as their own [Alexander, 106].
The chapter ends in verse 17 with the incredible record of how the Lord personally “appointed a great fish to swallow Jonah.” Once more, the language makes it unmistakably clear that the Lord was not only directly responsible for the storm, but also for Jonah’s miraculous rescue from death. The Hebrew word translated as “appointed,” also used in 4:6, 7, 8, “refers in each instance to God’s ability to control nature as he desires” [Alexander, 110]. This great “fish”—an unspecified species—swallowed Jonah alive, yet the Lord preserved the prophet “in the stomach of the fish three days and three nights.”
Questions to Consider as You Prepare to Teach