Taking it In
In this section, the sailors (in true sailor fashion perhaps) decide to cast lots to see “who is to blame” for the situation they are in. There is a lot behind this action and the reason they do it. Casting lots was kind of like shooting dice or drawing straws. It was a very common practice in the Ancient Near East, including in Judah and Israel to make decisions, divide property, and apparently, to see who is guilty or innocent! The practice was thought to reveal hidden truth from the gods. Most famously in the book of Acts after Judas died, the Apostles cast lots to see who would replace him which is how Matthias gets in the inner circle. So, the lots are cast and they fall to Jonah, of course. So, Jonah reveals his true identity and that the God of the heavens who created the sea and the land is the one hurling the storm at their boat on his account. The sailors react in terror, as if they already know about Yahweh by reputation. And, as we’ll see, they demonstrate this knowledge of Yahweh as well as any Israelite, including Jonah himself and how to relate to God in such situations. Jonah has gotten himself into quite the pickle and there is no escape. This is furthered by the description of God as the maker/ruler of the sea and land. Not only are they in the midst of a raging storm at sea, but even if they get to land, they (or more pertinently, Jonah) will still be unable to escape the watchful influence of Yahweh. Truly, the prophet cannot escape prophecy. And for the sailors’ part, they are in more awe of this than Jonah at this point. They have uncovered not only the right person, but the right God. As Peter says in Acts 10:35, “in every nation someone who is in awe of God and does what is right is acceptable to him.”
Working it Out
There is a heavy missional lesson to learn behind this part of the Jonah story that will come to light particularly in the early church as it expands beyond Jerusalem and to the end of the earth. However, it also extends to us, still, today and it could be more important than ever to realize. No matter where we go, what we do, or who we’re trying to “reach,” God is always a step ahead of us. Not that it’s a race, quite the opposite. God leads us to show us the way just as the Israelites in the desert and like the Holy Spirit in the early communities (especially the Gentile ones!) of the early church. This means that whatever people or situation we are trying to bring God into, God is already there. God is present and working in all things and all people long before we decide to introduce ourselves onto the scene. On that ship, God was already working in the lives of the sailors, even if it was only through a reputation. Jonah may have introduced himself as a Hebrew prophet, but God was way ahead of him and it shows through the difference of their reactions during the storm. If we get anything out of this, there are two types of “awe” here: There is the type Jonah demonstrates and the type the sailors demonstrate. The difference is in how they respond by both word and action as we’ll see in the next parts of the story.