Today’s Reading: Jonah 1-4
Today’s Reflection: Jonah 1:16
Then the men feared the Lord exceedingly, and they offered a sacrifice to the Lord and made vows.
Most of us know the story of Jonah, the reluctant prophet who tried to avoid following God’s call to go to Nineveh and warn them of the destruction to come due to their sins. We know about the fish that swallowed Jonah and how the people of Nineveh repented of their sins and God stayed His hand of destruction. But there’s a really interesting detail early in the story we often miss.
At the outset, Jonah doesn’t want to obey God and go to Nineveh (more on that later). So he literally goes in the opposite direction, on a boat to Tarshish. But a storm comes out of nowhere and threatens to sink the ship. Then something interesting happens:
Jonah 1:5-6 – 5) 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. 6) 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.”
All of the people on the ship called out to their gods, then summoned Jonah to call out to his god as well. This is interesting because each of them likely followed only their own god, but in a moment of crisis they probably acknowledged their gods weren’t real or effective. They were willing to try whatever would work.
The reality is this is true of many people today, who espouse beliefs in different religions, different gods, humanistic beliefs like agnosticism, atheism and secularism, new age methods like The Secret. They may choose beliefs that suit their purposes on a day-to-day basis, but when something goes wrong they’re forced to confront the reality that their gods are false ones. At that point they’re open to something, anything that will work. This is what happened to the crew members on the ship with Jonah.
When they found out about Jonah’s God and his attempt to escape his calling, something very interesting happened. They stopped pleading to their own gods and immediately began to cry out to Jonah’s God, the God of the Hebrews, of Israel, the true God (Jonah 1:14). This suggests that the God of Israel was known to them somehow, that something in this story resonated with a truth none of their other gods had.
Have you found that even though initially resistant, when confronted with the truth of God in a time of crisis, people—even of other faiths, or no faith—openly embrace what He has to offer? I’ve had fascinating conversations about Christ with Jews, Muslims, lesbians, and atheists. In some instances they’ve even asked me to remember them in prayer to my God. The truth that we as Christians sometimes miss is that God has made Himself known to all and is reaching out to everyone in ways we often don’t see.
19:1-4 – 1) The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork. 2) Day to day pours out speech, and night to night reveals knowledge. 3) There is no speech, nor are there words, whose voice is not heard. 4) Their voice goes out through all the earth, and their words to the end of the world.
In the end, Jonah insisted the ship’s crew throw him overboard to save themselves. They resisted at first, trying to save the ship on their own, but as the waves crashed harder and harder they finally agreed and threw Jonah into the sea. In an instant the storm stopped, then came the conversion today’s text talks about. This is important: they didn’t merely see the goodness of God then go back to life the way they had been living it. They sacrificed to God and made vows to obey Him. The crew members of that ship had an encounter with God that changed them forever.
Like Jonah many times God calls us to go one way and we go the opposite. Like Jonah many times when trouble comes we’re fast asleep. Fortunately God uses even our mistakes to bless us and others. So when we wake from our spiritual slumber, and we stand up and declare the God we serve, He uses us to open doors to others, to give them an opportunity to experience God for themselves, and to have an encounter with Christ that will leave them changed forever.
John 12:32 – And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.”