Their gods, his god, the God, the LORD.
There is a flow to the story of the sailors of the ship bound for Spain that is worth considering. When Jonah paid his fare and went below deck to take a nap, it was just another day at work. ( aside: How could Jonah sleep knowing he was running in disobedience?) Then, the storm. This was no ordinary storm. These were men used to the open sea, but this one terrified them. They called on their gods. Like many major cities (think Thessalonica), religious pluralism was part of the culture. For them, as for most people, religion was based on traditions, routines, and social norms. It was the thing that everyone did. Their gods were silent, so the captain woke up Jonah (a really sound sleeper) to try a different god, his god.
“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 1:6
Jonah refused to cry out to the Lord, even if he did wake up. He was persistent in his determination to NOT go to Nineveh. He had to know that if he called on God he would be required to obey the command to go to Nineveh and preach repentance. His stubbornness led to the sailors to try a new tactic to figure out the weather. They knew this was no ordinary storm and that it had to be supernatural in origin.
Since their gods were silent, the sailors decided to throw the dice to figure out whose wrong behavior caused the storm. The lots fell on Jonah. The God who allowed the storm also allowed the lots to fall on Jonah, once again pointing out his sin. Did Jonah then repent and vow to obey? Nope. He said, “Throw me into the sea,” probably thinking if he was dead the storm would stop and he could still avoid going to Nineveh. He would rather die by drowning than preach to the evil Ninevites. How often to we persist in not loving those around us even when God specifically calls us to share the gospel with them?
At this point, the sailors recognized Jonah as a prophet of the God, and no way would they kill him. They didn’t know the God of Israel, but they recognized his power, and they did not want to displease Him. At this point, they were exceedingly afraid. In desperation, they rowed with everything they had, but the storm just grew worse.
We often think that our way is better than God’s way, especially when His way doesn’t make sense to our limited human minds. Eventually, the sailors acquiesced to Jonah’s command to throw him into the raging waters. They prayed to Jonah’s God for mercy, knowing that Jonah would certainly drown. When the sailors finally obeyed (unlike Jonah) the storm ceased.
Calm water for smooth sailing.
That got the their attention. These strong and seasoned sailors turned away from the gods of their culture and recognized the exceeding power of The Lord God. Verse 16 says, “the men feared the Lord exceedingly, and they offered a sacrifice to the Lord and made vows.”
The sailors started the journey thinking it was just another day at work. The storm made them exceedingly afraid. The Lord demonstrated His power and they responded with exceeding awe, reverence, repentance, and sacrifice.
God will use us, even in spite of our actions, to draw others to Himself. Jonah went overboard, still refusing to obey the Lord, but the secular sailors recognized the superiority of Jonah’s God when they obeyed. This is not to say that obedience is optional; it is not. If we love God we will obey Him. However, God can and does use even our bad choices to allow others to see Him as the Lord.
God moves those who look to Him from exceeding fright to exceeding awe, and all for His Name.