Jonah 1.1-4—free will
The word of the LORD came to Jonah son of Amittai: “Go to the great city of Nineveh and preach against it, because its wickedness has come up before me.”
But Jonah ran away from the LORD and headed for Tarshish. He went down to Joppa, where he found a ship bound for that port. After paying the fare, he went aboard and sailed for Tarshish to flee from the LORD.
Then the LORD sent a great wind on the sea, and such a violent storm arose that the ship threatened to break up.
Men have freedom to choose. When the God calls us to do His work, we have a responsibility to Him to perform it, and otherwise there are consequences. In Jonah’s case, his refusal to submit to the will of God led him into a storm. This is a reminder that where we have the freedom to choose, God’s will ultimately will be done.
Jonah 1.5,6—monotheism; cultural background
All the sailors were afraid and each cried out to his own god. And they threw the cargo into the sea to lighten the ship. But Jonah had gone below deck, where he lay down and fell into a deep sleep. The captain went to him and said, “How can you sleep? Get up and call on your god! Maybe he will take notice of us, and we will not perish.”
Jonah lived in a monotheistic culture. Many of the cultures of this time would worship one God, but recognize many. It was easy for them to do so since they had faith based on works. It never required any real interaction with their God. The men on the ship were hoping that since their gods did not help them that maybe Jonah’s would.
Then the sailors said to each other, “Come, let us cast lots to find out who is responsible for this calamity.” They cast lots and the lot fell on Jonah.
Casting lots is a common practice of many ancient cultures. I believe that when they are used in accordance with the plan and will of God, then they are reliable, but that when other cultures used them for unholy practices, they did not have the power of God in them and only produced random results. In this case since God was in control, he allowed the lots to fall to Jonah.
Jonah 1.8-10—fear of the Lord
So they asked him, “Tell us, who is responsible for making all this trouble for us? What do you do? Where do you come from? What is your country? From what people are you?”
He answered, “I am a Hebrew and I worship the LORD, the God of heaven, who made the sea and the land.”
This terrified them and they asked, “What have you done?” (They knew he was running away from the LORD, because he had already told them so.)
The cultures surrounding the Israelites surely knew that they claimed to worship the one true God. You can almost see the light bulb come on for them. They were able to see now that the one true God has caused this calamity. At this point they realize that their gods are manmade and that there is a higher authority.
Jonah 1.11,12—Self-sacrifice for the greater good
The sea was getting rougher and rougher. So they asked him, “What should we do to you to make the sea calm down for us?”
“Pick me up and throw me into the sea,” he replied, “and it will become calm. I know that it is my fault that this great storm has come upon you.”
Jonah knew that the only way to save the other men was for him to leave them. In the middle of the sea, the only way was out into the water. At this point Jonah is uninterested in repentance as he does not pray or ask forgiveness; rather he asks the men to deliver him to his end in order to save themselves. This is the first point in which we sea Jonah’s inability to submit to discomfort on account of God’s will.
Jonah 1.13-15—Natural law and submission to God’s authority – parallel account: Rahab, Joshua 2
Instead, the men did their best to row back to land. But they could not, for the sea grew even wilder than before.
Then they cried to the LORD, “O LORD, please do not let us die for taking this man’s life. Do not hold us accountable for killing an innocent man, for you, O LORD, have done as you pleased.” Then they took Jonah and threw him overboard, and the raging sea grew calm.
The men knew by general revelation that murder was evil. They knew that it was better to save him; however, sin is only sin if it is outside of God’s command. In this case, it was God’s will that the men “kill” Jonah by throwing him over (although we know God will save him) so it is not sin. We can define sin as that which is outside of God’s desire for us.
Jonah 1.16—whoever believes in me – John 3.16
At this the men greatly feared the LORD, and they offered a sacrifice to the LORD and made vows to him.
This demonstration contains all of the requirements of salvation. The men feared God which means that they believed. They offered sacrifice as a profession of their faith and took vows, which means that they had a desire to be sanctified.
The basic point of this opening section is to show that God has a plan for His people. If you make a profession of faith to follow God, there is the benefit of eternal life, but you are not required to follow His commands, but be comforted; His “yoke is easy and my burden is light” (Matt 11.30). If we deny His will, there is discipline. I would wager to say that the men on the boat understood this.