The story of Jonah is one that has spoken to me so many times over the years. As a child, I heard how the Lord saved Jonah from the belly of a whale after 3 days, proving the Lord could perform miracles and save sinners in the most unlikely ways. As an adult, I’ve felt empathy for the people of Ninevah and been filled with thankfulness at their willingness to repent with humble hearts. I’ve marveled over how God changed His mind about destroying them when they turned their hearts to Him. There is a beautiful picture of how God arranges all things for our good and His glory throughout the book. And I’d be lying if I said I haven’t been frustrated with Jonah in his stubbornness and anger over Ninevah’s repentance, wondering how he could be so selfish after being saved by the Lord’s mercy himself. But even with all that, the Lord shared yet another lesson with me from this short book of the Bible, and I feel it is time to share it with you.
In the past weeks and months, I have seen so many struggling to help those they love. And I’ve seen the toll it takes on them. So during that time, I landed in the story of Jonah and began to read. But this time, instead of seeing the story through Jonah’s eyes, I gained new insights as the Holy Spirit unraveled this story from the sailors’ point of view. And man, did these revelations hit hard.
You see, the Lord told Jonah to go to Ninevah, a wicked town full of evil people, to tell them about God’s judgment if they didn’t repent and change their ways. He was given a direct order. A clear instruction from the Lord. And yet, He “got up and went in the opposite direction to get away from the Lord”(1:3). He “found a ship leaving for Tarshish, bought a ticket, and went on board, hoping to escape the Lord” (1:3 paraphrased). Three distinct choices, with three distinct opportunities to change his plan, turn around, and obey the Lord. But he didn’t.
And from that moment on, the sailors on board that ship became a part of his story of disobedience. Their lives became chaotic and their hearts became fearful, worried, and anxious…all because of the actions of another. And that’s where this story begins.
I think we’ve all been there at some point right? There’s been that someone in our lives who we’ve worried about, been striving to save in our own strength, someone we see making choices that we know are not God’s best for them, and so we “fix” and “problem solve” until we have nothing left to give. If you know what I mean, then this is for you. And if you don’t know right now, I would be willing to bet that one day you will. So I pray that you will take these small lessons to heart, praying and pondering over them, asking the Lord to reveal Himself and grow you closer to Him because of them.
The Storm Begins…and Jonah Sleeps (Jonah 1:3-8)
Y’all, when Jonah chose to rebel against the Lord and His will, God was not having it. You can’t run from him. You can’t hide from him. No matter how hard you try (Heb.4:13-15, Ps.139:7-12). He loves you too much to let you go, and He will do what it takes to bring you back to Him, even if it’s hard. Jonah found that out. And so did the poor sailors who were with him. Because as that ship started off, the Lord “hurled a powerful wind over the sea, causing a violent storm that threatened to break the ship apart.” This wasn’t a mild thunderstorm, y’all. It was a full out, pray for your life kind of ride. The sailors threw cargo overboard, shouting to their gods to save them. But it did no good. As they put their hope in earthly ideas, the storm raged on. And all the while, Jonah was asleep in the bottom of the ship.
I don’t know for sure, but it appears that Jonah was oblivious to the havoc his actions were wreaking for those around him. Have you been in a situation like that? Where someone you love seems to be blind and deaf to the pain, the hurt, the toll that their actions have taken on you? Whether directly or indirectly? These sailors would understand.
Jonah stayed sound asleep until the captain went down to get him up and asked him, “How can you sleep at a time like this!?” He ordered him to get up and pray. We don’t know if he did or not, but the crew cast lots and realized that the storm definitely came upon them because of Jonah. They demanded to know who he was and why this storm was raging….
Why Did You Do It? (Jonah 1:9-10)
Jonah told them that he was a Hebrew who worshipped the Lord and was running from Him. At this, they groaned, “Oh, why did you do it?
Why did you do it? Ever asked that? Of a loved one who may be caught in a pattern of selfish behavior, addiction, greed, etc. So many reasons…or maybe you’ve asked the Lord himself. But why seems to be a question we just want answered when we are in the midst of hard, painful things. And most of the time, it seems that question goes unanswered. As it did for the sailors that day…
What Should We Do To You? (Jonah 1:11)
So when they didn’t get their answer to why, they looked to the person standing right in front of them and asked, “What should we do to you to stop this storm (italics mine)?” And the fixing, problem solving, brain storming began. They might not know why this was happening, but they knew who caused it. So their focus went to him.
If you’ve ever been in this place, you know what this feels like. Maybe the person you love doesn’t have an answer. So the lists of possible solutions and phone calls and fretting and worrying and trial and error begin. So many attempts to “fix” the person and the problem at hand. And all in our own strength…so it gets us nowhere….nowhere but exhausted and more frustrated and more hurt. But the sailors did get an answer from Jonah when they asked…
They Get Their Answer…And Row Even Harder (Jonah 1:12-13)
Jonah told them, “Throw me into the sea, and it will become calm again…” Y’all, Jonah told them to let him go. To release him. To let him suffer the consequences of his actions. But they wouldn’t. They weren’t ready to let him go. To turn him over to what appeared to be a dark fate, where they had no control, and no chance at saving him. So what did they do?
“Instead, the sailors rowed even harder…” They kept striving to save him, and themselves, in their own strength y’all. But guess what? “…the stormy sea was too violent for them, and they couldn’t make it.” They couldn’t make it, y’all. I can’t imagine how defeated they felt in that moment, but then again, maybe I can…and maybe you can too.
Have you been rowing and rowing, trying to keep someone you love afloat? If so my sweet friends, you may be exhausted, frustrated, and maybe even a little resentful. And it may be time to do what the sailors had to do…
They Surrender (Jonah 1:14-15)
“…they cried out to the Lord, Jonah’s God. “Oh Lord…don’t make us die for this man’s sin. And don’t hold us responsible for his death. O Lord, you have sent this storm upon him for your own good reasons.” Then the sailors picked Jonah up and threw him into the raging sea…(italics mine)”
Wow, what a picture. These pagan sailors, men who worshipped false gods, were so desperate that they cried out to Jonah’s God, not cursing Him, but acknowledging that He had good reasons for this circumstance! Y’all, when this story started, could you even imagine the work that the Lord was going to do through this terrible storm? He not only saved Jonah, but He saved the lives of the sailors who were in Jonah’s path!
Instead of being pushed away, those who were caught in this storm were brought closer to the Lord because of it! And that is the lesson for us too, ya’ll. This storm was not only about Jonah, not only brought about for His good, but for the good of those around him!
If you are struggling to love someone, save someone, striving to keep them afloat in your own strength…surrender. Just surrender, y’all. The Lord may not only be trying to save the one you love…but you as well. He may be trying to reach your heart, to break down walls, to truly call you to trust Him without reservation! To believe that He alone is God!
Awe, Prayer, and Praise (Jonah 1:15-16)
Y’alll, when they threw Jonah into the sea…”the storm stopped at once!” At once. The sailors were awestruck and offered Him sacrifice and vowed to serve Him. Because the storm didn’t just stop for Jonah. It stopped for them too.
They were still on the boat, But their minds and hearts and spirits were focused on the Lord…not fear. When they released Jonah, they released all of their strivings, believing that the Lord knew best. That He held the power, and that He was worthy of praise. Their focus shifted…and their boat sailed on…
A Great Rescue In the Depths (Jonah 1:17)
Now y’all, I can’t imagine literally throwing someone I love over into the ocean in the middle of nowhere. And we most likely will not be called to do that. But it may be something similar. It may mean closing a door, taking a break, setting a boundary. I don’t know what the Lord may show you to do. And from the surface, all may seem lost…but you never know how the Lord is working in the “depths below.”
As Jonah sank beneath the surface, the sailors must have felt helpless and hopeless, looking over that rail at the dark water below. Never in their wildest dreams could they imagine that “the Lord had arranged for a great fish to swallow Jonah…for three days and three nights.” But He did.
Because y’all, God saves people in the most extraordinary ways. He parted the Red Sea to save the Israelites. He saved Daniel from a lion’s den. He saved Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego from a fiery furnace. And He saved Jonah by arranging for Him to sit in the belly of a whale.
It wasn’t by accident y’all, It wasn’t.
God saved Jonah. And He can save the ones you love too.
Throw them “overboard.” And let Him work.
The Mystery of God’s Saving Grace
We know Jonah was saved and that He returned to the Lord because we have the prayer he prayed in Jonah chapter 2. But I have to wonder, did the sailors ever know? Did they ever see Jonah again in Ninevah or another city and realize that the God they turned to had saved the man they released to Him? (I hope I can ask them in Heaven one day.)
But whether they did…or whether they didn’t…Jonah was saved because they surrendered. They let go and turned him over to the only One who could truly save him…and them. And we can too, y’all,
I don’t know if it’s a family member, friend, co-worker, or maybe even some acquaintance or public figure on your heart. But let me encourage you to stop striving. Stop trying to save them in your own strength.
Turn them over to the One who is always working, arranging, guiding, leading, and working for the good of those who love Him and are called to His purposes. Pray without ceasing, seek Godly guidance and wisdom and discernment and direction from the Lord. You may still be a tool He uses. But stop rowing in your own strength sweet friends.
Put the oars down and rest in the peace that comes when the storm ceases. Look ahead and move forward and trust God to take care of the one you love, even if you can’t see from the surface what He’s doing. He’s got this. He’s got you. And He is faithful.