In his disobedience Jonah fled to the port at Joppa where he bought fare on a ship to Tarshish, a city at the western edge of the Mediterranean Sea, and the western edge of civilization. He set sail with a boat load of idol worshiping sailors in hopes of evading God’s command to go to Nineveh. But it was not to be.
After setting sail a divine storm materialized around the ship that hid the disobedient prophet in its hold. He brought jeopardy to everyone around him. He put at risk the lives of many sailors and any other passengers on board this ship, if there were any. People could die because of his flight from God. Certainly he knew this was a possibility. These pagan sailors may not have been innocents but they were human beings with lives to live. Jonah slept while they anticipated death by drowning.
The captain of the ship was outraged that Jonah could sleep during such a violent storm. “Our gods are not responding. Call on yours, stranger. Maybe your god will hear and deliver us from this impending death.” Jonah could not cry out for his God’s help. It was his God who was responsible for the storm. It was not a mere matter of petition. He knew that God required his life. Then the storm would cease. But he didn’t say anything. The storm continued to rage.
So God narrowed the field of responsibility. God entered into the pagan process of the casting of lots and put his finger on Jonah. But the sailors needed confirmation. “Tell us, now! On whose account has this calamity struck us? What is your occupation? And where do you come from? What is your country? From what people are you?”
Jonah knew he was found out. He confessed all. Not only was his God the one who created all, including the sea, but Jonah told them of his disobedient flight from this God. Now the sailors knew, now all made sense. The cause of their problem, their present disaster, had been revealed. But what could they do about it? They would ask the prophet whose god was the God of the storm. Hopefully, he knew of some solution. And so he did.
Jonah told them, “Pick me up and throw me into the sea. Then the sea will become calm for you, for I know that on account of me this great storm has come upon you.” But the sailors hesitated. They were not quick to kill the prophet of such a powerful god. Perhaps they thought, “If we row harder we can get to shore, wait out the storm, get rid of this prophet, and eventually be on our way.” But the harder they rowed, the greater the storm. Their human solution only met with greater divine opposition. Reluctantly, and with prayer, they cast the prophet into the sea, hoping that this great god would not hold them responsible for innocent blood.
The sea grew calm as Jonah had predicted. All was well, at least for the sailors. But they were different. They had encountered the powerful creator god in the Lord God of Israel. Their offerings and vows witnessed their new faith. Jonah, too, as he sank to the bottom of the sea would find new faith in the Lord he once sought to escape from.