Jonah part 2 of 5: God is at work even when we don’t realize it.

Jonah 1:11–17

Last week’s reflection began a five-part series on the Book of Jonah—covering Jonah 1:110. This week picks up where it left off.

“Pick me up and hurl me into the sea!”

Jonah and the sailors are in the midst of a raging storm. Now that the sailors know that it’s all because of Jonah, they ask him, “What shall we do to you, that the sea may quiet down for us?”And the text continues: For the sea grew more and more tempestuous. The mariners ask a very interesting question. What should we do? What are we to appease your god and assure our survival? How do we maintain our good standing with the gods and the world around us? And these sailors have lived their whole lives under the demands of their own gods—the demands of their society and culture—so that everything in their lives works out a certain way.

Jonah tells them, “Pick me up and hurl me into the sea; then the sea will quiet down for you, for I know it is because of me that this great tempest has come upon you.” Jonah finally acknowledges the fate that he deserves for running from God and putting all of these people in danger—the consequences of his actions. But now it’s the sailors who don’t listen. The text says, “Nevertheless, the men rowed hard to get back to dry land, but they could not, for the sea grew more and more tempestuous against them.” That’s the second time in three verses that it’s said that—for the sea grew more and more tempestuous. The sailors are afraid. They can’t throw a man overboard! It goes against everything they know! And they try to do right by what they know. But it doesn’t work.

God at work

The sailors can’t save themselves—preserve themselves. They row harder and harder, and the sea—the storm—it only gets worse. Then the text says, “Therefore, they called out to the Lord.” They—these unbelieving sailors—called out to Jonah’s God when Jonah wouldn’t. They said, “O Lord, let us not perish for this man’s life, and lay not on us innocent blood, for you, O Lord, have done as it pleased you.” The mariners acknowledge that God is the one in control, and he will do as he pleases. They just put it all on God. They’re looking for justification for what they’re about to do—for throwing a man overboard. They’re looking to God, relying on God, for that justification. “So, they picked up Jonah and hurled him into the sea, and the sea ceased from its raging.”

When the mariners go against everything they know and trust in God, and the sea becomes calm, God shows them that all is right with the world. All is right between the sailors and the one who created the sea and the dry land—the one who created the whole world. “Then the men feared the Lord exceedingly, and they offered a sacrifice to the Lord and made vows.” These sailors—these unbelieving sailors—who, on that very same day, called upon their false gods to save them, who tried even to save themselves, now trust in and have made vows to the one true God. And it all happened because of an off-chance encounter with a disobedient prophet, who wasn’t even supposed to be there in the first place—or was he? God is at work even when you don’t realize it.

Irony in the Book of Jonah

Only after they threw Jonah into the water—an act of either faith or desperation causing the sea to calm—did the sailors make vows to God. Jonah was already in the water, which means that he never saw them make their vows or offer their sacrifice. He never saw how God had used him. Jonah might not ever see the effect that his encounter with these sailors had on them—possibly going the rest of his life thinking that the boat was destroyed in the storm! Maybe he ran into them again or heard about what happened and wrote it down—somebody eventually wrote it down.

Further, the text goes on to say, “And the Lord appointed a great fish to swallow up Jonah. And Jonah was in the belly of the fish three days and three nights.”The sailors would not know that this man, Jonah, whom they threw overboard in the midst of a very violent storm, would survive. The sailors might not ever know that God rescued Jonah.

God is at work in our lives

It’s amazing the ways that God is at work even when we don’t see it, which is why we need to trust in him. We need to trust in him even when his words come to us and they seem to go against everything we know—I’m talking about how he clearly reveals himself through Scripture. Don’t go around throwing people overboard into the ocean. Our God has called us to love those around us and to speak the truth in love—to share the Gospel with joy and peace, and self control. God used Jonah even when he completely disobeyed him. Imagine how much more he uses us when we do what he commands. We might not ever see it. That’s ok, because God is at work in our lives and the lives of those around us in ways that we could never even imagine—for his glory, not ours. Have you ever had an interaction with someone and then years later found out that it had a major impact on someone else’s life or even your own life? Whose words or whose loving acts of kindness have had an impact on you? That’s God at work.

Jesus and the Sign of Jonah

Jesus predicted his own death and resurrection on multiple occasions while he was with his disciples, but they didn’t believe it. He said that he’d give this generation the sign of Jonah. There is a lot more to say about this in the coming weeks, but, for now, we’ll focus on one aspect of it.

When Jesus died, his disciples thought that they had lost everything—an absolute tragedy. Who at that time could have truly known what God was doing? It was something so significant—so spectacular. He was working out salvation for all of his creation—the sea, the land, the cosmos, offering his love and mercy to us: forgiveness of sins for us sinners who don’t always trust in him. Jesus’ disciples, his mother, and all of the people who crucified him had no idea what God was really doing until the third day. After being in the belly of the fish—unlike the interaction between Jonah and the sailors—Jesus’ disciples would see him alive again. Only then did they truly know what God was doing. God is at work in your life even when you don’t realize it. We might not ever see it, but we do look forward to the resurrection, which is the culmination of all things. So, trust in him.

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