They said to him, “What will we do about you so that the sea will become calm around us?” (The sea was continuing to rage.)
He said to them, “Pick me up and hurl me into the sea! Then the sea will become calm around you. I know it’s my fault that this great storm has come upon you.”
The men rowed to reach dry land, but they couldn’t manage it because the sea continued to rage against them. So they called on the LORD, saying, “Please, LORD, don’t let us perish on account of this man’s life, and don’t blame us for innocent blood! You are the LORD: whatever you want, you can do.” Then they picked up Jonah and hurled him into the sea, and the sea ceased its raging. The men worshipped the LORD with a profound reverence; they offered a sacrifice to the LORD and made solemn promises. -Jonah 1:11-16 (CEB)
Jonah has been found out and he admits it is his fault. He has progressed from hider to confessor. Those found to be guilty do not always admit guilt. Jonah finds mercy for others in his own heart, and says, “cast me into the sea and you and your ship will be saved.”
Jonah is now putting others before himself. The ship’s men have been kind to him and he is now being kind to them. In return, the sailors did not follow Jonah’s advice. They instead had more mercy on him and tried to remedy their situation through their own efforts by attempting to row the ship to shore. This did not work. Sometimes our mercy can go beyond God’s. Sometimes we are willing to settle something with someone before God has completed that person’s discipline. It is good that someone has finally fessed up and admitted their sin, but God may be after a larger change of heart in that person. Yes, the change has begun, but it is perhaps not nearly complete. You rejoice at the person’s course correction, but God may want them to completely turn around one-hundred and eighty degrees and in fact give him the steering wheel of their lives; to die so that they may truly live.
The ship’s men’s over extenting of mercy was an enabling of Jonah rather than the help he needed. The Prophet discerned and declared that the only way out for them all was for him to be thrown overboard. The sailors doing something else to try to save themselves without obeying the directive was not helping them nor Jonah, but made things worse.
After their failure the men didn’t stubbornly continue to resist the terrible and difficult direction given by Jonah, nor did they quickly just do it. Instead, they cried out to God in prayer, getting honest with God and laying out their fears. Then, perhaps in solemnity, they cast Jonah into the sea as he had told them to. These men who had previously been afraid, were now in great fear of God; reverential awe of God and worshiped him.
The sailors have met God in an unusual way. A man who has been a follower of God, the one God, the creator; has sinned by running from God. His sin has brought trouble upon people that don’t yet know God. In the midst of this trouble, the storm, these pagan men gain a knowledge of the one God and the man who is actively sinning against God pays the price for his sin and thereby saves the others from the destruction.
We see here how one person’s sin affects others, even strangers. The calamitous storm affected them and the judgement that was due for Jonah affected the men also. For some reason, Jonah did not say, “I need to jump into the ocean”, but instead he said, “hurl me into the sea”. There is a picture here of how sin and the price to pay for it is not purely individual, but communal. Even nature is negatively affected and the animals suffer because of Adam & Eve’s sin. The sailors had to touch Jonah and physically send him to his fate which they assumed was a sure death. But they could only do it solemnly after solemn and ardent prayers to their new found God, the almighty God. They might have wept. There is nothing in the story about their desire for revenge of a desire to bring justice.
We have a picture in Jonah of the terrible price for sin that Jesus paid. Unlike Jonah, he was obeying God. But like Jonah, he died so that others could live. The penalty for sin is death. I love the song, “oh happy day, oh happy day, when Jesus washed my sins away…”, but that day when Jesus suffered and died was not a happy day. John and the two Marys were not happy about it as they watched him die. It was a very horrible event. But, paradoxically, it gloriously paid the price for all of our sins. That’s where the fear of God and awe inspiring worship come in. If you can connect your sins to Jesus suffering to pay the price for them, does it not make you want to stop sinning? If you willfully go against God in disobedience, there might be a lack in your revelation of Jesus’ suffering on the cross. I believe that salvation is not just an event, but a process. Some would say that a sinning believer is not a believer, because believers do not sin. I would say that believers sin because they are immature and God wants us all to grow to in Christ which is a partnering between us and God’s Spirit in us. Unbelieving believers will encounter discipline from God if they are God’s children in order to teach them obedience.