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God’s Word for You

Jonah 1:4 The storm

by Pastor Timothy Smith on Saturday, June 30, 2018

4 But the LORD threw a mighty wind upon the sea, and there was such a violent storm on the water so that the ship threatened to break up.

These are simple words, but the event was terrifying. Anyone who has ever been through some frightening, dangerous and life-changing event will understand how difficult it is to put such things into words, especially in such a way that someone who has never been through the event might possibly understand. A battle, an attempted murder, a harrowing, life-threatening experience, especially against the forces of nature, an earthquake, a tornado, a hurricane, or running for one’s life from a wild animal—these are just a few of the sorts of things that bring one’s whole life into focus. Jonah uses a few remarkable words and turns of phrase, but virtually no one in the world has faced what Jonah faced in this first chapter.

Adonai hetiyl – “The LORD threw…” is not just a poetic way of saying that a storm came along. Jonah reverses the usual verb + subject word order to emphasize that Almighty God himself is the one who hurled this storm into the Mediterranean Sea.

Ruah gedolah – “a mighty wind.” This phrase only occurs in one other place in the Old Testament, when a tornado swept in from the desert and “struck the four corners of the house” where Job’s ten children were meeting together and killed all of them (Job 1:19). In the New Testament, there is also the typhoon (τυφωνικός) that wrecked the Alexandrian sloop that was taking Paul to Italy (Acts 27:14). The storm in Job was sent by the devil (Job 1:12), but Paul’s typhoon and Jonah’s hurricane were both sent by the Lord, and they were all sent for a specific purpose.

Sa’ar gadol – “such a violent storm.” This is the result of the “mighty wind” as it interacted with the water of the sea. The Mediterranean is shallow compared with the oceans of the world, and the water in a storm there is choppier; the bucking waves are shorter but no less gut-wrenching than those of the big Atlantic rollers.

Aniyah – “the ship.” This word for a ship is used throughout the Old Testament, especially for the big vessels that were used at sea in the Mediterranean. Jacob mentioned this type of vessel in his prophecy about his son Zebulun (Genesis 49:13). Trading vessels (Isaiah 2:16) and ships of Tarshish are described as being aniyah-type vessels as well (Isaiah 23:1).

Hishshvah lehishaber – “threatened to break apart.” Jonah uses a special verb stem called a piel which does all sorts of things to a verb. In this case, it takes the simple idea of “to think” and extends it into the idiom “planned; threatened.” Of course, no landlubber would consider a ship anything but an inanimate object, but anyone who has been aboard a ship, especially one with sails, knows that each one reacts to wind, wave, current and tide with her own attitude and behavior. A beak-bowed ship and one with bluff bows would nose into waves in completely different manners. A modest difference in the trim of any ship—the way the cargo and supplies are stowed below compared with the geometry of the set of the sails versus weather conditions—dramatically influences her behavior in a storm. Two ships identical in construction but with only minor differences in trim will weather a storm in very different ways. “Threatened” in this case is a perfectly accurate term.

Luther said that Jonah “was so terrified by the magnitude of the task, his lack of courage caused him to underestimate the power of the Lord. This is a serious matter, a great sin, just as also the penalty for the sin was great. The penalty was that, in addition to being terrified by the wrath of the Lord in an external way, he felt the wrath of God in his conscience also.” (LW 32). The prophet of the Lord needed a lesson to learn just who his God was, something that many Christians never quite realize. How often don’t we treat God as if he is one of the pitiful deities of the pagans, at our beck and call to command or ignore as we please. If we pray for something and he fails to grant our every whim, we claim he doesn’t listen to us at all. If we have trouble in our lives, we claim he ignores us, or worse, he doesn’t really exist. But God has every right to treat us the way we treat an itch, to be scratched away and be forgotten forever. But in his mercy, God doesn’t do this. He invites us into his eternal home, as his adopted children, with the same status of his true and only Son. We remember who he is,  and he comforts us by telling us that he has forgotten who we were. His gracious mercy has made us his own possessions; his own children, and we love him.

In Christ,
Pastor Timothy Smith

Pastor Tim SmithAbout Pastor Timothy Smith
Pastor Smith serves St. Paul’s Lutheran Church in New Ulm, Minnesota. His wife, Kathryn, attended the Chapel from 1987-1990 while studying Secondary Education (Theater and Math) at UW-Madison. Kathryn’s father, John Meyer, was also the first man to serve as a Vicar at Chapel.

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