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God’s Word for You

Jonah 1:13-15 an end to the Lord’s wrath

by Pastor Timothy Smith on Saturday, August 18, 2018

13 Instead, the men rowed hard to return to land. But they could not, for the waves were surging higher and the storm was getting worse. 14 Then they cried to the LORD, “Ah, please, O LORD, please do not let us die for taking this man’s life. Do not hold us accountable for killing an innocent man, for you, O LORD, have done as you pleased.” 15 Then they took Jonah and threw him into the sea, and sea stopped its raging.

The sailors’ efforts for Jonah’s sake are a contrast to Jonah’s complete inactivity when he ran from the Lord. Whereas he had “gone down” into the hold to sleep, they “dug down” (the literal meaning of “rowed hard”) in their efforts to get to shore. But this was impossible because of the sea heaving below and the storm raging above. Small ships were fitted with long oars known as sweeps for times when the wind died. Phoenician cargo vessels like this one usually had a single mast stepped amidships with two long sweeps in the stern. In good weather, a helmsman could steer the ship by himself using the sweeps, but now the whole crew, as many as were able to crowd onto the short stern, put their backs into it. But in this wild cyclone there was no headway possible, and the sailors were left with the only one option: prayer.

The prayer was spoken by many or all of them (the verb “they prayed” is plural)—perhaps with a leader saying each phrase and the group chanting along after, or by all of them listening to one leader praying. Indeed, Jonah himself may have composed the prayer; he could have said it on their behalf as if he were one of them and not the one about to be killed by drowning in the raging sea. The whole prayer revolves around three points: death, innocence, and the will of God. Without a doubt, if the storm had begun to let up at all during or after the prayer, Jonah would never have left the ship. But the storm was still growing worse, and the sailors, long aware that the ship was “threatening to break apart” (verse 4), knew that there were only seconds left before the strakes of the hull were torn open and they would all be lost.

Hefting the prophet as a group, they took him to the ship’s side—almost certainly the taffrail, the protective railing around the back or stern of the ship. With the movements of the sea and the vessel so uncertain, and the sailor’s concern for being responsible for Jonah’s life (verse 14) they would have done whatever was necessary to be sure he was not run over by the movements of the ship. But as soon as Jonah splashed into the sea, the storm stopped. The gale blew itself out, and the sea stopped its raging. The end of the storm would have been answer enough to their prayer, but the Hebrew text is clear: the sea itself stopped raging. The water was stilled, just as when Jesus calmed the storm: “He got up and rebuked the wind and the raging waters. The storm subsided, and all was calm” (Luke 8:24). The clouds broke up, the waves were still, the ship continued on, and Jonah was left behind in the glassy sea.

The unshipped prophet brought an end to the Lord’s wrath, just as the crucified Jesus would bring an end to the Lord’s wrath against mankind’s sin.

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.

To receive God’s Word for You via e-mail, please contact Pastor Smith.