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God’s Word for You

Jonah 1:7 the lot fell to Jonah

by Pastor Timothy Smith on Saturday, July 21, 2018

7 Then they said to each other, “Come, let us cast lots to find out on whose account this calamity has become ours.” They cast lots and the lot fell to Jonah.

They had made the ship as able to ride the storm as possible. The sails would have been removed from the wind. In the great age of sail, square sails would have been reefed, which means gathered up and tied to the yard arms. Triangular sails, which carry less wind but are more easily managed by a small crew (and which were probably used by this crew) would simply be hauled down or lashed against the masts, like an umbrella being closed up against its rod. The crew had also thrown the cargo overboard to lighten the ship. This was because of the amount of water flooding the hold. If the water were coming in so fast that the men could not bail it out with buckets at the same rate, they would sink. Ridding themselves of the cargo would buy precious inches or perhaps even feet above the waterline.

Now, with nothing left to do but ride the storm out, they had prayed, and now they gathered together for a heathen casting of lots. Did this have some special value? Was a demon at work through the lots they cast? No. Jonah was singled out, as St. Jerome wisely said, “not from any virtue in lots themselves, least of all the lots of heathen, but by the will of Him who governs uncertain lots.” For an Old Testament believer there was the proverb: “Casting the lot settles disputes” (Proverbs 18:18). But there was also the reminder: “The lot is cast into the lap, but its every decision is from the LORD” (Proverbs 16:33). It was the Lord who exposed Jonah’s sin, not random chance.

Hebrew storytelling shows itself well here as the name of the prophet is reserved for the very last position in the verse. Everyone reading or listening to the story knows who the lot will fall to, and yet it is immensely satisfying to read, say aloud, or hear the phrase, especially with a dramatic pause: “They cast lots, and the lot fell to… Jonah.”

We must learn to do the same thing when we come to worship and week after week we speak the confession of sins. It is immensely satisfying to admit with guilt and shame, “I have disobeyed you in my thoughts, words…. and actions.” We add, with conviction and full understanding: “I have done what is evil and failed to do what is good.” By the end of the confession, we are ready to say the sentence of the tax collector: “Lord have mercy on me, a sinner” (Luke 18:13).

To have one’s guilt exposed is to hide it no more. Then we can say with dread and shame, “Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight” (Psalm 52:4). Not that we do not sin against many people, but we sin chiefly against God, and can be condemned by God alone. One commentator naively quipped that Jonah did not admit his guilt until he was exposed, “as is usual with criminals.” But which of us isn’t exactly like this? There is no such thing as a criminal class of mankind. There are only sinners. Among thieves there are those who steal for pleasure, profit, or spite, and we prefer to look at them with admiration as some of the giants of the business world or the political arena. Only when thieves steal for food or because they cannot break a habit they can’t afford do we look down on them. This is true of every commandment. We all have sinned; we all fall short of the glory of God. We all need his forgiveness. When he invites you to confess your sins, don’t hold anything back! Spill it all and know that he forgives all.

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.

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