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God’s Word for You

Jonah 1:8 What’s your business here

by Pastor Timothy Smith on Saturday, July 28, 2018

8 Then they said to him, “Tell us, on whose account has this calamity become ours? What is your business? Where do you come from? What is your country? What people do you come from?”

All in a panic, the terrified sailors peppered the prophet with questions. It seems as if they hoped to ascertain his guilt in some way, and also the means by which they might carry out some sort of justice in order to end the hurricane that was threatening to destroy their ship and lives. We should also notice that by asking so many different questions (admittedly it was all done in a rush in the roar and fury of the storm) they allowed Jonah a broad amount of leeway in order to prove his innocence.

The five questions probably came from five different directions as they crowded around Jonah. Each question might possibly contain a separate significance. It is interesting that in all of Martin Luther’s writings, including two sets of lectures on Jonah (1525 in Latin and 1526 in German), the Reformer never once comments on or even mentions this verse.

“Tell us, on whose account has this calamity become ours?” This particular question is not included in the Latin Vulgate and even in a few Hebrew manuscripts like Kennicott Codex 195 (it is in the margin of Kennicott 384), but it is found in most Hebrew manuscripts including the Leningrad Codex. They had already asked this question as they cast lots (verse 7), but now they want to know whether Jonah is really to blame (as the lots indicated) or if he was just a witness to something.

“What is your business (here)?” They already knew he was a prophet of God, but this question might be more along the lines of, are you here for some reason apart from being a prophet? If he were smuggling, for example, or been part of a plot against a ruler, they wanted him to confess his guilt.

“Where do you come from?” There might not be much of a difference between this question and “What is your country,” but knowing a region might help if it were a place known for its criminals. For example, in Jonah’s time, Jericho was known for its seminary, the school of the prophets (2 Kings 2:5), but we think of the road leading from Jerusalem down to Jericho as a place for robbers and thieves (Luke 10:30).

“What is your country?” With this question, the sailors may have been thinking about their options for punishing Jonah in order to save their lives. Local customs of the regions of the Mediterranean in the Ninth Century B.C. might not be well known to us today but would have been known to almost all of these sailors at the time.

“What people do you come from?” There is a difference between who your people are and what place you come from. Jonah might be a prophet of the Lord from Israel, but they wanted to know whether he was from another land and simply found work in Israel.

In the moment, all of these were questions we might ask, with the storm raging and the waves battering the ship’s hull and the deck heaving and pitching. In this swirling mass of confusion, it’s not at all surprising that the sailors were trying to do their best to figure out how to get out of a hopeless situation. But it pleases God to show us our hopelessness before he displays his grace. He wants us to understand that we cannot rescue ourselves from our sins, and so he illustrates this with many of the other things he does in our lives. He promised Abraham that he would be the father of a great nation and that the whole world would be blessed through his descendant. But then God waited until Abraham was a hundred and his wife was ninety and childless before he gave them that child. Then the Lord did just about the same thing with Isaac, waiting until Isaac was 60 before giving him a son, twenty years after Isaac and Rebekah were married. The Lord wanted them to know that it was he, the Lord, who was giving this gift.

We are weak, especially when we think we are strong. When we know our weakness and realize it, we are in a position to rely on God’s almighty strength to rescue us. There are times in all of our lives when our weakness or our sins drive us to despair of a solution to our troubles. These are the times when God comes to us, inviting us to rely entirely on him. It is not easy, but it is God’s will. Trust in him and he will carry you through. If he has already done this with your sins, he can also do it with your troubles of today—troubles in your work, in your marriage, with your health, with your children, with the coming school year, with a college dorm assignment, with your finances, or anything else. He is your God forever, and that includes today.

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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