Jonah is a shadow of Jesus Christ – the only one with true power over the wind and waves, and the only one who could save us from the deadly storm of our sin.
The word of the LORD came to Jonah son of Amittai: 2 “Go to the great city of Nineveh and preach against it, because its wickedness has come up before me.”
3 But Jonah ran away from the LORD and headed for Tarshish. He went down to Joppa, where he found a ship bound for that port. After paying the fare, he went aboard and sailed for Tarshish to flee from the LORD.
4 Then the LORD sent a great wind on the sea, and such a violent storm arose that the ship threatened to break up. 5 All the sailors were afraid and each cried out to his own god. And they threw the cargo into the sea to lighten the ship.
But Jonah had gone below deck, where he lay down and fell into a deep sleep. 6 The captain went to him and said, “How can you sleep? Get up and call on your god! Maybe he will take notice of us so that we will not perish.”
7 Then the sailors said to each other, “Come, let us cast lots to find out who is responsible for this calamity.” They cast lots and the lot fell on Jonah. 8 So they asked him, “Tell us, who is responsible for making all this trouble for us? What kind of work do you do? Where do you come from? What is your country? From what people are you?”
9 He answered, “I am a Hebrew and I worship the LORD, the God of heaven, who made the sea and the dry land.”
10 This terrified them and they asked, “What have you done?” (They knew he was running away from the LORD, because he had already told them so.)
11 The sea was getting rougher and rougher. So they asked him, “What should we do to you to make the sea calm down for us?”
12 “Pick me up and throw me into the sea,” he replied, “and it will become calm. I know that it is my fault that this great storm has come upon you.”
13 Instead, the men did their best to row back to land. But they could not, for the sea grew even wilder than before. 14 Then they cried out to the LORD, “Please, LORD, do not let us die for taking this man’s life. Do not hold us accountable for killing an innocent man, for you, LORD, have done as you pleased.” 15 Then they took Jonah and threw him overboard, and the raging sea grew calm. 16 At this the men greatly feared the LORD, and they offered a sacrifice to the LORD and made vows to him.
17 Now the LORD provided a huge fish to swallow Jonah, and Jonah was in the belly of the fish three days and three nights.
It seems to me that Jonah, in some ways, is a shadow of Jesus, cast back into the Old Testament. But he’s a funny kind of shadow here in chapter 1. He’s not a shadow with the striking definition of a master shadow-puppeter’s hands against a crisp, brightly-lit wall. He’s more like a human shadow at noon or dusk: squeezed to a faintly-human blob in the midday glare, or stretched almost out of recognition in the day’s last rays. But a shadow nonetheless, and one which only highlights the glory and grace of Jesus.
Jonah’s deep slumber while the rest of the ship’s crew were in a deathly, storm-fuelled panic is strongly reminiscent of Luke 8:22-25. Yet the roles are reversed! Jonah is a Jewish runaway, ignoring the very God of creation… while the Gentile sailors are the ones who show faith and confidence in his God! They believed that the God of Israel was the maker of the sea and dry land. They even prayed to him by name: Yahweh (“LORD” – verse 14). Unlike Jonah, they recognised right away that the LORD is a God to be feared, to be petitioned, to be worshipped.
Just like in much of Luke’s Gospel, we see Gentiles responding more faithfully and appropriately to what they learn about God than God’s own people often do. And, just as in Luke’s Gospel, we see the mercy of God extended to outsiders – to Gentiles, to sinners, to those who don’t deserve it.
And, thankfully for us, unlike Jonah, Jesus didn’t run away from his God-given mission – either because he was fearful, or because he didn’t want to take the risk that God might actually save unworthy people. Jesus was no man-fearer. And the salvation of undeserving people (like us) is precisely why he came.
Perhaps the most striking similarity between this unlikely prophet and our Lord Jesus lies in what it took to calm the sea. Jonah was sacrificially tossed into the stormy sea to save the lives of those in the boat. In Luke 8, as Jesus rebuked the wind and raging waters which terrified his disciples, he saved them from the storm… showing not only that he was Lord over the wind and the waves, but hinting that he would face the ultimate killer-storm of sin and death upon the cross – saving not only his first disciples, but every disciple before and since. He was tossed overboard to certain death, that we might not drown in the stormy sea of our sin, but instead, sail confidently upon the deep, steady ocean of his grace, as he guides us home.
Head: In what ways can you be like Jonah – a “worshipper” (verse 9) by name, but not listening to or obeying God?
Heart: The sailors acted in response to being told who God was. Take a minute to be still and ponder who your God is, and what he’s done.
Hands: Do you know anyone who is fearful or facing “storms” at the moment? How could you practically encourage and love them in the name of Jesus, who is with us in the storm?
Prayer: Heavenly Father, you are so powerful. Yet you saw me in my plight, and in your compassion and kindness, sent Jesus to face the storm for me, to save me. Thank you, Lord. Help me to worship you with all I am – holding out the hope of my Lord Jesus to my brothers and sisters, and to have urgency and compassion towards those who are perishing… for your glory. Amen.
A song to listen to: I Have A Shelter