Jonah got a call to go tell the enemies of God’s people in Nineveh that God wants them to repent and that He would forgive them and would not bring the judgment that they deserved. But Jonah hated the enemies of God’s people and did not want to see them forgiven. He wanted to see them destroyed. Possibly thinking that if they were not called to repent they would face the consequences of their sin, he ran from his calling with the intent to hide as far away from God as he could. He boarded a ship going to Spain. But we all know that you can’t run from God. Jonah 1:4 tells us, “But the Lord hurled a great wind upon the sea, and there was a mighty tempest on the sea so that the ship threatened to break up.” The Psalmist made that clear in Psalm 139:7-12. He writes, “Where shall I go from your Spirit? Or where shall I flee from your presence? If I ascend to heaven, you are there! If I make my bed in Sheol, you are there! If I take the wings of the morning and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea, even there your hand shall lead me, and your right hand shall hold me. If I say, Surely the darkness shall cover me, and the light about me be night, even the darkness is not dark to you; the night is bright as the day, for darkness is as light with you.” We should also mention Proverbs 15:3, “The eyes of the Lord are in every place, keeping watch on the evil and the good.”

God spoke everything there is into existence. He said it and it happened. All of nature obeys him. Then he made man! Man is the only thing in nature that disobeys God. God spoke to Jonah sending him to Nineveh.  The narrative of Jonah’s rebellion from God’s call began with a “but.” But, Jonah ran away.  God’s answer in verse 4 of chapter one begins with a “but” also. “But God hurled…” God sent a storm upon the sea to remind Jonah that he’s the one who rides upon the storms. I’ve crossed both oceans during my Navy career of 27 years and have learned that there is nothing uncommon about a storm at sea. But as Smith observes, “but we are informed that this storm had a special purpose. It was caused by a ‘great wind’ that God’s hand hurled like a spear to stop the fleeing prophet in his tracks. The verb translated ‘sent’ is elsewhere used for hurling an object such as a spear. Persons at sea often experience feelings of isolation, but Jonah would find such feelings misleading. The eyes of the Lord were continually upon him and the sea is God’s dominion.”[1] Psalm 24:1-2 says, “The earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it; for he founded it upon the seas and established it upon the waters”

The English translations miss the humorous part of this verse. The Hebrew literally says, “The ship itself thought it was going to break up.” Other humorous concepts are missed in the book of Jonah. Further, it might not be as funny to us that an inanimate object like a ship would have intelligent thought, but the original readers would have gotten that quickly. One commentator I read noticed it. Roop writes, “We often find it difficult to imagine using humor to express the sacred and the serious. At the same time, we recognize the power of humor to engage the listeners. Hence, we should not be surprised that Hebrew narrative uses humor to captivate the readers. Because the humor in the biblical stories fit people long ago, we miss much of the laughter. Even when pointed out, we may not see the humor. Earlier readers likely would have sensed the combination of humor and pathos in sailors wildly hurling cargo overboard in response to a great wind that God has hurled at the ship, while the object of all the divine attention sleeps below the deck of a ship that thinks itself to be breaking up!”[2]

I will conclude with Richison’s observation. He says, “There may be a ‘but’ in our lives, but God has a ‘but’ as well.  God’s ‘but’ overruled Jonah’s ‘but.’  Man proposes but God will ultimately dispose. God has two ways of dealing with us: 1) by blessing our compliance or 2) by regulating our rebellion.  It is a lot easier on our hide to do God’s will willingly.  God has His way of getting our attention.  Some of us learn only the hard way.  God will cause some storm to come into our lives if we step out of His will for very long.  God always deals with a person’s hard heart.  God loves us too much not to discipline us and restore us to fellowship.”[3]

[1] Smith, Billy K., and Franklin S. Page. 1995. Amos, Obadiah, Jonah. Vol. 19B. The New American Commentary. Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers.

[2] Roop, Eugene F. 2002. Ruth, Jonah, Esther. Believers Church Bible Commentary. Scottdale, PA: Herald Press.

[3] Richison, Grant. 2006. Verse by Verse through the Book of Jonah. Bellingham, WA: Logos Research Systems.