“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?’ ‘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.'” — Jonah 1:11-12
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Jonah is a rather interesting character. He was a prophet during the eighth century B.C. Most people know Jonah as the guy who was swallowed by the whale (or the great fish). There are so many nuances to his story, far beyond just spending three days in the belly of the fish. I’d encourage you to read through his story in scripture — it’s a short account, just four chapters in total — but chock-full of drama and irony.
One of the key takeaways from what we read about Jonah is his self-centeredness. He doesn’t want to do what God asked him to do. So he hops on a boat and literally tries to sail in the opposite direction, as far away from Nineveh as he can get. Storms begin to rage and the ship is ripping apart — because of Jonah’s defiance. Meanwhile, he is asleep while everyone else on the boat is desperately trying to figure out why this is happening.
These sailors don’t personally know God, but they know who He is, and recognize the power He wields. In fact, when Jonah owns up to them that he is Hebrew and follows the Lord, God of Heaven, Scripture tells us the men were “terrified.”
At this point, all the sailors understand that it is Jonah’s disobedience that has put everyone in harm’s way. Read that again. Jonah’s sin has led to life-threatening circumstances for all of these men. These men didn’t do anything to bring this upon themselves. In fact, even when they discover that Jonah is the root cause of the predicament, they are reluctant to throw him overboard. Yet, they are subjected to the consequences of Jonah’s disregard for God’s mission.
This truth is something we all need to let sink into our souls. When we sin, we are not the only ones who suffer. In fact, there are times when the one who sins may not initially suffer at all. Life may appear to be easier, more comfortable, more lucrative. Meanwhile, the wake they have left behind is tormenting — or even destroying — others who are innocent bystanders to the offense.
For the men on the ship, their safety was restored by throwing Jonah overboard. The sea immediately calmed. But this is rarely the case for us. The pain and heartache of others’ choices stay with us and can lead to permanent damage. If we could ever catch a glimpse of the hurt we cause others before we choose to disobey, I believe we’d be far more likely to make the wise choice. But since we can’t do that, the next best alternative is to acknowledge that those who love and care for us the most will suffer when we sin.
Perhaps more than that, we should think about the pleasure it gives our Heavenly Father when we honor Him by our obedience. I think that’s where Jonah missed it most. Let’s not make the same mistake.
— C.A. Phillips, Communications Pastor at NorthStar Church, Kennesaw, Georgia
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