Unexpected Obedience – Jonah 1:4-6

**I decided to changed the format slightly.  I think it would be helpful to read the notes to the translation before reading the commentary, so I’ve changed the order.**


4BUT[1] YHWH threw a great wind at the sea,[2] and it became a great storm on the sea, and [because of it][3] the ship was planning to violently break apart.[4]  5And the sailors were afraid, and each man called to his god and they threw everything in the boat at the sea[5] to lighten it from upon them.  BUT [1] Jonah, had gone down[6] to the recesses of the vessel and laid down and slept.  6But the chief sailor drew near to him and said to him, “Why are you sleeping!?[7]  Arise, cry[8] to your god.  Perhaps that god[9] will consider us and we will not perish.”


[1] This verse begins with what is called a disjunctive vav, which serves to break the flow of the narrative and draw your attention.  This is why I’ve emphasized ‘but’ with bold/underline/etc.  In addition, the accent here (revi’a) is atypical for the first word in the sentence, which also serves to emphasize the first word.

[2] There are multiple ways to say this.  Saying that YHWH threw a great wind at the sea is worth noting.  We will see why in a moment.  Also, notice the continued usage of great.

[3] Anything bracketed is supplied based on the context, but is not present in the text.

[4] The author describes the ship as though it were capable of thought.  This concept is called anthropomorphism, and it is used here to show how an inanimate object is more responsive to YHWH than Jonah seems to be.

[5] Whose behavior does this remind us of?  The pagan sailors call on their pagan gods, and then their next action directly parallels YHWH’s actions.  YHWH threw a great wind at the sea.  They are throwing everything at the sea.  They are behaving like YHWH.

[6] This is precisely how Jonah responded to YHWH’s original call.  He went down to Nineveh. As we will see, he is not finished going down, away from the face of YHWH.

[7] This could also be translated, “How is it possible that you are sleeping?”  The word here is רָדַם and it is not a casual nap.  It can also mean to be dead.  That’s the kind of sleep we’re talking about here.  The chief is stunned that Jonah can achieve this type of sleep given the nature of things around him.

[8] Recognize these two words?  This is 2/3 of YHWH’s charge to Jonah.  Jonah fled from YHWH, and YHWH is now using a pagan sailor to reiterate his commands.

[9] There doesn’t seem to be any indication here that the chief sailor has any real understanding of YHWH.  Rather, he seems to be saying “Maybe your god is the one that will save us.  Everyone else is calling out to their gods and none of them are any help.”  As we will soon see, this perspective will change.


As we saw with the first three verses, YHWH calls Jonah to do three things: Arise, go, proclaim.  Jonah does one of them.  He gets up.  But he doesn’t go.  He flees.  Today we pick up in verse four with YHWH’s response to Jonah’s actions.

YHWH responds by throwing a storm at the sea.  This gets the attention of the boat, which plans on breaking up.  The boat gets the attention of the sailors, who empty the boat.  Unknowingly they are mimicking the actions of YHWH by doing so.  So YHWH acts and who responds?  Nature, an inanimate object, and pagans.  This action of YHWH’s gets the attention of these three groups.  And yet his actions can’t even manage to wake Jonah up.  Everything responds to YHWH…except his prophet.  Except his mouthpiece.  Except his representative.  The irony here is palpable.

The stage is set for this book in the first six verses.  We don’t yet know why Jonah behaves as he does.  But it is becoming clear what manner of man Jonah is.  He’s less obedient than nature.  He is less responsive than an inanimate object.  He’s less concerned than pagans.  As YHWH is pulling out all the stops to get his attention, Jonah is sleeping the sleep of the dead.

If all this were not enough, consider how he is woken up.  A pagan sailor repeats 2/3 of YHWH’s prophetic call to him.  Thus far the sailors have behaved like YHWH by throwing everything they have at the sea.  Now the chief sailor is repeating the prophetic call to Jonah.

This is a theme in scripture.  Those who ought to know what to do don’t end up being the people doing what needs to be done.  Think good samaritan, or just about any message delivered to Israel by a prophet.  Except Jonah.  He embodies Israel.  He’s a microcosmic representation of their ethnocentricism.  Put another way, his attitudes towards other nations are representative of Israel’s common attitudes towards other nations during his time.  We will continue to explore this theme as we progress through Jonah.  But for right now, let’s all pause and ask YHWH to show us how we are Jonah.  Because we are Jonah with frightening regularity.  We do not listen.  We want our own way.  We want that way in the face of outsiders behaving like the people of God, reminding us what we ought to do…what we ought to know.  For those that have ears to hear, let them hear.

YHWH, grant us the wisdom to never run from you.  Gracious YHWH, when we run, grant us the sensitivity to recognize your hand in the world around us that we might quickly return to you.  Merciful YHWH, when our obstinance blinds us to your works teach us humility through unconventional means that we might recognize the futility of our departure from you and your ways.

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