Unexpected Solution – Jonah 1:7-16

7And they said, each man to his companion, “Let us go and cast lots to know on whose account this evil is [happening] to us.  And they cast lots and the lot fell upon Jonah.  8And they said to him, “Please tell us on account of what (or who) this evil is [happening] to us?!  What is your profession?  From where do you come?  What is your land, and where are your people?”  9And he said to them, “I am a Hebrew.  YHWH, the god of the heavens, is who I[1] fear, the one who made the sea and the dry ground.”[2]  10And the men feared a great fear, and they said to him, “Why have you done this?”  [They said this] because the men knew that he was fleeing from before the face of YHWH, because he had told them.  11And they said to him, “What shall we do to you, that the sea would be calm around us?”  [They said this] because the sea was moving[3] and tossing.  12And he said to them, “Lift me and throw me at the sea[4] and the sea will be calm around you.”  13But the men forcibly rowed to turn back to dry land but they were not able to do so because the sea was moving14 and tossing around them.  14And they cried out[5] to YHWH and said, “Please YHWH…please do not let us perish on account of the soul of this man, and do not charge us with innocent blood because you, YHWH, have done as you please.”  15And they lifted Jonah and threw [him] at the sea,[4] and the sea stood still from its storming. 16And the men feared a great fear to YHWH, and they made sacrifices to YHWH and vowed vows.[6]

Again, we have a contrast between Jonah’s response to YHWH, and the response of literally everyone and everything around him.  Jonah is rebellious, but the sailors are everything YHWH is not.  They respect YHWH’s authority, and are appropriately afraid of what might come from rebelling against him.  They ask for counsel regarding how to appease him.  What is perhaps the most telling contrast is how they respond to Jonah’s advice.  They ignore it, attempting to save his life.  Jonah tells them exactly what they need to do to prevent YHWH’s judgment (which is precisely the role of a prophet) and they initially refuse because they are concerned for his life.  This is an incredibly ironic reversal.  Jonah has refused to even present such an opportunity to Nineveh, and as we will see his motivation has nothing to do with wanting to save lives.  In contrast, the gentile sailors risk their own lives in an attempt to keep Jonah safe.

This is a sharp contrast with Jonah, who seems determined to avoid the character of YHWH.  YHWH has thrown winds at the sea (1:4), and the sailors followed suit by throwing everything in the boat at the sea (1:5).  As we’ve seen, this parallel is not a coincidence.  There are plenty of ways to indicate this type of action.  It’s no mistake that the sailors actions mirror YHWH’s.  So what does Jonah do?  Does he throw anything at the sea?  No.  He tells the sailors to throw him at the sea.  Essentially, he’s telling them to continue acting like YHWH, because he refuses to do so.  Now, I’m not suggesting that this is his motive, but this is how the story paints his motive.  Likely, as far as we can tell, he’s hoping that their actions will end in his death.  I’ll explain why I think this is the case in future translations.  But for now, just notice the lack of YHWH-like behavior on behalf of Jonah.  He’s running, even when gentile sailors echo the actions of his deity (1:5), his prophetic call (1:6), and the compassion for a foreigner that ought to be indicative of one who is devoted to YHWH (1:13).

This section ends with the sailors making vows to YHWH, which will be dealt with at length in Jonah’s prayer.  So Jonah’s escapade in the belly of the fish is preceded by gentile repentance.  As we will see, that is precisely what follows it.  This serves to contrast not only Jonah’s actions, but the content of his heart.  And that is precisely what we will examine next, in the form of his prayer.

[1] The presence of the pronoun justifies an intensity here.

[2] Gods were generally limited a specific sphere of influence in this culture.  It is likely that the sailors would have assumed that Jonah could indeed successfully run from YHWH.  But his declaration here that YHWH made the sea and the dry ground indicates to them that Jonah’s god had a much larger sphere of influence than they were accustomed to.  This explains their fearful response, as they are harboring a rebel from a deity in the deity’s domain.  This also explains why their response changes.  Earlier (even though we aren’t told until the next verse), Jonah informs them that he is running from YHWH, but he must have left out this detail at that time.

[3] This is 1/3 of YHWH’s imperatives to Jonah in 1:2.  Even the sea is mustering more obedience to YHWH than the prophet.

[4] This mirrors the sailors earlier actions, and YHWH’s actions.  But it is significant that Jonah is not mirroring YHWH’s actions himself.  He’s telling the sailors to continue to mirror YHWH’s actions.

[5] Another 1/3 of YHWH’s imperatives to Jonah.

[6] Notice, the gentile sailors sacrifice to YHWH, and make vows to him.  Compare this with Jonah 2:8-9.

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