“Just sit right back and you’ll hear a tale, a tale of a fateful trip . . . That started from this tropic port, aboard this tiny ship. . . . The mate was a mighty sailin’ man . . . the Skipper brave and sure. . . . Five passengers set sail that day for a three hour tour . . . a three hour tour.” Ok, so some of you are going to recognize that . . . others, perhaps not at all . . . but it came to mind as I was chewing on the implications of some ancient mariners being in the wrong place at the wrong time.
Part of my reading this morning is the book of Jonah. You know, the rogue prophet. God tells him to “go east, young man” and he books it west. Enter the unsuspecting mariners. For these crusty sea urchins it was just another trip with another paid passenger . . . for their “guest” it was about trying to flee from the presence of God. And so they set out that day for a three hour tour . . . well, maybe not a three hour tour . . . but the captain and crew must have expected it to be just another trip to Tarshish . . . yeah, but they were in the wrong place at the wrong time.
You know, when I read Jonah, I tend to focus on Jonah. What’s Jonah doing? . . . what’s God doing in response? What’s Jonah saying? . . . what’s God saying in response? But as I slow down a bit on this first chapter you realize that there is some collateral impact from this “No, I won’t . . . Yes, you will” tug-of-war between the prophet and His God. These poor sailors just wanted to earn a living . . . but God wanted to give them life. They just wanted to deliver their cargo . . . but “the God of heaven, who made the sea and dry land” (Jonah 1:9) wanted to deliver their soul. They just wanted to see their destination port . . . but He who formed them in their mothers’ wombs had determined to reset their course to a city “whose designer and builder is God” (Heb. 11:10). They just wanted to make an honest day’s wage for an honest day’s work . . . but He who dwells in glorious light wanted to cut them in on “an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven” (1Peter 1:4). Who knew what being in the wrong place at the wrong time could lead to?
Kind of an interesting progression these men of the sea go through. The storm starts . . . and they get religious . . . each crying to his god . . . recalling as many childhood prayers as they could . . . crying out to every deity they could think of . . . and probably a few deities they made up on the fly. They notice their passenger’s not with them . . . find him sleeping . . . and conscript to him to join the prayer meeting and call upon whoever his god is, as well. Their awareness of Jonah’s God increases as they find out that He is the God of heaven, the Maker of the sea. And they become “exceedingly afraid” as they put the pieces together . . . this guy’s God is the God of gods . . . this guy’s trying to flee from the presence of His God . . . kind of seems His God is having none of it . . . oh boy, are we in the wrong place at the wrong time!
You know the rest of the story . . . Jonah tells them that the only cargo they can throw over that will ensure their survival is him. Really? . . . toss the God of Creation’s prophet overboard . . . that’s the way to salvation? Not their first choice . . . but eventually their desperation leaves them no other choice . . . the life of another for theirs (sound familiar). And then get this, they pray . . . they call out to the LORD (1:14) . . . no more random god’s being looked to but, instead, looking only to the LORD God. They toss the prophet . . . the sea goes calm . . . and then check this out . . .
Then the men feared the LORD exceedingly, and they offered a sacrifice to the LORD and made vows. (Jonah 1:16 ESV)
A day that started out like any other day . . . a trip that seemed to be going so wrong . . . leads to a knowledge of the God who calls men to Himself. Seems like they were actually in the right place at the right time, to me.
I’m amazed at God’s “collateral damage” as He pursues a stubborn, rebellious, prophet . . . while trying to get Jonah’s attention, He turns the eyes of some unsuspecting sailors heavenward. In the course of seeking to lead a city of 120,000 people to repentance (4:11) . . . the God of grace and mercy, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love (4:2) also seeks to point a few random scrubby mariners to a port-of-call beyond their imagination.
How great is our God? Pretty!