Jonah 1:10. Upon hearing what Jonah said about his nationality and his God, the men became extremely fearful. When the storm was raging about them and they were about to drown, the men were afraid (1:5). The word used for fearful is the same word Jonah used in his claim to fear Yahweh (1:9). Their fear is a result of what Jonah told them about God being in creator of all, the God of the sea and land, and seems to be more genuine than Jonah’s fear of God. Based on what he told them, they had no hope of surviving this storm, for Jonah had offended the most powerful God of all. Their fear is amplified further when they learn why God had sent this great storm upon them.
They said to him, “How could you do this?” In this story, the sailors put voice to the question the reader should be asking. How could Jonah so blatantly disobey God? Why would he seek to flee to Tarshish, rather than go to the wicked city of Nineveh to pronounce judgment upon it? Their question is an exclamation of shock and horror: “How could you? What have you done?”[ref]Bewer, 37; C. F. Kiel and F. Delitzsch, Commentary on the Old Testament: Minor Prophets, trans., James Martin, vol. X (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1980), 395; Sasson, 120; Stuart, 462.[/ref]
But in their culture, the blatant rebellion against God was not the biggest issue. The biggest area of concern was that he was fleeing from defending Yahweh’s honor. In an honor-shame culture, such behavior was unheard of. Defending your personal honor and the honor of your family were the highest goals. Sometimes, if a certain person dishonored their family, they would gladly commit suicide as this was the only way to partially regain some of the honor that had been lost. For Jonah to refuse to defend the honor of God was to commit the worst of all possible sins. His refusal to defend God’s honor was to invite the full force of God’s wrath upon him.
Although verse 9 only includes a short answer from Jonah to the sailor’s questions, it appears that Jonah told them more than what is recorded. He told them how he was refusing to defend God’s honor, and that is why God was out to destroy him. The sailors were dismayed at such news because it was suicidal for any person to refuse to defend his deities’ honor. The sailors were unlucky enough to get caught up in a destructive storm sent by a powerful God who had been insulted and offended in the worst possible way. Jonah’s explanation was a sentence of death to the sailors.
Jonah 1:11. Nevertheless, the sailors hope that maybe there is still a chance of surviving this storm. Since Jonah is the cause of the wind and the waves, they said to him, “What shall we do to you that the sea may be calm for us?” They recognize that Jonah’s God is out to punish him, and so they wonder if there is something they can do to Jonah so that God’s anger will cease. They want to know if they can appease God. They are getting desperate now because the sea was growing more tempestuous. They do not want to die because of what Jonah has done, and are hoping that if they punish Jonah somehow, maybe God’s wrath will subside and the wind and waves will die.
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