Jonah 1:15. After praying to God and asking forgiveness for what they were about to do, the sailors picked up Jonah and hurled him into the sea. A Jewish commentary on Jonah describes the sailor’s actions in this way:
They took him and placed him into the sea up to his knees, and the storm abated. They lifted him back on board, and the sea became agitated against them. They placed him back up to his neck, and the sea-storm abated. Once again they lifted him back among them, and the sea again agitated against them. Finally, they cast him in entirely, and immediately the sea-storm abates.[ref]Sasson, 141.[/ref]
Though humorous and fanciful, the text does not indicate that the sailors “tested” the words of Jonah in such a way. Instead, it appears that after trying as hard as they could to reach the shore, they finally realized that they were all dead unless they cast Jonah into the sea. As a result of their actions, the sea stopped raging, just as Jonah said it would. From this, the sailors would have come to believe that what Jonah said about God was correct, that He could be appeased through human sacrifice.
Jonah 1:16. The calming of the storm does not alleviate the fear of the sailors, however, but adds to it. Though the winds and waves immediately calm down, the sailors now see how great and powerful is Jonah’s God. And though it is unlikely that they became monotheists or really knew anything about God other than the misleading and miniscule bit of information Jonah had given them, they greatly feared Yahweh. The sailors show progress in their fear, moving from fearing for the lives (1:5), to fearing from what Jonah told them (1:10), to finally fearing Yahweh.[ref]Alexander, 103.[/ref]
Their progression in fear is set in clear contrast to Jonah’s false claim to fear God in 1:9. Jonah had claimed that he feared Yahweh, but he has not shown it in any way. Just the opposite, in fact. In 1:10, the sailors were fearful about what Jonah told them, and now the text reiterates that it is the sailors who correctly feared Yahweh. While Jonah has disobeyed God, endangered the lives of other people, and taught false ideas about God, the sailors have prayed and confessed to God, and continue to show their respect and reverence for God when they sacrificed to Yahweh. This is a play on words with the “sacrifice” that the sailors just finished; that is, the human sacrifice of casting Jonah into the sea. The sailors now make further sacrifices to Yahweh. We do not know what the sailors sacrificed, though it is not necessary to think that the sailors waited until they reached shore to make this sacrifice.[ref]So Stuart, 455, 464.[/ref] Yet historical research indicates that animal sacrifices were occasionally made on board ships.[ref]Sasson, 139.[/ref] Nevertheless, not all sacrifices are burnt sacrifices or animal sacrifices, and so if the sailors had any provisions left on board, a sacrifice of oil or drinking water poured into the sea would have been sufficient.[ref]Walton, 108.[/ref]
It is also known what vows were made by the sailors, but it likely included promises of some sort of monetary gift made at Yahweh’s temple, or a promise to sacrifice a burnt offering once the sailors reached land.[ref]Ibid. The Rabbis believed that circumcision was involved, but this is unnecessary. See Sasson, 140.[/ref] It is unlikely that there were any promises to change moral behavior or commit to worshiping Yahweh alone, since the sailors did not get enough information from Jonah about God’s righteous requirements. Their vows are not indications of repentance or conversion to monotheism.[ref]Bewer, 40. Boice believes they are proof of a conversion: James Montgomery Boice, The Minor Prophets: Two Volumes Complete in One Edition (Grand Rapids: Kregel, 1996), 226.[/ref] The author simply mentions the sacrifices and vows of the sailors to contrast their behavior with that of Jonah. This verse becomes more important in chapter 2 when Jonah finally offers a prayer to God.
Now that the sailors have been delivered from the storm, the reader’s mind turns to Jonah. Did he also get what he wanted? Did he die? No, God still has something for Jonah to do, and He is not going to let Jonah escape through death.
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