1:7. The sailors have prayed to their gods without affect, and have cast all the cargo overboard, yet the storm still threatens to take their lives. So the men try to determine whose fault it is that this storm has come upon them. They cast lots to learn why the storm came upon them. Casting lots was a common practice in the Ancient Near East to help people determine the will of the gods in various situations (cf. Josh 7:10-26; 1 Sam 28:6; Prov 16:33).[ref]Bewer, 35; Hannah, 1466; Sasson, 108; Stuart, 459.[/ref] The word lot (Heb. goralot) can mean a variety of items, such as bones, stones, arrows, dice, and wood.[ref]Harris et al., 171-172; Sasson, 109, 111. Sasson includes a theory from Muslim embellishments of this story where the sailors cast lead balls upon the sea, and only Jonah’s did not sink.[/ref] Some believe that colored stones or identifiable markers which provided by each person, and after praying for direction from the gods, the pieces were put into a pouch or container and then shaken vigorously up and down until one of them came out. In this way, it was thought that the god pulled out or “lifted up” the lot.[ref]Walton, 107; John H. Walton, Victor Harold Matthews, and Mark W. Chavalas, The Ivp Bible Background Commentary: Old Testament (Downers Grove: IVP, 2000), 778.[/ref]
Note also that the sailors refer to the storm as evil (Heb. raa; cf. 1:2, 8; 3:7-8, 10; 4:1-2, 6). From a human perspective, this storm was about to take their lives, and so it was evil. They are about to learn that Jonah’s God is the source of this storm. This introduces to the reader the concept of “evil” in the book of Jonah, and it becomes a major theme later in the story.
When the sailors cast lots, the lot fell upon Jonah. He is singled out as the one responsible for this great storm, this evil that has come upon them.
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