Jonah 1:12. Jonah does have a suggestion for the sailors, but it is not the one the reader expects to hear. Since God sent the storm in response to Jonah fleeing eastward toward Tarshish rather than going west toward Nineveh, the simple solution to calming the storm would be for the sailors to turn the boat around and head west. God wants Jonah’s obedience, and the proper way for Jonah to repent would be have the sailor turn the boat back toward Joppa. Instead, and much the reader’s surprise, Jonah said to them, “Pick me up and hurl me into the sea.” There are two actions in Jonah’s commands, both of which have parallels to the preceding events. First, Jonah instructs the sailors to pick him up. This could also be translated as “lift up” and some have read into this a vague prophecy about how Jesus was later lifted up on the cross, and so Jonah’s actions are interpreted as a noble attempt to be a vicarious sacrifice for the sailors, just as Jesus was a vicarious sacrifice for the sins of the whole world.[ref]Estelle, 58-60.[/ref] Such an interpretation goes against the entire narrative and flies in the face of the way Jonah is presented in this story. Jonah is not nobly offering himself over to death for the sake of the sailors. Jonah is still trying to escape God’s instructions to go to Nineveh.
Instead, the phrase pick me up is an allusion to the casting of the lots in verse 7. As was mentioned there, people who cast lots believed that it was their god who drew the stone up out of the bag or container in which the lots were shaken. Jonah is connecting himself with his lot which was pulled up from the bag. He is saying, “Just as God picked up my stone, so also you must pick me up.”
The next part of Jonah’s instructions—that he be hurled into the sea—is an allusion to verse 5 where the sailors hurled their cargo overboard. Since he was down in the bowels of the boat with the cargo, he is saying that they should throw the last piece (himself) overboard.
This request from Jonah is shocking in three ways. First, everybody on board the ship knew that Jonah would certainly die in such a storm. If he got thrown overboard, he would drown. Since Jonah knows what God wants, the simple solution to calming the storm would be to turn the ship around and head back toward Joppa. But Jonah does not suggest this. Instead, it appears Jonah would rather drown in the sea than do what God wants.
Second, Jonah is teaching the sailors some terrible theology about God. If God could be appeased by casting Jonah into the sea, then this means that God was somehow in the sea, making Him a sort of sea-god.[ref]Stuart disputes this idea on the idea that Jonah would not have understood it this way. This is true, but the question is is how the sailors would have understood Jonah’s request. See Stuart, 462.[/ref] In the time of the Hebrew slavery in Egypt, when Pharaoh commanded that all the newborn Hebrew boys be thrown into the Nile River, this was not just to kill them, but to offer them to the god of the Nile River. When Pharaoh’s daughter pulled Moses up out of the river, she viewed this as Moses being a divine gift from the river god. When worshipers of Molech put their children into the fire, they believed Molech was in the fire receiving the children. Similarly, when King Nebuchadnezzar threw Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego into the fiery furnace, he was offering them up to his god. So when Jonah tells the sailors to throw him into the sea, he is telling them to offer him up to his God so that in the afterlife, God can deal with Jonah as He sees fit. In this way, the sea will calm down because God has what He wants. But God is not in the sea, and Jonah knows it. He simply wants to die. He knows he will face God after death, but for him, that is preferable than obeying God in this life. And this leads to the most shocking part of all about Jonah’s request.
Thirdly, in telling the sailors to throw him overboard, Jonah is asking the sailors to commit human sacrifice.[ref]Walton, 108.[/ref] If Jonah simply wanted to die, he could have just jumped overboard himself. But he is asking the sailors to pick him up and throw him into the sea, thereby making them accomplices in his death. Self-sacrifice is somewhat noble, but human sacrifice is dirty and shameful. Verses 13-14 show that they are hesitant about doing this, and rightfully so. Jonah is already disobeying God, and the sailors are afraid to do something which might anger God further. Since Jonah already seemed suicidal and had endangered their lives in the process, they were not certain that what Jonah was telling them would work. For all they knew, it might make Jonah’s God even angrier so that He would kill them all. Furthermore, most cultures did not practice human sacrifice, and those that did, only carried it out in the most extreme situations. When Jonah tells them that he is the reason this great tempest has come upon them, and that if they throw him overboard then all will be will, Jonah is telling the sailors that the God of the Hebrews can be appeased by human sacrifice.
Some commentators suggest that Jonah’s request was right and just because he was trying to sacrifice himself and save the pagan sailors.[ref]Alexander, 87; Jacques Ellul, The Judgment of Jonah, trans., Geoffrey W. Bromiley (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1971), 34-36; Hannah, 1466; Radmacher et al., eds., 1066. Stuart even suggests that Jonah’s request is proof of repentant recognition of wrongdoing: Stuart, 462.[/ref] Such a suggestion does not fit the story or the culture. Jonah does not care about the sailors. If he did, it would have been a simple thing to ask them to turn the boat around. It would have been simple to jump overboard himself, thereby relieving the sailors of the guilt of his death. But instead of taking either of these options, he asked them to commit human sacrifice by hurling him into the sea, which he knew full well was not pleasing to God. “Jonah is not making it easy on his shipmates! He is not about to throw himself into the sea just because he recognizes his own culpability. Rather, he wants the sailors to bear full responsibility for what must happen.”[ref]Sasson, 124.[/ref] Ultimately, Jonah is once again thinking only of himself and is trying to get killed so that he does not have to obey God by going to Nineveh.
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