Jonah 1:5. The storm was so great the sailors became afraid. In all likelihood, these were seasoned, veteran sailors who had experienced many great storms in their lives. For them to become afraid in this storm indicates how severe it was. As a result of their fear, they do two things. First, each man cried unto his god. They were so afraid for their lives that they cried out to their gods for deliverance. They likely prayed to their own personal deities, but paid special attention to the storm god, Baal Hadad, and the god of the sea and chaos, Yamm.[ref]Walton, 106.[/ref]
But not content to just pray to their gods, they also did whatever they could to survive this terrible storm. They hurled the cargo which was in the ship into the sea. Just as Yahweh hurled the wind upon the sea, the sailors hurled their cargo overboard. A ship bound for Tarshish probably carried cargo of gold, silver, iron, ivory, jewels, spices and exotic animals, but would have certainly included food and water for the journey.[ref]Ibid., 107.[/ref] Hurling their cargo into the sea indicates how desperate their situation had become. They knew that all was lost, and it was better to possibly survive with their lives than to go down with a ship full of cargo. Riches and food are no good to a dead man. The goal, of course, was to lighten the load. A ship that was not weighed down by cargo could ride higher upon the sea, thereby taking on less water and less damage from the waves.
In all of this chaos, with the description of the wind, the waves, the groaning boat, the sailors crying out to their gods for deliverance, and even throwing their cargo overboard, the reader of the story is left to wonder how Jonah is faring in this storm. In verse 3, Jonah went down into the deepest parts of the ship, which is often where some of the cargo is stored. As the storm surges, the ship recognized it was about to break up, the sailors realized they were about to drown, and what is Jonah doing? Is he also praying? Is he helping hurl cargo into the sea? Is he also fearful for his life?
No. Jonah had gone down into the deepest part of the ship, had lain down, and had fallen down into a deep sleep. Once again, just as with verse 3, there is an emphasis on the word down to show that Jonah is in a downward spiral. He went down to Joppa, down into a boat, down into the deepest part of the ship, laid down, and fell down into a deep sleep. His descent downward is nearly complete.
And rather than fearing for his life, praying to God, or helping the sailor lighten the ship’s load, Jonah is sleeping. Why and how was Jonah sleeping in such a storm? Some suggest that Jonah was able to sleep because he confident he had escaped the presence of God and averted God’s will.[ref]Radmacher et al., eds., 1065.[/ref] But this does not explain how he was able to sleep in such a storm, nor does it explain away the fact that Jonah would have known that fleeing from Yahweh—the God of heaven and earth, the creator of the universe—was impossible. Unlike the pagan deities of the surrounding nations, Israel’s God was not territorial. He is the God over all and His will cannot be thwarted. Jonah would have certainly known this.
Other translators believe that Jonah was sleeping from exhaustion,[ref]Bewer, 33.[/ref] had been knocked unconscious by the storm,[ref]Ellison, 370.[/ref] was in a trance,[ref]Sasson, 89.[/ref] or was suffering from severe depression.[ref]Stuart, 458.[/ref] The text, however, is not fully clear about Jonah’s state, but implies that whatever condition Jonah was in, he does not seem to care that he is about to die. He knows that he has terribly offended God, and that God’s righteous discipline will come, but Jonah does not care. He wants to face death while asleep. The worst part about Jonah’s actions is that since he got on a boat with other people, he also does not seem to care who dies with him.
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