"Come!" said the sailors to one another. "Let us cast lots to find out who is responsible for this calamity that is upon us." So they cast lots, and the lot fell on Jonah.
Jonah 4:2, "Then Jonah prayed"), led to no abatement of the storm. God's purpose was not to be accomplished in that way - Jonah was not to be restored in so easy a manner. But prayer may seem to be unanswered while it is answered - it is a link in a chain. A much more profound discipline had yet to be passed through in order that Jonah might be restored and the great purpose of his mission to Nineveh attained. Let us trace the next steps in the development of the providential plan.
I. THE MARINERS RESOLVE TO CAST LOTS. (Ver. 7.) This is a striking step. They might have given themselves up for lost, perhaps drowning their feelings, as sailors have often done, in intoxication (if that be not an exclusively modern practice); but they resolved to make another effort to save their lives and their ship. This proceeded on the belief that this storm was caused by some man's sin; and to find out who was the offender they determined to cast lots. A dangerous generalization, to ascribe a calamity to one man's sin, though in this case correct. Perhaps there were unusual circumstances in the storm that led them to reason thus. "If anything should happen strangely, as while we are in this mortality we may very well expect, we can take no better course than these shipmen presently to fear lest iniquity be the author of it" (Abbot). Casting lots was a peculiar device to ascertain a secret; religious use of lots, however, is very different from the careless appeal to the lot often made (see Joshua 7:16; 1 Samuel 10:21; Acts 1:26), The lot becomes legitimate only when all the ordinary methods of settling a difficulty have failed, and nothing remains but to make a solemn appeal to God.
II. THE LOT FALLS UPON JONAH. Picture his anxiety while the lot was being cast - his despair when it fell on him. This seems to have brought him to a sense of his sin: it was God's voice, "Thou art the man!" Jonah now broke down, prostrated by the little arrow from God's quiver. In walking through a hospital after a battle, two remarks are sometimes made - How easy to kill! and - How difficult to kill! Some bodies almost entire, yet killed; some fearfully shattered, yet alive. So we say - How difficult it is to humble! and How easy it is to humble! difficult for man, easy for God; man may reason, expostulate, apply truth, yet the offender may not in any degree be touched by it. A word, a look, a lot from God, makes one quite prostrate and helpless. What a power of rebuking and prostrating God may use at the last day!
III. JONAH QUESTIONED. All eyes are fixed on Jonah with eager curiosity to ascertain what he had done. The running fire of questions indicates desire for light on the strange transaction. They were chiefly anxious to know his crime, his occupation, and his country; either his personal guilt, or the guilt connected with his occupation, if it was an unlawful one, or with his country, or with his people; for there might be some horrible sin, perhaps committed of old by the people of his country, exposing them and him through them to the wrath of the gods. Why did they not act at once on the decision of the lot, and throw Jonah overboard? Probably they desired confirmation of it; it must be a painful transaction, and. they would like more authority for the step they were to take. It would be satisfactory to get Jonah to confess. It might throw light on the origin of storms, and be a useful hint for the future.
IV. JONAH'S ANSWER. The nobler aspect of Jonah's character now comes out - perfect ingenuousness and honesty; he knows his fate - death stares him in the face - yet there is no shrinking or fencing of any kind. He tells them:
1. He is a Hebrew, a member of the race that had so much to do with the powers above.
2. The God whom he worships is the God that made the sea and the dry land, and has absolute power over both.
3. He has fled from his presence, has offended him, and now God is showing his displeasure. Humiliating position, yet not without a certain grandeur - Jonah under the rebuke of God, his own conscience, and the heathen mariners. In reference to the mariners, he who might have been expected to bring them blessing has brought them trouble. His mouth is shut; he can say nothing for himself. There is something very striking in his undergoing the condemnation of the mariners. He had been afraid, apparently, of the bad opinion of the Ninevites, and had shunned his commission; but now he encounters the bad opinion of the mariners - with nothing to fall back on - his conscience and his God both against him. Yet there is a grandeur in his honest confession, in his attitude of thorough humility; there is a noble truthfulness now about him; he conceals nothing, though he must be the victim.
V. EFFECT ON THE MARINERS. They were exceedingly afraid. They felt a sense of the reality and nearness of a supernatural power - the power of the God who made the sea and now raises it in storm. The supernatural must be always very impressive - must have subduing effect whenever God is felt to be near, as in time of pestilence. The men now felt God near, in character of the righteous, holy Judge, punishing an offender - not like heathen gods, jesting at sin, but in terrible earnest against it. They seemed to have been impressed, and converted to God, for the soul may move very rapidly; deep impressions may be made very suddenly in time of great excitement. A great lesson to Jonah; if these rough heathen sailors were so deeply impressed by the fear of God, might not the Ninevites have been so too? They said to Jonah, "Why hast thou done this?" Strange aspect of sins of God's servants in eyes of world! God's servants have no cloak for their sins. The question must have cut Jonah to the quick. He could only echo it in blank amazement - Why have I done this? Observe the hollowness of all apologies for sin in the hour of judgment; sin, however sweet in the mouth, is bitter in the belly; "lust, when it is finished, bringeth forth death." The horror and misery of the ship's company are a type of the effects of sin, of one sin, by a servant of God. "Who can understand his errors? Cleanse thou me from secret faults. Keep back thy servant also from presumptuous sins." O sin, what a monster art thou! what tragedies come out of thee I how dost thou involve others in ruin, as the drunkard's family! God give us a true sense of it, and teach us to hate it in every form, and guard against its minutest seeds, lest, like the dragon's teeth, they breed against us hosts of armed men! Let each one often put the question, in reference to his sins, "Why hast thou done this?" Sinned against God and man, and against thine own soul, and against thine own children? Better we should put the question and answer it in time, than wait till God puts it in the day of judgment. - W.G.B.
Let us cast lots, that we may know for whose cause this evil is upon us.1. We must never fall to lottery but when necessity enforceth us: all other lawful means must be first assayed.
2. We must use great reverence and religiousness in the action. Holy things must be done in a holy manner.
3. We must avoid impiety and idolatry therein, ascribing the event of our wishes neither to the stars nor to any other celestial body, which cannot want the ingestion and intermeddling of devils.
4. We must not apply the oracles of God in His sacred Scriptures to our earthly, temporary, and transitory losses.
5. The ends of our lots must be respected; the honour of God, as the moderator of all such ambiguities; the furnishing of His Church, if two or more be fit, with the fitter; the preserving of justice; the avoidance of greater mischiefs.
6. We must eschew all fraud and deceit in permitting our causes to heavenly arbitrament.
(Bishop John King.)
(James Peddie, D. D.)
And the lot fell upon Jonah
I. PERSONS UNDER GUILT MAY GO A LONG TIME UNDISCOVERED. Some men's hidden works of darkness are sooner brought to light than others.
II. SOME MEN'S SINS ARE NOT DISCOVERED UNTIL THEY COME TO THE GREAT RECKONING, THE GREAT AUDIT DAY. "Some men's sins are open beforehand to judgment, and some men they follow after." Then the hidden things of darkness that escape discovery now will all be brought to light; and what if you he hid here, this will but harden you: whereas a discovery might be a means to awaken you and bring you to repentance.
III. SOME MEN'S GUILT COMES UNDER MORE DREADFUL AGGRAVATIONS THAN OTHERS. Ordinarily, the more aggravations that men's sins are clothed with, the sooner will God lay them open to a discovery.
IV. UPON THEIR DISCOVERY THEY EITHER GROW WORSE AND ARE HARDENED, OR THEY ARE DEEPLY HUMBLED. Jonah, upon his dis covery, acknowledges and accepts the punishment of his iniquity. Now we inquire, What ways and means doth God take for the discovery of guilty persons?
1. By pursuing them with the terrors of conscience.
2. By sending judgments and afflictions after them.
3. By suffering them to fall into some notorious sin.
4. By giving the guilty person up to some gross and notorious error.
5. By causing the power and authority of the Word to seize upon them and arrest them.
6. By wonderful providences.
7. By bringing them to heart and con science examination.By such discovery of guilty persons God gets Himself a name. A name for His justice, wisdom, omniscience, omnipresence, and also for His Word and truth. Why will the Lord discover guilt? To bring poor souls to shame, and so to repentance, and all this while He hath a design of love to the soul in the discovery. Because He will have some persons made cautions and examples to others. That the world may know of His displeasure against sin. That the rottenness of many hearts may appear, and they may no longer go on to deceive others.
I. SIN MAY BE LONG CONCEALED FROM THE EYE OF MAN. There is, indeed, a gracious covering provided for the sins of believers. There is also a charitable concealment to which in many instances we are bound; but this regards the transgressions of others. But there is a covering which is not of God's Spirit; a concealment by which sinners are encouraged to "add sin to sin." This is worn sometimes in the form of delusion, and then sinners deceive themselves. At other times they wear their covering in the broad and ostensible form of hypocrisy. Ought every transgression to be avowed, however secret Were it viewed in relation to God we should say absolutely that it is hypocrisy to conceal. What are the cases where, in obedience to the Scripture, we are conscientiously bound to confess our faults, not only to God, but also in the presence of one another?
1. Such disclosure would be necessary when, in exercise of lawful authority, the sinner may be regularly called.
2. Disclosure of secret offences is required where, in their consequences, they may implicate others.
3. The interests of the Divine honour, not unfrequently, may require it. The honour of Divine grace is by such confession promoted.
II. ALL SINS, EVEN THE MOST SECRET, SHALL BE EVENTUALLY REVEALED. Sentence against an evil work is not at all times speedily executed. But delay does not secure final impunity. As there can be no hiding-place to the impenitent, neither shall any species, any degree of transgression escape.
III. THERE ARE CERTAIN KINDS OF TRANSGRESSION WHICH THE WISDOM OF THE DIVINE GOVERNMENT REVEALS, AND ITS JUSTICE GENERALLY AVENGES, EVEN IN OUR PRESENT STATE OF BEING.
1. The general characters by which such sins are distinguished.
2. God is in no want of instruments for the discovery of the concealed transgressor.
3. For what purposes are these discoveries made?
(1) (2) (3) (James Simpson.)
(2) (3) (James Simpson.)
(3) (James Simpson.)