Therefore they cried out to the LORD and said, “We pray, O LORD, please do not let us perish for this man’s life, and do not charge us with innocent blood; for You, O LORD, have done as it pleased You.” Jonah 1:14
You remember the story of Jonah. The commission, the flight to Tarshish, the fish, the revival in Nineveh. It’s one of the best-known stories in Scripture. But there are some nameless guys in the story who can actually teach us several important lessons. Which guys? The sailors on the boat to Tarshish.
With just a quick read, you get the impression that these are decent guys. They knew Jonah’s background so that seems to indicate they had talked with him. They do everything they can to keep from throwing Jonah overboard like the prophet wanted. They dump cargo. They try hard to row to shore. But they were more than just decent guys. Here are some reasons why.
They were willing to change their ideas about who God was. In Jonah 1:5, when the tempest began, every man prayed to his god. Apparently, they came from different backgrounds and all had different religious traditions. By verse 14, they had come to understand that Jonah’s God, Yahweh, was not like their gods. I suppose you could argue that it was just expedience, that Yahweh was just one of the gods they prayed to. But they used God’s covenant name, not “the God of Jonah” or “the God of the Israelites.” That seems to suggest a little deeper realization. We have ideas about God and how He operates. But when He obviously clearly reveals Himself, do we cling to our ideas?
They understood God holds us accountable for sin. The core of their prayer was– do not let us perish for Jonah and do not charge us innocent blood. This is a radical idea in our culture that shies away from any sort of accountability. It is also important that we as believers don’t lose sight of this. We are accountable. However, because of Christ’s death on the cross, He took that accountability onto Himself.
They recognized God’s sovereignty. “You have done as it pleased You,” they said. The call of Jonah, the storm, even pitching the prophet overboard were all part of a divine plan God was working out. They didn’t necessarily grasp how it all fit together or where God was headed, but they acknowledged He was at work. We all go through seasons when things around are completely out of control and make no sense. It’s important to remember those things are never out of God’s control.
Granted, pagans aren’t necessarily ones to hold up as examples of how to follow and honor God, but in this case, these guys were headed the right direction. Maybe one day we’ll find out if they ever arrived at genuine faith in Yahweh.