- Locate the passage
Jonah 1:4-16. The passage commences with an account of a great storm and concludes with sailors sacrificing to the LORD after having thrown Jonah into the sea.
Historical Narrative. This account stresses the LORD’S action, the interactions between Jonah and his fellow-passengers, and the response of fear to the great storm and the great God behind it.
- Determine the structure of the passage
There are three key movements in the passage. The first of these focuses on the LORD’S action of “hurling” a great wind/storm on the sea. The second movement highlights the culpability of Jonah related to the presence of the storm. The final movement addresses the circumstances leading up to the ultimate act of Jonah being cast into the sea as well as the actions of the sailors after Jonah’s departure.
- Exegete the passage
In exegeting this passage, the preacher will want to note the purposeful use of repetition. Verse 4 contains the verb translated “hurled” (cast forth). This hiphil verb form is used at least four times In 1:4-16: verses 4, 5, 12 and 15. A second key utilization of repetition is seen in the use of the term “afraid.” In verse 5, the mariners are afraid of the storm. In verse 10, the men are “exceedingly afraid” (literally: “feared a great fear”) of the endangerment Jonah brought to them. In verse 16, the men were exceedingly “afraid” of the LORD (literally: “feared the LORD with a great fear”).
In verse 4, the narrator personifies the ship in which Jonah and the mariners are traveling (literally: “the ship thought herself to be broken up”). Such a device makes for eloquent narrative in that one can almost hear the creaking of timber and the pounding on the ship’s hull. Verse 5 indicates the polytheism of the mariners as each one cries out to his god. This verse also records the extreme desperation of the mariners in hurling their cargo, which was their anticipated source of income, into the sea. The last part of verse 5 informs the reader that Jonah is sound asleep in the inner part of the ship. Verse 6 records the Captain’s (“chief rope-puller”) confrontation with Jonah. How can Jonah be asleep at a time like this? Notice the similarity of the Captain’s orders and those given to Jonah by the LORD in verse 2. In the last part of verse 6, the Captain indicates an awareness and reverence for the LORD that is seemingly absent with Jonah. Using a hithpael verb form, he states that perhaps Jonah’s God will “make himself take notice” so that they may not perish.
Verse 7 records the act of casting lots (see Proverbs 16:33) and that the lot was “caused to fall” (hiphil) on Jonah. Verse 8 reveals the mariners “storming” Jonah with questions regarding his occupation, origin and allegiance. In verse 9, Jonah confesses his identity and his allegiance to the LORD (Yahweh), the God (Elohim) of heaven who made the sea and the dry land. In verse 10, the men respond with great fear and the reader is informed that Jonah had told them that he was fleeing from the presence of the LORD.
In the midst of their crisis and the intensification of the storm, the mariners seek a solution. In Verse 12, Jonah tells them to hurl him into the sea. However, verse 13 records the efforts of the mariners as they “rowed hard” (literally: “dug” their oars). This effort was not successful because, as the narrator informs us with a qal participle, the sea grew more tempestuous (“was walking”). Verses 14-16 express a subtle irony: the pagan sailors seem to give evidence of a fear/respect for the LORD that is lacking in Jonah. In verse 14, they acknowledge the LORD’S freedom and plead that they not be charged with Jonah’s death. In verse 15, they proceed to hurl Jonah into the sea and the sea ceases its raging. Finally, in verse 16, the narrative closes with the mariners fearing the LORD greatly and offering sacrifices and vows to Him.
- Let the structure of the text drive the structure of the sermon
Because the genre is historical narrative, this passage should be preached inductively. Consider the use of a contemporary illustration in the introduction that ties into the “then” of the text (great storm). Then, proceed with the re-telling of the narrative according to its biblical order:
- The LORD hurls a storm. (4-6)
- Jonah is stormed with questions. (7-10)
- Jonah is hurled into the sea. (11-16)
After re-telling the narrative, deliver the main idea/thesis and follow it with specific application. Because God can preserve His people and accomplish His purposes even in a storm, we should make obedience to Him our consuming passion. Finally, consider making the connection to Christ from this passage by contrasting the sleeping Jonah with the sleeping Jesus (see Matt. 8:23-27).