This chapter introduces readers to Philistia, its trade practices with the Hebrews, and the port of Joppa. Jonah’s cultural references follow known history.
Helping the winnowing leads to an interesting conundrum. The Dove spends the morning arguing why he plans to defy the Lord, but when the Philistine farmers reward Jonah with a bounty in grain, the prophet thanks God for funding his voyage plans.
“The Lord does not fund defiance,” states Benjamin – which follows generally held views. God hates sin, after all. And yet the Lord always looks after the needs of his loved ones, even when they sin. Indeed, this is the heart of the New Testament’s most famous verse.
What examples of this have you seen in your life? Both instances, perhaps?
Walking to the Great Sea confronts Benjamin with an issue he long debated with Jonah – God’s will, or perhaps better put, understanding God’s will. With each step towards the surf, Benjamin becomes ever more sure the Lord does not want him to go there. At one point the young man blurts out, “But this is wrong” – and is surprised to find Jonah does not disagree.
“But my mind is decided,” says the Dove.
Stubbornness comprises one of the most common reasons for sin. Once set on a course, many people find change far too difficult, even if they come to doubt themselves or their plans. Have you experienced such conflicted motivation? How did events turn out?
Jonah’s choice leads to questions about testing God’s will. The prophet explores this, suggesting the Assyrian culture would never support his Nineveh mission – but then the Dove falls back on the strong love he holds for his people. “We are the children of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob,” Jonah says. “To us alone has the Lord promised His kingdom, His everlasting love.”
Benjamin ponders if it is ever right to question the will of God “That is your fear at work, not your faith,” he tells the Dove.
This hits upon another common reason for sin, one more fluid and flexible than stubbornness or pride. How often have you found fear manipulating or changing your decisions or mindset?
This chapter’s end turns the winnowing outcome on its head, and yet Jonah remains confident in his actions. Through acts of kindness, negotiation, and the goodwill of the captain, the Dove wins a place on the ship for himself and Benjamin. Even this Jonah attributes to the Lord’s provision.
How does that reasoning strike you?
Benjamin endured a similar mental shift on questioning God’s will, triggered by seeing the Dove climb aboard the vessel. Only then did the young man accept his calling to go to sea.
The negotiations brought out some curious insights. When the captain questions their lack of money, Jonah responds, “I am a servant of the God Most High. I take no part of man’s values.”
Think about this a moment, considering all of our culture’s pleasures and diversions. Do you know anyone, a believer or otherwise, who could echo Jonah’s ideals?
Some readers may consider this a break from the biblical text. But while Jonah 1:3 says the Dove paid the fare, it does not say how. In that bartering age, trading services proved a frequent means of compensation. The captain’s suggestions fill that bill.
Our captain expresses shock at Jonah’s Tarshish destination, which was indeed considered (in Israel, at least) to mark one end of the world. He warns the Dove, “Pirates are a risk outside the rule of Thebes and a vicious hazard beyond Carthage.”
The threat of pirates remained high in this region until modern times. The U.S. Marine Hymn hints of this challenge when it refers to the “shores of Tripoli.” You may read about those events elsewhere… consider starting with Brian Kilmeade’s wonderful book Thomas Jefferson and the Tripoli Pirates.