Despair (Servant of the Fates Book 1)

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Maybe he will take notice of us, and we will not perish. What do you do? Where do you come from? What is your country? From what people are you? The sea was getting rougher and rougher. I know that it is my fault that this great storm has come upon you. But they could not, for the sea grew even wilder than before. Do not hold us accountable for killing an innocent man, for you, O Lord, have done as you pleased.

At this the men greatly feared the Lord, and they offered a sacrifice to the Lord and made vows to him. The lessons of the first three verses of Jonah are great, for they concern the impossibility of running away from God and the consequences of such an attempt. The consequences are that the path we take is downhill, that we never get to where we are going, and that we always pay our own bills. At this point of the story, however, God himself intervened in a supernatural way, so that the lessons of the remainder of the chapter are as great as those at the beginning.

We learn that disobedience always involves others in peril. We learn how God acts when his will is opposed. According to this principle, no path of disobedience is ever blessed. Now we also learn that God will intervene in special ways to insure the accomplishment of his purposes. This special intervention occurs twice in the first chapter.

The first is in the way God dealt with Jonah when he ran away. Jonah had sinned. You have disobeyed me, and as a result of that, you have forfeited the right to be called my child. I am casting you off. But it is not the way God operates. To put it in theological language, God had elected Jonah to a special task and had determined that the task be accomplished. God took his election of Jonah so seriously that he would actually sink the ship on which the disobedient prophet was sailing, if necessary, rather than allow him to get on to his own destination. There is no question about our being allowed to resist God or disobey him.

We all do it. We do it easily. At first he does not put great obstacles in our path. If we choose to stop reading our Bibles, he does not send a special prophet to get us reading them again. If we stop praying, he does not send a disaster into our lives to make us turn to him. Not at first!

He simply allows us to go downhill and to pay for our own foolish choices. However, when we persist in our disobedience, he gets rougher. He begins gently, just as we gently disobey. But in the end he sends a tempest. The outcome of the great storm was that by means of it God accomplished his purposes with Jonah. He accomplished his purposes with the people of Nineveh. He even accomplished his purposes in an ironic and preparatory way with the unbelieving sailors, for the story suggests that they came to believe on him.

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For the sin of David in numbering the people, 70, died of pestilence. They knew how to sail a ship, but this storm was beyond them. I admire the sailors. As I read the story, I find them to be hard-working, courageous men who knew their business well. These men had been in storms before. They knew what to do. They knew that in great storms the solution was to lighten the ship by casting the cargo overboard, which they did. Nevertheless, the storm was so great it frightened them, even though they had done all they could to save the situation.

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When they could do nothing more, they called on their gods. The trouble with our leaders is not that they are incompetent men. It is rather that the problems they are attempting to tackle are just too big for them. I am glad I do not have to struggle to eliminate misunderstanding between nations in order to advance world peace. These enormous problems are beyond any human ability, regardless of how talented the statesmen are.

So we see such men trying everything possible and then, when all else fails, calling on God.

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We must not be smug at this point and overly blame the sailors, for we remember that the trouble that came on them had come because of Jonah. What do these sailors do? First, they do all they humanly can; while Jonah sleeps, they try all human methods to save the vessel, to keep the enterprise going v. What experience, nautical science, reason, and common sense teach them to do, they do.

In this sense they do their duty. The sailors are in charge of the world, and in normal conditions they discharge their task correctly. We can ask no more of them. The tragic thing here, however, is that if conditions cease to be normal, it is not the fault of the sailors, the pagans; it is the fault of the Christian who had sailed with them.

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  • It is because of him that the situation is such that the knowledge and tradition of the sailors can do no more. We have to realize once again that this is how it usually is with the world; the storm is unleashed because of the unfaithfulness of the church and Christians. How many are impervious while the tempest rages? When Jonah had gone down into the hold of the ship to sleep, seemingly in drugged indifference to the calling of God, he must have thought himself alone and safe, at least for the time being.

    But suddenly his sleep was interrupted by the captain. This man was a pagan, like the sailors. He did not know the true God. His ideas of religion were undoubtedly filled with superstitions. Nevertheless, he believed enough in united prevailing prayer to want all on board to pray together. Since he did not know Jonah or what god he worshiped, it was just possible that Jonah worshiped a god who could do something if the other gods failed.

    His words were abrupt, for he was disturbed that Jonah could sleep when the ship was in peril.

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    • Even a Christian is not allowed to ignore reality forever. Meanwhile, up on the deck of the ship, the sailors had been discussing the storm and had concluded that it was not at all like other storms they had witnessed. They had been able to handle other storms. But this storm was ferocious, supernatural. The sailors had concluded that the storm was a judgment against one of their number who had done something horrible. So they decided to cast lots to discover the culprit. It was at this moment that Jonah arrived from below deck.

      Nothing in life ever really happens by chance. So when the lot was cast, the lot inevitably singled out Jonah. People may think that such things are determined by chance. But God tells us that he controls what happens. In this case the lot was something like a pair of dice, made from the anklebone of a sheep; the lap was the flat surface made when a man, who in those days normally wore a long garment, would squat down and spread his knees.

      The dice were cast into the lap, but God determined the outcome. Undoubtedly there were more questions even than these. Every man would have had one. But at last they were all out, and Jonah had his turn to speak. Notice the irony. Jonah had run away from God and was in this difficult position because he would not preach to pagans.

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      But here he was, in spite of himself, about to do precisely that. It is even possible that there were men of Nineveh among these sailors. God was about to show that his purposes will always be accomplished, even if he so wills it by one who is obstinately disobedient. It is amusing to me that, in spite of his determination to disobey God and the rupture of fellowship between himself and God that must have caused, Jonah gave a very good testimony. Perhaps he had been a preacher too long and the habit of it was with him.

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      Or perhaps, like Peter at the campfire of the high priest, he was just unable to lie convincingly.

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