Debra Isenbletter, pastor
Vs 7: “And they said everyone to his fellow, Come, and let us cast lots, that we may know for whose cause this evil is upon us. So, they cast lots, and the lot fell upon Jonah.”
Everyone is desperate to find out what they can do to save themselves, how to remedy the situation. They have prayed to their gods and that has not helped. They have thrown everything overboard that they can and that has not helped. The captain has brought Jonah above to stand with everyone else. We don’t read that he prayed. We don’t read that he has said anything. We don’t read what his reaction is to the storm. Jonah is still silent. The sailors and captain are desperate and they come up with one more thing they can do, it is to find out if this is someone’s fault, to find the person responsible.
First, we see the Practice that was common in that day: “And they said everyone to his fellow, Come, and let us cast lots,” It was the practice of casting lots to make a decision, or to find out something. In that practice, which the sailors and even Jonah participated in, we see a unity of purpose in the word “everyone” and the word “fellow.” They were “companions” or “friends” which shows a personal relationship. They were “fellow sailors” and a “fellow passenger” which shows a professional relationship. But whatever the relationship, whether personal or professional, whether close or distant, they were draw together by their need. They say, “let us”, let each of us, let all of us do this. Let us “cast lots.” The word “cast” means “to throw” and the word “lots” comes from “a pebble” and small stones were used for that purpose. It was a form for divination, of trying to seek knowledge by divine or supernatural means. Man would not or could not know the outcome, therefore the result was by divine intervention. Both pagans and Jews used this method, either for decisions, or directions. They had come to the end of themselves so they were going to ask their gods and Jonah’s God would give them an answer. We don’t know the specific details of how they did this but they may have used an individual marker or stone to identify each individual, then either one was drawn out of the container or the container was shaken and one fell out.
Even though this is a form of divination, casting lots was permitted by God and used in the following ways. Lots were cast to choose the land where each tribe would dwell (Num.26:52-56). Lots were cast to choose the scapegoat (Lev.18:8-9). Lots were cast to choose the courses for the priests service in the temple (1Ch.24:5; Luk.1:18). Lots were cast to choose who brought wood offerings to the house of God (Neh.10:14). Lots were cast to find a guilty man: Achan (Joshs.7:13-20). Lots were cast to choose a king: Saul (1Sa.10:19-22). Lots were cast to choose a replacement for Judas: Matthias (Acts 1:1:21-26).
Second, we see the Purpose: “that we may know for whose cause this evil is upon us.” They recognized that the storm was a divine judgment, they called it “this evil” or this “adversity, this calamity.” They realized that someone was responsible and wanted to know who it was. They seem to be aware of what Jonah still cannot see—he is responsible. Their actions will force Jonah to face his actions.
Finally, we see the Person: “So, they cast lots, and the lot fell upon Jonah.” Was Jonah surprised? Were the sailors surprised? Whatever method man used, it shows that God was still in control. “The lot is cast into the lap; but the whole disposing thereof is of the Lord.” (Prov.16:33). The phrase “the whole disposing thereof” means “its ever decision.” This shows that God is sovereign over human affairs and what may look like chance is really part of His plan.
This choosing of Jonah shows an obligation cannot be avoided and that a sin cannot be hidden. We see that principal in the behavior of Gad and Reuben when they wanted to settle and not cross over Jordan and fight (Num.32:1-6). Moses told them if they neglected their obligation there would be consequences. “But if ye will not do so, behold, ye have sinned against the Lord and be sure your sin will find you out.” (Num.32:33). Jonah’s sin found him out!
This choosing of Jonah shows the Lord will reveal and bring to light what is hidden. “For there is nothing covered, that shall not be revealed; neither hid, that shall not be known.” (Luk.12:2). Jonah’s hidden sin is revealed and brought to light. He is forced to face it.
What a sobering lesson in how the Lord is in control, He is always in control. There is no hiding from Him. There is no running from Him. There will come a time when He brings us face to face with our decisions and Jonah is now forced to face the decisions he has made.
Continued next issue