Debra Isenbletter, pastor
Vs 8: “Then said they unto him; Tell us, we pray thee, for whose cause this evil is upon us; What is thine occupation? And whence comest thou? What is thy country? And of what people art thou?”
This verse begins with “Tell us, we pray thee…”. There are two different tones is this cry that they give. There is a demand: “Tell us”—There is a desire: “we pray thee.” This is an opportunity and it is an open door for Jonah to be a prophet. There in in great need, they are without hope. What an opportunity to witness that Jonah has before him. This is what Jonah should be doing as a prophet of God. This is what Jonah has avoided, now he is forced to speak and because he has waited, the Lord has chosen the circumstances and the audience. Jonah cannot run, he cannot hide, he must speak. The Lord challenges and commands Jonah through these men and forces Jonah to face his fear and his failure. Jonah may not realize it but this is God’s Grace.
“for whose cause this evil is upon us”— For “whose account” or “who is responsible.” This is an accusation because they know who because the lot has fallen to Jonah. What they do not know is why. They recognize what has happened as “evil.” They believe in divine judgment, in divine justice, in divine intervention. They know there is a reason for the storm and they know that Jonah knows also. Jonah has an opportunity to reveal to them the divine Who is behind this, the God of Israel.
The questions that following are asked by these men, but the Lord speaks through them. These are the Lord’s questions for Jonah. These are four questions forcing Jonah to admit the truth. To be a prophet of God.
First Question: “What is thy occupation?” The root word for occupation means “to dispatch as a deputy.” Is not that a description of a prophet? This word speaks of labor in that occupation (business, work, employment) it also speaks also of responsibility in that occupation (deputyship or ministry).
The word “occupation” is sometimes translated as “business” or “employment.” It is what you are occupied with or busy with. It is used in connection with Joseph. It is the testimony Joseph had as a slave in Potiphar’s house. “And it came to pass about this time, that Joseph went into the house to do his business…” (Gen.39:11). He was serving man but in reality, he was really serving God. He was a busy man. Daniel had this same dedication to serve, and was busy in that service. After his vision, and recovery from the vision he said: “I rose up and did the king’s business…” (Dan.8:27)—Jonah should have been busy with the Lord’s business but he failed in that part of his testimony when he ran away.
The word “occupation” is also translated “work” speaking of physical work, of labor. Jonah had a calling to a specific task and it was work, it was not easy. I am sure in the past there was a weariness experienced in his ministry, in his preaching, in his traveling, though we do not hear about it. We see the effort in that “occupation,” the “work” aspect of it when we see the ministry of the Levites, the description of those that were singers. “for they were employed in that work day and night.” (1Chron.9:33). We see the dedication of that “work” in the labor of those that were building the wall. They all worked together, “they that bare burdens with those that laded, everyone with hone of his hands wrought in the work, and with the other hand held a weapon.” (Neh.4:17). Jonah was not occupied with his occupation, he was not working, was not laboring, he was sleeping until the captain woke him up.
The last meaning for “occupation” is an “appointment,” or a “position of responsibility,” it is translated “officers of the king” (Esther 9:3). Everything points back to the acceptance of this position of responsibility, that acceptance, that embracing of it makes possible the work and labor involved. Jonah was running away from his occupation, his appointment, his position of responsibility.
Second Question: “Whence comest thou?” Third Question: “What is thy country?” Fourth Question: “What people art thou?”
Each question grows more specific as they try to find out who Jonah is. Verse 10 tells us that Jonah during this time had told them he had fled from the Lord, so they may have understood that he was a prophet. But what is so striking in their questions is that they do not know anything about Jonah. He is a mystery. They cannot tell from his speech, or his dress, from how he interacted with them who or what he is. That is what is so striking and so sad. Jonah has carefully and deliberately hidden who and what he is. He has no visible testimony, he has hidden his light, hidden that he is a prophet of God, hidden that he knows God at all. He has done this so successfully that they do not find out until they closely examine him. Is that not a sad condition for this prophet of God to be in.
Jonah in a way pictures the nation of Israel because the testimony they have is hidden, they should be a light and a testimony of God in the world and nationally they are not. There may be individuals or small groups but the nation is like Jonah, asleep, hidden, running away from their responsibility or denying it. The church which is hidden in Christendom has this same hidden testimony. There is such a mixture of tares and wheat, and leaven with the meal and involvement in the politics of the world that the simple, powerful testimony of Christ is hidden. It will be the translation and resurrection of the First Rank, the Bride that will wake up the next rank and their light will begin to shine and each rank thereafter. We could go even further and say that as individual saints we can come to this place where our testimony is so hidden that no one around us knows who we are, where we are from, what our calling is. And until circumstances force us into a position where we are examined or have to take a stand, we can be like Jonah, asleep, hidden, running from our responsibility.
Let us each boldly show forth our testimony of who and what we are, by word or deed, by little things or big things, so that those around us have no need to try to examine us to find out we belong to the Lord and serve the Lord.