Come, and let us cast lots, that we may know for whose cause this evil is upon us. Jonah ch 1 The Bible
This was the conclusion arrived at by the mariners in the ship that was sailing from Joppa to Tarshish, when it was caught up in a storm. Prophet Jonah was one of the passengers of that ship.
The premise was a deep rooted belief, especially by the Captain of the ship, who instead of steering the ship in times of trouble using his skill, knowledge and resources, had arrived at a ‘belief’ that the turbulence of the seas surrounding his ship was caused by a human being, who was present in the ship when it was caught in the storm.
Based on that belief, the mariners and all the other passengers, including the merchants had arrived at a conclusion that the causal creature (a passenger) had to be firstly identified.
Prior to this, the mariners, as mentioned in the Bible probably included the whole lot of travellers in the ship, had taken action by firstly wailing and supplicating to their gods, hoping probably that they and their merchandise would be saved. When their mere prayers went unanswered and the storm showed no signs of abating, probably at the instance of the “shipmaster”, the merchants and passengers started throwing overboard the merchandise on a belief that the lightening of the ship would save the ship and their lives at least. Quite logical, considering the fact that the ship would float higher and consequently the billows would have to be higher if the ship were to be still drowned by those stormy waves. That marginal reduction of the risk is understandable and reasonably scientific. In my layman’s understanding the plimsoll line would have gone up better and the risk of keeling over considerably reduced.
The observing part of their brains did NOT get the desired result. Their initial action of merely praying but salvaging their merchandise gratuitously being of no avail, decided to throw the merchandise overboard. Even that did not bring down the storm. Following is the relevant excerpt:
“the mariners were afraid, and cried every man unto his god, and cast forth the wares that were in the ship into the sea, to lighten it of them. But Jonah was gone down into the sides of the ship; and he lay, and was fast asleep.”
But in all this commotion and finally engulfed with a fear for their own lives, the shipmaster is taking rounds to identify if he could do something which might further lighten the ship and he chances upon a man sleeping peacefully on the sides of the ship. The Captain – as I would like to dignify him, a democratically inclined man- rouses Jonah and chides him thus:
What meanest thou, O sleeper? arise, call upon thy God, if so be that God will think upon us, that we perish not.
The Captain is still under the belief that everything humanly possible had been done and PRAYERS probably by each passenger might alter the external turbulence of the storm. There’s no evidence that Jonah followed his instructions. Jonah could NOT ASK GOD. The clearest sign of an unrepented sinner. Cain could not ask God for forgiveness, because the sin of fratricide was hanging round his neck. Cain could only ask God for eliminating the paranoia, the unremitted sin still underlying his consciousness. Such was the case of Judas Iscariot, who could NOT seek repentance for his behaviour as his conscience was still laden with guilt.
Jonah had on the other hand been raised on a belief that sins OUGHT TO BE PUNISHED, come what may. Probably his premise had kept him within the banks of righteousness and but he also prescribed the same exacting standards to the people he preached to. Further, Jonah did not believe that the judgement HAS TO BE LEFT TO GOD- Jonah believed that the consequences of action should follow willy nilly. Secondly, Jonah believed that if he pronounced a consequence to certain behaviour, in consonance with the scriptures, there should no Mercy be applied by God despite repentance by the guilty person. Jonah believed that the punishment SHOULD BE INFLICTED. In fact he says that as a reason to God and how God’s Mercy would interfere in his prophetic credibility.
When Jesus says that one greater than Jonah was here, Jesus was referring to Himself as a sinless person – who in the flesh was not only sinless but also submitting to the will of the Father. That is why, when John & James sought Jesus’ permission to bring down fire from heaven like Elijah, Jesus says at Luke 9:
55 But he turned, and rebuked them, and said, Ye know not what manner of spirit ye are of.
56 For the Son of man is not come to destroy men’s lives, but to save them. And they went to another village.
That spotlessness alone could beget a response like that. Jesus was sinless and He told his disciples to ignore and move on.
Jonah couldn’t have responded like Jesus did, as he was already imbued in that paradigm of sinful action being followed by punishment, he had not entered the dispensation of Grace. That was heralded by Jesus and Jesus alone.
Thus caught up in this paradigm, Jonah submits himself to the dictates of those passengers and provides his name for the purposes of the lot.
We as Christians are not any superior to Jonah, we also submit ourselves to become a party being named in the lot to be drawn. What a pity – and we believe we are better than Jonah. I shudder when people talk disparagingly, especially the preachers, about Jonah. Even when Jesus compares Himself with some of the best like the temple, or Solomon, Jesus names Jonah therein. We need to develop modesty – spiritual modesty. We can’t talk of our ancestors for their shortcomings disparagingly – even in those days when the dispensation of Grace had NOT DESCENDED they had led a life of probity, which probably was more exacting.
So Jonah, being a prophet of the Almighty God, should have volunteered himself to be offloaded in the middle of the sea even before the lot, believing that he was responsible for the storm – he didn’t. He submitted to the game of chance to be named. But when Jonah’s name came out in the draw, he is convinced that he was the offender and requests them to offload him in the middle of the seas.
That takes us back to the proposition if the line of reasoning of the mariners was right. That is whether “Come, and let us cast lots, that we may know for whose cause this evil is upon us.” was right?
I believe that it was wrong because Jonah, a Prophet, if convinced of his own guilt and the consequent divine disapprobation should have volunteered and stepped out to confess his guilt before the mariners, but Jonah did not.
That is when God had to sanctify the outcome of the draw and ensure that Jonah’s name is drawn.
The line of reasoning was wrong – as the outcome under the theory of probability could have gone against anyone else, and if a weak person’s name had turned up, the mariners could have ferreted out his/her guilt and could have been made a SACRIFICIAL LAMB.
That is where God works. God sanctified a wrong question with an appropriate answer. As in the words of Francis Thompson in THE HOUND OF HEAVEN:
From those strong feet that followed, followed after
But with unhurrying chase and unperturbe d pace,
Deliberate speed, majestic instancy,
They beat, and a Voice beat,
More instant than the feet:
All things betray thee who betrayest me.
Fear wist not to evade as Love wist to pursue.
To all swift things for swiftness did I sue,
Clung to the whistling mane of every wind,
But whether they swept, smoothly fleet,
The long savannahs of the blue,
Or whether, thunder-driven,
They clanged His chariot thwart a heaven,
Plashy with flying lightnings round the spurn of their feet,
Fear wist not to evade as Love wist to pursue.
Still with unhurrying chase and unperturbed pace
Deliberate speed, majestic instancy,
Came on the following feet, and a Voice above their beat:
Nought shelters thee who wilt not shelter Me.
I sought no more that after which I strayed
In face of Man or Maid.
Jonah had to be pursued and had to be taken to Nineveh, no matter whether the route was wrong, no matter whether the transport was wrong, no matter whether the persons involved were stupid, no matter whether the logic was flawed, or no matter whether the question was wrong – the RIGHT ANSWER ALWAYS TURNS UP. That’s the law ordained by God.