Monday, October 05, 2009

Exceedingly Afraid

When you hear the word exceedingly, you probably think of Mr Kipling and his exceedingly good cakes. At least, that's what I do, which reminds me, I would love a French Fancy or a Lemon Slice. But five times in the book of Jonah (in the ESV) we find the word 'exceedingly'. We're working through the book and in today's passage (Jonah 1:7-16), we find the word twice.

When we left Jonah on Friday, it was like a soap opera cliffhanger ending - Jonah had been sleeping in the bottom of the boat as it was being tossed about in the perfect storm. The Captain had gone to wake him, and things are still looking bad for the ship and the seamen.

The sailors then decide to cast lots to see whose fault the storm is. Whatever method they used, Jonah pulled the short straw, and so they ask who he is and what he's doing. His answer leads them to be 'exceedingly afraid,' so what is it he tells them?

I am a Hebrew, and I fear the LORD, the God of heaven, who made the sea and the dry land. (1:9)

Leaving aside for the moment the fact that he obviously doesn't fear the LORD too much or he wouldn't be running away, he witness is a terrifying one. Remember, the sailors had been crying out to their petty small-g gods, idols and images who couldn't do anything. Jonah is a follower of the one true God, the one who made the sea which is right now flying over the sides of the boat and threatening their very lives! He has already told them he's fleeing from his God, and their response says it all:

"What is this that you have done!"

You numpty! You serve the God who made the sea and the dry land - the only two categories of space on the whole earth, and you are trying to flee from him? What's more, you're getting us caught up in the whole thing as we're about the be shipwrecked for your folly? Any wonder we're exceedingly afraid!

Jonah tells them to hurl him into the sea, as the only way of calming things down. The sailors refuse, trying to row back to dry land, but the sea gets more and more tempestuous - that is, it was a mighty tempest in verse 4, more and more tempestuous in verse 11, and more and more tempestuous by verse 13.

Reluctantly, they throw Jonah overboard, but not before crying out to the LORD, asking him not to hold them guilty for Jonah's life. Instantly, 'the sea ceased from its raging.' (1:15). From tempestuous to the loudness of silence in a split second, as Jonah slips into the sea.

What was their reaction? 'Then the men feared the LORD exceedingly, and they offered a sacrifice to the LORD and made vows.' (1:16)

They are turned from begin exceedingly afraid (of the circumstances and situation) to fearing the LORD exceedingly - believing in him, trusting in him, bowing before his great majesty and power as shown in the calming of the storm and the stilling of the sea.

Are we as extreme in our devotion and fear of the LORD? Do we throw ourselves wholeheartedly into our serving the LORD? These men, who had begun as pagan pray-ers finish the day fearing the one true God, having seen God at work. Can we, who have experienced the power of God in the cross, and in conversion fear God less than those sailors?

See the great glory of our God - that even in Jonah's rebellion there is a saving purpose, as pagan sailors are 'turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God' (1 Thessalonians 1:9). If God can use the rebellion of one of his prophets for purposes of good and his glory, then he can (and does) use our moments of weakness and rebellion for his glory.

How great is our God, that all things work for good - all things, not just some things, whether that be our slipping into sin, or the bad news at the hospital, or a family funeral, or a prophet's rebellion.

Then the men feared the LORD exceedingly - and it was exceedingly good!

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