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  • Writer's pictureTim Hemingway

Omnipotent Sovereignty


Then the Lord sent a great wind on the sea, and such a violent storm arose that the ship threatened to break up. Jonah 1:4

Last time I spoke we started out in this little book of Jonah, and I said the reason for us turning here next is because one of the key roles of the local church is a missionary role. I said, that mission means that the church moves out from itself into the world – into the community – with the message of the good news about salvation in Jesus.

And that’s where the book of Jonah starts out, with a word from the Lord to Jonah son of Amittai commanding him to leave his little home town in Israel and go to the great city of Nineveh – the capital city of the rising power of the day, Assyria; and the greatest threat to his home country.

His task was to preach against that city because of its wickedness which had come up before the Lord, for now the Lord had decreed a cataclysmic destruction for the city in 40 days’ time.

However, Jonah, applying his knowledge of God and the prophecies of Hosea, formulates a plan that he thinks is better than Gods plan.

He thinks the Ninevites will repent when he preaches to them.

He thinks God will relent in his judgment when they repent.

He thinks the Assyrians will rise to full power.

And he thinks Hosea’s prophecy will come true, and Israel will go into captivity in Assyria.

He reasons that the fulcrum upon which all those future events hinge, is the commission God has given him. And he’s not wrong.

God often uses means to bring about his purposes.

Jonah’s Presumption

So, instead of proceeding in obedience to the word of the Lord, he proceeds on the basis of a plan he’s formulated in his own mind.

Instead of setting out north-east for Nineveh, he sets out south-west for Joppa, where he hopes to find a ship leaving for Tarshish - a distant western-Mediterranean outpost that would easily take him 40 days out of the way.

I think that Jonah thought he could be the saviour of Israel. I think he thought that his actions would be a kind of sacrificial act on behalf of his people – on behalf of God’s people.

But God has said that ‘to obey is better than sacrifice, and to heed is better than the fat of rams’ (1 Samuel 15:22).

Sometimes we might think a course of action is noble in God’s eyes because it’s borne out of love for him or a desire for his causes, or his people, but God’s words are not defective.

All his ways are good and upright and all his thoughts are perfect. He’s looking for his people to faithfully trust that his designs are best; and where he reveals them to us, for us to faithfully follow them. He calls that ‘obedience’.

God is not pleased when we try to read the providential landscape and choose to ignore his Word in favour of a plan we’ve formulated with our own wisdom.

God has a revealed will that he’s made known to us – he’s looking for us to pay close attention to it, and to follow it.

In the age in which we live, the principle that God is more pleased with obedience than sacrifice will test our faith to the very core.

Will we, his people, reason there’s a better way than God’s way to do sexuality? Will we reason there’s a better way than God’s way to do marriage? Or His way to do money? Or his way about to pursue relationships?

The book of Jonah is reminding us that we don’t know best, and the path of obedience is the path of righteousness. In this particular instance, Jonah has a commission from God: to take a message of deliverance to a people who don’t know God; and he should have done exactly as God had told him to do.

We have a commission from God also. And it’s the same commission as Jonah’s. The commission is to go into the world and take a message of ‘deliverance through the death and resurrection of Jesus’ to a people no less deserving than we are, that they too may be spared God’s righteous anger and judgment.

So, will we go? Will we open our homes and our lives to the lost to convey the good news about Jesus? So, will we obey?

Omnipotent Sovereignty

The next thing that happens in the account, is Jonah finds a ship at the port of Joppa heading to the very place he had decided to go. So he buys his ticket and sets sail.

The fact that he finds a ship there heading precisely for his desired destination you might consider a happy coincidence for Jonah.

But I hope that by the end of this message you will not think that way about it. The reason I say that is because this is the first of numerous events that transpire in this chapter that demonstrate God’s omnipotent sovereignty over all things.

And as we see the events unfold in this book we see that his sovereignty over all things often comes to purposeful ends.

So, I’m asserting at this point in the narrative, that God put the ship there in Joppa.

The very one that Jonah wanted to be there – God put there.

If that’s the case then we have to conclude that God is providing Jonah with the means to carry out his disobedient plan.

We have to conclude that because, if we agree that God is omnipotently sovereign so as to be able to put Jonah’s desired ship in port at just the right time, then he could equally have not put it there. God is capable of both scenarios.

Yet Jonah does find his ship in port and so, if God is sovereign in that way, then he’s providing the means for Jonah to exercise his disobedient plan. We’ll see if that’s a plausible notion. And if it is, then we have to ask why God would do that.

So, verse 3, Jonah went aboard and then, verse 4, a violent storm arose on the sea. In fact, such a violent storm that the very ship itself appeared to be on the verge of total destruction – it ‘threatened to break up’.

Verse 5 says that the sailors - presumably seasoned sea-hands since they were sailing such a significant distance - were afraid (v.5).

So much so that their fear caused them to do two things: First, they cried out to their pagan gods. And second, they threw precious cargo into the sea to lighten the ship and so prevent it from sinking. I think that’s a measure of the considerable peril they were in. This was a deadly storm they’d sailed into.

So, if Jonah finding his desired ship in port was a happy coincidence, then is this turn of events an unhappy one?

Well we don’t have to surmise because we’re told that it was not a matter of coincidence at all that this storm had appeared.

Verse 4 says that ‘the Lord [Yahweh – God Almighty] sent a great wind on the sea’. It was this wind that was the cause of the violent storm that now engulfed the ship. There’s no mistaking that God was omnipotently sovereign over the wind and the storm that befell these sailors and Jonah.

Next, we find out that Jonah had gone below deck and fallen asleep, whereupon the captain came and woke him saying, ‘How can you sleep’(v.6). Maybe he means, how can you sleep when we are in such a perilous situation, but maybe he means how could anybody sleep when such a storm is playing tiddlywinks with the boat we’re in?

Either way, the answer is, Jonah could sleep because his sleep was so deep as to not even be interrupted by the savage storm raging above deck, and what must have been an horrendous heaving motion of the vessel. That kind of sleep sounds like an abnormal kind of sleep to me, and I suggest that God put Jonah into it.

Then, verse 7, the sailors in their pagan superstition – thinking that such a calamity must be owing to some activity performed by one of the souls on the ship; that one of them had done something that had served to anger the gods - decide to cast lots to find out who is responsible for the storm. The lot is cast and the lot falls to Jonah.

Now we can be completely certain that that was no coincidence. The lot fell to Jonah because God made it fall to Jonah and for no other reason. Here’s how we know: Proverbs 16:33 – ‘The lot is cast into the lap but it’s every decision is from the Lord’.

Lots were flat stones or sticks with markings, the random combination and falling of which were meant to indicate predetermined outcomes. The number of potential combinations were so vast, that the outcome was always regarded as completely unpredictable and therefore significant.

Proverbs 16 is telling us that every combination of the cast is determined by God. Therefore, we know that when this casting of the lots falls to Jonah, that too was designed by God.

The sailors want to know what Jonah has done. Why is he running away from his God? And Jonah is very honest, in verse 9 he says: ‘I am a Hebrew and I worship the Lord, the God of heaven, who made the sea and the dry land’.

Jonah is telling them that his God is the God who has made the storm arise on the sea, in the same way that he is the God who made the sea that the storm had arisen upon.

And, that his God is the god of the dry land too – the very thing every single one of them was now longing to be safely on once more.

There’s no doubt in Jonah’s mind how this storm has beset the ship – the Lord his God has brought it upon them.

But, whilst the Lord had brought this terrible storm upon the ship, he was also keeping the ship together. And we know that because in verse 4, the storm was violent enough to break the ship apart, but here in verse 11 the sea is still getting ‘rougher and rougher’.

Therefore, there’s every reason to think that, according to the natural laws of physics, the boat should logically by now be completely destroyed.

So, we see that God is sovereign over not only nature, but the laws of nature also.

Then, verse 12 confirms that Jonah regards not only God to be the cause of the storm, but that the occasion for God bringing the storm upon the ship is the fact that Jonah is on it: ‘Pick me up and throw me into the sea…and it will become calm. I know that it is my fault that this great storm has come upon you’.

So, if I’m right when I asserted at the beginning that God put the ship in Joppa for Jonah to board, then it means that these men could have been spared all this anxiety and fear. We know that because Jonah being on the boat is the reason God has brought the storm to the boat.

Verse 13 goes on. It tells us, the sailors – knowing that it would be certain death for Jonah if they were to follow his instructions – tried to row back to land! But that idea was a futile one because ‘the sea grew even wilder than before’. What a storm this must have been by now and God keeps cranking up the power!

And then the most amazing admission comes in verse 14 (I pray that you might all be able to pray this prayer with these sailors):

‘They cried out to the Lord…do not hold us accountable for killing an innocent man, for you, Lord, have done as you pleased’. What a statement!

These are the men who were crying out to pagan Gods, casting lots and throwing precious cargo overboard just a few hours earlier. And here they are calling the one true and living God ‘LORD’ and declaring the most amazing truth – namely that God had done exactly as he pleased in all the circumstances of this storm.

They have been transformed from superstitious sailors to believers in the omnipotent sovereign God of Jonah. I hope that you have all made the same journey and now know that God is indeed the omnipotent sovereign God who rules over all things.

As confirmation of the truth they just spoke, in verse 15 they throw Jonah overboard and the ‘raging sea grew calm’. At this the men greatly feared God and they offered sacrifices to him and made vows to him (v.16).

And finally, verse 17, says that God provided a fish of such huge proportions that it could swallow Jonah whole. He provided it in just the right place and at just the right time so that Jonah’s life was preserved from the raging sea. And in an unnatural way, God enabled Jonah to live inside of that great fish for three days and nights.

So now, in light of the storm; in light of the preservation of the ship; in light of Jonah’s sleep; in light of the lots cast; in light of the sailor’s transformation; in light of the fish; and in light of Jonah’s preservation inside the fish, was it a happy coincidence that Jonah found his desired ship in port at Joppa?

No, it was not. God put the ship there, just like he brought the storm, arranged the lots, overruled the laws of physics and provided the fish.

Which means, God provided the means for Jonah to go through with the first steps of his disobedient plan.

And we must ask why?

And what are the implications of that.

God’s All-wise Plan

Well, I doubt we can get a handle on even half the reasons God provided that ship in Joppa, but let’s see the ones that are obvious in the chapter.

Let’s say that this ship’s crew and passengers amounted to 25 souls - that seems a reasonable number. Even if the number were greater than that, the point would still be the same.

The most significant transformation in this account is not the sea transitioning from calm, to raging storm, to calm again, it is the transformation of the sailors on board.

In other words, the effect of these events on the sailors was a transformative effect. The sailors start out pagans and finish up believers in the God of Israel. They start out not knowing their right hand from their left (Jonah 4:11) and end up knowing the one true and living God. How does that happen?

It happens like this: These sailors are caught in the midst of a calamitous storm – something that must have been a hazard of their livelihood; one that they knew might befall them at some point.

Perhaps in a similar way that we all have got to come to terms with the fact that, according to cancer research, 1 in 2 of us will be diagnosed with cancer in our lifetimes. Cancer might be our calamitous storm.

Because of the storm they call out to their pagan gods, but no help comes.

Because no help comes they try to lighten the ship to save themselves, but the storm threatens to overwhelm them.

Because God had put Jonah into a deep sleep, they go and wake him up to call on his god – ‘perhaps he will take notice of us so that we will not perish’ (v.6).

Because Jonah is awake he tells them who he is. And specifically, that his identity is defined by the God that he worships.

I wonder how many of us, if asked to describe who we are, would connect our identity with the God we believe in. Jonah did. He said, ‘I am a Hebrew and I worship the Lord, the God of heaven’ (v.9).

Because the sea grew wilder the sailors asked him what they must do to appease his God. Jonah answered truthfully – ‘throw me into the sea’.

Now when Jonah says that, he’s saying something similar to what the high priest said about Jesus in Jesus’ day. John 11:50 – ‘You do not realise that it is better for you that one man die for the people than that the whole nation perish’.

Jesus’ one death for many people satisfied the judgement of God so that the many would not perish. Without Jesus, everyone perishes; the storm of sin and death overtakes everybody. God’s eternal judgment falls on every individual, and all perish.

But in Jesus many will be saved. When Jesus dies for a person he causes God’s judgment to fall on himself instead of them – even though Jesus was an innocent man.

Notice that’s how the sailors described Jonah in their prayer, before they tossed him overboard – ‘Do not hold us accountable for killing an innocent man’.

After Jesus’ death has been applied to a person’s life, the storm of God’s judgment subsides. There is now no condemnation for that person.

The sailors, because they threw Jonah into the sea, received the calming they craved. The result was that the sailors were in awe of Jonah’s God. They themselves became worshipers of God and committed their lives to him right there and then.

In short, God brought pagan sailors who were far from him, to himself, and made them his own people. And he did it through the means of Jonah’s disobedience, and by his own omnipotent sovereignty over all things.

In other words, God used his sovereignty – including Jonah’s sinful disobedience – to God-glorifying purposeful ends.


So, what did that show Jonah and what does it show us?

It showed Jonah that God is not like people. He cares about all people. He cares about the Israelite and the Assyrian; and the pagan sailor.

And it shows that he cares about small numbers and big numbers, alike. He cares about 120,000 Ninevites and about 25 sailors.

It shows that his ways are not our ways, that he has his people in unusual places and he uses means to reach them.

It also shows that faithful obedience to God’s commands is what is paramount, because he is a God who delights to save. He will use faithful servants who proclaim the truth about their personal God - even in the midst of their own failings, and shortcomings, and broken lives - to work miracles of salvation in the lives of lost people.

Jonah did not cause the storm, or keep the ship together, or induce the sleep, or oversee the lots, but he did speak the truth. God did all the other miraculous things, and he coupled them with that truthful proclamation about himself. And so, God brought those sailors to himself.

Therefore, what kind of people ought we to be? We should be those who believe steadfastly in the omnipotent sovereignty of God.

And we should be those who faithfully obey the word of God and speak forth the good news about Jesus.

And we should be those who pray that God will turn his omnipotent sovereignty to purposeful ends for the salvation of lost souls, and for the glory of his great name.

If God would concern himself with a small number of individuals – like a boat full, for example – might he not concern himself with large number – like a city full? The answer is he might.

All we know is, we must go the direction he has told us to go. The rest we must leave to him. And pray without ceasing.


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