Photo by Elms on Morgue File.
Storms and storm imagery are used often in Scripture to teach and instruct. God uses these fits of nature for his purpose in several ways. Storms, as one studies biblical theology, become a fitting motif.
In the last couple of posts, we have turned our attention to Jonah. As Jonah heads out across the Mediterranean in his ill-advised, ill-schemed and ill-fated attempt to flee God’s presence, God uses a storm to stop Jonah’s impromptu vacation in its tracks.
But the LORD hurled a great wind upon the sea, and there was a mighty tempest on the sea, so that the ship threatened to break up. (Jonah 1.4)
That one verse is pregnant with thought-provoking, visual language. It drives the imagination wild visualizing the reality it conveys. The verbs that are used, in particular, are quite powerful. We will concentrate on the first one in this post.
First, YHWH hurls a storm. The imagery of this verb is vivid. It is a verb that is used some sixteen times in the Hebrew Bible. It is the same verb used, for instance, when Saul threw (i.e. hurled) his spear at David (1 Sam. 18.11; 20.33). It is a demonstrative action. I picture God as Nolan Ryan, winding up and throwing a high heater!
God flings, casts this storm at Jonah (and those with whom he is sharing his boat ride). God’s aim is true. He hits the target. He blasts a strike right down the middle!
Certainly, the imagery conjures an anthropomorphic image of God hurling a ball of tempest right at Jonah.
I mentioned this verb (טול) appears sixteen times in the Old Testament (OT); here in Jonah it appears four times, all in the space of a few verses. So, a quarter of its occurrences happen in this small book.
The writer then, (and more so, the Holy Spirit who inspired the text), is painting for us a vivid, graphic picture. It is similar to our highlighting text today. When a verb is used with frequency in the span of a few verses or even chapters, there is an emphasis being made. It also gives syntactical structure to the pericope.
Not only did YHWH hurl a great storm against them, but in reaction to that, the mariners hurled cargo over the side of the ship (1.5). As they called out in fear to their phantom gods, they mimicked the actions of the One, True God.
They could merely hurl the cargo; whereas God could hurl the storm!
Later, Jonah implores the mariners to hurl him over the side of the ship (1.12). Jonah asks them to treat him like the cargo. He asks them to hurl him into the sea. Jonah now understands (after having to be awakened from his slumber) that this storm has been brought by YHWH because of him and his disobedience.
The mariners give it a good go. They are not sure about Jonah’s plan. They are afraid that if they hurl the prophet of YHWH into the sea this may only incense God all the more. So, they do their best to spare Jonah’s life. But, no matter how hard they fought and contended against the storm, it was pointless.
Finally, they heed Jonah’s advice and hurl him into the sea (1.15). As soon as Jonah is hurled into the sea, YHWH ceases the tumult that he has hurled against them.
We may think this is a lot of fuss for one prophet. Why not let him go and call another prophet who would obey the call to go and preach repentance to Nineveh? Sometimes we find that God makes quite a fuss over things we may deem to be rather small or insignificant.
It is telling that Christ used Jonah as an analogy for his burial for three days and nights. Jonah in disobedience, swallowed up by a great fish providentially supplied by YHWH, calling out to God from the depths; and Jesus, in obedience, entombed in the depths of death.
There is another parallel between Jonah and Christ that comes to mind; a parallel that, like the one just mentioned, highlights their dissimilarities. Both found themselves on a sea in a wild storm. Both found themselves in the hull of a ship, sleeping during said storm. Jonah, in a false sense of peace and spiritual ignorance; whereas Christ, slept in full confidence and trust in his Father.
To conclude, again storms and storm imagery are a highly used motif in Scripture. As in our passage in Jonah, God uses a storm to teach and to correct. Other times, in theophanic glory, God appears as the storm.
When you flee from God’s calling, what does God hurl your way?!