“So the shipmaster came to him and said unto him, ‘What meanest thou, O sleeper? Arise—call upon your God, if so be that God will think upon us, that we perish not’.”
When sleep isn’t a resting in His arms, it’s likely a running from His Face.
“How could he sleep in a time like this?”
That’s the question the mariners and the shipmaster were asking themselves that day at sea as the howling winds and angry waves pounded against their wooden ship. Although seasoned sailors who’d braved many a storm at sea, this storm was “different”—and they feared that this one very likely would be the one that sent them to their graves in Davy Jones’ Locker.
It’s interesting that “every man cried unto his god” (v.5) as the ship was tossed about like a young child’s toy. As someone once said, “There are no atheists in a foxhole;” so we shouldn’t be surprised that these frightened sailors would call upon the name of every god they knew in hopes that one of them would rescue them.
Yet, in the midst of it the shipmaster went down into the belly of the ship to look for the one who’d begged for passage on the ship while docked at Joppa (v.3). And, to his utter amazement he found Jonah fast asleep! Shaking him, he cried “What in the world are you doing, O sleeper?!? Get up—call upon your God (whoever He might be) and perhaps He’ll come to our aid lest we perish in this storm!”
Again, when you’re drowning at sea, you’ll look for anything that’ll float.
And, in their case, they needed everyone praying, whether he believed in prayer or not.
Then, interestingly, they “cast lots to determine who was guilty for this fierce storm” (v.7a). And, as if choreographed by some Divine Director, “the lot fell upon Jonah” (v.7b). We then know the rest of the story and how they ended up casting the rebellious runaway overboard (vv.8-15).
But, the question still remains, “What meanest thou, O sleeper?”
Or, another way to ask it, “How could you possibly sleep in a storm like this?”
Perhaps that’s the same question that Jesus thrice asked the disciples in the Garden prior to His arrest (Mt. 26:36-46). Or, that may have been what He was thinking that day on the Mount of Transfiguration when the same trio slept while He conversed with Moses and Elijah (Lk. 9:27-32). Or, it’s possible that’s what the angel wondered or whispered to Elijah when he woke him up under the Juniper tree (I Kings 19:4-8).
Regardless, it’s likely Jonah’s sleep stemmed from emotional fatigue that sprang from a heavy load of guilt. So often excessive sleepiness is a subconscious desire to escape from reality—but, in Jonah’s case, it was his attempting to escape “from the Presence of the Lord” (vv.3, 10). “Out of sight, out of mind,” if you will.
Dear Pilgrim, fear and fatigue often travel together, as do depression and drowsiness. What appears as slothfulness may simply be an avoidance of responsibility or downplaying of danger (Prov. 26:13). Yet, such sleep is unwise and gives no rest to the weary. Only in the arms of Christ do we truly find “rest unto our souls” (Mt. 11:28-30).
By Tom Smith Morning Manna Dated October 9, 2010