Sunday, July 10, 2022

Sunday Sermon: "Fearing the Lord" (Jonah 1:7-10)


SERMON TITLE: “Fearing the Lord”

SCRIPTURE: Jonah 1:7-10

7 Then each man said to the other, “Come, let us have the lots fall so we may know on whose account this calamitous evil has struck us.” So they had the lots fall, and the lot fell on Jonah. 

8 Then they said to him, “Tell us, now! On whose account has this calamitous evil struck us? What is your occupation? And where do you come from? What is your country? From what people are you?” 

9 And he said to them, “I am a Hebrew, and I fear Yahweh, the God of heaven, who made the sea and the dry land.” 

10 Then the men became greatly fearful, and they said to him, “What is this you have done?” For the men knew that he was fleeing from the presence of Yahweh because he had told them. 

THEMES/OBSERVATIONS: Lots of references to fear in this passage. V. 7 sailors fearful of the storm and then vv.7-8 the sailors have enhanced concerns/fears when the lot falls on Jonah. V. 9 Jonah's self-confession of "fearing the Lord" v. 10 sailors again "extremely frightened" because they realize that Jonah, a prophet, is fleeing from the presence of Yahweh. I’ve titled today’s message “Fearing the LORD” for that reason. “Fear” is present in our text. It has me thinking this week about the fear of the Lord and who are the "God-fearing" Christians today? And what characterizes their life? We will think about this morning. 


When we think of the word “fear” we usually think of an attitude of anxiety or distress, maybe even concerns over a threat to our future. We say, “I am afraid” …OR… “I fear this thing” and we experience anxiousness or even dread. There’s a story about when electricity was first installed in the White House, President Benjamin Harrison was so intimidated by the newfangled electricity that he didn't dare touch the switches. If there were no servants around to turn off the lights when President Harrison went to bed, he would just sleep with them on. There is human fear. It can be irrational.

But the Bible describes a different fear. The Bible declares that God alone is to be feared, and moments of human fear can be opportunities for deepening faith in him. In fact, the Bible commands us to reverently fear the LORD and the witness of scripture points us to the importance of a godly fear.

Proverbs 1:7 — “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge; Fools despise wisdom and instruction.” Reverential awe and admiring, submissive fear is foundational for all spiritual knowledge and wisdom.”

Deuteronomy 6:13 — “You shall fear only the LORD your God; and you shall worship Him and swear by His name.”

Deuteronomy 31:12–13 — “Assemble the people, the men and the women and children and the alien who is in your town, so that they may hear and learn and fear the LORD your God, and be careful to observe all the words of this law. [THEN NOTICE THE EFFECT THIS IS TO HAVE ON THE NEXT GENERATION] 13 “Their children, who have not known, will hear and learn to fear the LORD your God, as long as you live on the land which you are about to cross the Jordan to possess.”

In the Old Testament, the fear of the LORD is described as reverential piety and devotion. It was to be taught and passed on to the children and the children’s children. God was called “the Fear of Isaac” (Gen. 31:42, 53), i.e., the God whom Isaac feared. Isaac was devoted to God, and that devotion – a mixture reverence, respect, love, and hope – is what we mean by “the fear of the Lord.”

1 Samuel 12:24 — “Only fear the LORD and serve Him in truth with all your heart; for consider what great things He has done for you.”

In the New Testament, a holy fear of God is also commanded, because for example God holds our eternity in His hand (Matt. 10:28), also because believers who fear the Lord are seeking to persuade others to call on the mercy of God (as Paul instructs in 2 Cor. 5:11), “So then, knowing the fear of the Lord, we persuade men, but we have been made manifest to God; and I hope that we have been made manifest also in your consciences.”


Psalm 34:7–9 — “The angel of the LORD encamps around those who fear Him, and rescues them. O taste and see that the LORD is good; How blessed is the man who takes refuge in Him! O fear the LORD, you His saints; For to those who fear Him there is no want.” THERE IS PROTECTION, THE LORD HIMSELF PROTECTS AND KEEPS THOSE WHO FEAR HIM.

Isaiah 33:6 — “And He will be the stability of your times, A wealth of salvation, wisdom and knowledge; The fear of the LORD is his treasure.” ISAIAH REMINDED ISRAEL THAT THERE WAS NO TRUE LASTING EARTHLY TREASURE ASIDE FROM THE DEVOTION AND FEAR OF THE LORD. There are places that have plenty of Bibles, and ministers, and serious godly people, where the fear of the Lord abounds, and it is those places that are really rich.

I am reminded of the quote from William Gurnall, the great Puritan and Anglican clergyman, who said “We fear men so much because we fear God so little.”

Jonah was a man who didn’t want to go to Nineveh, who he despised. But Jonah was a man who was going to learn a lesson about the Fear of the Lord. Did Jonah fear the Lord? Did the sailors? At first, we don’t know. Not at least until the storm showed up…


“Then each man said to the other, “Come, let us have the lots fall so we may know on whose account this calamitous evil has struck us.” So they had the lots fall, and the lot fell on Jonah.” — (Jonah 1:7)

You’ll remember that Jonah had slept soundly in the hold of the ship bound for Tarshish. His flight from the Lord had seemed to start well. But now, with a storm raging, and the intercessions of the sailors and the cries for help to their pagan gods going unanswered, questions begin to arise. Why is this happening? What is going on? Who is responsible?

And in the midst of the questions, the sailors struck upon a solution. They decide to cast lots and determine who has brought the fearsome tempest upon the ship. 

Now, had Jonah been occupied faithfully with his duty as a prophet, proclaiming both law and gospel to the world, the situation might have been different – the casting of lots wouldn’t have been necessary. The sailors would have known what was happening. They too, like the Ninevites later, might even have had the chance to cast themselves before the LORD in repentance under Jonah’s preaching. But as it was, with Jonah in rebellion, the lots were brought forth to discern what great sinner was on board.

Now, we need to account for this business of the casting of lots. What was a lot? And why were they cast? 

The use of lots for divination was widespread in the ancient world. Use of lots was not just a pagan practice though. Although divination in general was forbidden to Israel (Deut. 18:10–11), the casting of lots was permitted in certain circumstances. In the Old and New Testaments lots were cast for many important decisions. Proverbs 16:33 is central to understanding that the ancient Jews and Christians believed God’s will could be determined by the casting of lots. 

“The lot is cast into the lap, but its every judgment is from Yahweh.” — (Proverbs 16:33)

God’s people also used lots for divine guidance. The high priest’s Urim and Thummim probably served this purpose (cf. Exod. 28:30). Saul was chosen as Israel’s first king by the casting of lots (1 Sam. 10:21), and the law provided several circumstances in which God’s people were to appeal to him for knowledge in this way. For example, in Leviticus 16:8, Aaron used it to distinguish between the sacrificial goat and the scapegoat. 1 Chronicles 24 tells us the distribution of priestly offices in the Temple was divided by casting lots. Joshua 18:10 tells us that lots were cast to determine the division of land among the twelve tribes of Israel.

Perhaps the most famous casting of lots in the Bible is the casting of lots by the Roman soldiers who crucified Jesus. Here in the book of Jonah, the Hebrew text’s literal description of the sailors’ procedure indicates that some kind of dice were likely used, just as the Roman soldiers did to divide Jesus’ garments at the cross (Mark 15:24). 

The right use of lots was in seeking God’s will and in acting so as to demonstrate impartiality. Casting lots was a way of saying, “Let it be God’s will that decides.” When appealed to in a right spirit, God spoke through the lots. But even when lots or other instruments of chance are used in an ungodly way, God’s sovereignty is not overthrown.

Are there godly uses of lots today? Our situation very is different from that of Old Testament believers. There are no examples in the post-Pentecost church of believers seeking information from God through instruments of chance. The last instance was the selection of Matthias to replace Judas as one of the twelve disciples (Acts 1:26). 

But after the coming of the Holy Spirit to indwell God’s people, lots were never used again. When the first deacons were selected, it was not by lots but by the Holy Spirit speaking through the will of the congregation that this was decided (Acts 6:5). 

With the canon of Holy Scripture now complete, Christians are not to seek special means of divine revelation. Instead, James says, “If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him” (James 1:5). The Holy Spirit, who now indwells all believers, teaches you and guides you into truth. The throne of God is accessible through the blood of Jesus Christ, and we have confidence that God hears and answers our prayers.

Back in Jonah, whatever God thought of the sailors and their casting of lots, it was his own intention that Jonah should be exposed. Verse 7 reports, “So they cast lots, and the lot fell on Jonah.” Like the sin of Achan, found out in the time of Joshua, the prophet was now found out.

How would you respond if you were Jonah? Would you contest the falling of the lots? Would you rack your mind for some desperate denial? Would you play it cool and shrug it off? Jonah did none of these, for he saw in the lots the finger of God. Proverbs 16:33 declares, “The lot is cast into the lap, but its every decision is from the Lord.”


Then they said to him, “Tell us, now! On whose account has this calamitous evil struck us? What is your occupation? And where do you come from? What is your country? From what people are you?” And he said to them, “I am a Hebrew, and I fear Yahweh, the God of heaven, who made the sea and the dry land. Then the men became greatly fearful, and they said to him, “What is this you have done?” For the men knew that he was fleeing from the presence of Yahweh because he had told them.” — (Jonah 1:8-10)

Well, the lot has been cast and fell upon Jonah. Knowing now something specific about the cause of the storm, the agitated seamen fire a barrage of questions at Jonah. They asked him, “Tell us, now! On whose account has this calamitous evil struck us? (v. 8). The lot has convinced them at least that Jonah holds the answer to their questions, but they are uncertain if it is Jonah himself who is at fault. 

What do you do (your occupation)? they ask. This may also be understood as, ‘What are you doing here?’ Where do you come from? What is your country? From what people are you? Now, this is not some sort of immigration questionnaire. They were religiously loaded questions. The gods of the pagans were generally thought to be deities who were worshipped in specific localities. Knowing Jonah’s origins would help the sailors decide which god to pray to, if Jonah were the cause of their troubles. Their concern is not for Jonah or his relationship with his God, but for their own safety.

Look at Jonah with me. Jonah is finally awake and he gives the proper answer: “I am a Hebrew, and I fear the Lord” (Jonah 1:9). Notice the word “fear” – in Hebrew it is (YAH-REY) – it means “to tremble, to be afraid of, to reverence, to be awed at.” The New International Version renders this, “and I worship the Lord.” In other words, I “fear-worship” the Lord. The connection is a good one, because to worship God is to fear him. You see beloved, the fear of the Lord is not a groveling, cringing type of fear, but involves the idea of worship. It means reverential awe, trust, and respect.” This is what Christians are called by God to do in this world; worshipful fear of God is the proper occupation of the church.

I mentioned last week that it is the sleeping church that fears the world and looks for relevance in worldliness. But when the church is truly awakened, the first sign is that it fears the Lord. Jonah is waking up, isn’t he? However incomplete Jonah’s repentance was to this point, he still gave the very definition of a true, awakened believer: “I fear the Lord.”

Secondly, note the Jonah’s fear. Jonah declared himself a fearer of the one true God, “I fear Yahweh, the God of heaven, who made the sea and the dry land” (Jonah 1:9). 

What was the result? Notice the sailors, verse 10 “Then the men were exceedingly afraid” (Jonah 1:10). Earlier the storm had made them just “afraid” (Jonah 1:5), but learning of the God who not only sent the storm but created the sea and dry land made them “exceedingly afraid.” GADOL (Hebrew) means “remarkable in an extraordinary degree.” Literally, the text says, “They feared a great fear.” They were shocked that Jonah had sinned against this God, showing an awe for the God they did not know that exceeded Jonah’s fear for the God he did know.

The sailors likely would have heard about the Hebrews and their frightening God. He was the God who broke Pharaoh’s power in order to set his people free, and who parted the waters of the Red Sea for the Hebrews to pass through, but then drowned the pursuing Egyptians. This was the stern God who took his people into the wilderness for forty years to teach them to fear him, but then led them into Canaan with such frightening power. Therefore, they realized, fearing a great fear, that “this was a great God, this God of the Hebrews; and it was this God, not a weak god, who was pursuing them for the sake of Jonah.”

You see beloved, when the church is awake, God uses the church to awaken the world. Christians wonder why there is no fear of God in the society around us. The reason is that there is so little fear of God in the church. History reveals that great revivals always begin in the church: Christians regain their vision of the great and holy God they serve; they fear him; they revere him; they grasp with awe the saving message of grace in Jesus Christ. From such a church, the fear of God spreads out to the world, so that many seek the salvation God has provided in the gospel of his Son. But until the church regains its own identity and awakens to the fear of its God, there is no way for the world around to fear the Lord either.

One time many years ago, the king of Hungary found himself depressed and unhappy. He sent for his brother, a good-natured but rather indifferent prince. The king said to him, "I am a great sinner; I fear to meet God." But the prince only laughed at him. This didn't help the king's disposition any. Though he was a believer, the king had gotten a glimpse of his guilt for the way he'd been living lately, and he seriously wanted help. In those days it was customary if the executioner sounded a trumpet before a man's door at any hour, it was a signal that he was to be led to his execution. The king sent the executioner in the dead of night to sound the fateful blast at his brother's door. The prince realized with horror what was happening. Quickly dressing, he stepped to the door and was seized by the executioner, and dragged pale and trembling into the king's presence. In an agony of terror, he fell on his knees before his brother and begged to know how he had offended him. 

"My brother," answered the king, "if the sight of a human executioner is so terrible to you, shall not I, having grievously offended God, fear to be brought before the judgment seat of Christ?" 

Well, fear gripped the sailors. These sailors feared a great fear (v. 10 states). The text now tells us, They knew he was running away from the Lord, because he had already told them so, in other words, Jonah had now made a complete confession of his situation to the sailors, and by now they know as much as we do. It is therefore with bewilderment and horror that they asked, “What have you done?” They could not take in the full dimensions of what Jonah had revealed to them. Rather than expressing a desire for more information, their question was an exclamation of consternation at the enormity of what Jonah had done—something that up until now even the prophet of God had failed to grasp!

But even though Jonah’s conduct had been defiant and rebellious before, there is much to be admired in the way he now conducts himself. There is no suggestion that he tries to evade the issue at stake, or to play down his own role. 

It is from this vantage point that we see what a blessing it is when God sends a storm to bring his people to repentance. It was a hand of divine grace that tore the mask from Jonah and uncovered his sin. God’s purpose was to restore the prophet’s godly fear. This is why God did not shut down the storm as soon as Jonah confessed. The storm still raged as Jonah and the mariners trembled; the temporal consequences of sin must still be felt. Jonah has been found out, but there are still consequences to follow. Full repentance will not come until later…at depth…in the blackness of the sea in the belly of a great fish.


As we close this morning, let us embrace God’s call to repentance for our sin and slumber, and let us long to fear the Lord. If you sit here this morning saying, "I don't know anything about the fear of the Lord. I've never heard this before," then I urge you to some serious reflection. Do everything possible to make sure. Even today; you can go home and get your Bible and start crying out to God saying, "God teach me what it is to fear you, for I see that if I'm devoid of Your fear, and it might mean that I do not know you in a saving way." 

Are you willing to do this? Are you ready and eager for the state of your soul to be searched? Are you confident that your ship contains no Jonah—that there is no Achan in your camp? If there is, will you give glory to God when it is revealed? Be assured, Christian, that God has found out your sin and will bring it to light. Be assured that the Lord of the storm intends for you to fear him as you ought.

So indispensable is the fear of the Lord, that on into eternity, even after the last remains of sins are purged from the believer, we will still fear God. Revelation 15:2-4a. Here, we have set before us the redeemed of God. Verses 2-4a:

Then I saw something like a sea of glass mixed with fire, and those who have overcome the beast and his image and the number of his name, standing on the sea of glass, having harps of God. 3 And they sang the song of Moses, the slave of God, and the song of the Lamb, saying,

“Great and marvelous are Your works,

O Lord God, the Almighty;

Righteous and true are Your ways,

King of the nations!

[And then listen, what should be the response of the redeemed there in His presence?]

Verse 4, Who will not fear, O Lord, and glorify Your name?

For You alone are holy;

For all the nations will come and worship before You,

For Your righteous acts have been revealed.”