Jonah 1:7
And they said every one to his fellow, Come, and let us cast lots, that we may know for whose cause this evil is on us. So they cast lots, and the lot fell on Jonah.
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(7) Come, and let us cast lots.—We are to suppose that Jonah, coming on deck in compliance with the captain’s request, adds his prayers to those of the crew. Finding all unavailing, the sailors propose recourse to the ancient custom of casting lots to discover the guilty person against whom the deities are so enraged. Classical authors as well as the Bible (comp. Joshua 7:14, seq.; 1Samuel 14:36-46) afford many illustrations of the belief that the presence of an impious man would involve all who shared his company in indiscriminate ruin. Naturally the feeling expressed itself most strongly at sea.

“Who drags Eleusis’ rite to day,

That man shall never share my home

Or join my voyage; roofs give way,

And boats are wrecked; true men and thieves

Neglected Justice oft confounds.”

HOR.: Od. iii. 2, 26-30. (Conington’s trans.)

Comp. the story told by Cicero of Diagoras (de Nat. Deor. 3:3). Æsch. Sept. cont. Theb. 601-604. Soph. Ant. 372.

Jonah 1:7-8. Come, and let us cast lots — “The sailors betake themselves to this practice, because they see that there is something supernatural in the tempest: whence they conclude that it arose on account of some wicked person who sailed with them. Thus the sailors who carried Diagoras in their vessel, concluded that the tempest which assailed them was principally on account of this philosopher, who openly professed atheism. God was pleased so to order the lots, that Jonah was found to be the guilty person: not to favour such vain practices of the heathen; but that, after Jonah had made known to the mariners that the God of heaven and earth, whom he worshipped, had sent this storm, they might be brought to understand that the true God is the only director of lots; which indeed they seemed to have well understood, as appears from the end of this chapter.” See Calmet and Houbigant. Then said they, Tell us, we pray thee, for whose cause this evil is come upon us — This should rather be rendered, for what cause; for they already knew for whose cause it was, by the lot falling upon Jonah; their inquiry now was, what he had done to occasion divine vengeance to follow him.1:4-7 God sent a pursuer after Jonah, even a mighty tempest. Sin brings storms and tempests into the soul, into the family, into churches and nations; it is a disquieting, disturbing thing. Having called upon their gods for help, the sailors did what they could to help themselves. Oh that men would be thus wise for their souls, and would be willing to part with that wealth, pleasure, and honour, which they cannot keep without making shipwreck of faith and a good conscience, and ruining their souls for ever! Jonah was fast asleep. Sin is stupifying, and we are to take heed lest at any time our hearts are hardened by the deceitfulness of it. What do men mean by sleeping on in sin, when the word of God and the convictions of their own consciences, warn them to arise and call on the Lord, if they would escape everlasting misery? Should not we warn each other to awake, to arise, to call upon our God, if so be he will deliver us? The sailors concluded the storm was a messenger of Divine justice sent to some one in that ship. Whatever evil is upon us at any time, there is a cause for it; and each must pray, Lord, show me wherefore thou contendest with me. The lot fell upon Jonah. God has many ways of bringing to light hidden sins and sinners, and making manifest that folly which was thought to be hid from the eyes of all living.Come, and let us cast lots - Jonah too had probably prayed, and his prayers too were not heard. Probably, too, the storm had some unusual character about it, the suddenness with which it burst upon them, its violence, the quarter from where it came, its whirlwind force . "They knew the nature of the sea, and, as experienced sailors, were acquainted with the character of wind and storm, and had these waves been such as they had known before, they would never have sought by lot for the author of the threatened wreck, or, by a thing uncertain, sought to escape certain peril." God, who sent the storm to arrest Jonah and to cause him to be cast into the sea, provided that its character should set the mariners on divining, why it came. Even when working great miracles, God brings about, through man, all the forerunning events, all but the last act, in which He puts forth His might. As, in His people, he directed the lot to fall upon Achan or upon Jonathan, so here He overruled the lots of the pagan sailors to accomplish His end. " We must not, on this precedent, immediately trust in lots, or unite with this testimony that from the Acts of the Apostles, when Matthias was by lot elected to the apostolate, since the privileges of individuals cannot form a common law." "Lots," according to the ends for which they were cast, were for:

i) dividing;

ii) consulting;

iii) divining.

i) The lot for dividing is not wrong if not used,

1) "without any necessity, for this would be to tempt God:"

2) "if in case of necessity, not without reverence of God, as if Holy Scripture were used for an earthly end," as in determining any secular matter by opening the Bible:

3) for objects which ought to be decided otherwise, (as, an office ought to be given to the fittest:)

4) in dependence upon any other than God Proverbs 16:33. "The lot is cast into the lap, but the whole disposing of it is the Lord's." So then they are lawful "in secular things which cannot otherwise be conveniently distributed," or when there is no apparent reason why, in any advantage or disadvantage, one should be preferred to another." Augustine even allows that, in a time of plague or persecution, the lot might be cast to decide who should remain to administer the sacraments to the people, lest, on the one side, all should be taken away, or, on the other, the Church be deserted.

ii.) The lot for consulting, i. e., to decide what one should do, is wrong, unless in a matter of mere indifference, or under inspiration of God, or in some extreme necessity where all human means fail.

iii.) The lot for divining, i. e., to learn truth, whether of things present or future, of which we can have no human knowledge, is wrong, except by direct inspiration of God. For it is either to tempt God who has not promised so to reveal things, or, against God, to seek superhuman knowledge by ways unsanctioned by Him. Satan may readily mix himself unknown in such inquiries, as in mesmerism. Forbidden ground is his own province.

God overruled the lot in the case of Jonah, as He did the sign which the Philistines sought . "He made the heifers take the way to Bethshemesh, that the Philistines might know that the plague came to them, not by chance, but from Hilmself" . "The fugitive (Jonah) was taken by lot, not by any virtue of the lots, especially the lots of pagan, but by the will of Him who guided the uncertain lots" "The lot betrayed the culprit. Yet not even thus did they cast him over; but, even while such a tumult and storm lay on them, they held, as it were, a court in the vessel, as though in entire peace, and allowed him a hearing and defense, and sifted everything accurately, as men who were to give account of their judgment. Hear them sifting all as in a court - The roaring sea accused him; the lot convicted and witnessed against him, yet not even thus did they pronounce against him - until the accused should be the accuser of his own sin. The sailors, uneducated, untaught, imitated the good order of courts. When the sea scarcely allowed them to breathe, whence such forethought about the prophet? By the disposal of God. For God by all this instructed the prophet to be humane and mild, all but saying aloud to him; 'Imitate these uninstructed sailors. They think not lightly of one soul, nor are unsparing as to one body, thine own. But thou, for thy part, gavest up a whole city with so many myriads. They, discovering thee to be the cause of the evils which befell them, did not even thus hurry to condemn thee. Thou, having nothing whereof to accuse the Ninevites, didst sink and destroy them. Thou, when I bade thee go and by thy preaching call them to repentance, obeyedst not; these, untaught, do all, compass all, in order to recover thee, already condemned, from punishment.'"

7. cast lots—God sometimes sanctioned this mode of deciding in difficult cases. Compare the similar instance of Achan, whose guilt involved Israel in suffering, until God revealed the offender, probably by the casting of lots (Pr 16:33; Ac 1:26). Primitive tradition and natural conscience led even the heathen to believe that one guilty man involves all his associates, though innocent, in punishment. So Cicero [The Nature of the Gods, 3.37] mentions that the mariners sailing with Diagoras, an atheist, attributed a storm that overtook them to his presence in the ship (compare Horace's Odes, 3.2.26). And they said every one to his fellow; after they had prayed, which was necessary in such cases, as being a religious means, and cast out the goods which loaded the ship, which was a proper natural means of safety, but none appeared, still the tempest, and their danger with it, continued, a shrewd symptom that there was one or other amongst them whose sins had provoked God to do this, and that it were fit to be known who this was; and whoever first moved for making the search, all agree in the expedient. It is like that it was upon the thoughts of many of them, and so expressed here.

Let us cast lots; it is extraordinary danger we are in, all ordinary means fail, let us try that which hath somewhat extraordinary in it; though many times used, let the lot decide among us who is the cause of all this. Lots are an appeal to Heaven in doubtful cases, and therefore not to be used on trifling or unnecessary cases, but where the matter is great, difficult, or undeterminable in any other way, as Scripture instances of lots do inform us, Leviticus 16:8,9 Num 26:55 Joshua 14:2 18:6 21:4,5, &c.; 1 Samuel 10:20,21, Saul chosen by lot; Nehemiah 10:34 11:1 Acts 1:26.

This evil; very great, unusual, and preternatural tempest; not one among them but had deserved more, yet they surmise some notorious offender amongst them, or this had not been.

So they cast lots, they act according to what was proposed,

and the lot fell upon Jonah; God determines and singles out Jonah. And they said everyone to his fellow,.... That Jonah awoke and rose up, upon the shipmaster's calling to him, is certain; but whether or no he called upon his God is not; perhaps he did: and when his prayer was over, and the storm still continuing, the sailors said one to another,

come, and let us cast lots, that we may know for whose cause this evil is upon us; for, Observing something very uncommon and extraordinary in the tempest, and all means, both natural and religious, failing to help them; and though they might know that they were each one of them sinners, yet they supposed there must be some one notorious sinner among them, that had committed some very enormous crime, which had drawn the divine resentment upon them to such a degree; and therefore they proposed to cast a lot, which was an appeal to the divine Being, in order to find out the guilty person. That the Heathens used the lot upon occasion is not only manifest from profane writers, but from the sacred Scriptures; as Haman, and other enemies of God's people; and the soldiers that attended the cross of Christ, Esther 9:24 Nahum 3:10. Drusius reports, from Xavierus, of some Heathens sailing to Japan, and other places in the East Indies, that they used to carry an idol with them, and by lots inquire of it whither they should go; and whether they should have prosperous winds, &c.

so they cast lots, and the lot fell upon Jonah; through the overruling providence and disposing hand of God, which attended this affair; for, not to inquire whether the use of the lot was lawful or not, or whether performed in that serious and solemn manner as it should be, if used at all; it pleased God to interfere in this matter, to direct it to fall on Jonah, with whom he had a particular concern, being a prophet of his, and having disobeyed his will; see Proverbs 16:33. The Syriac version renders it, "the lot of Jonah came up"; that is, the piece of paper, or whatever it was, on which his name was written, was taken up first out of the vessel in which the lots were put.

And they said every one to his fellow, Come, and let us cast {i} lots, that we may know for whose cause this evil is upon us. So they cast lots, and the lot fell upon Jonah.

(i) Which declares that the matter was very extreme and in doubt, which was God's way of getting them to test for the cause: and this may not be done except in matters of great importance.

7. Finding their prayers as unavailing as their efforts, the sailors conclude that the storm is sent upon them by the gods as a judgment for some crime committed by one of their number; and they proceed to cast lots to discover who the culprit is. Instances of a similar belief on the part of the heathen have been adduced from classical authors (see Rosenmüller and Maurer in loc.). A story is told by Cicero (de Nat. Deor. III. 37) of Diagoras, how that when he was on a voyage, and the sailors, terrified by a storm which had befallen them, charged him with being the cause of it, he pointed to other vessels in the same plight with themselves, and asked them whether they thought that they too carried Diagoras. Horace, in a well-known passage, affirms that he would not suffer a man, who had provoked the anger of the gods, to put to sea in the same boat with him, because the innocent in such cases were not unfrequently involved in a common punishment with the guilty (Hor. Od. lib. III. c. 2. 26–30). The truth, which underlay this wide spread conviction, is taught us in its pure form in such histories as those of Achan (Joshua 7.) and Jonathan (1 Samuel 14:36-46).

for whose cause] Lit., on account of (that) which (refers) to whom, i. e. on whose account. The same expression occurs in Jonah 1:12 (“for my sake”), and, though in the Hebrew in an uncontracted form, in Jonah 1:8

the lot fell upon Jonah] An illustration of Proverbs 16:33; comp. Joshua 7:18; 1 Samuel 14:42. It is worthy of note that the use of the lot, though frequently mentioned and sanctioned in the O. T., and employed even after the Ascension in the choice of an Apostle to fill the place of Judas, never occurs in the Bible after the day of Pentecost. It would seem to have been superseded and rendered needless by the gift which conferred “a right judgment in all things.”Verse 7 - Finding the storm still violent, the crew come to the conclusion that it is sent by Heaven in punishment of some crime committed by one on board; and they proceed to cast lots to discover the guilty person. Jonah doubtless had meantime complied with the captain's request, but, as the sailors saw, without visible effect. The belief that temporal calamities are often connected with the presence of culprits, and are sent in judgment, is found in classical authors. Thus Plautus, 'Rudena,' 2:21 -

"Pol minume miror, navis si fracta est tibi,
Scelus te et sceleste parta quae vexit bona."

"Little I wonder if the ship is wrecked
Which carries thee and thy ill-gotten wealth."
(Comp. AEschylus, 'Electr.,' 1354; 'Theb.,' 598; Horat., 'Carm.,' 3:2, 26, etc.) The misfortune of the Israelites at Ai was consequent on the sin of Achan (Joshua 7.). Let us cast lots. (On the Christian view of "lots," see Dr. Pusey's Commentary, pp. 270, 271.) Jerome says here, "The fugitive was taken by lot, not by virtue of the lots, especially of the lots of heathen men, but by the will of him who guided the uncertain lots." For whose cause; Septuagint, τίνος ἕνεκεν. The unusual nature of the tempest showed them that it was sent in judgment. Commentators cite the story of Diagoras told by Cicero ('De Nat. Deor.,' 3:37). The lot fell upon Jonah. Proverbs 16:33, "The lot is cast into the lap; but the whole disposing thereof is of the Lord" (comp. 1 Samuel 10:20, etc.; 1 Samuel 14:41; Acts 1:26). And if this daring contempt of the commandments of God was highly reprehensible even in itself, it became perfectly inexcusable if we bear in mind that Israel was indebted to the Lord its God for its elevation into an independent nation, and also for its sacred calling. For this reason, the prophet reminds the people of the manifestations of grace which it had received from its God (Amos 2:9-11). Amos 2:9. "And yet I destroyed the Amorite before them, whose height was like the height of the cedars, and who was strong as the oaks; and I destroyed his fruit from above, and his roots from beneath. Amos 2:10. And yet I brought you up from the land of Egypt, and led you forty years in the desert, to take possession of the land of the Amorite." The repeated ואנכי is used with peculiar emphasis, and serves to bring out the contrast between the conduct of the Israelites towards the Lord, and the fidelity of the Lord towards Israel. Of the two manifestations of divine grace to which Israel owed its existence as an independent nation, Amos mentions first of all the destruction of the former inhabitants of Canaan (Exodus 23:27., Exodus 34:11); and secondly, what was earlier in point of time, namely, the deliverance out of Egypt and guidance through the Arabian desert; not because the former act of God was greater than the latter, but in order to place first what the Lord had done for the nation, that he may be able to append to this what He still continues to do (Amos 2:11). The nations destroyed before Israel are called Amorites, from the most powerful of the Canaanitish tribes, as in Genesis 15:16; Joshua 24:15, etc. To show, however, that Israel was not able to destroy this people by its own strength, but that Jehovah the Almighty God alone could accomplish this, he proceeds to transfer to the whole nation what the Israelitish spies reported as to their size, more especially as to the size of particular giants (Numbers 13:32-33), and describes the Amorites as giants as lofty as trees and as strong as trees, and, continuing the same figure, depicts their utter destruction or extermination as the destruction of their fruit and of their roots. For this figure of speech, in which the posterity of a nation is regarded as its fruit, and the kernel of the nation out of which it springs as the root, see Ezekiel 17:9; Hosea 9:16; Job 18:16. These two manifestations of divine mercy Moses impressed more than once upon the hearts of the people in his last addresses, to urge them in consequence to hold fast to the divine commandments and to the love of God (cf. Deuteronomy 8:2., Deuteronomy 9:1-6; Deuteronomy 29:1-8).
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