In the well-known story of Jonah, God instructed the reluctant prophet to deliver a warning to the city of Nineveh, an Assyrian stronghold. Assyria was traditionally a bitter enemy of Israel. Jonah unwisely attempted to shirk his duty and run away from his responsibility. To get away, he booked passage on a ship in Joppa (modern-day Jaffa) going to Tarshish, which was probably located in modern-day Spain.
Along the way, a great storm arose and threatened to break up the ship. The experienced mariners, terrified, started jettisoning the cargo and crying out to their gods for deliverance. All the while, Jonah was below deck—sound asleep. In desperation, the captain of the ship went below and confronted Jonah, demanding: “What do you mean, sleeper? Arise, call on your God; perhaps your God will consider us, so that we may not perish” (Jonah 1:6).
Realizing the seriousness of the situation, Jonah confessed his involvement and was thrown overboard into the raging sea. Some may ridicule the account of what happened next, but—with a very special miracle—the tempest was quelled and God delivered Jonah using a great fish.
The ship captain’s urgent call to awaken is a familiar theme in the Bible. Many people simply tune out and “sleep” in the face of obvious danger or impending disaster, rather than face the brutal reality of their situation.
Today, a storm rages in our society as its morals and standards of behavior continue to decline. The lines defining right and wrong, acceptable and unacceptable, have become blurred. What was once considered aberrant or deviant activity is even promoted as a “civil right.” Yet, most people are “asleep,” seemingly unaware of the spiritual and physical consequences.
Many mainstream Christian denominations, abandoning centuries of tradition and the plain commands of Scripture (Leviticus 18:22; Romans 1:27), and are even ordaining openly practicing homosexuals to their ministry. Increasing numbers of children are born outside of marriage. Drug abuse is widespread and often even legalized. Easy access to abortion has transformed modern society to an extent that would shock and outrage our great-grandparents.
Still many people seem oblivious, going about their daily lives without considering the spiritual implication of these conditions. How should we react? The Bible gives clear and compelling instruction. In his letter to the Christians at Corinth, the Apostle Paul wrote, “Do not be deceived: Evil company corrupts good habits. Awake to righteousness, and do not sin; for some do not have the knowledge of God. I speak this to your shame” (1 Corinthians 15:33–34). The message is clear; those who want to please God will not slumber, but will be preparing actively for the return of the Messiah in power and glory.
The message of the Bible is time sensitive with a sense of urgency. “And do this, knowing the time, that now it is high time to awake out of sleep; for now our salvation is nearer than when we first believed” (Romans 13:11). As our nation and the world careen toward anarchy with all the resulting problems, being spiritually awake and diligent in pursuing the Way of life given in the Bible will be essential to avoid personal disaster.
This familiar theme was again sounded in 1 Thessalonians 5:5–6: “You are all sons of light and sons of the day. We are not of the night nor of darkness. Therefore let us not sleep, as others do, but let us watch and be sober.”
As you face the tempestuous the days ahead, remember the captain’s words to Jonah, “What do you mean, sleeper? Arise; call on your God…” The Tomorrow’s World publications, television programs and Web sites can be a valuable resource in accomplishing your spiritual awakening.