Growing up in North Texas, you get used to tornadoes. Every April or May, tornado warnings seem to go off multiple times a week. For eight weeks, it feels like you spend more time in your closet or bathtub than anywhere else in the house.

When my wife and I lived just north of Fort Worth, our fear of these uncontrollable storms was on red alert. Our area wasn’t just at risk of the occasional twister—we lived where many of those tornadoes tended to start. With a one-year-old daughter and a new house, we were often glued to The Weather Channel, sure that our day was going to come.

I’d like to say that we always prayed and trusted the Lord in those moments. Truthfully, we didn’t. We treated tornadoes like embodied deities, almost bowing down to them and begging them not to hit our house. “C’mon, tornado. Stay north of us. Don’t come through here,” we prayed from our closet. We stopped just short of leaving an offering on our doorstep.

Sea Gods and Sailors

The ancient Near Easterners faced a similar temptation. According to popular beliefs in that time, Yam, the god of sea and chaos, was a volatile, uncontrollable being. His opposite: Ba’al, widely considered a friend to sailors. But Ba’al’s powers were strongest near shore, leaving the sailors feeling vulnerable on open waters.

This mythology provides an interesting context for the Book of Jonah. Jonah’s narrative begins after “the Lord hurled a violent wind on the sea, and such a violent storm arose on the sea that the ship threatened to break apart” (Jonah 1:4, all verses HCSB). The Hebrew word for “sea:” yam.

Understandably, the sailors were terrified. If they were familiar with the ...

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