A light hearted look at a whale of a tale
[author's note: think Jackie Mason as the voice of Jonah]
There I was, minding my own business, when I was confronted by the Deity. That's right, Jehovah ... the Lord ... Almighty God ... the Old Creator himself! I didn't actually see Him, it was just this big voice talking to me. I felt like I was in a Bill Cosby routine.
The Voice, said, "JONAH SON OF (AH - MITT - TIE), YOU HAVE TO GO TO NINEVEH IMMEDIATELY!"
"YES, GO TO NINEVEH, THAT BIG CITY, AND LET THEM KNOW THAT THEIR WICKED WAYS HAVE CAUGHT MY ATTENTION."
Now, I don't know about you, but personally, I was not thrilled about going to a strange city, and telling the citizens there that God knows all about their sins. I figured that one of three things could happen.
First: They would think that I was some kind of nut and
ignore me. In which case, I would have made the trip for
Or two: They would get extremely angry and stone me.
In which case, I'd really rather not go at all!
Thirdly: If I did go, and they believed that I was sent by
the Lord, they would repent, and God's wrath would be
turned aside. In which case why should I bother going?
After all what is Nineveh to me. It's almost five hundred
miles from Jerusalem. That's a long way to go to be
ignored, or stoned to death, or even to deliver a
message from the Lord ... So, I skipped town...
I figured that in a larger place with more people God would have a harder time finding me, and maybe He'd find somebody else to be his errand boy in the meanwhile. So, I went down to Joppa on the coast and I booked passage on a ship going to Tarshish, as far away, in the opposite direction from Nineveh, as I could get. Tarshish, now there's a city a guy could really get to like. Fantastic night life, a wonderful marketplace to practice my trade, and a modern sports arena with the fastest chariots this side of the Pillars of Hercules. You should visit there if you get the chance.
Well, we set sail for Tarshish. I figured a pleasant boat trip to a fun city was better than a long uncomfortable camel ride to deliver an unpopular pronouncement to an undeserving people. After a few hours of fair weather, with the sun and the excitement, and a good meal with a nice little jar of Joppa's best wine, I got sleepy so I went below for a nap. You can guess the Lord wasn't happy with my choice.
The next thing I know, the Captain is shaking me out of a good sound sleep. There was shouting and confusion and a lot of running around by the sailors. Some were even praying to their small idols they had brought along. A big storm had blown in while I was asleep. The swells of the sea were so huge that the ship might have been broken on one. The enormous waves were washing over the decks and the crew had thrown all the cargo overboard to lighten the ship.
The Captain shook me awake and told me what was happening. He said, "What are you doing sound asleep? Pray to your god like everyone is doing! We need all the prayers we can get. Maybe your god will spare a moment of his time to rescue us, otherwise we're all going to be fish food."
I didn't think that God would be very receptive to my prayers at that moment; but before I could say anything, the crew got everybody together and announced that they were going to cast lots so that they would know on whose account this calamity had come upon them. I never did have much luck with dice. Sure enough, my unlucky streak held fast and this time I won the lottery.
I had all eyes on me as they started to interrogate me. "What is your occupation? Where are you from? What nationality are you, who are your people?" I'm a Hebrew, I explained. "Tell us why this disaster is happening to us?" So, I told them that I worshiped the Lord, the God of heaven and earth, who was the creator of the sea and land and everything. And I went into how the Almighty had told me to go to deliver a message to Nineveh, but I had fled from the presence of the Lord figuring that I could hide out in Tarshish.
"What have you done?" the sailors gasped. The wind and the waves were getting worse by the minute. "We've got to do something with you, but we aren't sure yet what will make the sea calm down." I suggested they could throw me overboard. That's right it was my suggestion! I felt bad because it was my fault that we were in that predicament. But they were good hearted men and instead of doing what I had suggested, they rowed all the harder trying to reach land.
Yet the harder they rowed the harder it blew, and the bigger the waves grew; then they were convinced that my God was the one true God. They prayed to him. They prayed, "Please, O Lord, we pray that we won't perish on account of this man's death, so don't hold it against us if he dies, after all you've done what you wanted." And then they chucked me over the side of the ship! Me and my big mouth.
Of course since now I was no longer going to Tarshish, the Lord calmed the sea. That convinced them, if there were any doubts left. As they sailed away, I could hear them making vows and praying and smelled the scent of a sacrificial barbecue being offered unto the Lord. I said my own oath to the Lord. "I hope your happy, God! I might as well be dead!"
At that very moment, a gigantic fish swam up from the deep and swallowed me whole! Don't ever let anyone tell you that God doesn't have a sense of humor. Fish food indeed! Have you ever smelled the belly of a fish? From the inside? Frankly, I fainted. I don't know how long I was in there. It could have been three hours or three days. My last thought before I passed out was, if I ever got out of that fish, I would be very grateful to God for my deliverance.
I guess the Lord heard me, because I woke up on shore, along with the rest of the contents which that humongous herring had belched from his belly. Then I heard it again. The voice like thunder, guess who!
God said, "GET UP!"
So I stood up.
Then I heard, "GO TO NINEVEH, AND PROCLAIM WHAT I TOLD YOU TO SAY." He didn't need to add 'or else'. I set out for Nineveh. Nineveh is not called the Big Pomegranate for nothing. It would take three days just to walk its length. Longer, if I brought my wife who loves to window shop.