by S M Chen, Posted July 22, 2015
Based on the book of Jonah, II Kings 14:25.
Editor’s Note: This story is especially fascinating if you think of it in conjunction with Chen’s earlier story here.
I write this with no sense of pride. For indeed, I have none left.
You know, from what is contained in the four short chapters of the book bearing my name, the strange and fantastical events that befell me after I was instructed by the Almighty to deliver a warning to the great city of Nineveh.
Some may think that prophets are not like ordinary men. That we are not subject to the same temptations, that we are protected from the wiles of the Evil One, and that the mystery of iniquity does not visit us. That we are somehow above the fray.
I wrote my book, in part, to dispel such nonsense.
In actuality, it has a different ending. One I wish to relate here.
First, however, I want to summarize, in brief, those events, and to expound a bit (for that is an author’s prerogative, is it not?).
Here is why I fled upon being given instructions to warn Nineveh: the country of Assyria, of which Nineveh was the capital, was the enemy of Israel, whose evil king was Jeroboam II. I reasoned thusly: if I refused to go to Nineveh, that wicked city, God would destroy it, and Israel would benefit. If I went, God, in His mercy (I had seen evidence of such), might spare Nineveh and Israel would suffer as a consequence. So my refusal was an act of patriotism (albeit misguided).
I went to Joppa with the intention of journeying to Tarshish, about as far away from Nineveh as I could get. It is a wonder that I was able to sleep once I boarded that ship, but sleep I did. Fleeing the Almighty is tiring business.
I sensed that the great storm that arose after I boarded the ship happened because of my disobedience. Why else should there be such a storm on the Mediterranean when it is almost always calm?
The ancient custom of casting/drawing lots using small stones was a human variation of the Urim and Thummim, I venture. Often it seemed to work. It did in my case.
To their credit, after my confession, the mariners tried to ride out the storm, but to no avail. Man is never a match for his Maker.
This event – the calming of the storm after the sailors cast me into the sea – had a profound effect on them, strengthening the faith of those who had any, and making believers out of some who hitherto had been unbelievers.
So I got swallowed by a great fish. Swallowed, not eaten. It could have easily been the latter. But the Almighty, in His infinite mercy, permitted me to be ingested, not digested, by a creature whose dimensions are so great I will not even attempt to describe them. I slid into darkness, into a fearful place of horror. It smelled like a giant fish market.
During the three days that I was entombed, I witnessed a variety of seafood pass from the maw of the great fish into its gullet, thence into its stomach. Squid, fish of all different kind and size, seaweed, and krill—all passed southward in amazing quantity.
I admit to having had a feeling of deep despair, of a profound fear of the unknown, that I would die without having the chance to say goodbye to my family, and, last but not least, that I had been a disappointment to my Maker.
So I prayed with fervor and humility, and He heard me.
After three days in that living hellhole, I was regurgitated, and saw the light of day.
When, once again, I was instructed to warn Nineveh, I did as I was bid. I journeyed there, and preached. I did not think it to be a warning so much as a proclamation: in 40 days, Nineveh would be destroyed. Perhaps the people listened to me because of my strange appearance, which had been altered by being in the belly of the great fish. My skin was bleached in spots; I looked like a wild man.
I fully expected the great city to be annihilated. I did not count on the workings of the Almighty, whose thoughts are not as ours, and whose acts are beyond our comprehension.
So, when I sat on a hill overlooking the city, the better to watch its destruction, I admit to an exhilaration born of expectation.
When nothing happened, I had a conversation with the Almighty. I expressed
anger, and told Him it was better for me to die than live with the ignominy of being considered a false prophet, whose predictions did not come to pass. How small of me.
As I sat there, stewing in my own juices, God prepared a gourd. The gourd, in those days, was a substantial plant. Its capacious leaves provided much needed shade.
But then there was the worm. It killed the gourd. And the sun beat down mightily, and I suffered sunstroke. I must have been out of my head to, a second time, say that I preferred death to life.
And I was reminded how absurd I was to have more pity for the gourd than for the 120,000 inhabitants of Nineveh.
That is where my book ends.
The writings of those who came before me chronicle the rise and fall of nations and, more specifically, the fall and rise of individuals. Adam, Abraham, Jacob, Moses, David are but some. All were flawed; none perfect. They fell, but got back up again. Abraham became the father of multitudes. From Jacob’s loins came the children of Israel. Moses was translated after death. David was an adulterer and a murderer. Yet God called him a man after His own heart.
God was not through with me yet.
I journeyed home to Gath-hepher in Palestine, a bit north of Nazareth. It was over 500 miles from Nineveh and took me over 3 weeks.
My wife ran out to greet me. I’d been gone for over a month. Before I could tell her what had happened to me, she said, “Come quickly. Our daughter is ill.”
I hastened into the house.
In a darkened room, on a cot, lay Sarah, our only child. Both my wife and I were older when, in response to supplication, she came into our lives. Six years old, she was a light in my otherwise often dark world.
“Papa,” she whispered. “Is it you?”
“Yes, my child.” I embraced her. “I am home.” I hugged her tightly, not wanting the moment to end but knowing that, while it would not last, the memory of it would.
My wife motioned me. Once outside, she whispered, “While you were gone, Sarah had some kind of sickness. She had a high fever and a rash. When the fever broke, she was blind. The rash still lingers.”
My world dissolved. I was beside myself with grief. What kind of life did Sarah have to look forward to without sight? Life was hard enough, particularly for women, without the handicap of blindness.
I fell to my knees, and, for the second time, prayed with great fervor.
I pleaded, “Lord, I have sinned, and abundantly so. Lay not my iniquity upon this, my only child. If it be necessary, restore her sight, and take mine.”
I lay prostrate upon the ground for I know not how long. It seemed like days.
But nothing happened. Sarah remained the same.
The sun rose and set as before, but I didn’t notice. Neither was I aware of the moon and stars when the light of day dimmed enough for them to be visible. Nothing other than my little girl mattered.
I put on sackcloth, sat in ashes, and besought the Lord again. And fasted. It did not escape me that my actions were similar to those of the residents of Nineveh
that resulted in the Almighty sparing its annihilation.
Three times I prayed, each time hoping that, despite my unworthiness, I would be heard.
And, the third time, God responded. Unlike with some prior interactions, He said nothing.
But the following morning, when Sarah opened her eyes, she could see. All was as it was before. When her world turned from blackness to color, she smiled and hugged us, and my heart leapt within me.
She was not the only one whose vision was restored.
I, too, see more clearly, and, ever since, have been a humble, obedient servant of the Lord.