Feature – Jonah and the Whale
Whales have fascinated people for ages. Perhaps it is their mammoth size, which, in the case of some species, verges on incomprehensible. Perhaps it is their haunting song, a wise and mournful cry that seems to harken back from the depths of time. Perhaps it is their command of such an alien environment, one different enough to be our world turned upside-down.
More than all of this, however, we may be drawn to their peculiarly human qualities—their deep soulful eyes, their close families, their mammalian need for love.
Whatever the reason, stories have drawn back to whales since the dawn of time.
One popular episode involving man and whale is the story of Jonah and his whale.
A Whale of a Tale
According to the Biblical telling, God spoke to Jonah, and told him that He would soon overthrow the wicked town of Ninevah. God asked Jonah to instuct the people of Ninevah about their sinfulness and upcoming punishment, so that they might have the opportunity to repent and change their ways.
But Jonah was terrified by the voice of God, and terrified by the promises God made. So, rather than heeding God’s word and warning the town, Jonah fled from Him in fear. He paid for passage on a ship heading for Tarshish, which, Jonah hoped, would carry him far from God, and from the fallout of his punishment of Ninevah.
Silly Jonah. Of course God caught on
In retribution for Jonah’s treacherous lack of faith, God built up a furious storm over the sea. The storm was so unrelentingly violent that it threatened to destroy the ship on which Jonah was traveling.
Each of the sailors prayed to their god for salvation (for this was a time when faith was in flux, and even more religions abounded than do today). The whole crew of the the ship prayed, but the storm did not quell.
Finally, the shipmaster wandered below deck, where he discovered that Jonah was sleeping peacefully through the storm. The shipmaster awakened Jonah, and asked him to come up on deck and pray to his own God.
When Jonah ventured up, the other sailors were casting lots to see who was to blame for the storm. The lot fell, of course, on Jonah, who had incited God’s wrath for fleeing like a wimpy criminal.
The sailors, knowing nothing of Jonah’s origins, began to question him about his occupation and his reason for sailing. Finally Jonah confessed that he was on the ship out of fear of God.
Jonah saw the terrified faces of his fellow sailors as they wondered why they had been drawn into Jonah’s punishment. Realizing that the storm was punishment for his dishonour, Jonah asked the other sailors to cast him into the sea, promising that the storm would calm once he was out of the ship.
The sailors ignored Jonah’s plea, and tried their best to sail safely to land, but it grew apparent that this would be an impossible task.
Not wanting to give their innocent lives to save a guilty man, they finally relented, and in desperation they hauled Jonah overboard into the raging sea.
The sea calmed.
The sailors prayed, and made sacrifices, and swore vows, and sailed away, leaving Jonah bobbing in the sea.
And then God sent a whale to swallow Jonah whole.
Yet Jonah was not devoured, but stayed inside the whale, alive in this strange, dark, living chamber. He suddenly had a lot of time (and whale juice) on his hands, and nothing to do but sit and think. So he did. And he came to understand God’s wrath, and his own part in it, and his place in the world, as well as complex number theory. But most of all, he saw his need for God.
Alone in the warm, dark belly of the whale, Jonah prayed.
He prayed for three days and three nights. Even through all of the stomach lining, and muscle fiber and blubber, and thick leathery skin, and thousands of feet of ocean water, God could hear Jonah’s prayers.
So God spoke to the whale, whispered secrets and memories, and promises and requests into the heart of the great beast. The whale heard God, and the whale relented.
So he swam to shore, and he left Jonah on the beach, blinking at the brightness of the sun, lying sticky in a big puddle of whale vomit.
And they all lived happily ever after. Well, sort of. The end. (Ish.)
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