Jonah — Albert Pinkham Ryder

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And here is “The Sermon,” Ch. IX of Herman Melville’s great novel Moby-Dick, in which Father Mapple gives us the tale of Jonah—


Father Mapple rose, and in a mild voice of unassuming authority ordered the scattered people to condense. “Starboard gangway, there! side away to larboard—larboard gangway to starboard! Midships! midships!”

There was a low rumbling of heavy sea-boots among the benches, and a still slighter shuffling of women’s shoes, and all was quiet again, and every eye on the preacher.

He paused a little; then kneeling in the pulpit’s bows, folded his large brown hands across his chest, uplifted his closed eyes, and offered a prayer so deeply devout that he seemed kneeling and praying at the bottom of the sea.

This ended, in prolonged solemn tones, like the continual tolling of a bell in a ship that is foundering at sea in a fog—in such tones he commenced reading the following hymn; but changing his manner towards the concluding stanzas, burst forth with a pealing exultation and joy—

     "The ribs and terrors in the whale,
     Arched over me a dismal gloom,
     While all God's sun-lit waves rolled by,
     And lift me deepening down to doom.

     "I saw the opening maw of hell,
     With endless pains and sorrows there;
     Which none but they that feel can tell—
     Oh, I was plunging to despair.

     "In black distress, I called my God,
     When I could scarce believe him mine,
     He bowed his ear to my complaints—
     No more the whale did me confine.

     "With speed he flew to my relief,
     As on a radiant dolphin borne;
     Awful, yet bright, as lightning shone
     The face of my Deliverer God.

     "My song for ever shall record
     That terrible, that joyful hour;
     I give the glory to my God,
     His all the mercy and the power."

Nearly all joined in singing this hymn, which swelled high above the howling of the storm. A brief pause ensued; the preacher slowly turned over the leaves of the Bible, and at last, folding his hand down upon the proper page, said: “Beloved shipmates, clinch the last verse of the first chapter of Jonah—’And God had prepared a great fish to swallow up Jonah.'”

“Shipmates, this book, containing only four chapters—four yarns—is one of the smallest strands in the mighty cable of the Scriptures. Yet what depths of the soul does Jonah’s deep sealine sound! what a pregnant lesson to us is this prophet! What a noble thing is that canticle in the fish’s belly! How billow-like and boisterously grand! We feel the floods surging over us; we sound with him to the kelpy bottom of the waters; sea-weed and all the slime of the sea is about us! But what is this lesson that the book of Jonah teaches? Shipmates, it is a two-stranded lesson; a lesson to us all as sinful men, and a lesson to me as a pilot of the living God. As sinful men, it is a lesson to us all, because it is a story of the sin, hard-heartedness, suddenly awakened fears, the swift punishment, repentance, prayers, and finally the deliverance and joy of Jonah. As with all sinners among men, the sin of this son of Amittai was in his wilful disobedience of the command of God—never mind now what that command was, or how conveyed—which he found a hard command. But all the things that God would have us do are hard for us to do—remember that—and hence, he oftener commands us than endeavors to persuade. And if we obey God, we must disobey ourselves; and it is in this disobeying ourselves, wherein the hardness of obeying God consists. Continue reading “Jonah — Albert Pinkham Ryder”

Jonah — Albert Pinkham Ryder

Jonah — Barry Moser

Alphabet Soup: J

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J is for Jonah, the reluctant Old Testament prophet. He’s been called by YHWH to bring the word to Nineveh–something he is definitely unprepared and unwilling to do. So Jonah hits Joppa Road and boards a ship sailing to Tarshish (this is pretty much as far away as one could get from Nineveh in the known world). YHWH is a wrathful God, and sets out in pursuit, sending storms to wreak havoc on the ship; the sailors panic and despair and pray. Jonah, meanwhile, manages to sleep like a baby through the whole thing. They eventually wake him up and he says, “Oh yeah, this is kinda my fault, throw me overboard.” At first the sailors are reluctant, but eventually the tempest leaves them no other choice, and they heave Jonah off the ship. Wrathful YHWH now shows his merciful side: he sends a “great fish” to swallow Jonah, thus saving him from drowning. In the belly of the beast, Jonah sends a prayer of repentance and thanksgiving; the whale then “vomits” him out onto the dry land of Nineveh where he preaches the word of YHWH. Jonah, however, is wrathful now–he hopes that the people won’t accept the word, and that YHWH will wipe them out. YHWH’s satisfied, however, and leaves Jonah outside of the city in the heat. A gourd grows giving Jonah some shade, but then a worm eats it, pissing him off again. He even gets suicidal sitting in the hot sun. YHWH asks him why if it’s right that he’s angry and Jonah replies: “I do well to be angry”–his last line in the story. YHWH then lectures him, reminding him that he didn’t make the gourd, and that furthermore he shouldn’t be angry at YHWH for sparing Nineveh, which is full of people and cattle.

The story, especially the episode with the whale, resonates throughout the history of myth and literature and into contemporary stories. But beyond the mythic echoes of Jonah and the whale, we just downright love the guy–he’s angry, lazy, and self-righteous–just like us.