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Drama Creative Nonfiction Christian

Caution: mention of torture and cruelty.

How would you react if introduced to a potential roommate or flat mate who promptly told you lots of negative things about himself? Top marks for honesty, but no one would choose to live with someone who is rebellious and will not do as he is asked, who whinges and whines when things don’t go his way and even wants to die when a situation gets unpleasant, who is more concerned about how he appears to others than wanting to help the unpopular. The reply would not be welcoming. It would be a suggestion to live elsewhere.

Long ago, such a man lived. His name was Jonah, and God asked him to do a difficult job. He had to journey to a faraway city and deliver an unpopular message.

Jonah knew God had opened a path through the Red Sea to help his people escape from the Egyptians. And let the waters fall back over their enemies to drown every last one.

He knew that God had made the walls of Jericho fall down to enable easy capture of the city’s inhabitants.

God told him, “Get up, go to Nineveh, the great city, and proclaim judgment against her, for their wickedness has come to my attention.”

Despite knowing his God could back and protect him through every facet of his journey, Jonah disobeyed God. He went as far away as he could.

Jonah ran away, heading to Tarshish, most likely in Spain - far in the opposite direction. He had no intention of carrying out what he had been asked to do for whatever reason. He first walked to Joppa, the port, to catch a ship heading to Tarshish.

He may have had good reasons for not obeying, but it all amounted to a lack of faith. This did not mean God had asked the wrong person to do the job. It showed that Jonah had a lot to learn. And learn it, he did - eventually.

He may have initially reflected on the cruelty of the Assyrians who populated Nineveh. The Assyrians’ treatment of prisoners was as unmerciful as can be imagined. Flayed alive, having hooks through the nose or lips and being dragged away, having heads, hands, noses, and ears chopped off. They were a military nation that loved inflicting pain and terror. Many chose to surrender rather than fight them.

We don’t know why Jonah ran away, but any of the above facts could have swayed him.

He found a ship heading to Tarshish and paid his fare. Soon, a violent storm flared up out of nowhere. The men prayed to their gods and threw excess articles overboard to lighten the vessel. The others on the boat were appalled as Jonah continued sleeping. He was harshly instructed to pray to his god. The men cast lots to determine who may be responsible for the catastrophe. They identified Jonah as the one.

“Who is to blame for this calamity? . . .What is your work, and where do you come from? . . .”

Jonah said in reply, “I am a Hebrew and I fear the God of the heavens, the one who made the sea and the land.”

“What have you done?” they asked.

He confessed that he was running away. Then, he showed his bravery. None of this wanting to drag down all the other men into a watery grave with him. “Lift me up and throw me into the sea, and the sea will calm down for you. For I know that this violent storm has come upon you because of me.”

They called out to his God and said, “. . .please, may we not perish because of this man?”

The men tried desperately to turn the ship back to dry land, but when this failed, they had no other recourse but to listen to Jonah’s instruction to throw him overboard. This action led to the raging sea being still.

Calm or not, Jonah now faced drowning. Down he went, down and down, getting caught up in seaweed, running out of air, and fighting not to swallow water. His lungs felt like they would burst. He thought about his God and how foolish he had been to try to run away. The specter of death hung over him as he saw flashbacks of his life.

Help came in the form of a submarine, albeit a primitive one. A colossal fish swallowed him. This would likely be a killer, humpback, or sperm whale. If it was a sperm whale, it would have been stifling inside.

In a 5th April article (source: www.deccan chronicle.com), a story about another instance of this gives food for thought to the skeptics.

“A Spanish fisherman who drowned in the sea is back with a fascinating story. The man who disappeared for several days after he went overboard during a bad storm has returned to share his survival tale. The 56-year-old fisherman Luigi Marquez claims that a whale swallowed him. According to Marquez, he stayed there for three days and nights. When Marquez didn’t return home, the coastal guard tried to find him but failed to locate him, and he was considered dead.

‘This great beast swallowed me the morning after the storm,’ he told local reporters. ‘It is the most frightening thing I have ever lived. Everything was pitch black and I was shivering cold. The only thing that kept me alive were the raw fish I ate and the light from my waterproof watch, that is how I kept in touch with time. And the smell, I will never forget that horrible stench of putrid decomposition. I had to wash for three days before the odor went away,’ Luigi Marquez told reporters.

He may have felt he had no hope after three days. The story of the Spanish man helps us visualize the horrors Jonah went through. Three days would have seemed like an eternity.

Another article on July 11th, 2021, told of a Massachusetts man, Micael Packard, who was grabbed into the mouth of a humpback whale before being taken to the surface and spat out.

We can read Jonah’s heartfelt prayer, which reveals a humbled man who did not blame God for his wretched situation. Thankfully, not a moment too late, the fish vomited Jonah onto land.

What was Jonah’s response when told a second time? “Get up, go to Nineveh the great city, and proclaim to her the message I tell you.”

This time, he obeyed. Jonah had learned his lesson. It is always best to obey instructions the first time.

It took three days for him to walk there. Three days during which he screwed up his courage to make the daily proclamation. Once there, he may have been ridiculed. Undoubtedly, he prayed fervently that the message would not antagonize the people.

“In just 40 days more, Nineveh will be overthrown.” As each day counted down, Jonah could hardly wait until his ordeal ended. He focused on getting his task completed.

However, his words had a remarkable and unanticipated effect on the people. Their consciences pricked them. These people worshiped false gods and led decadent and violent lives. Amazingly, they believed the message and behaved like any self-respecting heathens would - who are faced with annihilation. They repented and showed their sorrow by dressing in scratchy sackcloth and scooping ashes over themselves, men, women, children, and animals.

People used sackcloth and ashes to show personal grief and signify repentance and humility before God. The King also humbled himself and ordered a fast. No food or water was to be consumed by man or beast, nobles or the poor. Their reasoning may have been, “Who knows? God may reconsider what he intends to do . . . so that we may not perish.”

God saw their genuine change of heart represented by the sackcloth and ashes—and it caused Him to extend mercy and not bring about their destruction.

How did Jonah feel? He did not think that it was a ‘job well done.’ He concluded the destruction of the whole city could better reflect this. Doom had been proclaimed. And doom it must be. He went outside the city a distance and sat watching to see what would happen. Nothing changed. He fumed and pouted. Muttered and growled.

“Was this not my concern when I was in my own land. That is why I tried to flee to Tarshish in the first place for I knew you are a compassionate and merciful God, slow to anger and abundant in loyal love . . . Now, please take away my life, for it is better for me to die. . .”

Jonah felt the mission had been a total waste of time and dwelled on suicide. He had no appreciation for being saved from the belly of the fish. This was tantamount to thumbing his nose at the mercy he had been shown. It filled him with anger that such guilty people had been pardoned.

God felt Jonah needed an additional lesson.

Jonah almost expired as he sat in the hot sun. He had constructed a shelter to screen himself, which barely helped. It shaded him a little but was far from adequate.

God still showed him mercy. A bottle gourd plant sprouted next to him. Overnight, its twisty tendrils spiraled upward. First, it was tiny, but the growth gained momentum as the hours passed. Large leaves unfurled, and the shelter became a shady haven. Jonah awakened in surprise, wondering why his closed eyes didn’t have rays of sunlight shining on them. Looking upwards, everything appeared green. A verdant canopy had covered his primitive shelter. He beamed with joy. Even the fact that Ninevah still stood didn’t dampen his mood. All day, he sat sheltered from the scorching sun.

God now caused the lesson, that he felt Jonah needed to learn, to unfold. At the break of dawn the following day, someone else discovered the bottle gourd. It became a banquet for a worm. It feasted on the juicy bottle gourd trunk. The sun came out, and a sweltering east wind blew hard, and slowly, each shriveled, dry leaf vanished. Jonah was left with the remains of his original shelter. Having the miraculous life-saving plant disappear before his eyes filled him with rage. He tossed and turned on the hard ground all night. As time passed, he started feeling faint.

“I just want to die. Let me die,” Jonah begged.

God spoke to him. “You felt sorry for the bottle-gourd plant which you did not work for, nor did you make it grow. It grew in one night and perished in one night . . . Should I not also feel sorry for Ninevah, the great city in which there are more than 120,000 men . . . as well as their animals?”

Jonah learned from this object lesson. He ventured into the city, and the people recognized him. They gathered around to thank him. He felt overwhelmed. It humbled him to see so many people who didn’t even know his God show gratitude for the mercy extended to them.

Later, he penned a personal account of what had happened. The fact that he wrote of his disobedience and disgusting attitude showed he had learned the value of showing mercy, just as he had also been shown.

What about us? Do we shy away from helping our fellow man? Next time you feel inclined to think only of yourself, spare a thought for Jonah. The man who ran away.

February 02, 2024 11:59

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10 comments

Zavier M. Ames
00:07 Feb 08, 2024

Hello Kaitlyn, You were a story chosen for the Critique Circle. Overall, the story is excellent, theme clear and powerful with an important lesson. Now...the Bible like all holy books are more vivid, colourful and poetic in their writing. Take for example Isaiah 19:14: "The Lord has mingled within her a spirit of confusion, and they will make Egypt stagger in all its deeds, as a drunken man staggers in his vomit." I can practically FEEL what is written here. Visceral I know, but good symbolism Your take on the story was good, but I fee...

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02:44 Feb 08, 2024

Well thanks for that. Good to know. Will keep in mind about the metaphors and similies. Thanks for the invitation to critique you. I've had a lot of practice doing that for people. Be careful for what you wish for.

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Helen A Smith
17:21 Feb 05, 2024

I’ve always thought the story was a powerful one. A good take on the prompt.

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04:42 Feb 06, 2024

Thanks Helen.

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John Rutherford
08:52 Feb 05, 2024

Thanks for the story.

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04:40 Feb 06, 2024

Thanks for reading, John.

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Rebecca Detti
19:19 Feb 03, 2024

Thank you Kaitlyn, I think this is a great take on the prompt. When reading I was thinking about Jonah and also humankind and how we all run away from things as sometimes facing things seem too painful. A powerful lesson for all. Really enjoyed and thank you for highlighting.

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21:59 Feb 03, 2024

Thanks Rebecca. We do all run away from things. Many times figuratively - in our minds. Jonah wrote the tale so he (unlike many others) faced up to his foibles bravely (didn't run away from the truth about himself) even though he ran away literally in the beginning.

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Mary Bendickson
14:45 Feb 02, 2024

One of God's lessons. He who hath ears...

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23:30 Feb 02, 2024

This story seemed a great one for the prompt. With a great lesson. I took a leaf from your book, as you also love telling Bible stories. Thanks for reading.

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