My name is Jonah. Now listen to me,
As I tell you how I lived in the depths of the sea.
It all started one day when I heard the Lord’s voice.
I had to make a terrible choice.
“Go unto Nineveh,” I heard the Lord say,
“And cry out against their evil way.”
I well understood what the Lord had said,
And when I heard it, I was filled with dread.
My rage was as black as a dark stormy day.
My anger rose up as I started to pray:
“You want me to go to that subhuman race?
You want me to show them your love and your grace?
What they really deserve is your fiery wrath.
Yet you want me to show them your merciful path!
They torture your people! You know how they are!
And you want to love them! Now that’s going too far!”
I went down to Joppa so that I might board,
A ship that would take me far from the Lord!
I paid my money and said, “Take me as far as you can.”
“Then you go to Tarshish,” said the sea weathered man.
I went deep inside the hold of that ship,
And I fell fast asleep as we started our trip.
The sky grew black and the wind started to roar
The sea waves were like mountains, and the rain started to pour.
They lightened the ship as much as they could,
But the storm was so bad, it did absolutely no good!
The sailors were sure that the ship would go under.
They cried out to their gods, but their answer was thunder!
The captain ran down and found where I lay.
“Get up you sleeper!” He cried, “Get up you, and pray!
The god may decide to hear your cry.
He may give us a passing thought, that we may not die!”
Said the sailors, “Cast lots so that we can see,
Whose god is angry and has stirred up the sea!”
The lot fell to me, Jonah, who had been trying to run.
They said, “Who are your people, and what have you done!”
I said, I am a Hebrew. I fear the God who made heaven and sea,
And I know why he is angry with me.”
They said, “What must we do to calm the sea down?
What must we do that we may not drown!”
I said, “Take me up and cast me overboard,
Into the hands of my angry Lord.
You will all die because of me,
Unless you cast me into the sea!”
The sailors tried with all their might,
To row us through this angry night.
But finally they had no choice.
They had to obey God’s angry voice.
They picked me up and they threw me in,
And they prayed that God would forgive any sin.
The angry sea of death pulled me down,
And deep in the sea I thought I would drown!
Far above me, the sea was at peace.
The anger of God began to cease.
And as the angry waves grew still,
The sailors bowed beneath God’s will.
They vowed to serve this God of might,
Who brought them through their terrible plight.
Far below, I held my breath.
I knew that I was facing death!
Then I saw a frightening sight!
A creature came at me, right out of the night!
Its jaws were as big as two wide open gates.
To be drowned or swallowed were both horrible fates!
The creature came at me, right out of the gloom,
And swept me inside its great cavern of doom!
Past rows of sharp teeth I was helplessly bound.
Yet in God’s mercy, I still was not drowned.
There was just enough air for me to survive.
The Almighty’s mercy kept me alive.
For three days and three nights from the depths of my grave,
I cried to the Lord that my life he might save.
Then that great fish started thrashing about,
And before I quite knew it, I was being thrown out.
With a squeeze and a shove, I flew right through the air.
I flopped on a beach, though I wasn’t sure where.
I was really on land! I was really on shore!
I had learned my lesson. I would sin no more.
Then I looked at my skin in the bright shining sun.
And I saw what the belly of that great fish had done!
My skin was as white as someone half dead!
I looked like a nightmare that fills men with dread.
Once again I heard the Lord say,
“Go unto Nineveh!” I went right away!
I reached the city, and when I got there,
All who saw me started to stare.
I went a day’s journey and started to cry,
“Forty more days and your city will die!”
All who saw me believed what I said.
They heard God’s message and were filled with dread.
Even the king was filled with dismay.
He decreed that everyone should fast and pray.
When God saw how deeply the people were grieved,
He spared them that day, since the people believed.
I waited and waited for Nineveh’s end.
With anger I realized that God was their friend!
“Oh God! They can do any wrong, and if they regret it,
You just let it go! You just simply forget it!
Will you also forget all the people who cry,
Under Nineveh’s hand, while you lift Nineveh high?
This is what I knew you would do!
That is why I fled from you!”
So out in the desert I decided to go.
Where was God’s justice I wanted to know.
But I knew of God’s mercy when he sent me some shade.
He appointed a plant. Oh what comfort it made!
That night, God caused that same plant to die.
The next day, I had no more shade from the harsh desert sky.
The wind like a blast furnace started to blow!
Where is God’s mercy, I wanted to know!
“Where is your mercy,” God said in reply.
“You pity this plant, which I caused to die.
Have you no pity for Nineveh? Can you not hear them cry?
I sent you a plant. I was kind to you.
Why can’t you be kind to Nineveh too?
These people don’t know what’s wrong and what’s right,
But you already have my way and my light.”
And so I sat in the desert, quiet and still,
Trying to understand God’s will.
I think that I am beginning to see.
One of those people could have been me.
I could have been born in Nineveh too.
I guess that would have changed my view!
Justice and mercy, on this they depend.
Are you God’s enemy, or are you God’s friend?
By Chris Hansen
author of “Revelation Revisited,” Secret of the Psalms,” “Grandfather’s Journal.”