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Jonah and the Big Fish
Jonah was a prophet who ran away from God. He set to sea, and ended up inside a big fish. Some say it was a whale – and for that reason the story is sometimes called Jonah and the Whale.
We’ve added lots of sound effects for the storm.
Adapted by Bertie from the Book of Jonah in the Bible, with some speeches drawn from the King James version.
Read by Natasha.
Long ago, there lived a man called Jonah, the son of Amittai, meaning Truth. A son of Truth, and a prophet, Jonah often heard the word of the Lord God. This gift was not one that he appreciated at all, far from it, for although the Truth will enlighten us, all to often it will alarm us first.
One night, in a dream, God said to him.
“Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and cry against it; for their wickedness is come up before me.”
And when Jonah heard these words, he was afraid.
“Oh Lord, what wrong have I done to deserve this, your command? I cannot win. I could go to the great city of Nineveh and call on the people to cease from worshiping idols and to leave their evil ways. Yes, I could do that, but would it make me popular? No, more likely they would grow angry at my ceaseless preaching, and they would throw stones and me. But then again, what if they did listen to my prophesy of doom? Suppose that they hear the word of God? I know you, my Lord, you are gracious and merciful, and you soon repent of your resolve to punish mankind. You will turn away from your plan to undo the city and to destroy the people. My prophesy of destruction shall not come to pass. I shall be a false prophet. And false prophet has the respect of no one.”
But the Lord God did not answer Jonah, because he had told him once what he must do, and he did not mean to repeat himself.
And so Jonah arose – and he ran. He hurried himself to the port, and paid money to board a ship heading for Spain at the other end of the Mediterranean sea. Perhaps there, far away from the Holy Land, he would no longer not hear the voice of Truth that disturbed him so.
Jonah lay down in his cabin, at the bottom of the ship, where he hoped that God would not spot him. The ship set out to sea, and he remained down below, refusing to come up on deck to sample the fresh sea breeze.
Some days out, the Lord sent a great wind and stirred up a mighty storm. The ship heaved and creaked, and wondered if it should break apart.
The sailors were afraid. They jettisoned their cargo over the side, to lighten the ship. The captain ordered that everyone on board must pray for salvation. Each cried to his own god. But their passenger was nowhere to be seen. The captain went down below to seek him out:
“What do you mean, O sleeper? arise, call upon your God, and pray that he may save us from perishing.”
Jonah, reluctantly, and on wobbly legs, climbed up onto the deck. There the sailors were casting lots. Each had to pull a wooden stick out of bucket – he who drew the shortest would be, they believed, the cause of all their tempestuous trouble.
Jonah took his turn, and drew the shortest stick. Twice again, they drew lots, and each time the result was the same.
“So it is you, oh passenger!” cried the captain. “What is it that you have done to anger your god that he sends us this storm?”
“I am a Hebrew,” admitted Jonah, “And I am hiding from the Lord who made both the sea and the dry land.”
Now the sailors were even more afraid, for they saw that a man who runs away from his god must be very wicked indeed. Here was the explanation. This presence of this man was why the storm was raging all around them and threatening to break their ship.
“What shall we do to calm the waters?” they asked.
“Take me and throw me into the sea,” replied Jonah, “Do this, and the Lord God will calm the waters.”
Nevertheless, the sailors cried out:
“We beseech thee, O LORD, we beseech thee, let us not perish for this man’s life, and and do not make us spill innocent blood.”
They returned to their places and rowed hard against the tumultuous storm, but all their efforts were in vein, for the angry sea was far stronger than their puny arms. So in great sorrow, they picked up Jonah and cast him over the side of the ship into the stormy waters. Immediately, the sea ceased from raging. The calm miracle made a great impression on the sailors. They offered up a sacrifice of thanks to the Hebrew Lord and made their vows to Him.
But though Jonah was tossed by the sea, he did not perish, for the Lord sent a giant sea creature to swallow him whole. Some say it was a whale, others a shark, and still others a unique monster from the deep. Jonah himself had no opinion on the matter. All he knew was that he found himself on the inside of the mysterious fish from God, in its belly. There he remained, like a baby in the womb, only far less comfortable, for three days and nights as the sea creature swam the seas. All the while, Jonah prayed unto the LORD his God from out of the fish’s stomach:
“In my suffering, oh Lord, I cry to you from the belly of hell. You have cast me into the deep, into the midst of the seas. the waves passed over me, the waters drank me down, even to my soul, and the weeds wrapped around my head. But I pray to you, and I will make sacrifices to you again, for I know that salvation comes from the Lord.”
And the Lord God heard Jonah’s cries in his suffering, and he made the sea monster swim to the shore, and vomit him out onto dry land. No doubt the creature was relieved to be free of the strange obstruction inside his belly. No doubt, Jonah was even more glad to feel the hot sand between his toes.
Now the Lord God spoke again to Jonah :
“Arise, go unto Nineveh, that great city, and preach unto it the preaching that I bid thee.”
And Jonah arose, and travelled for three days to the splendid but wicked city, that stood on the banks of the river Tigris, in the land that we now call Iraq. There he walked through the streets proclaiming :
“Repent, Repent. In forty days and nights you will all be destroyed utterly. This is the word of the Lord God for I have heard it.”
As he preached, the sky turned as red as fire and the people were afraid.
He stood in all the public places, the market, and the temple, and on the steps of the palace proclaiming the word of God. Then at last, soldiers came for him.
But they lead him, not to prison, but into the palace and before the throne. And there sat the king, dressed not in magnificent clothes, but in sackcloth and ashes. His purple robe was laid out on the ground, for all to step on. He hung his head in shame before the prophet of the Lord and said.
“Let this be proclaimed and published through Nineveh by the decree of the king and his nobles, saying, Let neither man nor beast, herd nor flock, taste anything: let them not feed, nor drink water:
“But let man and beast be covered with sackcloth, and cry mightily unto God: yea, let them turn every one from his evil way, and from the violence that is in their hands.
“Who can tell if God will turn and repent, and turn away from his fierce anger, that we perish not?”
And God saw that the people of Nineveh were turning away from their evil ways, and he regretted his plan to destroy them utterly, and decided to hold back.
And this made Jonah angry, very angry indeed. He held up his hands to the sky and prayed:
“Oh Lord is this not exactly what I feared. Is this not why I turned and ran? For I knew that you are a gracious God, and merciful, slow to anger, and of great kindness, and repent your determination to punish mankind. Now you have left me high and dry. I prophesied the utter destruction of this spelendid city and it has not come to pass, indeed it shall never come to pass. You have made me a false prophet. It is better for me to die than to live.”
And when the Lord God did not strike down his false prophet, Jonah went out of the city and sat upon the top of a nearby hill. There, he made little shelter for himself.
While Jonah sat and sulked, God caused a gourd – a plant like a pumpkin – to grow all around Jonah’s shelter so that he should have food. Jonah saw this miracle, and it brought a little gladness to his suffering heart.
But then God sent a worm to destroy the gourd and it withered and died. Once again Jonah was angry with his maker. But the Lord God said:
“Are you angry with me because I caused the gourd to die?”
And Jonah replied,
“Yes, my Lord, I am angry with you, for you have taken away the life of this beautiful plant. ”
And God replied:
“You are sorrowful over the the destruction of this little plant and its fruit? Why are you so concerned? You did not sow its seeds, nor did you work to make it grow. And yet you would have me destroy my city with six score thousand people. They behaved foolishly, but they have their excuses – they are uneducated and ignorant – they cannot tell their left from their right – and there as many cattle as people, also innocent of any wrong. You would have me destroy all of them, but not your little gourd?”