By James L. Ferrell
An excerpt from The Peacegiver, published by Deseret Book.
Exhausted, and amazed by what he had just witnessed, Rick was more confused than ever as to why he was there. “What is this about, Grandpa?” he asked again. “What is the point? What do you want me to learn?”
“Do you know the rest of Jonah’s story, Ricky?”
“Sure, he gets swallowed by a big fish and after three days the fish spits him onto dry land, and then he goes to Nineveh and preaches after all, and the people repent and are preserved. I get it. I know the story. But I don’t see what it has to do with me.”
“That’s why we’re here, Ricky-so you will see.”
The winds and waves had suddenly calmed, and the men ascended the ladder en masse. Rick and his grandfather followed them up. Once on deck, they surveyed the scene. The mast had been snapped off only a foot or two above the deck and the sail lost to the sea. Except for a few lonely pieces, the wicker fence had been almost entirely ripped away. But the twilight sky above was clear, and the water lay still as glass. The men dropped to their knees and offered prayers of thanksgiving.
Rick followed his grandfather to the bow and looked out across the now tranquil Mediterranean.
“Do you suppose that you’ve ever fled to Tarshish, Ricky?” his grandfather asked after a minute or two.
“Run from the Lord, you mean? No, I don’t think so.”
“No?” Grandpa asked, raising his eyebrows in Rick’s direction. “Let’s think about what it means to flee to Tarshish.”
Great, here we go again, thought Rick. More Socrates.
“Yes, I suppose so, my boy,” Grandpa said with a brief chuckle. “Let’s think about what we have just witnessed. Why did Jonah flee to Tarshish?”
“For the reason I just said, to run from the Lord.”
“That’s what he was doing, fair enough, Ricky, but why? Why was he running from the Lord?”
“Because he didn’t want to go to Nineveh, I suppose.”
“Yes, but why?”
“I don’t know, Grandpa! I guess he just didn’t want to go. Maybe he didn’t like them.”
“You’re right on both counts,” Grandpa responded, ignoring Rick’s agitation. “He didn’t want to go, and he didn’t like the Ninevites. And the reason he didn’t is because of what they had done to his people, and what they were yet to do.”
“What do you mean?”
“In Jonah’s day, Nineveh was a major city within the Assyrian empire-soon to become its capital. The Assyrians were a brutal, war-mongering people, feared by all around them-including, I might add, the Phoenicians, like the sailors on this ship, who were required to pay tribute to Assyria in order to maintain their sovereignty.
“By this time in history, the Assyrian empire included almost all of present-day Iraq and Syria, and much of present-day Jordan and Turkey. For a time they even controlled Egypt. The Assyrians had been raiding the borders of the northern kingdom of Israel for years, collecting tribute from them as well. And Jonah knew from the words of fellow prophets that the Assyrians would soon destroy the northern kingdom and lead his people into captivity,35 which happened in 721 b.c.”
Grandpa paused for a moment, looking out to sea. “So how could Jonah work to save them?” he finally asked. “Why would the Lord even ask him to? That is what Jonah was stumbling over, Ricky. In his mind, Nineveh didn’t deserve to be saved. And he, one of the aggrieved and mistreated, didn’t deserve to be required to help them.”
Rick remembered his grandfather’s earlier comment about Rick feeling he deserved better from Carol. “So you think I’m like Jonah, then, is that it, Grandpa? You’re saying that I’m upset because I think I deserve better than I’m getting, and in that respect I’m like Jonah.”
His grandfather didn’t say anything.
“Well, maybe I am then. But you know what? I can’t blame Jonah, to tell you the truth, now that I know what he was facing. Who could blame him for not wanting to go to Nineveh? For not wanting to help the very people who soon would wipe out his own people without a second thought? So maybe I am like Jonah. That doesn’t seem so bad to me, under the circumstances. It beats being Nineveh, I’d say.”
“Actually, Ricky, that’s who you are.”
“Yes. And so, by the way, is Jonah. That’s why we’re here. And why Jonah is somewhere in there,” he said, nodding toward the sea.