Jonah, Part 2

The first to gather, as the sun
Went down next afternoon, was one
Brave lad who hadn't learned the tales
Of Jonah's life. For him, like scales
Fresh falling from his eyes, were all
The words of Jonah's mouth. So small,
He thought, was his young mind that he
Might miss the truth and lose the key
To life. And so, as others sat
In Jonah's fruitful garden at
The prophet's feet, and waited for
His word to fall, this lad was more
Aggressive than them all. "May I
Please ask, sir, that you clarify.
I didn't understand last night
Quite what you said. I think I might
Have heard you wrong." "How so, young man?"
The prophet asked. "Because, I can
Imagine being swallowed by
A giant fish, and thus to die,
But you said that the mouth of death
Was your escape. And here, with breath
And life, you sit before us now,
And I don't understand yet, how
It came to be that you could live.
So I would love to hear you give
The story how you got from in
The giant fish's mouth, to win
The men of Nineveh for God."
The prophet smiled, "It does seem odd
That one grave's open mouth should save
Me from another's dread. A wave
To drown would seem a better wish,
Than being eaten by a fish.
And yet the path to life is strange,
And none can know the kind, or range
Of deaths that one must die along
The way that leads to life. The song
That satisfies the human soul,
When nothing tender can console,
Is learned beside the grave, or from
Within. And knowing both, I've come
To see how little difference
There is between the two, and whence
Bewilderment upon your face,
Which has not wept in either place,
Because you are so young. But I
Will try to tell you how the cry
Of my engulfed and dying soul
Was taken, like a burning coal
From off the altar at the seat
Of God, and made into a sweet
Aroma there before his face,
And how it then unleashed a grace
More mighty and more strange
Than you could ever dream: to change
A great man-eating fish, some three
And forty cubits long, to be
A saving sepulchre to me."

"But, Jonah, how did you get free?
You said last night, the mouth of death
Was your escape. But what of breath?
How did you breathe? And you said it
Was three days in the acid pit
Of that great fish, with no light, I
Assume, from sun or moon or by
A manmade lamp. Then how did you
Discern the passing of those few
Dark days, to know that it was three?
How could you live or count or see?
And even know the fish's length?"

"Young man, you have a certain strength
Of mind, I think is rare. What is
Your name?" "I'm sorry if I quiz
You disrespectfully. By all
That lies within me, sir, I call
To witness heaven here, that I
Count you, beneath the great blue sky,
The greatest man on earth." "Well, there
Is something greater, son, beware,
Than Jonah in this world. Now what's
Your name?" "My name's Hosea. Lots
Of people call me Hoshee." "What
Do you prefer?" "The one I got
When I was born." "Me too. Some day
You're going to fill that name the way
I filled the belly of a fish.
And, O, Hosea, I could wish
That I were there to see the weight
Of love you'll carry in that great
And awful mission you will get."
The old man wasn't smiling. Yet
The boy felt very loved. And then
The prophet said, "Hosea, when
You hear my story now, don't miss
The truth for you in all of this:
A prophet's life is not his own;
Not one thing comes to pass alone
For its own sake, but for the sheep
Of Israel, and all who keep
The covenant. With fish and wives
God writes his ways across our lives.

"You ask me how I got free from
The fish, and how I knew the sum
Of my three dark and senseless days,
And how I breathed, and did appraise
The length of that great beast. Well, there's
A story here. And many prayers
Did make it marvelous.

I do
Not know how I could breathe the few
Days I was in the fish, except
That once, when I awoke and wept
My prayer of thanks, there was a space
Around my head with air. Just grace,
That's all I know. And then I woke
Again, and all was still. The stroke
Of every slowing pulse-beat gave
The signs that this, my living grave,
Was almost dead. A spasm in
Its throat brought air. And then a thin
Bright line appeared. And everything
Within me lunged. The sudden sting,
As layers of skin peeled off my back
And legs, was hardly felt. The crack
Of light was like a trumpet, or
A bell, or like an unlocked door
From death. And when I lunged, the beast,
In one last dying act, released
His pois'ning prey, and threw me out
On sand. I lay there just about
In reach of its gigantic head,
The largest living thing, now dead,
That I had ever seen. My cheek
Was torn, my skin looked like a freak:
Bleached, peeling, wrinkled, open sores,
And stained with reeking bile, and scores
Of tiny leeches covered me.
"And then a raging thirst, now three
Days deepening, reminded me
That here on land I might yet be
A victim of the sea. The bright
And blazing sun was too much light,
And burned my eyes. But on
The beach, before my mind was gone,
I saw a company of men
And women watching me. And then
With little strength, and in the tongue
Of my dear fatherland, I clung
To life and cried, 'Help me.' But they
Were all afraid. The monster may
Be sleeping, and awake to seize
Them all. But then, as if with ease
And confidence, a single man
Came forth, knelt down, and then began
To give me water from his sack.
He put his arm around my back
To hold me up, so I could drink.
He looked at me, and then, I think,
He smiled, and tears came to his eyes.
He put his arm beneath my thighs,
And picked me up. Without a sound,
He gently carried me around
The crowd, and took me to his place.
And cared for me. He cleaned my face,
And used a kind of meal to take
The leeches off my skin, and make
The blisters heal. And finally,
When days of my insanity
Were passed, the gentle stranger said,
'You have been raised up from the dead.'
"'How do you speak my language?' I
Inquired. 'Because your God Most High
Appointed me for this.' 'Do you
Believe in Yahweh?' 'Yes, I do.
And may his name be praised in all
The world.' 'How did you come to call
Him Lord? You are a Gentile.' 'You,
A prophet, ask me this? A true
And faithful prophet surely would
Perceive such simple things. And should
Not three days in the bowels of death
Illumine grace, with every breath
A gift? Is this more strange or more
Impossible than that a door
Of faith should be thrown open by
The Lord for Gentiles? Jonah, I
For one, believe God would delight
In setting free a Ninevite.'

"I trembled at the words he spoke,
Could there have been a deeper stroke
Against my conscience, raw with guilt?
He may as well have struck and spilt
My blood. 'How do you know my name?
And how do you discern my shame?
And whence your knowledge that I spent
Three days in that great fish?' 'You went
From Joppa on a ship which I
Have sailed for many years. And my
Great fortune, this time, was to be
There when they threw you in the sea.
I saw you give your life, and then,
I watched your God do what none can,
But the Creator God alone:
The moment you sank like a stone,
The wind and waves were calm. I knelt
Beside the rail and prayed, and felt
The God of heaven lift the guilt
Of all my sin. And there we built
An altar, made a sacrifice,
And I do thank you for the price
You paid that I might come to know
Your great and gracious God, although
It was not your design, but His.'"

"Wow," said the lad, "I think that is
The greatest thing I ever heard.
So, Jonah, even when you erred,
And had no plan for good at all,
God had a gracious plan to call
A Ninevite and make him free,
Who lived near Joppa by the sea!"

"That's right, Hosea, and I wish
That one death in a giant fish
Were all it took to make me see
And savor what God meant to be.
But sin is deep and I was not
So quick to get what you have got
At once. God make your love to burn
The way I was so slow to learn.
Tomorrow night, if you come back,
I'll take you from that little shack
Near Joppa by the sea, and show
You what God did to make me know
And love his ways. Till then, good night."

And now let candle two give light
To this: the path to life is strange,
And none can know the kind, or range
Of deaths that one must die, along
The way that leads to life. The song
That satisfies the human soul,
When nothing tender can console,
Is learned beside the grave, or from
Within. And knowing both, we've come
To see how little difference
There is between the two, and whence
Bewilderment upon the face,
Which has not wept in either place.
But for the rest, the years make plain:
To lose is life, to die is gain.

©2014 Desiring God Foundation. Used by Permission.

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Please include the following statement on any distributed copy: By John Piper. ©2014 Desiring God Foundation. Website: desiringGod.org