Chapter 5 – The Road to Nineveh
As told by the Prophet Jonah
The time for parting had come. With some difficulty I took leave of my new friends whose simple warmth and hospitality to a stranger had deeply touched my heart, but also caused me to regret even more keenly the ways in which I had been so unloving to my own family. I walked to the top of the hill, took a long look back and saw bright Milcha and little Safan standing there, silently watching me, with their mother’s and father’s arms around their shoulders.
“May God’s blessing be with you always,” I prayed, as I lifted my hand in the sign of blessing over them.
Jorma raised his hand in response.
I turned and strode purposefully through the town, carrying the full sack of provisions pressed on me by my kind hosts and their neighbors. As I walked, people continued to greet me, women pressing more food into my hands, and men tucking small bags of iron and silver bits into the fold of my robe for the money I would need to cross the desert. I tried to refuse these many offerings, but it seemed that everyone had heard about my story and my journey to Nineveh. They regarded me a bit superstitiously as some sort of divine person because I had survived being swallowed alive by a monster of the sea, and had come safely to their land.
It all seemed so fantastic that I could hardly believe it myself now–except that my body bore scars that would forever be a witness to me of my ordeal under the sea, where I discovered the love of my God.
By the time I reached the edge of the town, God had seen fit to supply me abundantly with all I would need on my journey: sturdy, well-fitting sandals; a staff; a new tunic; a head cloth for protection from the sun; more food, water, and wine than I could easily carry; as well as plenty of money for transportation. It seemed as if everyone was sending a part of himself or herself to Nineveh with me, and I felt that by so doing they would bring down God’s blessings on themselves.
And so it is, Jonah, said the Voice within me. As they have blessed you, so I will bless them and their children and their children’s children. As they have given to you, I will give to them so that their nets will always be full and their harvest will not fail. And wherever you go in My name, those who receive you and your words, receive Me and My Words, and I will save them and abundantly bless them. For I am the Lord Jehovah and you are My servant. I the Lord have spoken it.
With my heart pounding from excitement at hearing the voice of the Lord, I turned to face the town again and lifted my hands and staff high to pronounce God’s blessing on these humble and loving people.
The fish had deposited me on the shore far to the north of Israel, and I learned, through talking with Jorma, that Nineveh lay directly to the east. So, turning to face the direction of the risen sun, I walked straight on, heading towards some foothills beckoning to me in the distance.
* * *
Darkness caught up with me by the time I reached the foothills, so I slept under a broad tree until morning. My second day was spent clambering and climbing across the hills where I was forced to rest again at nightfall. The following day, I descended a short ways onto a high flat plain where I was alone on the road with my thoughts. I recalled all that had happened to me since the Lord’s voice had called me that day in the field to go and preach in Nineveh. I considered well His dealings with me, and reflected on how God was able to bring blessing and salvation to the ungodly in spite of my backsliding and sin. I remembered all the changes He wrought in my heart and mind as I tossed in the raging storm, as I plunged to certain death over the side of the boat, as I sat in hellish vigil in the fish’s belly, and as I was brought back to life by the warm, loving hands of humble village folk.
And now, I was back on the path of obedience. I had been given another chance. I had been saved and rescued by my merciful God Who had seen fit to set me back again on His way, and had filled my heart with purpose and zeal. The path seemed so sure now, the way was straight, and I was impatient with longing to fulfill His will.
“I will not fail You again. I will never run from You again,” I vowed in confident prayer. “I am forever on Your path, even unto death.” I cared not to tarry a moment longer from my mission, and my steps grew faster and stronger, so determined was I to move quickly toward my destiny.
The plain became hot and dusty. At last I arrived at a small settlement near the edge of the desert, a bare collection of huts and pens where the caravans paused before crossing the arid expanse. I spotted a stooped figure laboring with a large bucket at the well and I inquired about caravans heading in the direction of Nineveh.
“Caravans both small and large with camels and donkeys pass through here,” rasped the old man through cracked lips. His sun-baked, wrinkled hands worked quickly lowering and lifting the wooden bucket brimming with water out of the well. “If you are going to Nineveh you will find one soon. Wait here.”
“How long?” I asked impatiently as I watched his gaunt frame bending over to pour some water into a trough for his mule.
Seeming not to notice me any further, he shuffled stiffly to his pens and carefully measured out portions for his goats and chickens.
“How long till a caravan comes?” I persisted, getting more and more annoyed at this unforeseen delay.
“It will be here when it comes,” he said flatly, then turned and headed toward his hut. At the entrance he looked over his shoulder. “Come in out of the sun,” he advised, then disappeared through the door.
There was nothing I could do. I followed him silently and sat brooding on a low stool in the corner for the remainder of the day, sipping tea and praying that a caravan would come quickly.
Happily, I didn’t have long to wait! That same evening a small caravan carrying grain appeared from the southwest heading to the city of Haran, across the River Euphrates, and on the way to Nineveh.
“Praise be to God!” I rejoiced. “He is speeding me along!” Immediately I sought out the leader and inquired about joining them. I would go along with them until the river, and find my way from there.
He looked me over and I could almost hear him mentally calculating how much he could get out of me. “The price is high, traveler,” he said with a thick accent. “Fifty shekel-weight to the Great River.”
“Fifty!” I retorted. “I am not a merchant, sir, I’m not going for trading.”
“Well, what is your business?” he sneered. “If you’re running from justice the price is double!” He laughed loudly and ran a rough hand over his sweat-stained brow. He coughed and spit disdainfully in the sand, splattering my sandaled foot. “Well, what say you?”
“I am no runaway from justice, nor an evil man, sir,” I replied with all the dignity I could muster while wiping his spittle off my toes in the hot sand. “I am an Israelite, and a prophet of the Most High God. I go to Nineveh to deliver a warning from God, and I expect there is little chance I will return this way. I will only give you ten shekel-weight and I will work to earn the rest of my passage with you.” I was hoping to save all the money I could, thinking it might help me escape from Nineveh should I need to flee quickly.
“Make it forty, and your labor will be welcome,” he bargained.
“Twenty only, and no more!”
“Thirty, and you will be the first one up and the last one to bed at night.”
“No,” he growled, “I’ve given you my final offer.”
“Then I agree,” I said. I knew I was badly beaten and already reproaching myself for this unprayerful decision to sell myself as this man’s bond slave for the journey just to save twenty shekel-weight of silver.
“Start now by watering and brushing my camel,” the caravan leader ordered. “Then set up my tent and put my bags inside. And be quick about it. I want to rest.” He turned away, then paused and slowly turned back to face me with his hand outstretched. “Give me the thirty now,” he demanded.
“I’ll give you ten now and ten more when we are underway and ten again when we arrive,” I parried (to avoid a question or criticism), not wanting to be cheated and then left stranded by this base fellow. He held out his grubby paw in reply and I produced a small bag of silver. I watched as he weighed out the first payment with his hand scale. His stubby fingers chose one of the larger bits of silver, which he examined carefully and then put in his mouth to bite on with blackened teeth to further prove its value. His fist quickly clenched around the small bag as he spat, “When you’re done with my things you can water and groom the other beasts, help pitch the other tents, and clean up from the evening meal. Provide your own food, but don’t let me catch you eating until you’ve finished your work for the night.” He turned and strode away laughing.
How I survived those seven grueling days crossing the desert as a slave to this creature who was as foul as the Devil himself, I don’t wish to recall. The caravan moved swiftly however, and I was always up well before dawn, harnessing the animals, folding the tents, and tying the sacks of grain on to loudly protesting camels. I was determined by sheer force of will alone to keep the caravan moving as far and as fast as I could. Surprisingly, by the last two days I noticed a grudgingly respectful tone in the caravan leader’s voice as he watched me and ordered me about. When I didn’t think I could stand such a rigorous schedule with so little sleep for one more day, we spotted a few small clouds and some rough bush and scrub, followed quickly by dry grass. At last, a small cluster of huts and tents marked a caravan stop at the eastern edge of the desert.
“Only one day walking to the Great River,” rasped an old man in robes. His brown and shriveled appearance so closely resembled that of the old man at the other end of the desert that they could have been brothers. How my hopes soared and my waning strength was renewed at his few words! My ordeal of servitude was nearing its end, and I was flying along in God’s will, His hand speeding me onward to my destiny!
The greenness of the grass, the fields, and the trees assaulted my senses as we approached the mighty river. The people’s appearance changed from the thin, cracked, grim desert faces to the broad, smooth, amiable faces of prosperous farmers and craftsmen. We passed through farms, settlements, small villages, and then into the towns, and finally entered a small, but prosperous city on the river’s edge. For the last time I unloaded the camels, paid the final ten-weight which I owed, and bid my rough companions goodbye as they stopped to buy and sell. I hurried to the dock to buy passage across the great River Euphrates.
Never had I seen such a river, wide as it was strong and swift as the wind. The boat captains were skilled to deal with its strong current, some having lived their whole lives on the river’s undulating body. The rates were fixed as many passengers boarded, bound for destinations near and far along its winding shores, and thankfully I was able to pay my passage.
I did not anticipate the intense fear that gripped me the moment I stepped on board the rocking vessel. Nausea overcame me as scenes of that night of terror in the open sea washed over my mind in vivid waves of memory. Grabbing the rail and resisting with all my might the sudden urge to run off the boat, I told myself, “Calm down, calm down. I have to cross this river. I’m in God’s will now and He will not allow such terror to engulf me again. He will bring me across this river safely.” I held on to the rail until the knot in my stomach exploded in pain and I vomited my recent meal over the side. White and shaking, I held onto anything within my grasp, even grabbing other passengers, till I was able to pull myself to the center of the rocking vessel where I found a sack of grain to collapse on.
I started feeling better then, and breathed deeply, praying to God and talking to myself to keep my fear at bay. I could never travel easily on water again, and I avoided it after this as much as possible. How I would have loved to have stood at the prow, thrilled at the crossing of such a famed river, but instead I spent the entire day clutching that sack of grain, praying the journey would be over soon and that I would feel solid earth beneath my feet again.
How ridiculous, I thought to myself. Here I am, the prophet of God, sick with fear, and trembling at the rocking of a river boat. I hope there’s no one from Nineveh on board who will recognize me when I arrive there to preach. I covered my face and beard so no one would recognize me later, even though not being able to see made me feel even more nauseous.
When the sun was low in the sky, and this second watery adventure came to its inglorious end, I was helped ashore by a kindly crewmember who had compassion on me. Still shaking, I sat on the dock facing the trees and ate some bread and cheese, and drank a few sips of wine to steady my still swaying body. After a while I felt less shaky, and so I stood up and walked into the town asking directions to an inn for the night. I was thankful that it was not too difficult to find people on these trade routes who could speak in several languages, and that traders seemed to be welcomed everywhere. It came to my mind often during this journey, that even though I was passing through enemy lands, I had never been questioned or troubled by anyone. Surely God is shielding me with His powerful hand, I encouraged myself.
Renewed excitement filled my soul. The next morning, God led me miraculously to a kindly trader who was moderately proficient in my language and who was on his way to Nineveh to sell his wares. He agreed to take me along because he was glad for someone to talk with and to have an extra arm along in case of an encounter with thieves. If all went well, I would see Nineveh within ten days, he assured me. He was full of information about the place.
“Three days,” he told me, “that’s how long it takes for a man to walk the length of that city from the south end to the north end.” I had heard that Nineveh was very large, but could only marvel to imagine a city so vast that it would take three days to walk from one end to the other.
As we started our journey together, Makfar, for that was my companion’s name, talked on at length about the wickedness of the Ninevites, how their kings and armies had been conquering one tribe and country after another, and how they used the conquered peoples as slaves to build their city. He described in horrific detail how the Assyrian soldiers cruelly mutilated and tortured their enemies by cutting off their fingers, toes, ears, noses, and tongues, or even skinned people alive. They were even now preparing an army to invade Israel from the north.
As the days went by, I listened in silent dread to these horror stories, and began to waver, as old and new fears began to circle me like ravening (living by hunting prey) wolves. I wondered how I could possibly endure such torture or escape alive after delivering my message. Ugly pictures formed in my mind and I thought, Surely the townspeople will stone me and I’ll have to run and hide. What if the soldiers come to take me away? What will they do to me if…? My imagination began to run wild, so I had to stop it forcibly. If I die, I die. I firmly resolved to myself. I won’t let these fears scare me out again. I would be dead by now except for the Lord saving me for this mission. If He plans for me to die in Nineveh then I am ready to be sacrificed. I will deliver His message to this wicked people, come what may!
I realized it would most likely cost my life to deliver this frightening message to such a wicked and superstitious people who were famed for their cruel warriors, fabulous riches, and licentious (sexually immoral) lives. But I will be faithful. I won’t fail my God again! I reaffirmed inwardly. I’m prepared to die and I most probably will.
Resigned to my fate and even glorying in it, I then found I could go forward again with courage and zeal. With every step I found myself growing in conviction and determination to preach with God’s power, as never before.
No nation on earth has ever deserved the righteous destruction of God as much as they do, I continued reasoning in my mind. I will save my people from slavery, torture, and death at the hands of these barbarians. Surely this is what God has in mind! With each step my conviction grew and my anger against them waxed very great. If this is to be my last act upon earth, it will be unforgettable! It will reverberate both in Heaven and on earth, I envisioned. It will be justified by the wrath of a righteous and angry God on the vilest of all the great cities whose sins are infecting the simple and righteous everywhere. How all of the humble peoples of the earth will rejoice at the destruction of such wickedness, and the story of Jonah, the prophet of the one true God, will be told and retold to all generations! How glorious!
Makfar, my garrulous (talking too much) companion, looked at me strangely. “You don’t talk much,” he said wistfully, having hoped for better company on our sojourn together.
I realized I had been having an animated silent conversation with myself alone. “Please forgive me … I’m quite deep in thought these days,” I apologized, hoping I hadn’t been making strange faces while daydreaming of my glorious future.
“Why are you going to Nineveh?” he asked simply, his large trusting eyes looking out from under bushy dark eyebrows.
“I am Jonah, the prophet of the God of the Israelites. God has sent me with a message of warning of imminent destruction to the great and wicked city of Nineveh. I shall probably not return alive from this mission, but I am determined to faithfully deliver the message,” I replied in a grave voice, watching to see the impact of these words on this honest soul.
“Oh,” he said, “I see.” He nodded his large head, stroking his grizzled beard with long fingers. “I’m a simple man. I’m going there to trade.”
“All this trade coming and going from both conquered and unconquered nations only serves to spread the iniquitous customs and idolatry of the Ninevites faster and farther, don’t you agree?” I asked him pointedly.
He looked at the ground uncomfortably as he thought about my remark. “How long until this day of destruction?” he then asked in his practical way.
“The Word of the Lord will come to me when I am there.”
“Hmmm…” He pondered silently for some time. “Sir, I have decided to guide you to the edge of the great city, and then I will turn south along the river to the city of Ashur to do my trading.”
“Thank you, my friend. God will bless you for believing His prophet, and for removing yourself far from the wicked and their doom.”
Already my message is saving the righteous, I mused with joy. Oh, I will be faithful to warn all, so that the righteous may deliver themselves from the curse of the wicked, and those that will be vile still shall utterly perish in their iniquity!
After ten days of crossing fields, barren lands, and two small rivers, stopping to sleep outdoors wherever the evening halted us, at last we reached the edge of the famed city of Nineveh. Gripping each other’s arms in a warm farewell, I pronounced God’s blessing on his journey. It was an easy matter passing the checkpoints and guards by answering as Makfar had instructed me and paying the small fees they collected. They assumed I was merely one of the hundreds of traders who arrived or departed the city daily. I crossed the bridge over the canal that ran along the wall, and stood facing the West Gate, which opened its great doors into a sprawling bed of iniquity and violence.
I opened my mouth and prayed aloud saying, “O God, my Father in Heaven, give me now a full measure of Your anointing of judgment and wrath as I obey You to deliver Your message and proclaim the doom of this city. Help me to face whatever hardships I must face–yea, even death–as I do Your bidding. Open my mouth wide and give me Your Words! Let Your will be done!”
I set my face as a flint and stepped forward to meet my great destiny.
Chapter 6 — Forty Days
As told by Pilgar
Japhniah-Nazdin, the old man who sits at the Shamash Gate on the west side of the Magnificent City, first pointed him out to me. The stranger was covered in dust, his dark beard wild and bushy, and the skin on his hands, where they emerged from his sleeves, were darkened from the sun. His clothes were coarse and plain, like those of the western tribal people, and his sandals made of thick leather.–His countenance stood in stark contrast to the many who bustled around him in their beautiful multi-colored tunics and fringed shawls, their soft boots and sandals with upturned toes, their bells and colored leathers. Standing at the gate with his gaze upward, he seemed completely unconscious of the stream of traffic, the men and merchants, baskets, donkeys and animals that were trying to shove past him in and out of the broad entrance.
The old man grabbed my wrist so firmly that I winced as he pulled me over and ordered me: “Pilgar, follow this man, and carefully observe everything he does and says. Then, my boy, report back to me!”
I didn’t appreciate this intrusion into my planned activities of shopping for food and a few supplies for my mother. How am I going to explain it to her if I get home late for the preparation of the noon meal? I wondered glumly. But there was no disobeying old Japhniah-Nazdin’s orders. Although poor and old, he was one of the most influential men in the city, for he was very wise, and could often predict the future. It was said that he knew far more about what was happening in the city and in the outside world than most of the king’s advisors in the Golden Palace could ever hope to perceive.
Perspiring in the rising morning heat, I watched the stranger from a few lengths away. He opened his eyes and looked straight ahead, took a deep breath and seemed to grow in stature and strength as he strode past the giant winged bulls of stone with long, purposeful steps.
Where is he going so fast? I wondered as I scurried to keep up with him. I was afraid he’d notice I was following him, so I tried to look at other things and pretend to stop and start again, always keeping one eye on his movements, never letting him quite out of sight. He didn’t look to the right or left, but followed the main road heading east from the gate, straight into the center of the city.
After several hours I was very tired and couldn’t understand why he didn’t stop to eat or drink or look around at the many stalls full of every kind of merchandise and food. Even the thinly clad and thickly painted women for hire who called and beckoned to him from their canopied pavilions didn’t once cause him to look their way. He passed men beating their animals or their slaves with sticks, women berating their husbands or haggling with the vendors, young men gambling, drinking and brawling, but nothing seemed to tear his gaze from the road as it led deeper and deeper into the heart of Nineveh.
Where is he going? I wondered as the day drew on, and he continued walking with his eyes fixed steadfastly ahead of him. Why did he come here? And what is my mother going to do to me when I get home so late? Having missed my noon meal, I could feel the hunger pangs pulling at my empty stomach. Only the old man’s stern command kept me going on and on, following the stranger, farther and farther from our district, as the sun began its downward arc in the sky. He’s got to stop soon, the sun will be down in another hour, I thought hopefully.
Suddenly, the stranger stopped. He stood gazing at the immense open square where the Nine Pillars of Triumph stood. He surveyed the square, his eyes resting for a minute on a large pile of the skulls of enemy soldiers stacked up on the right side of the steps. Slowly, he began ascending the ninety thin, white marble slab steps to the center of the square, and when he reached the center, he turned, the nine carved pillars framing him on three sides. He closed his eyes, raised his walking staff in his right hand and also raised his left hand over his head. A mysterious shine seemed to illumine his face in the fading twilight. People who were milling about on their way home for the evening meal began to notice him, and one by one they stopped talking, stopped walking, and stood motionless to see what this unusual stranger was going to do next. A hush began to fall over the busy square as one after another paused, while time seemed to stand still.
“THUD!” the end of his wooden staff sounded as it hit the marble step with great force. Everyone watching gasped and jumped backward in fright as the stranger made this unexpected move and opened his dark, fiery eyes.
“Thus saith the Most High God in Heaven!” he called out in a slow and powerful voice. “WOE UNTO THEE, O NINEVEH!”
“What’s he saying? What language is he speaking? Where’s he from?” asked people on every side. A foreign trader in the crowd, who was dressed in a similar robe as the stranger, quickly stepped forward and cautiously approached the man at the top of the steps. As the trader whispered something into the ears of the stranger with the staff, the stranger looked heavenward and appeared to be praying. I watched in silence as the two men turned together and stood facing the crowd.
The trader held up his hands and stepped forward, as if to make an announcement. He spoke with trembling lips, and in the Akkadian tongue. “I am Shaul ben Jotham, a trader to the city of Nineveh for many years. I come from the land of the Hebrew tribes. I will interpret the words of Jonah ben Amittai, a Hebrew of Gath-hepher, in the land of Israel. He has come to deliver a message to you from the one true God of our people. These be the words of the prophet of God.”
Slowly and with great power in his voice, Jonah lifted his staff high in the air, and proclaimed his words while the interpreter translated.
“These are the words of the Most High God, ruler of Heaven and earth, King of all kings of the earth, whose kingdom rules over all kingdoms: ‘YET FORTY DAYS, and Nineveh shall be DESTROYED!'”
A gasp rippled through the superstitious crowd as they listened to this startling proclamation. I felt a cold chill of fear grip my heart. My hunger and weariness was swallowed by the terror that began to fill my chest, and I turned to run away. I ran as fast as I could, back towards the western gate. It didn’t matter to me that I was a full day’s journey into the city. I had to get back to where Japhniah-Nazdin was waiting for my return as soon as I could. I ran till I could run no longer, and collapsed on a low stonewall along the street. A woman carrying a small child gave me a drink of water and some bread, and asked if I needed a place to rest. I drank, ate, and thanked her but told her I had to reach the gate with the news of the prophet who had come to warn the city. She pressed the rest of her bread into my hand and I tucked it into my tunic as I ran on, resting only to drink at a fountain and eat a morsel or two more.
I reached the closed western gate at the second watch of the night. Only the guards and soldiers, a few drunks and some hooded men stood around the empty market areas and streets. A few oil lamps flickered and I saw dark painted eyes peering from behind scented curtains. “Where is Japhniah-Nazdin?” I asked. “He must be waiting for me somewhere here.”
In the dimness I saw a small movement near one of the standing stones. It was the form of a man in a dark robe emerging from the shadows and coming toward me. Straining my eyes against the night, I observed his slow halting steps, and recognized that it was the old man. I started toward him, but exhaustion overwhelmed me. I stumbled and began to fall, but he grabbed my arms and gathered me to him as he sat down, wiping the sweat and dirt from my face, pouring water from his jug over my soaked hair, and into my mouth. “Tell me, tell me, my son, as soon as you are able; what is the mission of the stranger who entered our city this morning?” Japhniah-Nazdin urged me softly.
My voice cracked and broke as I repeated the words of the stranger. “He said … he said … he had a message…”
“Slow down, and when you are able, tell me exactly what he said.”
“He said, ‘Thus saith the Most High God in Heaven! These are the words of the Most High God, ruler of Heaven and earth, King of all kings of the earth, whose Kingdom rules over all kingdoms: Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be destroyed!'”
The wise old man of the western gate pondered the message. “So, he’s the prophet,” he said thoughtfully. “I have been expecting him.” For several minutes, he nodded his head as he stroked my hair, then suddenly pulled me up and said, “I’ll walk you to your home, and then I must see the king!”
When we reached the house, Father guided me to my bed and I sank into a long deep sleep.
* * *
The warm smell of bread baking in the oven woke me up. From the light of the sun shining through the shutters, I could tell it was well past noon.–I did not know I could have slept so long. Rising quickly, I went to the basin, filled it with water to wash my face and hands, and bolted to the table to eat anything I could find left over from the midday meal. Strangely, the entire meal was untouched and abandoned, and the bread, still baking in the oven, was beginning to burn. I ran over and removed the blackened loaves, and then returned to the table, devouring meat and bread, drinking untouched glasses of barley water and goat’s milk, and continuing on through the fruit and cheese.
Where is everyone else? Why is the house deserted? Why hasn’t anyone eaten yet? I wondered as I swallowed down lusty mouthfuls of food.
Satisfied at last, I decided to have a look around outside. When I reached the main road, it was crowded with people pushing, shouting, and shoving, making their way east. The few people coming from the other direction were being endlessly questioned about what was happening at the Nine Pillars. The atmosphere was tense and the mob seemed a bit on edge.
As I went into the street I overheard people talking to one another. “Japhniah-Nazdin is gone … some foreign lunatic is at the Nine Pillars ranting about doomsday … says we are to go and listen … if you’ve heard one fool you’ve heard them all … he’ll probably end up with his head on the city wall as a warning to other fools! … Come on, boy, it’s a long walk to the Nine Pillars … he says he’s a prophet sent from God … We have our own priests! Why would the gods send us a stranger? … Where is Japhniah-Nazdin? … hurry …” I went back to the table and gathered all the food I could carry in a leather pouch, slung it over my shoulder and went out to look for my family and our servant. I found them a few houses away from our home.
“Pilgar,” my mother called, reaching out to embrace me, “we thought you were still sleeping.”
“I woke up and ate, Mother. Are you going to hear the prophet? What’s happening?”
“Japhniah-Nazdin sent messenger boys to all parts of our district, urging as many as could to come to the Nine Pillars to hear the stranger. He says that this man is a prophet sent from God, and that we should take heed to his warning. We were waiting for you to wake up so we could go together.
“It’s a long walk, Mother. I’ve already packed up some food. You should take money for lodgings for the night near the tanner’s market.”
“Yes, son,” my father replied, who overheard our discussion. “Now that you’re awake, we’ll leave at once. Egar, return to the house and make it secure. Stay and keep watch against thieves while we go to hear this stranger.”
Mother returned to the house with our servant, Egar, to collect the needed coins for night lodgings. Then our family regrouped and joined the jostling crowds heading to the center of our magnificent city. The mood of the crowd was a mixture of festive anticipation with an undercurrent of anxious worry, as the people of the West Gate district pushed and pulled and prodded their way through the crowded streets of Nineveh.
Chapter 7 – The Message
As told by the prophet Jonah
The sun was already hot, streaming in through the small window of the mud-brick room in the early morning hours, making me feel uncomfortable and sticky. My legs and arms still ached from having stood for so many hours, and my throat was sore.
What does that matter anyway? I thought to myself. I’m probably going to die at the hands of these ungrateful mobs or go down with the city. A wave of discouragement and gloom hit me at the thought of going out to the square again for the third day and preaching. How am I going to be able to do this for thirty-eight more days? I wondered glumly. People are already throwing things at me and mocking me, and will probably soon get so mad they’ll beat me or stone me or tear me into pieces. I’ll probably end up being nothing more than another head on that pile of skulls!
I was so depressed that I didn’t want to go out at all. I huddled in bed with the cover over my face and prayed, “O God, please let me have a break today! I feel so tired, and my legs and arms and head are aching. These people don’t want to listen anyway! How am I ever going to be able to keep this up for so many days?”
Jonah, stand on your feet. Hear My Words, and know that I am the God of all things. I will strengthen you, I will uphold you, and I will keep you safe. I will raise up those who will heed your words and bring the message to the king and to the wise men of the city, the governors and the captains. When you stand before the crowds you are standing with Me, and I will keep you and give you My power and anointing. Go, stand and speak, and faithfully give My Words which I shall put in your mouth.
At the voice of God, I ceased arguing and slowly stood on my feet to dress, eat and drink what Shaul, my interpreter friend, had prepared for me. Together we passed through the red-painted doorposts of the house and out into the morning sun.
“O prophet of God, I am so honored to interpret for you. It’s wonderful what you’re doing. I never dreamed I would be helping a man of God. This is the most exciting thing…” Shaul bubbled on and on enthusiastically.
Well, at least someone’s excited about this whole ordeal, I thought as he chattered, while the morning’s gloom fought to overtake my heart again. No, I can’t let this discouragement overwhelm me. I am prepared to stand to the end. If I must face death, I might as well face it bravely, and even welcome it.
Yes, I determined, I’ll give it my whole heart, and if I die, I die! I thought.
As we walked on, my imagination took wings and I saw myself with my staff raised, as fire and destruction from Heaven poured down around me. The city stood engulfed in flames, with people perishing on the right and the left, and tongues of fire leaping high around me. Yet I stood, boldly proclaiming God’s message to the end, without flinching as the flames engulfed me and the great destruction raged, destroying every man, woman, child, animal, and building in this filthy, wicked, God-forsaken city.
Bolstered by these thoughts, I was again eager to get to my post and feel the anointing fall on me as I ascended the marble steps. Oh, this is what I love most, I thought as the thrill of the powerful anointing of God set my body and soul on fire. Slowly turning, I faced the gathering crowds in the morning sun, and raised my sturdy staff high above my head. With supernatural power and strength the staff fell, hitting the marble with a loud crack, and the crowd, several times bigger today than yesterday, took a collective gasp and a jump backward.
“FORTY DAYS have been given to you, O Nineveh, prince of wickedness, harlot of harlots, vilest of cities. Forty days to wallow in the stench of your sins, and then judgment and destruction will befall you from the Most High God. Forty days, and your sins will come into remembrance before the God of Heaven, Who is holy and true, and righteous in judgment. You who have lived in riches, and have brought unto yourselves every vile practice and craft; you who have bowed yourselves down to false images and idols; you who have called for the devils to empower you to curse your neighbor; you who have waged brutal wars against the poor and righteous; you who have gained your riches by robbing the poor of many nations; you who have brought torture and torment to hundreds of thousands; you who have broken every vow you have ever made; you who have sported yourselves lasciviously (provoking or exciting lust) in every unclean act; you who have through your merchandise and caravans spread your wickedness to every nation–your day of destruction and doom has come!
“And how happy shall be the weak and the meek at the news of your destruction! How the oppressed and the robbed and the downtrodden shall rejoice at word of your desolation! You who have no love, no kindness, no pity–prepare yourselves to die by the righteous judgments in the great and terrible wrath of the Almighty God, Who sees all and judges righteously!”
Pausing to allow the effect of this prophecy to sink into their hearts, I rejoiced inwardly, thinking, Yes, this is what I was born for–to deliver God’s message to the greatest and most wicked empire on earth, and to be the instrument of God in its judgment. Oh, God, I thank You that You have chosen me to be Your tool, to suffer and die for You in this glorious manner.
I imagined that Shaul and others would escape the city’s destruction and tell of my deeds far and wide, that people of all ages would know my name and shudder at the stories of the great and horrible destruction that brought this mightiest of the kingdoms of man to its desolation, and that all succeeding generations would be inspired at the recounting of the life and death of Jonah, the prophet of the Most High God.
My mind was jerked from its wanderings by an insistent tugging on my sleeve by Shaul at the approach of a bent and bearded figure walking slowly up the marble stairs, supported by a youth holding his arm. This old man stopped in front of me, and his piercing eyes looked out at me from the folds of his hood. The skin of his face was like yellowed parchment stretched thin and smooth, and his voice crackled like a warm fire.
“My son, the king’s spies are in the crowd today, and they will bring news of your message to the ears of their master,” he said knowingly. “The king himself will come in disguise, and no one in the crowd will be able to tell who he is. But your God will show you.”
“How do you know this, old man?” I asked, wondering who he might be.
“I am Japhniah-Nazdin, your unworthy servant,” he replied, with a quiet air of authority that belied his humble words. “I only know what I am allowed to know,” he added mysteriously.
Perhaps he is some sort of a prophet or seer, I mused. Lord, should I heed this man’s words, or is he sent to be a snare to me?
The Lord’s Voice spoke to my heart clearly in reply, Heed this man’s words, for I speak to him. Though he does not yet know Me, I know him.
Extending my hand in greeting I said, “The Lord God has told me to heed your words, Japhniah-Nazdin, for He knows you.”
The old man grasped my free hand in both of his smooth bony ones and stroked it gently. “Son, you must give every word faithfully, and hold back nothing for fear or for gain. Our hope is in the message of the God for Whom you speak.”
“Old man, what hope is left for your city?” I asked. “The Words of God are pure and unchangeable. But God knows you, and if you believe me, you can still escape with your life. Nevertheless, everyone that remains in this place must resign themselves to the righteous judgment of God.”
“That’s precisely what I was waiting for,” Japhniah-Nazdin replied with a mysterious twinkle in his eyes.
Maybe he’s a bit touched in the head, I thought. He doesn’t seem to take things very seriously. I watched as the bent old man and the slim, curly-haired boy holding his arm slowly descended the steps.
Time to preach again! I remembered, lifting my staff high above my head, closing my eyes, and waiting for the fiery anointing to fall once more.
To be continued.