Chapter 3 – Fish Food

As told by the Prophet Jonah

These scenes of my life, my feelings and my deeds were compressed into a review of mere seconds as the turbulence dragged my helpless body down one last time.

O God, forgive me! I cried piteously in my heart. With no strength or will remaining to fight the heaving swells of the sea, I relaxed and allowed the waters to take control. Down I drifted, letting the blackness bury my miserable life.

I was barely conscious of a strong swirling in the waters around me, which dragged me into what seemed like a great waterspout of the deep. I felt a tremendous rush of water and then bumped against something solid, yet soft and slimy.

Am I entering the gates of the underworld? Is this the mouth of Hell? I agonized. What horrors await me now?

But the blackness of death did not close around me. My lungs were aching beyond endurance, so I was forced to breathe in the seawater. To my surprise a foul-smelling air was present and my nostrils were assaulted with the stink of rotting fish. The stench and the slimy feel of the passage as it closed tightly about me were nauseating, but I could breathe! I coughed and felt the seawater disgorge from my belly. Blinded by salt water, I slipped through the tunnel and into a giant cavern, dark and fearsome. The walls were undulating around me, and strange gurgling noises from its depths frightened me.

Is this some kind of living stone, or has some horrible beast of the deep swallowed me? I speculated in horror. That thought roused my inner sight, and the awful realization of what was happening dawned on me as my numbed mind began to thaw and the picture formed.

With the clarity of inner vision I could make out the form of a giant fish, the size of which I had never dreamed. It was into this creature’s gaping maw (the mouth, stomach, jaws or gullet of a voracious animal) that I had fallen captive. “What a dreadful and torturous death God has prepared for me!” I wailed. I trembled at His awesome power to inflict such punishment upon me. Panic swept over me as my mind raced wildly. The weight of my many sins crushed me in their flood, while fearful scenes of horror followed.

       I saw an entire city of people led to their destruction, screaming like brute beasts that are slaughtered without warning and with no understanding of their fate. I saw my wife, crying and confused, her family and friends ashamed of her, and other men trying to force their way with her, now that I’d left her poor and unprotected. I saw my children growing thinner, and waking in terror in the dark from nightmares.

“Now I have seen the power of God to punish those who turn from Him!” I lamented. “If only I had not doubted this same power of God to uphold me. My doubt, my disobedience and my crimes against my family and the people of Nineveh are deserving of such torture. Truly, this agonizing death is befitting the enormity of my sins.”

So distraught was I that at first I didn’t realize that the great beast had become settled and calm. I knew then that the storm had quickly passed and that the men on the ship were saved–and safe. Sinners all, they had turned as one man to worship and praise the one God.

My execution and torture has at least been to their saving, I thought, with little comfort as I was carried captive through the undercurrents of the sea, inside the belly of the great fish, prepared by God to be my prison.

* * *

       I couldn’t tell day from night, but time was passing. As I was not dead yet, I became curious about my surroundings. Repulsed yet intrigued, I began to explore, feeling the curved walls of my dungeon with trembling hands. The sides were as slimy as a slug, and when I touched them my palms burned and tingled. I found that my feet and lower legs were submerged in a noxious (harmful, unhealthy) smelling brew. Seaweed wrapped around my ankles with every step, while small fish swam frantically through a hideous maze of half-digested creatures.

Feeling the contour of a gigantic rib, I suddenly realized the immensity of the creature. Slipping and stumbling, I painfully navigated in the darkness to a large lump over which I could drape my exhausted body to rest from surveying the macabre (filled with horror of death and decay) surroundings. The air I breathed was enough to keep me alive, but it twisted my stomach with nausea. The scent of death assaulted me. It sapped both my strength and will. My lower legs and feet began to tingle and burn. Unrestrained fear welled up in me as I pictured my flesh being broken down slowly into pieces, and floating around like the dead fish parts swirling about my legs.

“So this is the way of it,” I moaned. “This is how I will die, slowly and painfully, gradually being stripped of my flesh, no longer able to stand, with this burning sensation all over my body. Oh, no, no, no!” The horror of the thought was too much to bear, and I fainted.

A huge splash of cold seawater roused me into wakefulness. “The monster must be eating again,” I thought, shivering in the darkness. However, I was much relieved to find that I was still draped over the stump on which I had come to rest, and which had mercifully supported my body above the thick odious (arousing strong dislike or aversion) stew around me. This new salt water teeming with living creatures not only refreshed my surroundings, but also greatly soothed the burning on my legs, thereby reviving some small bit of hope.

We cling to life with such tenacity. I felt the desire to live, to survive. I felt hunger and the desire to eat, so I grabbed at the squirming life around me and managed to catch a small fish in my hands and pop it into my mouth. With difficulty I bit down on its twitching flesh. Disgusted but starving, I relished the cool feel of its tissues and moisture in my parched and seared throat. I began to feed in a frenzy like a wild beast, thrashing through the water and devouring whatever my hands could seize.

When my strength was revived, my senses slowly returned to me. I was filled with self-loathing and shame. The immensity of my pitiable plight broke over me like a giant wave. Tears glazed my eyes, and uncontrollable sobs broke forth from my chest. Great tears of remorse, self-pity, sorrow, and finally repentance streamed down my cheeks until I felt I had cried out the last of my heart’s blood. I had come to the end. I was utterly helpless, trapped by the hand of God, held prisoner in the Great Sea, banished into the dark bowels of a monster of the deep, sustained with just enough air and food to endure a living death, completely defenseless and without hope, except for God, the One from Whom I had run, and Whom I had so foolishly forsaken. Now He was all I had left.

Dazed by the enormity of my misfortune, with eyes swollen and burning, and throat cracked and sore, I feebly whispered, “O God, O God, help me. Please, help me.” I fell silent. I had no more tears to wring out, no more voice left to cry out, no more emotion left to spend.

Nothing. Alone. Black. Silent. How long I lay like this I cannot say. I remember shifting a few steps to relieve myself, then feeling my way back to the protuberance of covered bone, where I lay, sunk in my misery. I slipped in and out of a dozing state. My mind and heart became loosed as my body stopped struggling. I communicated wordlessly with God, talking to Him like I would have babbled on with my wife in the darkness of our bed before sleeping. I talked with Him freely, without any words, just in my mind and heart–about what I cannot recall. I began to relax and yield to my fate. Nothing seemed to matter anymore. So on and on we went, I knew not where, I cared not why–the great God, the great fish, and me.

* * *

       “Jonah.” A voice warm and rich and soft with emotion called my name. “Jonah.” There it was again!

“Who are you? Where are you?” Could it be there was another living being in this dark hole with me? Who was he? How did he know my name? I began feeling around; where was he?

“Jonah, it is I, your Father. Peace, be still, my son.” Then I knew … it was the voice of my God speaking to me out of the darkness of the pit.

“My Father! My Father!” I cried out weakly, tears springing to my unseeing eyes. I marveled greatly at the gentle sound of ineffable (indescribable) love in His voice as He spoke my name and these precious words of comfort. Feelings of love and wholeness began to wash over me, incredulous revelations of His love for me, His mercy, His greatness, His awesome power and majesty. Without a word, the light of revelation broke over me, and I could see the fears which I had feared at His command to go to Nineveh, and which I had tried to run away from. But here I was, having to face these same fears in the belly of the great fish. I saw that to have obeyed God would not have resulted in my death, but to run from Him was to let death and torture stalk and find and imprison me.

How foolish I am! my heart exclaimed. How blind I am, to doubt that God would take care of me! Why did I doubt My Father in Heaven? How could I have regarded Him so lightly as to think He would have abandoned me in Nineveh? Here He has not abandoned me in my bed in Hell. Here He is loving me even in my most disobedient state. Who can comprehend such love as His which has never left me, even though I ran from Him with all my might?

I cried out in the darkness, “My Father, You have not afflicted me to kill me, but that my sore affliction would bring me to repentance. When I cried to You, You heard me. When I cried to You from the belly of Hell, You heard my voice!

       “Your anger was not the outrage of an avenging warrior, but rather the chastising hand of a loving father when You cast me into the depths of the sea. The floods compassed me, and all Your billows and Your waves passed over me. I thought I was cast out of Your sight forever, yet still I cried unto You in Your holy temple to look down upon me and help me.

       “When the waters went over my head, the dark waters of despair entered my soul. Then the deep waters enclosed me like a tomb and the seaweed wrapped around my head like a grave cloth. I went down to the very bottom of the mountains until I could sink no further. I thought that the earth had shut her prison bars around me forever, but You were not finished with me. You delivered my life from the corruption of death, O Lord my God. When I fainted in the belly of the great fish, You revived my hope and I remembered You, O Father. My desperate prayer flew swiftly to You in Your holy temple.”

       “Oh, my God, my loving Father,” I prayed earnestly with great awe and passion, “I love You! I see You now! I feel so ashamed. Please, please forgive me. O my God, I have truly learned, they that follow lying vanities forsake their own mercy. But I will forever sacrifice unto You. I have no bull, no sheep, no dove, but I will sacrifice to You with the voice of thanksgiving, I will pay what I have vowed. Salvation is of the Lord!”

This was the most desperate and heartfelt prayer that I had ever prayed in my life. Now my heart was overflowing with love for my God. Illumined by the revelation of His love for me, I yielded to Him completely for the first time in my life. “Here I am, Lord God, take me!” I earnestly entreated. “I’m ready to die so I can come to You! Take me to Your bosom. I see You now, and I want only You. I am Your son once again. I thank You, mighty Father; I worship You, Lord of Heaven and Earth! I lift up my voice in praise to You, dearest Father of my heart. Please take me now, take me to Your home. I don’t deserve Your infinite mercy and love, but You are all I desire now. Thank You for Your love and forgiveness. I thank You and I praise You and I love You forever!”

With many such words of love and praise and laughter, I felt I had surely ascended into Heaven already, bursting through the gates and bounding into His bright and glorious presence. My surroundings, so bleak and hopeless and black moments before, had become a glorious palace, shining in the full revelation of My Father’s love! Oh, how a word, how a moment can suddenly transform the darkest hell into a heaven of light!

“My son, My dearest son, be at peace in your heart,” came the sacred Voice again. “I will gather you to My bosom in your time. Never fear, My son, nor doubt Me again. But it is not your time to come into My presence. You must go back. Return to life, Jonah! Return to the land of the living and do that which I will ask of you. Will you do that for Me, My son? Will you trust Me now?”

“Father, I will return as You ask, and I will trust You forever. But I am trapped here and have no way of escape. How can I return anywhere? I cannot deliver myself from the belly of the great fish. Indeed, it seems I will be dissolved soon enough and delivered through death only.”

But no further word came to me; the Father’s voice was silent. Time continued to pass–how much I cannot say. But my thoughts were full of what had happened, perceiving how everything was now changed. I had such peace, a peace that went beyond my ability to understand. Here I was, still alone and in darkness, still facing death, and yet, I was not afraid. My mind was sharp and sped along its path like an arrow flying to its mark. The more I thought, the more I rejoiced at the new life born within me, a renewed faith, a changed heart, a peaceful spirit, and a wonderful assurance of My Father’s presence. I now knew Him for the first time as I’d never known Him before, and I was overwhelmed by a mixture of emotions: a fear of His greatness, a love of His mercy, and an ecstasy of praise to His holiness.

This joyous reverie came to an abrupt end as I felt a jarring collision. The great fish began to lurch and thrash wildly! I was thrown first one way then another into the reeking liquid. Even my head submerged under the thick sludge. I tried to hold my face aloft, gasping for the foul air to fill my lungs, but it was no use. A huge muscular heaving began, and the juices of the fish’s belly shuddered while gassy bubbles formed and burst the surface. The swirling around my legs unbalanced me and I was pulled under the malodorous (having a bad odor) waters and tossed wildly with the seaweed and the ocean creatures. I felt some great force squeezing and pushing my body into a throbbing tube which pressed me on all sides, squeezing the last breath of air out of my lungs in its horrible vise-like grip. “Oh my God,” I choked, “I can’t breathe! Help me, help…!”

With a sense-numbing roar and a violent heave I was spewed out of the monster’s throat and ejected high into the air. Sudden light blinded me; my body arched and fell into the shallow waves, my hips and legs hitting on hard rocks beneath the water. My eyes were closed tight and burning like fire, my body was bruised and bleeding, my lungs were filled with putrid liquid, and I painfully grasped the jagged rocks with red and ragged hands. My lungs spontaneously retched out their greenish-gray contents, then I drew in as much of the crisp refreshing air as my burned throat could bear. More dead than alive, I dragged myself across the rocks up and out of the water and onto the shore, then lost consciousness.

When I awoke it was dark all around me, but no longer the foul and putrid darkness that had earlier surrounded me. It was a fresh darkness, a sweet darkness–the welcome darkness of a night in the open air. I tried to move and rouse myself, but could not, and so I fell, once again, into the blackness of sleep.

* * *

       With the welcome feel of the sun’s warmth on my bare back, I came into consciousness again at the dawn of a new day. With the rising of the sun, my heart also rose in praise to God for His wondrous might that delivered my soul from the depths of Hell and raised me to life again.

“Truly the powers of life and death and salvation belong to God!” I exulted*. I wanted to leap up for joy, but couldn’t move my leaden body, and so I lay there, absorbing the warm, healing rays cascading from heaven.

“Jonah, My son.”

“My Father!” I cried, instantly recognizing His loving and compassionate voice.

“Jonah, consider that which I ask of you. I ask you to fulfill the commission which I have given you. I could use another, but I want to use you, My son. Will you let Me use you? Return the way you came, Jonah, and go to Nineveh. Give them warning from Me, for their iniquities are great, and proclaim the words that I will put in your mouth. Say you will go for Me, Jonah, My son. Whether you go or not is for you to choose.”

“Father, I will go for You, my Lord and my God!” I replied eagerly. “I will go right now!”

Crawling and writhing, I dragged my aching body up the rocks and toward the trees on the shoreline. When I reached the coarse grass and painfully rolled onto my back, I suddenly realized that all my clothes had been torn off, and I was completely naked. Propping myself up on my elbows I examined my condition. Festering sores and stinging scrapes covered my body. My hands were swollen and bleeding. The skin on my lower legs and feet was gone–burned off by the stinging liquid in the fish’s belly, leaving the raw and bloody tissues exposed. I fainted.

Chapter 4 – The Stranger

As told by Milcha

My little brother saw it first. He picked up a long branch and started walking toward a clump of bushes under a large tree near the shoreline. I saw my brother poking something with the branch and I ran over to have a look. I saw a hand, all red and sore; then when I took another step forward, I saw a man’s body sprawled under a tree.

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He had no clothes on, and we thought he was asleep. But after my brother Saffie poked and poked him and he didn’t wake up, we thought that maybe he was dead. I grabbed Saffie’s arm and pulled him away, running and shouting, “Mama, Papa! Mama, Papa!”

My parents came running; Mama from our house and Papa from the nearby stream.

Papa reached us first. “What’s wrong, Milcha? Why are you shouting?” he asked, looking us over for injuries.

“Over there, Papa! There’s a naked man at the edge of the nut grove in the bushes, and I think he’s dead,” I cried.

“Stay here,” Papa commanded, going over to the place where I pointed as fast as he could. Mama reached us and held us while we told her what we’d seen. Her worried eyes followed Papa as he ran and stooped over the body.

“Tell Masala to come quickly, and take Safan and Milcha home!” Papa yelled to Mama. She ran toward the field at once, and then took us inside. Soon our hired servant, Masala, trudged heavily up to the doorway of our hut, carrying the stranger on his broad back. He stooped low to clear the small opening and Papa followed him into the room, his hands steadying the limp body of the unconscious man.

“Over there on the bed,” Papa directed, indicating his and Mama’s own sleeping place. Masala went over, knelt down, and with Papa’s help slowly rolled the naked stranger off his back and onto the soft rushes covered with woven blankets.

“Is he dead, Papa?” Saffie asked with a little child’s curiosity.

“No, Saffie. He’s badly hurt, and he’s in a very deep sleep. But with a little care I believe we can help him make it,” Papa replied.

“I’ll make some soup, Jorma,” Mama said to Papa, and she began to busy herself with the pot, vegetables, and herbs.

“Good, he’ll need that when he wakes up,” Papa said softly as he felt the man’s body for broken bones and looked over his injuries. It was then I noticed how red his legs and hands were, as if the skin had been burned off.

“He’s on fire with fever,” exclaimed Papa to Masala. “Bring some cool water and a rag.”

“Children, don’t just stand there gawking! Go gather some firewood for the stove, then you can play outside, but stay right near the door where I can see you and call you,” instructed Mama in a tense voice.

We played outside till the sun was low on the horizon, and then Mama called us back in. Oil lamps were lit, but the familiar coziness of the evening seemed intruded upon. Seeing the stranger in Mama and Papa’s sleeping place made me feel uneasy, and I worried about where they would sleep if the man didn’t wake up soon and go away.

We ate our dinner quietly, except that Papa and Mama talked in soft strained voices about the man, wondering where he was from and how he came to have such unusual injuries, and when he would wake up.

When the sun was fully down and the oil lamp burned low, Mama began to make another smaller bed in the middle of the floor. “You children sleep together here,” she said, “and Papa and I will sleep in your beds. Masala will keep watch in case there are any other strangers about, and Papa will relieve him for the second watch.” We crept noiselessly into bed, disturbed by the anxiety in her voice. I held her a moment longer than usual as we hugged each other, and she held me tighter, too.

“Don’t worry, sweet girl,” Mama assured me, her voice warming as she sensed my growing anxiousness.

“I love you, Mama,” I whispered back.

* * *

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Sometime during the night the stranger must have awakened, because when I opened my eyes and looked around, I saw him propped up against a large sack stuffed with dry grass at the head of Papa’s bed, and Papa was spooning broth into the stranger’s mouth and talking to him in very soft and low tones. But as curious as I was, my eyes were too heavy to watch long, and I soon fell back into a deep and dreamful sleep.

As the first light of the early morning appeared in the sky, everyone began to rouse out of slumber. We moved silently around the small house, doing little tasks–getting dressed, putting up the bedding, and preparing for breakfast. Mama warmed the goat’s milk and laid bread and olives and nuts on the table near the center of the room.

“Good morning!” The hoarse and broken sound of the stranger’s voice jolted us alert. “Thank you, thank you, all of you. Thank you for helping me, thank you for your kindness.” The stranger spoke in the tongue of the Hebrews, a language that we had learned from my Hebrew grandfather while he was with us.

“No need to thank us,” Papa replied. “You just rest while I tend to those wounds of yours.”

“Please don’t worry about me,” the man said, “I must be going. I have got to press on. I won’t trouble you any further, except to ask one very big favor, namely, if you have any spare clothing I could put on. I will do my best to return this way and repay you for your kindness.”

“Don’t think anything of it,” Papa said gruffly. “There’s no need to repay anything.” Looking around the room and then over to Mama, he continued, “Ghelah, bring my other tunic here.”

Mama shot him a disapproving look and moved reluctantly to the wooden shelf, and picked up Papa’s only other tunic. It was his new one that he saved for feast days, and never worked in. It was white and unstained and long and warm. She signaled her disagreement to Papa with her eyes, and I saw her lips silently forming the word “no.” Papa’s wordless answer was a firm look as he held out his hand. She gave him the tunic and brusquely turned away, her mouth set in a thin line.

I was curious to see what would happen next, so I busied myself with cleaning up here and there. Mama went outside to tend to the goats and took Saffie with her. Masala had already left to work in the field.

“Milcha, I’m going to see Amanah to get some aloe and ointments for the burns,” Papa said. “I’ll return after lunch. You stay near the house with our guest while he sleeps, and give him warm soup with bread when he awakes,” Papa instructed.

“Yes, Papa, I will,” I promised.

“No, no need,” protested the stranger. “Truly, I must be going right away. I have something very urgent to do.”

“No,” responded Papa with a steady voice. “You cannot go anywhere with such lesions (a wound; an inflamed or diseased patch of skin). I doubt you will even be able to stand up or take a step. You will remain with us until you are well enough to travel.”

“But really, I must go. I have…” The stranger had been struggling to stand, but as his feet touched the packed dirt floor, his face twisted in pain and he fell down hard. Tears appeared in the corners of his puffy, red eyes.

“Sir, you are feverish and grievously wounded,” my father said as he hurried back to his side. “You cannot think of moving from this bed.” Papa gently laid the stranger down, arranged his sore limbs, and covered up the unburned mid-section of his body with the rough woven blanket. “When I return I will help dress you, and we will see to the burns. Until then, just rest, sir. Please don’t try to leave. You need rest and food and time to heal.”

Overcome with exhaustion at his effort to stand, the stranger allowed himself to be eased back into the bed. “Thank you for…”

“Shhh, don’t speak now,” soothed Papa as he looked him over, and then turned and strode quickly out of the door.

Alone with the sleeping stranger, I could now stare at him directly to see what manner of man had come so unexpectedly into our midst. He was long limbed and thin, with black curly hair that fell to his shoulders. While he was a full-grown man, he did not appear to be all that old. His thick black beard tapered into little curls at the ends, and the tightly coiled hairs on his chest and shoulders gave him a wild appearance. His face, which was scratched in many places, was large and wide and round. His nose was short and bulbous (resembling a bulb in shape), giving him a friendly, almost funny appearance. I decided I liked him. My gaze traveled over the blanket and down to his burned lower legs which stuck out from underneath. They were terribly red and raw, and covered with white and yellow sores.

“Aauhhh!” I instantly jumped back in fright as the stranger moaned loudly and tossed fitfully in his sleep. Like a scared rabbit I bolted out the door and anxiously paced around outside the rest of the morning, only entering the house when I had to fetch something. Mama came and went, clearly upset, yet casting looks of concern toward the stranger.

I was relieved that Mama fed the man so I didn’t have to do it. Papa finally returned and very gently and slowly applied the cool, soothing ointment on the stranger’s blistered legs and feet, and his reddened hands.

Over the next few days the Hebrew man, whose name we learned was Jonah, slept, ate, and slept again. The color returned to his face as the scratches healed, and he slept more comfortably as the healing balm began to restore his frail limbs. He was curious as to how we could all speak his language, and Papa told him how his father, my grandfather, was born in Israel, but had been disowned by his family over some quarrel. Fleeing by ship, he had left Israel in disgrace, seeking refuge in this poor village far to the north of the borderlands of Israel. Penniless and starving, he hired himself out to the local fishermen and farmers and worked hard. Here he found kindness and acceptance. He soon learned to speak their language, and eventually married and had several children. Grandfather insisted that his own children also learn the language of the Hebrews. This is how Papa came to know Hebrew, a language he was careful to make sure we learned as well. “It may come to good use for you children someday,” he often told us. My grandfather had died last winter.

On the evening of the fourth day, as we ate together, the stranger, who was not so strange to us anymore, began telling us about himself, his home town and his family. Then a pained expression crossed his face. “You have been so kind to me, giving me shelter and care, food, clothing, medicine, and your own bed. I owe it to you to be completely truthful with you. And so I shall,” he said quietly.

After a pause, he began again, “As a child I was called to be a prophet of the God of my people, the one true God, Who made heaven and earth. But I disobeyed His command, which is why I fell into such a bad state as you found me some days ago. …”

We listened in fascination to the first part of his exciting story until the oil lamp sputtered and went out, and then we crept under our covers, reliving the pictures in our minds until sleep stole our senses away.

For several evenings, the prophet Jonah continued his vivid tale as we stared at him in wonder, quite overwhelmed to realize that we were now a part of this story, and that we were sheltering a man of God in our humble home. But he was not like we would have imagined a prophet to be, he was so … so … what is the word?–So much like a broken pot, simple and plain and honest about his failures and pride and doubts and fears, spilling out things we had never heard a man talk about. I didn’t understand much about his God or how he could speak with Him because I’d never heard of a god talking to anyone before. Grandfather rarely spoke about his people or their religion. Mother was afraid of our tribal gods, and so was I, but the prophet Jonah seemed to regard his God with great love and warmth.

We felt quite honored to be taking care of a prophet, and the esteem it brought to our house from the neighbors was an unexpected reward in itself. As word spread, we had callers every day, bringing extra food; birds and rabbits, vegetables, roots and home remedies from people anxious to help and hoping to catch a glimpse of our unusual visitor.

The tanner brought a pair of new sandals which fit Jonah’s feet exactly. When Papa asked how he’d made such a fine fit when he hadn’t even met the visitor yet, the tanner chuckled and replied, “I followed him from a distance as he walked out of the grove one day. When he was out of sight, I took a measurement from his footprint in the dirt near the stream.” He looked up, searching Papa’s face for approval for being so clever, and he wasn’t disappointed at Papa’s broad grin as he nodded his head in appreciation.

Mama spent her time fussing over the prophet, too. Her worries seemed to have melted away as a new and different kind of warmth began to permeate the very air of our little home. Maybe it was because we all had someone to care for, or maybe it was something more. I couldn’t explain then the difference his presence made in our home, but now I understand. It was the blessing of his God, the unknown God of my grandfather, that came and banished our fears and filled our home with a sacred warmth.

The prophet Jonah healed up quickly, and after only ten days he told us that the time had come for him to begin his journey to Nineveh, to obey the Lord and deliver His message.

“I may not live beyond that duty,” he said, “but if I do, I will do my best to return this way to repay you all that I owe and more. For you have given me back my life and health, and freely bestowed your warm and loving companionship upon this grateful stranger.”

My parents again insisted that he owed us nothing.

That last evening, as the prophet was taking a final walk in the coolness of the grove, I ran up behind him and took his hand. We strolled along in silence. My heart was full and I wanted to speak out, but I was too nervous to start talking.

“What is it, child?” he asked in a friendly voice, breaking the silence.

“Sir,” I started timidly, “I want to believe in your God who loves. Do you think He would love me, too? I really like this kind of a god. I have tried talking to Him, like you said you did, but I don’t think He’ll talk to me. I’m not a prophet like you, but maybe if I just talk to Him, He’ll understand. Do you think, sir, that this is all right?”

The prophet stopped walking, lowering himself to sit on his heels. He held my shoulders gently between his large hands, and looked long and searchingly into my eyes, which I kept wanting to lower, but could not. His eyes were so beautiful–dark brown, and warm. He didn’t speak for a long time, but seemed to be thinking hard. Finally the corners of his mouth curved up gently and then broke into a big smile.

“My God loves everyone who loves Him,” he replied simply. “I have seen big, bad, rough men of the sea cry out to Him like frightened children. I have seen His power to save them and reward their faith and love with deliverance. And now I have seen His love light a fire in your heart, and He has told me that this light and love will never be taken away from you.

       “Talk with Him every day, my dear Milcha, and He will hear you and understand your heart. One day you will come into His palace and see Him face to face, and He will talk with you freely. Although He is great and holy, the only true God above all other gods and realms, He has taught me today that it is a simple matter for any child to walk into His sacred presence. Truly, He delights in abiding with the low and the simple and the humble.”

Then the prophet kissed me, once on each cheek, and once on my forehead. With a merry laugh he stood up, and we walked back out of the nut grove hand in hand. My heart was singing and flying as cheerful and free as the birds overhead!

To Be Continued.

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