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Shipmaster’s God in Jonah’s ship.


The words of the Shipmaster of the ship bound for Tarshish from Joppa, carrying as one of its passengers Jonah, said the following, as is narrated in the first chapter of the Book of Jonah:

So the shipmaster came to him, and said unto him, What meanest thou, O sleeper? arise, call upon thy God, if so be that God will think upon us, that we perish not.

The Shipmaster found Jonah slumbering on the side of the lowest part of the ship he was travelling wilfully unmindful of the terrible storm the ship was caught up in.

Jonah had resigned to his fate, he was feeling guilty that the storm had brewed because of his disobedience to God’s command that he go to Nineveh. Instead he had taken this ship bound for Tarshish.

The Shipmaster was probably an atheist or a secular person as is evidenced from the statement. He tells Jonah: Call upon THY GOD. This is because the Shipmaster either thought that there would be GREATER SINCERITY IN THE PARTICIPATION IN THE PRAYERS OF THE HUMAN BEING, if each were to call his own God, instead of the God of the Shipmaster.

The Shipmaster was lost, he had no specific idea to counter the storm. The storm in the middle of the sea was raging beyond his capacity to steer the ship. Goods had been jettisoned to lighten the ship. All human efforts had been exhausted. The lives of all the passengers and the very survival of the ship was at stake.

That is when he realises that there could be a force majeure situation which could be corrected by someone other than himself or the efforts of his crew. The Shipmaster does not bring in an idol like Nebuchadnezzar and place it on the deck and tell the passengers to fall prostrate or pray to the God he had brought on the ship or even to the God, in whom he probably believed.

The Shipmaster says: CALL UPON THY GOD.

It is that sincere prayer by each, which was sought and expected by the Shipmaster. Had he compelled gently by coaxing the passengers through subterfuge that the idol the Shipmaster had brought was capable of saving the ship and its people, many would not have believed. There would have been no unity of purpose. It is that dispersion which the shipmaster didn’t want. A true Leader of men.

The reason is that there is a deep-rooted Faith in each. In those moments, it is the Faith one holds which is called out. If we believe in Humanism, we have to appreciate the Shipmaster who had the good sense to instruct the passengers to call upon their God and not to call upon the god whom the Shipmaster believed in. In simpler terms it was not the time for evangelism – the urgency of the situation demanded a mature approach.

The shipmaster does not use plural also, as in dire and dangerous situations where Time is running out, a certain SINGULARITY seizes the mind and the mind latches on to that one Faith, which is the ultimate repository of one’s beliefs. At that point the mind loses all its distributive nature – a peace-time pastime – and finds Singularity. In mathematical terms a Function suddenly takes an Infinite value.

It was that Singularity of purpose that the Shipmaster was aiming at. The Shipmaster had the maximum at stake – besides the lives of his passengers, the Ship too had to be saved from the disaster.

Passengers who were on board did not ask him, neither is there a record to say that the passengers asked him as to why they should pray when he is going to be the greatest beneficiary? Once the storm is past the Shipmaster may have the maximum CROWING RIGHTS, yet none dared to ask, as the situation was of one’s own life or death – each was holding on to one’s own life.

When all the prayers failed, they hit upon an Idea- the most erroneous idea that someone must be guilty within the ship and therefore the storm had been caused because of that person, but fortunately, without arbitrarily naming the delinquent, in this ship a lot was cast to determine who that ‘trigger person’ was.

It is nothing new, Moses, Joshua and many others had ‘detected’ the persons who triggered those unpleasant situations, usually after a defeat in a battle or the start of a plague. Human beings introspect when calamities strike them.

The lot is drawn.

It happens to be Jonah.

The same Jonah to whom the shipmaster had said: Pray to thy God.

Did Jonah pray? There is no evidence to show that he prayed fervently for the storm to subside. But when his name turns up, he boldly tells the people that the storm would subside if he were jettisoned out of the ship. Jonah thought that he would end his life and be done with the directions he had received from God.

But Salvation had to come to Nineveh, to the ship, to the passengers – and Jonah too!

But the Shipmaster was a great human being – he said PRAY TO THY GOD. I presume, it was that Wisdom which helped him unite the spiritual forces within the storm battered ship and made the passengers come up with the idea of casting lot. But God had already reckoned whose name would turn up. Whether the decision to cast lots wise or foolish, the die was cast – against Jonah, but by hindsight in favour of the people of Nineveh.

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