“Ima! Abba’s home!” Out of breath Zakkur stumbled onto the roof where his mother sat weaving.
“He’s in the harbor!”
Beaming, Anath headed for the stairs. “Did you speak to him?”
“No, he was unloading the cargo.”
She tousled his hair. “You did well running home, son. Let’s prepare a feast for Abba. 18 moons is a long time. Baal be praised he brought him safely home.”
It was dark by the time Hikmat entered his one-room house.
His strong, calloused hands caressed his wife’s face and then he kissed his children.
Inhaling deeply, he beamed, “I smell chicken!”
Using a piece of barley bread, the family members scooped their lentil, bean and onion stew from the wide dish on the floor.
Anath looked at her toughened and muscular husband. The flickering light of the oil lamp reflected on his bronzed face.
“What happened?” she asked.
Hikmat looked into his earthenware wine cup, which he brought home after one of his trips.
“Everything went well until in Joppa a Hebrew man boarded. He paid the fare to Tarshish and told us he ran away from his God. You won’t believe what happened when we set sail for the next port!”
Hikmat tore off some barley bread. “You don’t expect storms between June and September. This violent one was unbelievable.”
The children listened spellbound.
“A few ropes tore, threatening to break up the ship; the wicker side fences were smashed by the waves. Terrified, each of us cried out to his own god. The captain told us to throw the cargo overboard.”
Hikmat slid his hand over his face. “Such a pity, all that beautiful Egyptian linen and earthenware we took in, lost. In Joppa we had taken in amphorae with wine, oil and honey. Lost too.”
He sighed. “Luckily, later on we were able to take in new merchandise.”
“Were you shipwrecked, Abba?” Zakkur asked.
“Almost. We were at our wits’ end, and that man called Jonah was sound asleep below deck. The captain angrily told him to pray as well.”
Anath handed her husband another piece of chicken.
“It was hard to keep standing; manning the oars was impossible and the helmsman couldn’t work the tillers. We sensed this wasn’t a normal storm, and decided to find out. We drew lots, which fell on that Jonah man.”
Zakkur huddled close to his father, who tousled his hair.
“Were you afraid, Abba?”
Hikmat nodded. “Especially because the gods seemed very angry we had taken in this man. The tempest lifted the waves high, first mounting to the heavens, then down again to the depths. Our courage melted. Finally Jonah admitted to the captain he worshipped the LORD, the God of heaven, who made the sea and the land. This of course, terrified us even more.”
The family held their breaths when Hikmat continued,
“The sea was getting rougher and rougher, the boat was groaning, and it seemed we really would be shipwrecked. We asked Jonah how we could appease his God.”
Hikmat shook his head. “Throw me overboard, the man said. Can you believe it?”
Anath sucked in her breath. “But that’s murder!”
“That’s what we all said. We tried to row back to land, but the sea grew even wilder than before. We reeled and staggered like drunken men. It was frightening. Supernatural!”
He took another sip of wine. “Finally, as we realized we didn’t have a choice, we asked that God not to punish us for killing the innocent man Jonah.”
“They threw him overboard?” Zakkur asked incredulous.
Hikmat nodded. “But you know what? The moment Jonah disappeared in the waves, the raging sea grew calm. Stilled to a whisper. Immediately, the waves of the sea were hushed. Smooth as a mirror. Unbelievable!”
“Did they find that man, Abba?”
“No, son, he couldn’t have survived. But because of him, all of us feared the LORD. On board we offered a sacrifice to the Hebrew God and I vowed to cease offering to Baal. I’ve seen with my own eyes Who is the True God.”
Shocked by this confession, Anath admitted, “I noticed you had changed.”
“I truly am,” Hikmat smiled. ”On those mighty waters I saw the works of Jonah’s God. And when the storm grew calm, He guided us to our desired haven, Tyre. The LORD be praised, for He calmed the storm in my soul as well. I found the Living God. The LORD, he is God!”
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