Cleveland Museum of Art
By John Piper December 13, 1998
Hosea's father let the boy
Return to Jonah's place. The joy
The lad brought home was so much more
Than he had ever shown before,
His father felt he couldn't hold
Him back. It's good to be consoled,
He thought, by what the prophet speaks,
Since it had only been six weeks
Since Hoshee's mother left them for
Another man. The boy lay on the floor
Of their small house and wept for days,
And then would sit outside, and gaze
Across the Sea of Chinnereth
Into a sorrow worse than death.
That other man had traveled through
Gath-Hepher many times to do
His business on the coast, and then
Return to somewhere eastward, when
His work was done. And he would stay
The night just down the lane, and prey
On women with their water jars,
And leave behind him life-long scars.
And then one day his mom was gone.
A neighbor said, "To see the dawn
Of life and not the sunset of
A tanner's wife." Hosea's love
Was shattered into pieces now,
And Beeri hugged his son, somehow
If possible, to prove that he
Was loved with bonds of loyalty
Beyond his mother's wanderings.
For weeks, there were no common things
That held his interest. But then
He found his way, with older men,
To Jonah's garden on the hill.
And there he heard the stories fill
The prophet's mouth, and tasted grace
Again, and learned that on its face,
It may not be a lovely thing,
Or light, but may oblige the sting
Of death, but in the end is good,
And turns the tendrils into wood.
And if it must, will scorch with fire
The hateful part of our desire.
"You said, sir, that if I came back
Tonight, you'd take me from the shack
Near Joppa by the sea, and show
Me what God did to make you know
And love his ways. And so I'm back,
And I would love to trace the track
You followed from the fish's mouth
Near Joppa on the beach down south,
To Nineveh, and how you came
Back here a diff'rent man."
That I will have, young man, in years
To come, will not be for my tears
Of sorrow over how much pain
It took to purge the ugly stain
Of hate out of my callous soul.
I am a different man. The bowl
Of wrath I would have poured on that
Great city, God did make a vat
Of boiling mercy for my sin,
And cast me into it. And in
That fierce and cleansing clemency,
At last, did make me feel and see
His ways, which are as high above
My own as is the flying dove
Above the crawling snake. But I,
Perhaps like Moses on Mount Nebo high,
Will be remembered for a slow
And stubborn heart, and I will go
Down into history still hard
And murmuring at grace, and marred
With bitterness, in spite of all
God's sweet affliction of my gall."
"What more affliction, Jonah, than
The belly of a fish? No man
Can live after he dies, can he,
And not be purified and free?
God saved you from the death of your
Defiance. Was it not the cure
Of your hostility?" "I said
Last night that, though I once was dead,
And then I lived again, one death
Was not enough. And though my breath,
And everything, was grace, my heart
Was like a stone in that one part
Where should have been a love for the
Assyrians. God had to be,
Therefore, my enemy again,
And war against my evil when
I got to Nineveh." "But why,
If you were bad, did you comply
When God said go? Was that not good?"
"Hosea, doing what you should
Is more than outward form. God sent
Me there to preach, and so I went,
Afraid, this time to run away.
But every time I said, 'The Day
Of God is near, repent,' I thought,
'Almighty God knows why he brought
Me here, and so do I. The Lord
Is slow to anger now. The sword
Will not be drawn. And he is full
Of steadfast love, and makes like wool
The scarlet sin of all he smites
With mercy, even of the Ninevites.'
And that is what he did." "You mean
That they repented, Jonah?" "Clean
From top to bottom: from the slave
Up to the king. They even gave
Their beasts no food, and everyone
Obeyed the king who said, 'Be done
With violence, and cry to God;
He may relent and spare his rod
Of wrath that we might live.'
My son, he did just that. And so
The bowl of wrath that I held in
My heart, and ready to begin
The judgment, simmered there, unspent,
With rage that my God should repent,
And even turn on me." "How did
He turn on you?" "I left, and rid
Myself of every residue
Of dust, and waited there to view
From eastern hills what would befall
The city. There God made a tall
And leafy plant grow over me
To give me shade." "And you could see
It grow up in a day?" "It grew
Up in a single night." "Did you
Feel safe?" "About as safe as in
A ship upon a sea of sin,
And bound from Joppa to the west.
It was a poor and fleeting rest.
There are no giant fish outside
Of Nineveh to eat the pride
Of prophets in their ease, but there
Are worms and wind, and when and where
He please, God orders them and makes
Them do his bidding. If he takes
No pleasure in my callous mind
And heart, then there will be assigned
A worm, and so there was, to slay
The leafy plant and take away
My shade. And then he blasted me
With sultry wind until with three
Small words I cursed the brazen sky:
And spoke to heaven, 'Let me die!'
"And God said, 'Jonah, are you mad
About the plant? Do you feel bad
That it is dead? It came up in
A single night, in spite of sin.
You did not labor here, or make
It grow, nor was it for your sake.
But this great city that you hate,
This Nineveh, I did create,
And I have made it grow along
The Tigris River here, and strong,
To do what it was meant to do,
Before there ever was a Jew.
And should I not take pity now
On twelve ten thousands with a vow
To leave their sin, and trust in me?
And if you have no sympathy
For these, perhaps your feeling yields
To all the cattle in the fields.'"
"What happened then?" the boy inquired.
"I sat till forty days expired,
My testing in the wilderness.
And day by day I watched God bless
A pagan people by his grace.
And every day I touched my face,
And ran my finger on this scar
And felt with shameful fire: how far
I'd fallen from the mercy that
And when the days were at
An end, I heard a mighty shout
From in the city gates, and out
They came, ten thousand with the blast
Of trumpets, dancing like a vast
And rolling sea, with branches in
Their hands, and singing how they'd been
Delivered from the wrath to come.
They sang with harp and lyre and drum,
'In darkness for a thousand years,
And slaves to violence and fears,
No hope beyond this world of tears,
And then a man of hope appears,
A prophet with a scar-drawn face
A sign of life, and proof of grace.'
They put me on a pallet high
And made procession with a cry:
'The God of Jonah is our God;
The God of Jonah spared the rod;
The God of Jonah rules the sky;
The God of Jonah heard our cry.'
They carried me before the king,
Who bowed to me and said, 'One thing
I wish to say before you leave.'
He lifted up his royal sleeve,
And with his hand he touched my face,
And said, 'I know the price of grace,
And what it cost for you to bring
Salvation to a foreign king.
And even though you may not yet
Love me, I ask that you would let
Me now give thanks for what you are.'
And then he stood, and kissed my scar.
That was the moment, son, when I
Became a different man."
Above Gath-Hepher now was spread
With stars, the boy had put his head
In Jonah's lap from weariness.
The prophet lay his hand to bless
The boy. "I'm not asleep," he said.
And when he lifted up his head,
The tears ran down his face. "Someday,"
He said, "I want to be the way
"I pray, Hosea, when
The day arrives, and you are then
Put to the test, it will not be
As hard and long for you to see
The truth, as it was once for me.
A prophet loves his enemy
Or dies. His life is not his own;
By us the ways of God are known:
With fish and worms and wind and wives
God writes his ways across our lives.
Good night, young man, go home and dwell,
And watch your faithful father well."
Now feel the heat of candle three,
And let the brightness help you see
The purifying flame of grace.
And learn again that on its face,
It may not be a lovely thing,
And may oblige the loss and sting
Of death, but in the end is good,
And turns the tendrils into wood,
And if it must, will cut with fire
The hateful part of our desire,
Then put away the white hot blade,
And kiss the wound that it has made.
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