The crew of the Whaleship Essex go searching for yes… whales, and the precious oil within them, only to encounter a monster of a white whale, hell-bent on wrecking them. When the first mate, Owen Chase, manages to spear it the worst happens – the whale is too strong and it tears the ship apart. The crew has to abandon the vessel and make for safety in small fishing boats. Unfortunately they are thousands of miles from land and many of them don’t make it. Years later the youngest survivor, Thomas Nickerson, is persuaded by writer Herman Melville to relate the story he has kept long-buried within him.
The Bible has a fistful of dramatic tales of the sea. Jonah is thrown from a ship in a storm, and swallowed by a big fish, a monster white whale perhaps? Moses parts the Red Sea so that the Israelites can make a daring escape. Paul is shipwrecked on the island of Malta, and gets immediately bitten by a venomous snake. And of course four of the disciples make their living by braving the unpredictable Galilean sea. In the book of revelation there is a little phrase, ‘the sea was no more’, it is used there as a metaphor for chaos and danger. The sea was seen as something that people could not control, and as Owen Chase and Thomas Nickerson found, it had the power to wreck ships and lives.
Which is what makes it all the more incredible when Jesus wakes up in a storm, stands in a reeling boat and tells everything to calm down. He has had enough of the winds and waves battering everyone. It’s time for them to take a break. And take a break they do. The sea storm subsides and we and the disciples see a whole other side to Jesus – a man who is able to speak to nature, a man who can address the sea and the storms. He calls for order and the elements fall in line. This man is like Moses, but more so, not just commanding the waves but changing the weather too. The disciples must have realized that the God of Moses was clearly with him, but they would soon learn more. When Jesus demonstrated that not even the iron grip of death could keep him down the truth began to dawn – he actually was the God of Moses.