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Are You Like the Harpooner?

Many of us, if not all of us, at times get caught up in the hustle and bustle of daily life. We work ourselves to the bone, often times neglecting proper diet, exercise, rest, and sleep, and soon we find ourselves worn out and unproductive. Our culture regularly tells us that we need to be doing something all the time. However, scripture tells us that we need times of quietness and rest. In Isaiah 30:15 we read these words – “In quietness and trust is your strength.”

The classic novel Moby Dick written by Herman Melville gives us a wonderful example of the importance of being productive when we need to be productive and being idle when we need to be idle. If you are not familiar with the story, let us quickly summarize the storyline of the book. The story evolves around a wandering sailor named Ishmael, and his voyage on the whaling ship “Pequod.” The whaling ship is commanded by Captain Ahab. On a previous sailing voyage, an elusive and ferocious white whale named Moby Dick destroyed Ahab’s boat and bit off his leg. The story is narrated by Ishmael, and tells us of Ahab’s pursuit for vengeance against Moby Dick.

In the chapter titled “The Dart,” we see the crew of the “Pequod” captained by Ahab in hot pursuit of the whale. This chapter gives us insight into the activity that is taking place on the deck as the captain and his crew rapidly sail out into the raging sea to kill the whale. The entire crew is focused on the task at hand, tensions are high, and by all indications, there is a lot of energy being used, even being wasted. One member of the crew is charged with killing the whale. That person is the harpooner, and here is what Melville tells us about the harpooner – “But however prolonged and exhausting the chase, the harpooner is expected to pull his oar meanwhile to the uttermost; indeed, he is expected to set an example of superhuman activity to the rest, not only by incredible rowing, but by repeated loud and intrepid exclamations; and what it is to keep shouting at the top of one’s compass, while all the other muscles are strained and half started – what that is none know but those who have tried it.” Melville tells us that even when the harpooner is exhausted he is still expected to “drop and secure his oar, turn around on his center half way, seize his harpoon from the crotch, and with what little strength may remain, he essays to pitch it somehow into the whale.” Melville goes on to say this, “No wonder, taking the whole fleet of whalemen in a body, that out of fifty fair chances for a dart, not five are successful.” And finally, Melville gives is his reason for such a low success rate, “If you take the breath out of his (harpooner) body how can you expect to find it there when needed most!”

On most whaleboats, the harpooner is actively helping the other crew members, but on Ahab’s boat, the harpooner is relaxed and quietly waiting. Melville ends the chapter with these words that speak loudly to us right here and right now – “To insure the greatest efficiency in the dart, the harpooners of this world must start to their feet from out of idleness, and not from out of toil.”

In order for us to be effective in what we do, we need to find times of rest and quietness. We know from the Creation story in Genesis that on the seventh day God rested (see Gen 2:2). We also read this in Exodus 31:17 – “and on the seventh day He rested and was refreshed.” Jesus also rested and instructs us to rest as well – Jesus said to them, “Come away by yourselves to a secluded place and rest a while (Mk 6:31).”

So starting today, make it a priority to have a balance between work and rest, and watch what happens. “There is virtue in work and there is virtue in rest. Use both and overlook neither.” Alan Cohen

Dave Garrett

New Bern, North Carolina


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