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In this chapter, Father Mapple gives a sermon on the biblical story of Jonah and the whale. The story is about Jonah who ignores the word of God and flees to the city of Tarshish. Tarshish is at the other end of the world. To go there, Jonah joins a ship. Angry with Jonah, God creates a terrible storm, which tosses the ship about. The crewmembers are frightened and ask God why he caused the storm. When they discover that it is because of Jonah that the terrible storm is preventing the ship from going ahead, they throw Jonah into the sea to save themselves. As Jonah goes into the depths of the sea, a fish (a whale) swallows him. Inside the whale, Jonah realizes his mistake. He has sinned. So he prays for forgiveness. God gives in by asking the whale to save Jonah. The whale vomits Jonah out on the shore. In this way, Jonah is alive again to follow Godís bidding.
On the basis of this biblical story, Father Mapple tells the worshippers to keep away from the path of evil. According to him, in order to follow Godís path, one has to deny oneís own temptations and interests. It is indeed rather difficult. And many men sin. But sinners can reform if they realize their mistake and plead for mercy. Father Mapple ends his sermon, by kneeling down and waving a benediction. Then he covers his face with both his hands as the people in the church leave.
The story in this chapter is significant because through it, the author suggests the outcome of the drama that is going to be enacted on the Pequod. In other words, the sermon of Jonah sets the tone for the rest of the story.
While preaching, Father Mapple says: "If we obey God, we must disobey ourselves; and it is in this disobeying ourselves, wherein the hardness of God consists." From these lines, the author wants to say that man must constantly deny his own impulses so as to obey Godís word. He also suggests that man tends to act or focus on one and denies that the world has been created for many purposes. To understand the truth about the world he will have to curb his own natural tendency and search for the truth. However, sometimes man strays away and asserts his own nature over other things, as we will see later in the story.