"Shipmates, this book of Jonah, containing only four chapters -- four yarns -- is one of the smallest strands in the mighty cable of the Scriptures. Shipmates, it is a lesson to us all as sinful men and a lesson to me as a pilot of the living God. The sin of Jonah was his wilful disobedience of the command of God." A very appropriate sermon to sailors who are about to embark on voyages of years on end is a sermon about obeying commands and the SIN of disobedience.
"With this sin of disobedience in him, Jonah still further flouts at God by seeking to flee from Him. He thinks that a ship made by men will carry him into countries where God does not reign -- but only the Captains of this earth." [Here Melville sets a tone, establishing through the authority of a respected preacher that God reigns, even in ships made and captained by men. The Theme of this book, the symbolic voyage of the souls of those on board a certain mythic whaleship -- and their Judgement by a certain WHALE as an instrument of God's vengeance, is thus developed.]
"See ye not, shipmates, that Jonah sought to flee worldwide from God? . . . . Now Jonah's Captain, shipmates, was one whose cupidity was such that any sin willing to pay its way would travel freely in his ship. In this world, shipmates, Sin that can pay its way can travel where it will and without passport; whereas Virtue, if a pauper, is stopped at all frontiers."
It is the hallmark of great fiction to contain some timeless meditations on the human condition. Here the author moralizes on greed in maritime enterprise. Certainly these meditations abound in Moby-Dick. Then Father Mapple recounts the well-known story of the storm blamed on Jonah, the prototypical unlucky jinx. Thrown overboard, Jonah is swallowed by a whale -- a God-sent instrument of punishment. Jonah repents, prays to God, and the whale 'vomited out Jonah upon the dry land'. "Shipmates," concludes Father Mapple, "Sin not, but if you do, take heed to repent of it like Jonah." Father Mapple asks rhetorically, "Is not the main-truck [the top of the mainmast] higher than the kelson [the bottom timber above the keel] is low?" By this he means that the highest joy [obedience] is more uplifting than the deepest woe [disobedience]. Melville seems to be holding this sermon up as typical psychological threatening of a congregation of "sinners".