Herman Melville’s novel Moby Dick, is a classic tale of revenge and religion on the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. Moreover,Moby Dick is an Old Testament Bible tale, expressed in Melville’s “modern” nineteenth-century terms. Nature is often, if not always, something to be feared and respected. It’s power is raw and immense, and those creatures who live within the bounds of nature contain such beautiful grace and strength that we humans can never achieve. When we humans look at these creatures, we are often in a position of permanent indecision as to whether or not these beasts are to be feared or loved. The ocean, especially, accommodates animals of such might and elegance that the inhabitants of the water are often referred to as the “instruments of G-d.”
The G-d from the old testament is vengeful G-d, who delights in playing with people. For proof of that one needs only to turn to the stories of Moses and the exodus of the Hebrews from Egypt. Moses and his follower Aaron went to the Pharaoh of Egypt numerous times on the order of G-d, and yet each time G-d hardened the heart of the Pharaoh, and made Moses and Aaron fail in their G-d-given task. Only a vengeful, tormenting G-d would do this to His blindly faithful followers. This Old Testament G-d can do almost anything, but the fact that he does not allow the Hebrews to leave Egypt is proof of His “wicked” streak, and is proof of his vengeance.
Yet if one needs still more proof, all that is needed is to look to Job. Look at how G-d tested poor Job and made him suffer, and kills all his family, sends him pain and destruction, all because of a “bet” with the Devil. In Job 8:2 it is asked “Does G-d subvert judgment? Or does the Almighty pervert justice?” For the Old Testament G-d, the line between what He should and should not do is blurred and criss-crossed so often that it is hard to define just what G-d is and what is His justice, what is His right.
In Melville’s Moby Dick, there is the eternal struggle of man versus nature. The white whale, Moby Dick, is the formidable foe of the captain of the Pequod, Ahab. Man and nature both pitted their best against each other and the lot came up with Moby Dick being the strongest and nature being the victor. Yet this is more than a simple man versus nature whale tale, but one with a Biblical seam, one with allusions, alliterations, and foreshadowings that force the reader to wonder “Where is G-d?” and “Who is right, Ahab or Moby Dick?” Yet the reader is still forced to admit that this tale is a true Bible tale, that shows a man being tested by G-d, and his concurrent destruction and the deaths of those around him, who strayed from the true path of G-d.
Moby Dick is G-d’s instrument of justice. The aspect of His right hand, passing out judgments on the crew of the Pequod, based on their participation in the hunt of Moby Dick. Moby Dick is a symbol of justice, truth and purity, and is almost a messianic figure. He is justice, for he gains redemption for all the whales who were slaughtered by whalers, and he destroys Ahab, the man who spurned G-d and sought his own vengeance. Moby Dick is truth, for he shows the crew of the Pequod that one can never follow the ways of an unbeliever, and he is purity for he never allows anything to get in the way of his job as protector of the seas. His whiteness is a symbol of his purity.
Ahab is the vengeful, G-d-forsaker, who only thinks to revenge himself upon Moby Dick. Ahab tries to prove his immortality and G-dliness time and time again, by becoming a relentless revenge seeker who ignores even the most obvious of omens. Ahab makes his crew believe that they are right in attempting to slaughter Moby Dick, because G-d made man stronger. Yet Ahab forgot one thing. Romans 12:19 states clearly ” “Vengeance is mine; I will repay,” saith the Lord.”
On our Pequod, Ahab is the Job, being tested by G-d to see his worth. Ahab is also a Christ/Messiac-figure, being tempted by Satan, and yet Ahab fails all of his tests, akin to his Biblical namesake. However, Ahab has not only Moby Dick to contend with as an instrument of G-d, but his first-mate, Starbuck. Starbuck is a good, G-d-fearing man who has a good head on his shoulders. Starbuck is a voice of reason, akin to an angel sent from above to show the true path of G-d. In every Biblical tale, there is one person who has sense, and never questions the acts of G-d, and in Moby Dick that man is Starbuck. Starbuck is the rock steady man who will stand by the tested, Ahab, and try only to lead the tempted onto the true and one path of G-d.
In every Old Testament tale, everyone has an opposite, or counterpart. As Ahab has Moby Dick, Starbuck, the voice of warning, has his opposite in the personal bowsman of Ahab, Fedallah. Fedallah is often called a Satan by the crew, for he is so dark and mysterious. As Starbuck is a near-angel sent down by G-d, Fedallah is a near-demon, sent up by Satan. Starbuck is G-d’s agent, sent to protect Ahab and show him the true path, but not to lead Ahab blindly on G-d’s path. On the other side, Fedallah is Satan’s tool, there to tempt Ahab into corruption so that Ahab can be dragged through the muck and grime of Hell. Fedallah tempts Ahab by giving the one-legged man access to the sea and the chance of killing Moby Dick. Fedallah, himself, falls prey to G-d, when the hand of Satan is killed by Moby Dick and Ahab, working together without knowing.
Yet again this proves that Moby Dick is G-d’s instrument of justice. When the agent of the devil dies because of the hand of G-d, it only leads to prove that one should never go against the will of G-d. G-d will always destroy Satan and evil when He wishes to. In this old tale the tested Ahab is tempted by Fedallah so much that G-d must remove Satan’s plant and destroy it so that it can be determined once and for all weather or not there is hope for Ahab. Sadly, not even sending Fedallah back to whence he came can save Ahab. Ahab has failed all of his tests, and his and his crew must face the wrath of G-d.
Exodus 20:5 has an apt quote as to the need to fear the Old Testament G-d :
” ‘You shall not bow down [other gods] nor serve them. For I, the Lord your G-d, am a jealous G-d, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children of the third and fourth generations of those who hate Me…’ “
This G-d would surely never stand for the antics of Ahab, when the foolish man is trying to prove his “immortality” to his crew. Grabbing the Saint Elmo’s Fire and the like would only infuriate G-d, and drive Him to smite down Ahab and make him suffer eternally, for the Old Testament G-d would have none stand against Him.
Ahab knows that his life is a intricately strung tale, woven by G-d, and yet Ahab does not realize that there might be more than one ending, and the one that might occur does not have to be one of his victory. “Ahab is forever Ahab, man. This whole act’s immutably decreed … I am the Fates’ lieutenant; I act under orders.” Ahab never realizes that the G-d who commands him is a whimsical G-d, who can change his mind at will, and has no aversions to doing just what He pleases.
Ahab’s testing was a success in the eyes of the devil, but not in the eyes of the Old Testament G-d. Ahab was tested and given Starbuck to guide him to the right, and Fedallah to attract him to the evil and the wrong. When G-d was sure that there was no good in Ahab, after a last ditch attempt by Starbuck, G-d called upon Moby Dick to destroy Fedallah and Ahab, and send them to Hell where they suffer eternally. G-d acted in the manner of the Hebrew G-d from the Old Testament, by toying with and testing Ahab until the verdict was plain to all.
G-d used nature as the instrument of death and destruction, for He was (and still is to some) a vengeful and jealous G-d, who does not abide people rejecting him. In the Bible there is a moral behind every tale, and there is behind this one as well, further proving that this whale tale is a Biblical tale. Nature is G-d’s power, His divine instrument of justice, His righteous power. G-d created both man and whales, but a leviathan like a whale will always be more powerful than a man, for a whale is free of original sin, and has been used before as G-d’s tool of redemption. For proof, one needs only look to the tale of Jonah, and wonder.