John VanDenBerg - Phoenix, Arizona - 1986

I would just like to tell you of a study that I have enjoyed, about a whale. Every year the enormous humpback whales migrate thousands of miles from the frozen waters of Alaska where they feed all summer, to the warm waters off of the island of Maui, among the Hawaiian Islands, where in winter they give birth to their young. When they travel, they communicate with each other by singing mysterious songs that can be heard underwater for miles and miles. They make grunting, groaning, burping and blowing sounds. They whistle and squeal, and make clicks and snarls in their wild songs throughout the depth of the Pacific Ocean. 
On the 9th day of October, 1985, a pod of whales was seen en route southward, off of Point Reyes on the coast of California. On the 10th of October, this same family group was seen swimming toward the entrance of the San Francisco Bay when one whale in the pod did something very strange. This whale became famous for this and was in the newspapers world wide. Scientists have called him "Humphrey." Mr. Humphrey (because it is a man's name) left his family and all by himself swam under the Golden Gate Bridge and entered the bay. How different the bay was compared to his home in the waters of the ocean! The waters would have a different color, and flavor, and temperature, and there would be new sounds here, like the coughing of the motor boats. He could no longer hear the songs of his family. Humphrey was alone. 
In Luke 15, we read of a family with a father and his two sons. No doubt there was a mother, too. They had a happy home. There was music and dancing there and contented servants within its sheltering walls. One day, the younger son did something very strange. He left his family and went his own way to do his own thing. He also made a long journey to another land and was there without his family - alone. 
Humphrey, the whale, was now inside the bay where he began to follow the deep underwater channel toward the north, and on into San Pablo Bay. A navy submarine passed by, heading out to sea, and the sailors saw him on their sonar. Humphrey sang a song to it, thinking perhaps it was another whale, but there was no response. There just could not be communication between the two. 
The prodigal son, in Luke 15, tried to have fellowship with the people of that far-off land, but they didn't have much in common. The songs of Zion were not known in that province. They had other music with a different theme, unknown to the people of the young son's home. 
Humphrey now made another turn towards land, this time where the channel passed under the Carquinez Bridge. He passed the cities of Crockett and Benicia. Where was he going? He passed Pittsburg, where the Sacramento River enters the Suisun Bay. By this time he had been seen from the shore and a large crowd of onlookers gathered. They enjoyed the show of being with Humphrey; as it was so unusual of there ever being a whale in the Bay. But he was in dangerous waters. 
The people in Luke 15, in that far-off land, watched the prodigal son also. They enjoyed being with him and spent their time in feasting as he wasted his substance; Prodigal means "extravagant waster." But, it was dangerous for him also. To live ungodly surely is to live without control, just as "evil communications corrupt good manners." 
Humphrey was behaving himself without control like the prodigal son. The people asked lots of questions, "What is Humphrey doing here? Has he lost his sense of direction? Is he ill? Is he looking for food???" 
Without doubt there also were questions asked among the people of that far-off land concerning the prodigal son. They surely wondered, "What is he doing here? What does he expect to find here? He is different from us." But they enjoyed him and so used him. Such is life in dangerous waters. 
Now Humphrey swam inland through the narrows and into the Sacramento River where the fresh water flows. His healthy gray/black skin began to rot with fungus and large patches turned whitish. He began to list to one side as he swam. Signs of approaching death appeared. The prodigal son in that land also began to deteriorate. A great famine arose in that land and he began to be in want. His ribs began to show. The signs of death approached. 
The people on the shore cried out, "Turn around, Humphrey! Go home!" But he kept on swimming inland under the Rio Vista draw bridge, nearly 70 miles from his ocean home, all the way to "Cache Slough" where he became trapped behind some old bridge pilings. Was it the end for Humphrey?

The prodigal son came to an end, he finally came to himself. He thought of the bounties that he had had in the home of his father; where "my father's servants have bread and to spare." Now he had less than nothing. How could he go back? It seemed so effortless to become wrong, the road was all downhill, and now it seemed such an uphill climb to become right again. But how could he ever stay in that far off land and be right? 

The scientists and government authorities met. They said, "Let's help Humphrey." They took out the posts of the old bridge and put several boats in the river and made a lot of underwater noise, to drive him out. In this work of the Gospel, the Workers can push people only so far. Christians are like sheep in that they must be lead. We cannot drag men and women to God. Humphrey only swam downriver a little way, to where the shadow of the Rio Vista Bridge crossed the river and then he turned back. There was some uncertainty about that shadow on the water that Humphrey didn't want to cross. In Psalm 23, David said, "He leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for His name's sake. Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for Thou art with me." It is not possible to push the people of God across this shadow of death or any other dark shadow of doubt. They must be led like sheep with the spirit of faith in their shepherd. 

The scientists thought, "How can we help him to go through this shadow? We can't push him. We have to lead him, but how? By now Humphrey's family of humpback whales had safely arrived in the blissful waters off of Maui. It was there that an Oceanographer made an amazing underwater recording of a pod of whales joyfully feeding on an immense gathering of krill - the whale's food. This scientist from Hawaii then sent the tape recording of the sounds of humpback whales eating to the rescuers in the Sacramento River. From a boat, the scientists put the recording underwater. Humphrey heard the grunts, groans, and burping of contented whales eating and immediately he swam to the underwater speaker that was mounted on the transom of the Scientist boat. We sing a hymn that says, "So near to the kingdom that thou hearest the songs that resound, from those whom believing a pardon have found." Humphrey heard those joyful sounds and thought of his family and began again to follow the boat downstream and this time he passed all the way through the dark shadow! 

Remember the prodigal son? He also remembered the sounds of eating and said, "In my father's house even the servants have bread and to spare. I will arise and go to my father…" 

Humphrey continued following the boat and its happy song. He followed it downriver, under the Benicia Bridge, under the Carquinez Bridge, and across the windy strait of San Pablo Bay. He followed it under the Richmond Bridge to Angel Island. He swam 50 miles in a single day. Early the next day, he followed the boat to the Golden Gate Bridge. By this time he had been in the bay for twenty-four days. A lot of people had heard of Humphrey and thousands of people gathered on the docks and along the wharves of San Francisco and across the Bay people stood on the shores of Marin County while high overhead on the Golden Gate Bridge all the early morning rush hour traffic was stopped as cheering people got out of their cars and looked down on Humphrey. The scientist's boat led Humphrey and behind him almost a hundred other boats followed! He never swerved to the right or to the left as they passed under the Golden Gate and reached the vast Pacific Ocean, he was home! 

We sing this hymn, "Do not fear to follow Jesus: He will lead you safely through, every dark and dreary valley and your failing strength renew." The Pacific Ocean is the largest in the world. Just like God's heart, it's the largest place of all and it's our home. He so gently wants to guide His people into the center of His beloved will and set our feet in a large place. May we come to Him, because His mercy is great, like the wideness of the Sea.