At this time another prophet, named Jonah, was giving the word of the Lord to the Israelites. To Jonah the Lord spoke, saying:
“Go to Nineveh, that great city, and preach to it; for its wickedness rises up before me.”
But Jonah did not wish to preach to the people of Nineveh; for they were the enemies of his land, the land of Israel. He wished Nineveh to die in its sins, and not to turn to God and live. So Jonah tried to go away from the city where God had sent him. He went down to Joppa and took a ship for Tarshish.
But the Lord saw Jonah on the ship; and the Lord sent a great storm upon the sea, so that the ship seemed as though it would go to pieces. The sailors threw overboard everything on the ship; and when they could do no more, every man prayed to his god to save the ship and themselves. Jonah was now lying fast asleep, and the ship’s captain came to him, and said:
“What do you mean by sleeping in such a time as this? Awake, rise up, and call upon your God. Perhaps He will hear you and save our lives.”
But the storm continued to rage around the ship; and they said:
“There is some man on this ship who has brought upon us this trouble. Let us cast lots and find who it is.”
Then they cast lots, and the lot fell on Jonah. They said to him, all at once:
“Tell us, who are you? From what country do you come? What is your business? To what people do you belong? Why have you brought all this trouble upon us?”
Then Jonah told them the whole story, how he came from the land of Israel, and that he had fled away from the presence of the Lord. And they said to him:
“What shall we do to you, that the storm may cease?”
Then said Jonah:
“Take me up and throw me into the sea; then the storm will cease and the waters will be calm; for I know that for my sake this great tempest is upon you.”
But the men were not willing to throw Jonah into the sea. They rowed hard to bring the ship to the land, but they could not. Then they cried unto the Lord, and said:
“We pray thee, O Lord, we pray thee, let us not die for this man’s life; for thou, O Lord, hast done as it pleased thee.”
At last, when they could do nothing else to save themselves, they threw Jonah into the sea.
At once the storm ceased, and the waves became still. Then the men on the ship feared the Lord greatly. They offered a sacrifice to the Lord, and made promises to serve him.
And the Lord caused a great fish to swallow up Jonah; and Jonah was alive within the fish for three days and three nights. In the fish Jonah cried to the Lord; and the Lord caused the great fish to throw up Jonah upon the dry land.
Notice all through this story that, although Jonah was God’s servant, he was always thinking about himself. God protected Jonah and saved him, not because he was such a good man, but because he wanted to teach him a great lesson.
By this time Jonah had learned that some men who worshipped idols were kind in their hearts, and were dear to the Lord. This was the lesson that God meant Jonah to learn; and now the call of the Lord came to Jonah a second time:
“Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and preach to it what I command you.” So Jonah went to the city of Nineveh; and as he entered into it, he called out to the people:
“Within forty days shall Nineveh be destroyed.”
And he walked through the city all day crying out only this:
“Within forty days shall Nineveh be destroyed.”
And the people of Nineveh believed the word of the Lord as spoken by Jonah. They turned away from their sins and fasted and sought the Lord, from the greatest of them even to the least. The king of Nineveh arose from his throne, and laid aside his royal robes, and covered himself with sack-cloth and sat in ashes, as a sign of his sorrow. And the king sent out a command to his people that they should fast, and seek the Lord, and turn from sin.
And God saw that the people of Nineveh were sorry for their wickedness, and he forgave them, and did not destroy their city. But this made Jonah very angry. He did not wish to have Nineveh spared, because it was the enemy of his own land; and also he feared that men would call him a false prophet when his word did not come to pass. And Jonah said to the Lord:
“O Lord, I was sure that it would be thus, that thou wouldest spare the city; and for that reason I tried to flee away; for I know that thou wast a gracious God, full of pity, slow to anger, and rich in mercy. Now, O Lord, take away my life, for it is better for me to die than to live.”
And Jonah went out of the city, and built a little hut on the east side of it, and sat under its roof, to see whether God would keep the word that he had spoken. Then the Lord caused a plant with thick leaves to grow up, and to shade Jonah from the sun; and Jonah was glad, and sat under its shadow. But a worm destroyed the plant; and the next day a hot wind blew, and Jonah suffered from the heat; and again Jonah wished that he might die. And the Lord said to Jonah:
“You were sorry to see the plant die, though you did not make it grow, and though it came up in a night and died in a night. And should not I have pity on Nineveh, that great city, where are more than a hundred thousand little children, and also many cattle,all helpless and knowing nothing?”
And Jonah learned that men, and women, and little children, are all precious in the sight of the Lord, even though they know not God.