With the big fish
In the old times the tribal and prejudiced attitude was quite common among the nations of the earth. Each had its own god to worship, believing that it was the creator and controller of all beings. Every group of people honoured its own god, thinking that it was the source of power and victory. At the same time they despised the gods of the others. If they sensed that one of their people respected those with another belief, they would consider him a betrayer who deserved the worst torturing and killing.
The Jews - unconsciously - were like the other people at that time. They also believed that their God the creator favoured them, as if the other nations were made by other gods!!
Nineveh was a central city for traders, where people practised sin that was lawful according to the gods they worshiped. Jonah was a righteous Jew. God wanted to send him to another nation to tell them about his love and desire to save them from the evil they were drowning in.
The following lines are not selected quotes as in the accounts of the other prophets, but this is the full account from the book of Jonah. So let’s read it and find a lesson in every recorded incident.
Jonah and the Troubled Sea
The word of God came to Jonah son of Amittai: “Go to the great city of Nineveh and preach against it, because its wickedness has come up before me.” But Jonah ran away from God and headed for Tarshish. He went down to Joppa, where he found a ship bound for that port. After paying the fare, he went aboard and sailed for Tarshish to flee from God.
Then God sent a great wind on the sea, and such a violent storm arose that the ship threatened to break up. All the sailors were afraid and each cried out to his own god. And they threw the cargo into the sea to lighten the ship. But Jonah had gone below deck, where he lay down and fell into a deep sleep. The captain went to him and said, “How can you sleep? Get up and call on your god! Maybe he will take notice of us, and we will not perish.” Then the sailors said to each other, “Come, let us cast lots to find out who is responsible for this calamity.” They cast lots and the lot fell on Jonah.
Q : Why did Jonah escape instead of go to the sinful Nineveh?
As an Israelite he wasn't aware enough of the great love of God to all mankind, including the non-Israelites.
Troubles because of Disobeying God
So they asked him, “Tell us, who is responsible for making all this trouble for us? What do you do? Where do you come from? What is your country? From what people are you?” He answered, “I am a Hebrew and I worship God, the God of heaven, who made the sea and the land.” This terrified them and they asked, “What have you done?” (They knew he was running away from God, because he had already told them so.) The sea was getting rougher and rougher. So they asked him, “What should we do to you to make the sea calm down for us?” “Pick me up and throw me into the sea,” he replied, “and it will become calm. I know that it is my fault that this great storm has come upon you.” Instead, the men did their best to row back to land. But they could not, for the sea grew even wilder than before.
Jonah Inside a Great Fish
Then they cried to God, “O GOD, please do not let us die for taking this man’s life. Do not hold us accountable for killing an innocent man, for you, O GOD, have done as you pleased.” Then they took Jonah and threw him overboard, and the raging sea grew calm. At this the men greatly feared God, and they offered a sacrifice to God and made vows to him. But God provided a great fish to swallow Jonah, and Jonah was inside the fish three days and three nights.
Q : Does God really hate sinners?
No. The reality is that God hates the sin that people commit because it distances them from His holiness as the creator. That's why God gives to everyone throughout his life the chance to repent.
A Prayer from Inside the Great Fish
From inside the fish Jonah prayed to God his God. He said: “In my distress I called to God, and he answered me. From the depths of the grave I called for help, and you listened to my cry. You hurled me into the deep, into the very heart of the seas, and the currents swirled about me; all your waves and breakers swept over me. I said, ‘I have been banished from your sight; yet I will look again toward your holy temple.’ The engulfing waters threatened me, the deep surrounded me; seaweed was wrapped around my head. To the roots of the mountains I sank down; the earth beneath barred me in forever. But you brought my life up from the pit, O my God. When my life was ebbing away, I remembered you, GOD, and my prayer rose to you, to your holy temple. Those who cling to worthless idols forfeit the grace that could be theirs. But I, with a song of thanksgiving, will sacrifice to you. What I have vowed I will make good. Salvation comes from God.” And God commanded the fish, and it vomited Jonah onto dry land.
God Sent Jonah Again
Then the word of God came to Jonah a second time: “Go to the great city of Nineveh and proclaim to it the message I give you.” Jonah obeyed the word of God and went to Nineveh. Now Nineveh was a very important city—a visit required three days. On the first day, Jonah started into the city. He proclaimed: “Forty more days and Nineveh will be overturned.” The Ninevites believed God. They declared a fast, and all of them, from the greatest to the least, put on sackcloth.
When the news reached the king of Nineveh, he rose from his throne, took off his royal robes, covered himself with sackcloth and sat down in the dust. Then he issued a proclamation in Nineveh: “By the decree of the king and his nobles: Do not let any man or beast, herd or flock, taste anything; do not let them eat or drink. But let man and beast be covered with sackcloth. Let everyone call urgently on God. Let them give up their evil ways and their violence. Who knows? God may yet relent and with compassion turn from his fierce anger so that we will not perish.” When God saw what they did and how they turned from their evil ways, he had compassion and did not bring upon them the destruction he had threatened.
But Jonah was greatly displeased and became angry. He prayed to God, “O GOD, is this not what I said when I was still at home? That is why I was so quick to flee to Tarshish. I knew that you are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abounding in love, O GOD, take away my life, for it is better for me to die than to live.”
But God replied, “Have you any right to be angry?” Jonah went out and sat down at a place east of the city. There he made himself a shelter, sat in its shade and waited to see what would happen to the city. Then God provided a vine and made it grow up over Jonah to give shade for his head to ease his discomfort, and Jonah was very happy about the vine. But at dawn the next day God provided a worm, which chewed the vine so that it withered. When the sun rose, God provided a scorching east wind, and the sun blazed on Jonah’s head so that he grew faint. He wanted to die, and said, “It would be better for me to die than to live.”
Q : How does the way people value each other differ from God's opinion about them?
God values every one of us so much, because He is the creator of everyone.
The Divine Lesson
But God said to Jonah, “Do you have a right to be angry about the vine?” “I do,” he said. “I am angry enough to die.” But God said, “You have been concerned about this vine, though you did not tend it or make it grow. It sprang up overnight and died overnight. But Nineveh has more than a hundred and twenty thousand people who cannot tell their right hand from their left, and many cattle as well. Should I not be concerned about that great city?”
Q : What do people think when they see God's generosity to one of those who they don't think is worthy?
Some change their way of thinking, and others get jealous, bitter and envious.