few centuries before the birth of Jesus, there came out of Galilee
a prophet named Jonah whom the Lord commanded to go to preach
before the wicked inhabitants of the city of Nineveh.
Jonah, afraid to go to a strange city alone and preach against the
people, thought to escape the task the Lord had commanded him to
do. He fled in the
opposite direction, to Joppa, on the coast. There he found a boat
going to Tarshish. He paid his fare, boarded the boat, and went
inside to sleep.
But the Lord sent
a mighty tempest, so violent that the boat was in danger of being
broken up. The sailors were terrified. They threw the cargo
overboard and cried out to their gods, but nothing helped. Then
they cast lots to find out who was to blame for this evil that had
come to them, and the lot fell upon Jonah.
Jonah told them
how he had fled the Lord. He added, "It is because of me that
this tempest has descended upon you. Throw me into the sea, and
the waves will be calmed."
men tried to row the boat to shore to save Jonah. When they could
not move against the storm, they cried to the Lord, "Let us
not perish for this man's life. This is not our will but
Yours," and they took Jonah up and cast him into the sea. And
the tempest abated and the waves became calm.
But Jonah did not
drown. Jehovah caused a great fish to swim near, and the fish
swallowed Jonah. For three days and nights Jonah remained in the
fish's belly, repenting of his folly and praying to the Lord.
After the third
day the fish cast Jonah up on the shore. Now Jonah obeyed the
voice of the Lord and hastened to Nineveh. As soon as he had
entered the gates of the wicked city, he began to declare that
unless the people mended their ways, in forty days they would all
be destroyed, and their city as well.
And the people of
Nineveh heeded the warning of Jonah, and God spared them and 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 you
would spare the city; and for that reason I tried to flee; for I
knew that you are a gracious God, full of pity, slow to anger, and
rich in mercy. No, O Lord, take away my life, for it is better for
me to die than to live"
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. 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. Again, Jonah wished
that he might die.
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 there are more than a hundred thousand little children, and
also many cattle, all helpless and knowing nothing?"
that men, and women, and little children, are all precious in the
sight of the Lord, even if they do not know God.
In most of the
books of the Old Testament, we read of the Israelite people, and
of God's care for them; but we do not find in the Old Testament
much about God as the Father of all men of every nation and every
land. The book of Jonah stands almost alone in the Old Testament,
as showing that God loves people of other nations than Israel.
Even the people of Nineveh, who worshiped images, were under God's
love; God was ready to hear their prayer and to save them. So the
book of Jonah shows us God as "our Heavenly Father."