The story of Jonah can be found towards the back of the Old Testament section of the Bible. It is short, only 4 chapters long. Jonah is sometimes called ‘The Reluctant Prophet’ and you will soon see why!
One day God spoke to Jonah, “Go to the great city of Nineveh and speak to the people. Tell them I know how wicked they are.”
The people were violent brutes who had made life miserable for the Israelites for years. And Jonah was an Israelite and didn't want to go. Instead, Jonah ran away from God and headed in quite a different direction, on a ship bound for Tarshish. He thought the Ninevites should be punished for their mistakes.
A great storm came and threw the ship about on the waves. Would it break up? The sailors were afraid.
But Jonah was below deck, in a deep sleep! The captain went to him and said, “How can you be asleep? We are in big trouble. Pray to your God to stop this.”
The sailors tried to work out why this was happening to them; whose fault it was? And Jonah told them it was his as he was running away from God. He said, “Pick me up and throw me into the sea and it will become calm.” But they didn’t want to do this until the storm became so wild they felt they had to. And the raging sea did become calm.
As Jonah started to fall down into the deep, a huge fish swallowed him. Sometimes this fish is described as a whale. Jonah was inside that fish for 3 days and nights. Can you imagine?
Then he prayed to God and God told the fish to vomit Jonah out onto dry land.
Again God tells Jonah to go to Ninevah and this time, Jonah went.
Nineveh was a very large city and it took him 3 days to walk through telling everyone to ‘clean up their act’. The King of Nineveh wanted to put things right with God and so ordered everyone to call urgently on Him.
So God sent Jonah to the Ninevites with a message and the people of Ninevah obeyed the message. But Jonah was angry and resentful! These people deserved God’s punishment, not his forgiveness, he thought. Jonah complained to God about this and God asked him, “Is is right for you to be angry?”
Jonah went outside to the east of Nineveh and made a shelter. He sat under it’s shade and looked over at the city. God provided Jonah with a leafy plant to help him be more comfortable in the heat and Jonah was pleased with this. But the next morning, God sent a worm that ate the plant and it died. When the sun rose, God sent a scorching east wind and Jonah felt ill. God said to Jonah, “You are angry and upset about that plant aren’t you?” “Yes,” said Jonah, “I wish I were dead.” And God replied, “You are so angry and upset over a plant that I grew, and was just there overnight. But, I was angry and upset about a great city and all the people and animals there.”
This is a bizarre story where some of the characters don’t do what you might expect them to do. Remember Jonah was an Israelite. The Israelites were called to be a light to the other nations, showing them who God was. Jonah should have known better. But sometimes we are like that. I know I am. I want people to ‘get what’s coming to them’! But actually, if God is in charge then who am I to judge? I am just asked to show the love and forgiveness God shows. I think I might be like Jonah, a reluctant prophet! What about you?