Why is the Biblical Story of Jonah and Ninevah in the Bible?

The Biblical story of Jonah is really controversial. I mean, who has seen a fish big enough to swallow a man and if there was such a thing, could the fish swallow him without getting him stuck in their throat? These are things we usually don’t think about, but they matter, at least to the fish.

Then there is the problem of why did God give us a story where it seems to be over, but there is a second part? I didn’t know there was a second part to Jonah until I read the Bible from cover to cover.

Introduction to Jonah

Jonah was a prophet in the northern kingdom of Israel in the 700s BCE. His name meant “Dove.” He was the son of Ammitai and grew up in a town called Gath-hepher, near Nazareth in Galilee.  He was asked by God to go to the Assyrian capital of Ninevah, located in modern-day Iraq, and tell them to repent.

Repentance means to show remorse for the actions of the past, according to the definition I looked up. However, it means more than that. It is meant for the person repenting to change his or her ways in a visible manner. You might think that showing remorse is enough, but God wants a person to change completely, so that they don’t sin again.

So Jonah’s assignment was to go to Ninevah, and proclaim that the people should repent or face destruction. The Assyrians were very well-known as a sinful people. In fact, the ancient city of Ninevah is compared to Sodom, which was destroyed by God in Genesis.

Jonah did not want to go to Ninevah in the first place. He was ready for God to strike them from the map. He was very disenchanted with God’s grace, so he went to Joppa instead and booked passage to Tarshish, the opposite direction from Ninevah. The Lord brought a great storm upon the seas and the ship was about to “break up.”  -Jonah 1:4 (NASB) Jonah, after some deliberation with the crewmen of the ship, told them it was his fault, and if they threw him overboard, the seas would calm. They didn’t want to do it at first, but acquiesced and threw him overboard. The seas calmed. Apparently Jonah was suicidal at the time.

Jonah Swallowed By The Fish

Jonah, who was running from God, was swallowed by a big fish and, three days later, was spit out on dry land. Jesus told the disciples years later that the only sign that would be given them was the sign of Jonah,

“But He answered and said to them, ‘An evil and adulterous generation craves for a sign; and yet no sign will be given to it but the sign of Jonah the prophet; for just as Jonah was three days in the belly of the Sea Monster, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth. ‘” -Matthew 12:39-40 (NASB)

Jonah Goes To Ninevah

So Jonah went to Ninevah and told the people that they had forty days to repent or the Lord was going to destroy the city. The people of Ninevah took him at his word, put on sackcloth, and called a fast. The word reached the King and he even covered himself with sackcloth and sat on ashes.

“He issued a proclamation and it said, ‘In Nineveh by the decree of the king and his nobles: Do not let man, beast, herd, or flock taste a thing. Do not let them eat or drink water. But both man and beast must be covered with sackcloth; and let men call on God earnestly that each may turn from his wicked way and from the violence which is in his hands. Who knows, God may turn and relent and withdraw His burning anger so that we will not Perish’”-Jonah 3: 7-9 (NASB)

God saw what they did and did not do it.

Jonah was Displeased

Jonah was upset that God had changed his mind and became angry. He prayed for God to take his life. And all God said was “’ Do you have a good reason to be angry?’” -Jonah 4:4 (NASB)

So Jonah went out from the city and sat down. He sat in the shade and watched the city. So the Lord gave Jonah a plant to grow up and give him shade. Jonah was very happy for the plant, but God then sent a worm, “and it attacked the plant and it withered.” -Jonah 4: 7 (NASB)

When the sun came up Jonah became faint and begged to die. And God said to Jonah, “’Do you have good reason to be angry about the plant?’” – Jonah 4: 9 (NASB)

The Lord told him:

“‘You had compassion on the plant for which you did not work and which you did not cause to grow, which came up overnight and perished overnight. Should I not have compassion on Nineveh, the great city in which there are more than 120,000 persons who do not know the difference between their right and left hand, as well as many animals?’” -Jonah 4: 10-11 (NASB)

So what’s the big deal? Why did God include this piece? You have to go back to Jonah’s flight to Tarshish. Jonah wanted the people of Ninevah to be punished. Their sin was too great, in his eyes, for a warning. So he had to be broken. The Ninevites were not the focus of the story. Jonah was. He was punished for fleeing to Tarshish, then He was punished by the plant. Shouldn’t God have compassion on who He will have compassion on? That was the message in the chapter about the plant. God doesn’t need us to tell Him who is doing wrong. So why did God punish Jonah twice? The reason is that Jonah did not learn his lesson from the first punishment. He was still simmering when he sat under the plant, but God showed him once again how wrong he was. He punished Jonah even though He didn’t send His wrath on Ninevah.

Is God punishing you for something? How would you know? Think about it and repent of the wrongful things you might have done.

7 thoughts on “Why is the Biblical Story of Jonah and Ninevah in the Bible?”

  1. Great story and I also didn’t know there was another part of the story to Jonah. I still don’t understand, however, unless by miracle how he survived in the whale’s belly for so long, and do we actually know what sort of whale or fish it was?

    It is true that people want signs before they believe, and we all need to take a good hard look at our own lives before judging others and see whether everything we do actually pleases the lord or not.

  2. I must confess, this is the best piece I have read today. The story of Jonah is Ana amazing one and it’s so popular but the other part isn’t very popular (maybe it is but this is my first time to read about the second part 🤦🏽‍♂️, sounds shameful to me). God is so merciful indeed else I’d have been consumed a long time ago. His mercies are new every morning. Jesus making reference to Jonah’s experience is quite interesting too. Now I know why this story of Jonah and the big fish is in the Bible.

  3. WOW! This is an eye opener. So the reason why the fish swallowed him was not because of neniveh but because God was punishing him: now I understand better. Thank you very much for sharing this with me, I have indeed learnt a lot from this post.

    I look forward to seeing more of your article.

  4. Wow this is cool! indeed, you have got a background knowledge of the bible and the stories in it. Before now, I didn’t understand the story of the plant and how it relates with the situation of Jonah but with your article, I’ve known a lot about that part of the bible.

    Thank you very much!

  5. Hey nice biblical article you have there. I always feels blessed going through biblical articles like this, because it gives me joy knowing than more than a thousand person’s will have access to it. Nevertheless questions I have been wanting to ask about the story of Jonah and  Nineveh is that: how long does it takes Jonah’s to spread the message of God to the entire City of Nineveh, what was the name of the king of Nineveh ?.

    • I don’t think the Bible tells us either how long it took or the King’s name at the time, but I’m thinking it was Sennacharib that was the Ruler. Jonah 3:3 says, “Now Nineveh was an exceedingly great city, a three days’ walk.” I’m not sure if that means it was a three days walk across the city or if it means it was a three days walk from the ocean to Nineveh. Thanks for asking.


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