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.