God saw that the city of Nineveh was inflicted with a great wickedness, so He contacted His prophet Jonah and told him to go to the great city of Nineveh and preach to these people about how their wickedness was upsetting Him. Jonah was a disobedient prophet, he rejected God’s command and instead of heading towards Nineveh, he went to Jaffa and then he sailed to Tarshish, which geographically is in the opposite direction. Jonah looked upon the people of Nineveh as being his enemies and he wanted all the people in Nineveh to die for their sins. The Lord was angered when He saw Jonah on the ship, so He sent a great storm upon the sea, that was violent enough to tear the ship into pieces. The sailors were frightened, so they started throwing everything on the ship overboard, and then they began to pray for the ship to be saved. As the storm continued to rage around the ship Jonah had fallen asleep, and the ship’s captain asked him, ‘What do you mean by sleeping in such a time as this? Get up and call upon your God, perhaps He will hear you and save our lives’.
The crew felt that someone aboard this ship had brought this trouble upon them and they decided to cast lots to find out who it was. They cast their lots, and it was determined that Jonah was the troublemaker, so they said to him, ‘Tell us, who are you? What country are you from? What is your business and why have you brought all this trouble here to us?’ Then Jonah told them his whole story, how he came from Israel, and that he fled from the Lord, because he did not want to go and preach in Nineveh. The sailors said, ‘Tell us, what we can do to make this storm end.’ Then Jonah said, ‘Throw me into the sea, and then the storm will cease and the waters will be calm, because I alone am responsible for this great tempest that is threatening your ship’.
At first the men were not willing to throw Jonah into the sea and they tried to row the ship to the land, but they could not. Then they all cried out to the Lord saying, ‘Oh Lord we pray thee, do not let us die for this man’s life who has not done your will.’ Eventually as the storm persisted, they felt that the only way to save themselves was to throw Jonah overboard into the sea. When they did this, the storm ceased, and the waves became still. Then the men on the ship offered a sacrifice to the Lord, and made promises to serve him. While Jonah was in the water, the Lord caused a great fish to swallow him up and Jonah stayed alive within the fish for three days and three nights.
While inside the fish Jonah prayed to the Lord and the Lord caused the great fish to vomit Jonah up on to dry land. Jonah returned to his starting point and now he obeys and goes to Nineveh, the capital of Israel’s ancient enemy. The citizens of Nineveh listen to his message of doom and they immediately start to repent. All of them humble themselves in sackcloth and ashes and when God sees their repentance, He decides not to carry out the punishment that He had planned for them. The people of Nineveh believed what the prophet Jonah told them about their city being destroyed in 40 days, so Nineveh is spared God’s wrath. Jonah was a reluctant prophet who went way beyond being hesitant, as he was unwilling to commit to God’s command.