God called the prophet Jonah to go to the great city of Nineveh and preach against it because of its wickedness. The city was more than five hundred miles from Jonah's hometown of Gath Hepher.
Jonah, whose name means "dove," ran away from God and went to Joppa, where he found a ship bound for the port of Tarshish. After paying his fare, Jonah boarded the ship and sailed for Tarshish, which was located in the opposite direction from Nineveh.
While the ship was at sea, such a violent storm arose that the ship threatened to break up. All the sailors were afraid and they threw the cargo overboard to lighten the ship. Jonah, meanwhile, was in a deep sleep!
The sailors cast lots to see who was responsible for the calamity, and the lot fell on Jonah. Jonah told them that he was running from the Lord, the God of heaven, who made the sea and the land.
The sea kept getting rougher. When the sailors asked what they should do to make the sea calm down, Jonah replied, "'Pick me up and throw me into the sea . . . and it will become calm. I know that it is my fault that this great storm has come upon you'" (1:12).
The sailors tried to row back to land, but the sea grew even wilder than before. So, they threw Jonah overboard, and the raging sea became calm.
The Lord provided a great fish to swallow Jonah. Some people think it was a whale, but the Bible doesn't tell us what kind of fish it was. While inside the fish, Jonah prayed to the Lord and told Him that he would do what the Lord wanted him to do. "And the Lord commanded the fish, and it vomited Jonah onto dry land" (2:10).
Then the Lord spoke to Jonah a second time and told him to go to Nineveh and proclaim the message He would give him. Jonah obeyed and went to Nineveh and proclaimed, "'Forty more days and Nineveh will be overturned'" (3:4).
How did the Ninevites respond to Jonah's message? "The Ninevites believed God" and declared a fast! Even the king put on sackcloth and issued a decree that everyone must fast and call urgently on God and give up their evil ways and their violence.
When God saw the response of the Ninevites he had compassion and didn't bring on them the destruction He had threatened.
In chapter 4 we find that Jonah was angry. "'O Lord, is this not what I said when I was still at home? That is why I was so quick to flee to Tarshish. I knew that you are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abounding in love, a God who relents from sending calamity. Now, O Lord, take away my life, for it is better for me to die than to live'" (4:2-3).
Why was Jonah angry? Nineveh was the capital of Assyria, and the Assyrians were wicked, brutal, vicious and cruel. The Ninevites were Israel's enemies, and Jonah wanted them to be judged. He had not wanted to preach to them because he knew that if they repented, God would spare them.
God gave Jonah an object lesson. While Jonah watched to see what would happen to the city, God provided a vine that grew up over Jonah to give shade for his head. Of course, Jonah was happy about the vine. The next day, however, God provided a worm that chewed the vine so that it withered. Then He sent a scorching wind and the sun blazed on Jonah's head. Jonah was angry about the vine withering and asked God to let him die.
The Lord told him, "'You have been concerned about this vine, though you did not tend it or make it grow. . . . But Nineveh has more than a hundred and twenty thousand people who cannot tell their right hand from their left, and many cattle as well. Should I not be concerned about that great city?'" (4:10-11).
Jonah is the only Minor Prophet mentioned by Jesus in the New Testament. Read Matthew 12:39-41 and 16:4.
Fill in the blanks on the worksheet and on the "Go to the Word" sheet, and may God bless you as you study His Word.
By: Warren Simmons