Skip to main content

The Adventures of Jonah - More Than Just a Fishy Tale


Jonah - life beyond the belly of a big fish

The story of Jonah is arguably one of the most well-known of all bible stories. It is a very popular Sunday School story. That's no surprise as the story is full of mystery, excitement and adventure - great to capture the attention of little kids. Whenever we talk of Jonah, more often than not, the picture that comes to mind is that of Jonah inside the bowels of a big fish. However, that's only part of the story and comprises only half the book of Jonah. To miss out on the rest of Jonah's adventure is to forego important life lessons that God wants to teach us.

Jonah - the non-typical prophet

The book of Jonah is rather unique. It focuses more on the life of the prophet rather than his message, compared to other prophetic books, which contain chapter after chapter of oracles and messages that God wants to convey to his people, but little about the particular prophet.

In fact Jonah's entire prophetic message consists of only eight words, found in chapter 3:4

Jonah began by going a day’s journey into the city, proclaiming, “Forty more days and Nineveh will be overthrown (destroyed).”

Thats all. He went through all that trouble and journeyed all that distance just to utter eight fateful words!

(Nineveh was the capital city of the Assyrians, one of the most brutal and feared kingdoms in ancient history)

Jonah’s message is also unusual compared with the oracles of other prophets. These oracles typically consist of warnings of God’s impending punishment upon the people for their sins and turning away from God. There will then be a call for the people to repent, to turn back to God, with the promise of God’s forgiveness.

Jonah’s message however only has the warning of punishment but nothing about calling the people to repent or the promise of God’s forgiveness.

Did Jonah amend or alter God's original message to the people of Nineveh?

Jonah - prophet with an attitude problem

Jonah 1:2 records the mesage that Jonah was to deliver to the people of Niniveh.

The Lord gave this message to Jonah son of Amittai: “Get up and go to the great city of Nineveh. Announce my judgment against it because I have seen how wicked its people are.”

Although not explicitly stated, a warning about imminent judgement is precisely to give people an opportunity to repent. If punishment is inevitable, then why bother warning them in the first place? Jonah seems to have left out the part about being given a chance to repent.

Jonah's motives and attitude towards the people of Nineveh become clearer in chapter 4. He is very angry and upset that the people of Nineveh actually heeded his warning and repented. In a very revealing conversation with God, Jonah lays bare his true feelings.

This displeased Jonah terribly and he became very angry.He prayed to the Lord and said, “Oh, Lord, this is just what I thought would happen when I was in my own country. This is what I tried to prevent by attempting to escape to Tarshish, because I knew that you are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abounding in mercy, and one who relents concerning threatened judgment. So now, Lord, kill me instead, because I would rather die than live!”

Jonah 4:1-3

Firstly, we see the real reason why Jonah tried to avoid God’s instructions - not out of fear of the mighty Assyrians, but because he did not want God to relent from punishing Nineveh - “I knew that you are a merciful and compassionate God, slow to get angry and filled with unfailing love”. Jonah seems very selfish and unmerciful, not the kind of attitude a prophet of God should have.

Then Jonah goes into sulking mode. He is so angry that he would rather die than see the people of Nineveh spared.

Why does Jonah have such haterd for the people of Nineveh?

Jonah - caught between a rock and a hard place

Jonah prophesied during the time when the Assyrians were the superpower of the ancinet world. During that time, there were other prophets like Amos, Hosea - contemporaries of Jonah - who were already warning the northern kingdom Israel, that they will be punished by God if they do not repent from their evil ways. The message was clear that God will use the Assyrians to bring about His judgement on Israel.

In that context, God sends Jonah to deliver a message of repentance to the Assyrians. This would put Jonah in a very awkward situation. God is sending him to the very people who are at war with the Israelites, the people who in the future are going to destroy his own nation.

Jonah found himself in a catch-22 situation. If he goes and warns the Assyrians, and Nineveh repents, God will forgive them, and that means the Assyrians will, in the future surely destroy Israel, as prophesied.

On the other hand, If the Assyrians continue in their wicked ways and God punishes them, Israel will be spared, but the Ninevites would have been prevented from experiencing the love and mercy of God.

What a dilemma Jonah found himself in. Strangely, It never occurred to Jonah that the better way for Israel to avert God’s punishment was simply for them to repent of their evil ways, and return to God

Lessons from the events of Jonah's life

1. Guard our attitude

Jonah had an attitude problem towards the Assyrians - perhaps rightly so. After all, these were the people who would eventualy invade and ravage his nation.

What should our attitude be with regards to those who are hostile towards us, especially due to our religious leanings? What more if we have been on the receiving end of their hostility. Do we see such people as beyond redemption, deserving only of God's wrath? Or should we be genuinely concerned about such people who lack discernment and are living in spiritual darkness?

But Nineveh has more than 120,000 people living in spiritual darkness,not to mention all the animals. Shouldn’t I feel sorry for such a great city?”

Jonah 4:11

2. The journey is as important as the destination

Why did God choose Jonah for the Nineveh assignment? Surely God knew how Jonah would respond to his task - run away in the opposite direction. Why didn’t God just choose another prophet who would have obeyed immediately without all the fuss and drama?

God’s purposes are unstoppable, whether man chooses to be a part of it or rebel. However God chooses to involve man so that we can grow in the faith and learn important life lessons.

Sometimes, what is more important is not the end result, but the process of obedience and trusting God. Whatever we are called to do or serve, the experience and what we learn along the way can be just as important as the final result.

Jonah had some issues and God had some lessons for him. Nineveh was a difficult assignment. God took the trouble to give Jonah this assignment to help him in areas of weakness. Whatever situation or service we are in, don’t focus only on the result, but also see how God is teaching us lessons along the way.

A merciful and compassionate God

God is a merciful and compassionate God, slow to get angry and filled with unfailing love, eager to turn back from destroying people.

Jonah 4:2b

Jonah learnt that this truth about God applied as much to himself, as to the people of Nineveh.

May we constantly guard our attitude and obediently learn all the lesson that God is patiently teaching us along life's journey.

© 2022 Ferdinand-J-K

Related Articles