God spoke to Jonah and instructed him, “Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and cry against it; for their wickedness is come up before me.” (Jonah 1:2) But Jonah, in order to flee from the Lord, ran off and found a ship to Tarshish. Consequently the Lord caused a great tempest in the sea. Those on board the ship with him were frantic. They confronted Jonah and asked him why this was happening. Jonah replied, “And he said unto them, I am an Hebrew; and I fear the LORD, the God of heaven, which hath made the sea and the dry land.” (Jonah 1:9) The men on the ship then realized that the problem was Jonah so they threw him in the sea and the storm immediately subsided. The Lord at that time summoned a great fish, which swallowed him. Jonah prayed to the Lord God from the fish’s belly.
Jonah’s Prayer from Inside the Fish
“And said, I cried by reason of mine affliction unto the LORD, and he heard me; out of the belly of hell cried I, and thou heardest my voice.” (Jonah 2:2) And again, Jonah cried out of the fish’s belly. “They that observe lying vanities forsake their own mercy. But I will sacrifice unto thee with the voice of thanksgiving; I will pay that that I have vowed. Salvation is of the LORD”. (Jonah 2:8-9)
The scriptures then describe how the Lord spoke to the fish and it vomited Jonah out on the dry land. Jonah was finally persuaded. He went into Nineveh and preached to the people. His preaching was so good and effective that the whole city repented. God accepted their repentance and did not destroy the city. But, instead of being pleased it appears Jonah felt like a fool because God didn’t do what Jonah had told the people of Nineveh he was going to do, destroy the city. He was so offended that he wanted to die and he went off alone to pout.
Jonah’s Prayer after Nineveh was spared
“And he prayed unto the LORD, and said, I pray thee, O LORD, was not this my saying, when I was yet in my country? Therefore I fled before unto Tarshish: for I knew that thou art a gracious God, and merciful, slow to anger, and of great kindness, and repentest thee of the evil. Therefore now, O LORD, take, I beseech thee, my life from me; for it is better for me to die than to live.” (Jonah 4:2-3)
God’s Answer to Jonah’s prayer
“Then said the LORD, Thou hast had pity on the gourd, for the which thou hast not laboured, neither madest it grow; which came up in a night, and perished in a night: And should not I spare Nineveh, that great city, wherein are more than sixscore thousand persons that cannot discern between their right hand and their left hand; and also much cattle?” (Jonah 4:10-11)
Jonah’s experience teaches us that we cannot run or hide from God. Jonah didn’t want to do what God asked because he feared God would forgive the people and then Jonah would look like a fool. We need to be cautious that we don’t fall into that same frame of mind.
This story brings to mind a similar frame of mind concerning the brother of the prodigal son, spoken of by Jesus in the book Luke. Jesus, after speaking of the value of finding a lost soul, tells the story of a man and his two sons. One who stayed with his father and the other who left, falling into sin and losing everything he had. When the stray son came to his senses, he returned home and his father greeted him with open arms, put a robe on him, gave him a ring and shoes and threw a large party. The other son became angry, refusing to go to the celebration for his brother. He said to his father: “Lo, these many years do I serve thee, neither transgressed I at any time they commandment: and yet thou never gavest me a kid, that I might make merry with my friends:” (Luke 15:30) The words spoken to him by his father sum it up beautifully. He said: “Son, thou art ever with me, and all that I have is thine. It was meet that we should make merry, and be glad: for this thy brother was dead, and is alive again: and was lost, and is found.” (Luke 15:31-32)