...As the story is related in the Book of Jonah, the prophet
Jonah is called by God to go to
Nineveh (a great Assyrian city) and prophesy disaster because of the city's excessive
wickedness. Jonah, in the story, feels about Nineveh as does the author of the Book of
Nahum--that the city must inevitably fall because of God's judgment against it. Thus Jonah
does not want to prophesy, because Nineveh might repent and thereby be saved. So he
rushes down to Joppa and takes passage in a ship that will carry him in the opposite
direction, thinking to escape God. A storm of unprecedented severity strikes the ship, and in
spite of all that the master and crew can do, it shows signs of breaking up and foundering.
Lots are cast, and Jonah confesses that it is his presence on board that is causing the storm.
At his request, he is thrown overboard, and the storm subsides.
A "great fish," appointed by God, swallows Jonah, and he stays within the fish's maw for
three days and nights. He prays for deliverance and is "vomited out" on dry land.
Again the command is heard, "Arise, go to Nineveh." Jonah goes to Nineveh and
prophesies against the city, causing the King and all the inhabitants to repent.
Jonah then becomes angry. Hoping for disaster, he sits outside the city to await its
destruction. A plant springs up overnight, providing him welcome shelter from the heat, but
it is destroyed by a great worm. Jonah is bitter at the destruction of the plant, but God
speaks and thrusts home the final point of the story: "You pity the plant, for which you did
not labor, nor did you make it grow, which came into being in a night, and perished in a
night. And should not I pity Nineveh, that great city, in which there are more than a hundred
and twenty thousand persons who do not know their right hand from their left, and also