Jonah the prophet in the Hebrew Bible is the central figure of the Book of Jonah; in which he is called upon by God to travel to Nineveh and warn its residents of impending divine wrath. Instead, Jonah boards a ship to Tarshish. Caught in a storm, he orders the ship’s crew to cast him overboard, whereupon he is swallowed by a giant fish. Three days later, after Jonah agrees to go to Nineveh, the fish vomits him out onto the shore. Jonah successfully convinces the entire city of Nineveh to repent but waits outside the city in expectation of its destruction. God shields Jonah from the sun with a plant but later sends a worm to cause it to wither. When Jonah the Prophet complains of the bitter heat, God rebukes him.
Jonah the Prophet In Judaism
In Judaism, the story of Jonah represents the teaching of teshuva, which is the ability to repent and be forgiven by God. In the New Testament, Jesus calls himself “greater than Jonah” and promises the Pharisees “the sign of Jonah”; which is his resurrection. Early Christian interpreters viewed Jonah as a type for Jesus. Jonah the Prophet is regarded as a prophet in Islam and the biblical narrative of Jonah is repeated, with a few notable differences; in the Quran. Some mainstream Bible scholars generally regard the Book of Jonah as fictional and often at least partially satirical; but the character of Jonah may have been based on the historical prophet of the same name mentioned in 2 Kings 14:25.
The Biblical Account
Jonah is the central character in the Book of Jonah, in which God commands him to go to the city of Nineveh to prophesy against it “for their great wickedness is come up before me,” but Jonah instead attempts to flee from “the presence of the Lord” by going to Jaffa; and sailing to Tarshish. A huge storm arises and the sailors; realizing that it is no ordinary storm; cast lots and discover that Jonah the Prophet is to blame.
Jonah the Prophet admits this and states that if he is thrown overboard, the storm will cease. The sailors refuse to do this and continue rowing; but all their efforts fail and they are eventually forced to throw Jonah overboard. As a result, the storm calms and the sailors then offer sacrifices to God. Jonah is miraculously saved by being swallowed by a large fish; in whose belly he spends three days and three nights. While in the great fish; Jonah the Prophet prays to God in his affliction and commits to giving thanks and to paying what he has vowed.God then commands the fish to vomit Jonah out.
God Again Commands Jonah the Prophet to Travel to Nineveh
God again commands Jonah to travel to Nineveh and prophesy to its inhabitants. This time he goes and enters the city, crying, “In forty days Nineveh shall be overthrown.” After Jonah has walked across Nineveh, the people of Nineveh begin to believe his word and proclaim a fast. The king of Nineveh puts on sackcloth and sits in ashes, making a proclamation which decrees fasting, the wearing of sackcloth, prayer, and repentance. God sees their repentant hearts and spares the city at that time. The entire city is humbled and broken with the people in sackcloth and ashes.
Displeased by this, Jonah the Prophet refers to his earlier flight to Tarshish while asserting that; since God is merciful, it was inevitable that God would turn from the threatened calamities. He then leaves the city and makes himself a shelter, waiting to see whether or not the city will be destroyed. God causes a plant (in Hebrew a kikayon) to grow over Jonah’s shelter to give him some shade from the sun. Later, God causes a worm to bite the plant’s root and it withers. Jonah, now being exposed to the full force of the sun; becomes faint and pleads for God to kill him.
But God said to Jonah: “Do you have a right to be angry about the vine?” And he said: “I do. I am angry enough to die.”
But the LORD said: “You have been concerned about this vine, though you did not tend it or make it grow. It sprang up overnight, and died overnight.
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?”
— Jonah 4:9-11 (NIV)