BEST KNOWN FOR GETTING SWALLOWED by a huge fish, Jonah bears yet another incredible distinction among God’s prophets.
He gave only one prophecy in the book named after him.
And it didn’t come true.
Prophet on the run
If Jonah had gotten his way, there would have been no humiliating book named after him. He lived in the small Galilean village of Gath-hepher, near Nazareth, in the northern Jewish nation of Israel. And he lived there just a few decades before Israel got erased from the world map by one of history’s most vicious empires: Assyria.
God told Jonah to go to Assyria’s capital—Nineveh, near what is now Mosul in northern Iraq. Jonah’s mission was to deliver bad news: “Forty days from now Nineveh will be destroyed!” [biblegateway passage=”(Jonah 3:4″])
That was a bit like asking a Jew in the early 1940’s to deliver similar news to Hitler in Berlin.
Jonah did what he thought was prudent. He caught a ship headed in the opposite direction.
A fierce storm erupted, forcing the crew to toss cargo overboard so the ship would ride higher in the water. In desperation, they cast lots—which may have been a bit like throwing dice. Jonah lost the toss, indicating he was the one who got the gods angry enough to churn up the storm. He admitted he was running away from God’s assignment, and he told the crew to throw him overboard.
A large fish swallowed him. Jonah remained in the fish’s stomach for three days. Jesus later said this foreshadowed His time in the grave: “For as Jonah was in the belly of the great fish for three days and three nights, so I, the Son of Man, will be in the heart of the earth for three days and three nights.” ([biblegateway passage=”Matthew 12:40″])
Depressed about success
God ordered the fish to spit Jonah onto the shore. From there, Jonah traveled to Nineveh—a 400-mile (640 km) walk from the nearest beach. There, he delivered the message and became one of the few prophets who actually convinced people to repent. Because of Jonah’s success, God didn’t destroy Nineveh.
“I knew that you were a gracious and compassionate God,” Jonah complained, furious about God’s decision to show mercy. “Just kill me now, LORD! I’d rather be dead than alive because nothing I predicted is going to happen.” ([biblegateway passage=”Jonah 4:2-3″])
“Nineveh has more than 120,000 people,” God answered, “Shouldn’t I feel sorry for such a great city?” ([biblegateway passage=”Jonah 4:11″])
That’s how the story ends, almost like a make-believe parable to show that God cares for everyone—Jews and non-Jews alike. Many scholars say the story is just that. Others insist Jonah was a real prophet who was mentioned elsewhere during the reign of Jeroboam II. ([biblegateway passage=”2 Kings 14:25″])
From Who’s Who & Where’s Where in the Bible 2.0 by Stephen M. Miller, published by Barbour Publishing Inc. Used by permission.
Winner of leather-bound Complete Guide to the Bible
Linda Hassen wins the free copy of the $34.99 deluxe edition of the Complete Guide to the Bible. This was a giveaway I offered in Friday’s blog article, celebrating Amazon’s notice that the book released this month is the #1 new release among Bible handbooks.
In a way, the reason I believe it is because it’s so weird and improbable. At least the first part of the story. You left out the part about Jonah sulking afterward–totally probable!