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What Can We Learn from Jonah?

What Can We Learn from Jonah?

by Joyce Webb   2016

Jonah was a prophet/preacher from Israel.

A prophet is a little different from a preacher.

Preachers nowadays use Bible verses to talk to people and teach them what God has said to men who wrote those things down.

Prophets hear from God himself. God speaks to them and tells them what they are to say.

God spoke to Jonah one day and told him to go the city of Nineveh in Assyria.

Assyria was a country that had many battles and wars with other countries and won over them. They were hard mean people.

Assyria had been the enemy of Israel for a long time. The people of Israel did not like the Assyrians at all. They were afraid of them and hated them.

When God told Jonah to go preach to them, Jonah was not happy.

He hated the Assyrians because of what they did. Jonah also knew that God was a loving and forgiving God and if the Assyrian people asked for forgiveness then God would forgive them.

Jonah did not want to see them forgiven. Jonah wanted God to punish them and to destroy them.


Jonah went down to the port where the ships go out. He bought a ticket for a ship going the opposite direction of Nineveh. Jonah went to a city called Tarshish.

Now when we read this we wonder what was Jonah thinking? Did he really think he could go to another city to preach when God told him to go somewhere else?

Maybe we have done something like that. Maybe in our hearts and spirits we know what God wants us to do, but we decide to ignore it and do something else.


God was watching Jonah. When Jonah was on the ship to Tarshish and was out in the middle of the water God sent the wind and a storm. It was so strong the sailor men were afraid the water coming over the sides of the ship and it would sink the ship.

They began to throw over barrels and boxes of things to make the ship lighter.

All of those barrels and boxes had important things in them that the sailors were paid to take to other cities.

When they got to the city and did not have the barrels and boxes to deliver the sailors would have to pay for them for losing them.


But they were afraid they would die so they kept throwing more and more out trying to keep the ship from sinking.

The sailors prayed and worshipped idols. They had been praying to them, but the storm kept getting worse.

They found Jonah sleeping. They woke him up and told him to pray to his god.

Finally, the men “cast lots” or threw dice or “drew straws” and it came out that Jonah was the man who made the problem.

They said to Jonah, who are you? What have you done?

Jonah said, “I am a Hebrew. My God is the one who made the heavens and earth and the land and sea. And this storm is my fault.”

The men tried harder to bring the ship to shore, but they could not.

Jonah told them, “Throw me into the sea. Then the storm will stop.”

The men began to pray to Jonah’s god. They prayed, ”Do not hold us responsible for this man’s death. It is not our fault. You, God, have sent this storm for your own reason that pleases you.”

These men who worshipped idols began to pray to Jonah’s God. And they realized that He sent the storm and had good reason to do so because it pleased God to do so.

How often in our life when we have troubles and “storms” we complain and blame God. We say “God, how can you love me and let this happen to me?”

We say, “God, how can you be watching over me and still let this happen to me?”

We usually do not say “Lord, I know you have your own good reason for letting this happen.”

The sailor men threw Jonah into the sea. And the storm stopped ---just like that.

The sailors were amazed! They could hardly believe it.

They were so impressed that they said they would worship the God of heaven Jonah’s God from now on.


God had prepared a fish (the Bible does not say whale). This fish was right there when Jonah went in the water and it swallowed him whole.

People have said that this was not possible. And they think is story is a fairy tale.

I was watching TV on a show called “The Deadliest Catch” and they were in search of a fish that was swallowing men whole. It was somewhere in India, or such, a hot humid place.

In a river, men were seen fishing standing in waist deep water and then they just disappeared. No one ever found even body parts afterwards.

So these special expert fishermen were hunting the rivers to find a fish big enough that could swallow a man whole.

And they found the kind of fish that was big enough with a big mouth that was able to do that. So there are fish large enough with a big mouth that can swallow a man whole.

The men who lived in that area were smaller size men than most American men, but still it was a big fish.

Jonah would not have been a large man.

Anyway, if God prepared a fish to swallow Jonah then we believe it happened.


Jonah was in the fish for 3 days and 3 nights.

Jesus talked about this in Matthew 12:38-41.

This is another reason to believe it really happened,     because Jesus talked about it happening.

Jesus said that like Jonah being in the belly of the fish for 3 days and 3 nights, so also, I, the Son of Man, will be in the belly or heart of the earth for 3 days and 3 nights.

The disciples of Jesus did not understand at that time what Jesus was talking about.

It was not until after Jesus died was buried in the tomb/cave and then rose from the dead that they remembered how Jesus said it would be like Jonah.


Things were very scary in the belly of the fish. It was dark. Seaweed was wrapped around Jonah’s head. It probably smelled really bad.

We wonder how he got enough air. But God kept him alive, but he was very near death.

Some Bible teachers think Jonah actually died, and God brought him alive again.

While Jonah was in the fish. Jonah had a lot of time to think. He decided that if God would save him he would go to Nineveh like God told him.

He prayed that God would forgive him for not obeying. And promised that he would obey if God showed mercy.

God heard his prayer, and God told the fish to spit Jonah out.

God made the fish go near to shore and spit Jonah out. So Jonah got onto the land.

Jonah is probably rather messy looking and smelling. So he had to go clean up somewhere or swim around in the water to get clean.

Whatever he did we do not know. But he did go to Nineveh. And when he got there, he began preaching and in a loud voice telling the people that the God of heaven would destroy their city in 40 days because of their bad sins.

Nineveh was a big city. It took 3 days to get all around it-----walking. So Jonah, went throughout the city telling the people that God would destroy the city because of their sins.

The people believed Jonah. The king heard about it. He made a law that no person or animal could eat or drink--for a time. The people were to take off their good pretty robes and put on sack cloth. They were to pray to the God of heaven and be sorry for their sin. And they were to stop doing sinful things.

The people did it. Even the king.

When God saw them stop doing wrong and saw they were sorry he forgave them.

And he did not destroy their city.

Jonah after preaching all over the city went outside the city to stay and see what would happen to the city. He wanted to be far enough away, if the city was to be destroyed. But he wanted to see what would happen.

It was hot out there. God was watching Jonah. He knew what Jonah was thinking.

God made a plant with big leaves grow up quickly. It grew tall and leaves were big and it made shade. So Jonah sat under it to be out of the hot sun.

Then God sent a worm to eat the main stem of the plant and the plant wilted and died.

No more shade. It was so hot Jonah thought he would die from the heat.

But he wanted to see what would happen to the city.

Jonah got really mad and upset that the plant died.

God began talking to Jonah. He said, “You are angry about the plant dying.” Jonah said , “Yes, I am so angry I could die.”

Then Jonah said, “Just kill me now, I prophesied that they would be destroyed and now it will not happen.” “Nothing I said is going to happen.”

Jonah’s pride was hurt. After all, if a prophet says that God is going to do something, and God does not do it, then the prophet looks like a false liar. That hurt Jonah’s pride.

Prophets in the Old Testament often told of bad things to happen. And they did.

In fact, the Bible says if a prophet says something will happen and it does not then that is a false prophet.

So Jonah was upset that God did not destroy the city. It made Jonah look bad, and Jonah wanted to see them destroyed.

Jonah said, “I knew you would do this. That is why I ran away. I knew you were a loving and forgiving God. I knew you were slow to get angry. That you were full of love. I knew you would change your plans of destroying them.”

God said, “ You feel angry about the plant dying. Yet that kind of plant does not live long anyway. But you do not feel bad about all those people dying. You want to see them destroyed.

God said, “There are more than 120,000 people there plus animals. They have been living in sin and not understanding about the true God and their sin. I felt sorry for them and I sent you to teach them and talk to them so they could be saved.

Prayer can stop bad things from happening. God does sometimes not go through will punishment because the people have repented and asked for forgiveness.

God warned the people of Israel over and over by the prophets talking that He would send an enemy nation to come in a destroy them because of their sin, but if they would repent stop sinning and obey God and ask for forgiveness God would not destroy them.

Most of the time the people of Israel did not repent and stop sinning. And God let the enemy come in and destroy them.

A few times, the people of Israel did repent and stop sinning and God did not let the enemy come in.

So God was giving the same chance/ opportunity to Nineveh. God loves all people not just the people of Israel.


It seems that Jonah forgot that when he was in the belly of the fish and was about to die that he wanted God to forgive him and save his life. And God in his love and mercy forgave Jonah and saved him.

We often want God to forgive us but we want to see others punished for their sins.

We want mercy for ourselves, but we want justice for others.

Jesus told his disciples, If you want God to forgive you you must forgive others when they do wrong against you. Matthew 6:14

When we look at Jonah we can see how we are like him in many ways.

We do not always want to do what God tells us to do.

We want to have a second chance to do the right thing.

We do not like to do hard things.

We like to see mean bad people get justice.

We like to think we should have mercy and forgiveness.

Sometimes our pride and being “right” in the eyes of others is more important than mercy.








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