A-Z: Famous stories from the Bible: Jonah
God said to his prophet, Jonah, ‘Go to the great city of Nineveh. Warn them that I know about their wickedness.’ But Jonah did not want to. Instead he set off in the opposite direction, boarding a ship bound for Joppa.
Soon, a violent storm hit the ship. The sailors were terrified. Trying to stay afloat, they threw overboard anything they could, whilst praying to their own gods. Meanwhile Jonah was fast asleep. The captain woke him, asking him to pray also. The sailors cast lots, to find out who had caused this storm. The lot indicated Jonah. Confronted by them, he told the sailors about his disobedience to God’s message, saying that God would spare them if they threw him overboard. They tried once more to reach land, but, reluctantly and asking God to forgive them, had to throw Jonah into the sea. Immediately, the sea became calm and the sailors thanked God.
Jonah desperately asked God for help. A great fish, sent by God, swallowed him. Alive in the fish’s stomach, Jonah prayed: ‘When I was in trouble, you saved me, God. I now promise that I will obey you.’ After three days, the fish vomited out Jonah safely on land, and God again gave Jonah his message. This time Jonah went to Nineveh.
As Jonah walked through the city, he told people, ‘Because of all the wrong you have done, God will destroy this great city in forty days.’ The citizens believed what God said. All of them, from the poorest to the King himself, stopped eating and drinking and wore rough cloth to show God that they were sorry. God saw all of this and knew they were genuinely repentant. He forgave them and the city was safe.
However, Jonah was furious. He told God, ‘I knew you would do this: this was why I didn’t want to come. I knew you are a caring and gracious God, slow to be angered but always ready to love: I knew you would forgive them if they said sorry – and they do not deserve forgiveness! I might as well be dead.’
God said, ‘Do you have any right to be angry about this?’ But Jonah would not listen. He made a rough shelter against the sun and waited to see what would happen, hoping that God would take notice of what he had said and of his anger. God made a vine grow quickly, to shelter Jonah. In the heat of the day, Jonah was grateful. But next morning, God made a grub eat through the vine’s stem and the plant died. Then Jonah was even hotter – and more furious. ‘I wish I was dead!’ he grumbled.
‘Do you think you are entitled to feel angry about the vine?’ God asked him. Jonah retorted that his feelings were perfectly justified. ‘You are upset about the vine,’ God said, ‘but you didn’t make it or even look after it! But there are thousands of people in Nineveh who need guidance in their lives. Shouldn’t I, then, be upset about all of them?’
The story illustrates:
- God’s desire to forgive everyone who is sorry for their wrongdoing
- The importance of obedience and faith in God
- Christians understand that Jonah’s three days under water before returning to land prefigures the three days Jesus spent in a tomb before being raised to life again.
Big Ideas: Penitence, repentance, penance; Miracles
, Jonah 2:1-10
, Jonah 3:1-10
, Jonah 4:1-11
- English Standard Version
- King James Version
1Now the word of the Lord came to Jonah the son of Amittai, saying, 2Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and call out against it, for their evil has come up before me. 3But Jonah rose to flee to Tarshish from the presence of the Lord. He went down to Joppa and found a ship going to Tarshish. So he paid the fare and went down into it, to go with them to Tarshish, away from the presence of the Lord. 4But the Lord hurled a great wind upon the sea, and there was a mighty tempest on the sea, so that the ship threatened to break up. 5Then the mariners were afraid, and each cried out to his god. And they hurled the cargo that was in the ship into the sea to lighten it for them. But Jonah had gone down into the inner part of the ship and had lain down and was fast asleep. 6So the captain came and said to him, What do you mean, you sleeper? Arise, call out to your god! Perhaps the god will give a thought to us, that we may not perish. 7And they said to one another, Come, let us cast lots, that we may know on whose account this evil has come upon us. So they cast lots, and the lot fell on Jonah. 8Then they said to him, Tell us on whose account this evil has come upon us. What is your occupation? And where do you come from? What is your country? And of what people are you? 9And he said to them, I am a Hebrew, and I fear the Lord, the God of heaven, who made the sea and the dry land. 10Then the men were exceedingly afraid and said to him, What is this that you have done! For the men knew that he was fleeing from the presence of the Lord, because he had told them. 11Then they said to him, What shall we do to you, that the sea may quiet down for us? For the sea grew more and more tempestuous. 12He said to them, Pick me up and hurl me into the sea; then the sea will quiet down for you, for I know it is because of me that this great tempest has come upon you. 13Nevertheless, the men rowed hard to get back to dry land, but they could not, for the sea grew more and more tempestuous against them. 14Therefore they called out to the Lord, O Lord, let us not perish for this man's life, and lay not on us innocent blood, for you, O Lord, have done as it pleased you. 15So they picked up Jonah and hurled him into the sea, and the sea ceased from its raging. 16Then the men feared the Lord exceedingly, and they offered a sacrifice to the Lord and made vows. 17And the Lord appointed a great fish to swallow up Jonah. And Jonah was in the belly of the fish three days and three nights.
1Now the word of the LORD came unto Jonah the son of Amittai, saying, 2Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and cry against it; for their wickedness is come up before me. 3But Jonah rose up to flee unto Tarshish from the presence of the LORD, and went down to Joppa; and he found a ship going to Tarshish: so he paid the fare thereof, and went down into it, to go with them unto Tarshish from the presence of the LORD. 4But the LORD sent out a great wind into the sea, and there was a mighty tempest in the sea, so that the ship was like to be broken. 5Then the mariners were afraid, and cried every man unto his god, and cast forth the wares that were in the ship into the sea, to lighten it of them. But Jonah was gone down into the sides of the ship; and he lay, and was fast asleep. 6So the shipmaster came to him, and said unto him, What meanest thou, O sleeper? arise, call upon thy God, if so be that God will think upon us, that we perish not. 7And they said every one to his fellow, Come, and let us cast lots, that we may know for whose cause this evil is upon us. So they cast lots, and the lot fell upon Jonah. 8Then said they unto him, Tell us, we pray thee, for whose cause this evil is upon us; What is thine occupation? and whence comest thou? what is thy country? and of what people art thou? 9And 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. 10Then were the men exceedingly afraid, and said unto him. Why hast thou done this? For the men knew that he fled from the presence of the LORD, because he had told them. 11Then said they unto him, What shall we do unto thee, that the sea may be calm unto us? for the sea wrought, and was tempestuous. 12And he said unto them, Take me up, and cast me forth into the sea; so shall the sea be calm unto you: for I know that for my sake this great tempest is upon you. 13Nevertheless the men rowed hard to bring it to the land; but they could not: for the sea wrought, and was tempestuous against them. 14Wherefore they cried unto the LORD, and said, We beseech thee, O LORD, we beseech thee, let us not perish for this man's life, and lay not upon us innocent blood: for thou, O LORD, hast done as it pleased thee. 15So they look up Jonah, and cast him forth into the sea: and the sea ceased from her raging. 16Then the men feared the LORD exceedingly, and offered a sacrifice unto the LORD, and made vows. 17Now the LORD had prepared a great fish to swallow up Jonah. And Jonah was in the belly of the fish three days and three nights.
- English Standard Version
- King James Version
1Then Jonah prayed to the Lord his God from the belly of the fish, 2saying, I called out to the Lord, out of my distress, and he answered me; out of the belly of Sheol I cried, and you heard my voice. 3For you cast me into the deep, into the heart of the seas, and the flood surrounded me; all your waves and your billows passed over me. 4Then I said, I am driven away from your sight; yet I shall again look upon your holy temple. 5The waters closed in over me to take my life; the deep surrounded me; weeds were wrapped about my head 6at the roots of the mountains. I went down to the land whose bars closed upon me forever; yet you brought up my life from the pit, O Lord my God. 7When my life was fainting away, I remembered the Lord, and my prayer came to you, into your holy temple. 8Those who pay regard to vain idols forsake their hope of steadfast love. 9But I with the voice of thanksgiving will sacrifice to you; what I have vowed I will pay. Salvation belongs to the Lord! 10And the Lord spoke to the fish, and it vomited Jonah out upon the dry land.
1Then Jonah prayed unto the LORD his God out of the fish's belly, 2And 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. 3For thou hadst cast me into the deep, in the midst of the seas; and the floods compassed me about: all thy billows and thy waves passed over me. 4Then I said, I am cast out of thy sight; yet I will look again toward thy holy temple. 5The waters compassed me about, even to the soul: the depth closed me round about, the weeds were wrapped about my head. 6I went down to the bottoms of the mountains; the earth with her bars was about me for ever: yet hast thou brought up my life from corruption, O LORD my God. 7When my soul fainted within me I remembered the LORD: and my prayer came in unto thee, into thine holy temple. 8They that observe lying vanities forsake their own mercy. 9But I will sacrifice unto thee with the voice of thanksgiving; I will pay that that I have vowed. Salvation is of the LORD. 10And the LORD spake unto the fish, and it vomited out Jonah upon the dry land.
- English Standard Version
- King James Version
1Then the word of the Lord came to Jonah the second time, saying, 2Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and call out against it the message that I tell you. 3So Jonah arose and went to Nineveh, according to the word of the Lord. Now Nineveh was an exceedingly great city, three days' journey in breadth. 4Jonah began to go into the city, going a day's journey. And he called out, Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown! 5And the people of Nineveh believed God. They called for a fast and put on sackcloth, from the greatest of them to the least of them. 6The word reached the king of Nineveh, and he arose from his throne, removed his robe, covered himself with sackcloth, and sat in ashes. 7And he issued a proclamation and published through Nineveh, By the decree of the king and his nobles: Let neither man nor beast, herd nor flock, taste anything. Let them not feed or drink water, 8but let man and beast be covered with sackcloth, and let them call out mightily to God. Let everyone turn from his evil way and from the violence that is in his hands. 9Who knows? God may turn and relent and turn from his fierce anger, so that we may not perish. 10When God saw what they did, how they turned from their evil way, God relented of the disaster that he had said he would do to them, and he did not do it.
1And the word of the LORD came unto Jonah the second time, saying, 2Arise, go unto Nineveh, that great city, and preach unto it the preaching that I bid thee. 3So Jonah arose, and went unto Nineveh, according to the word of the LORD. Now Nineveh was an exceeding great city of three days' journey. 4And Jonah began to enter into the city a day's journey, and he cried, and said, Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown. 5So the people of Nineveh believed God, and proclaimed a fast, and put on sackcloth, from the greatest of them even to the least of them. 6For word came unto the king of Nineveh, and he arose from his throne, and he laid his robe from him, and covered him with sackcloth, and sat in ashes. 7And he caused it to be proclaimed and published through Nineveh by the decree of the king and his nobles, saying, Let neither man nor beast, herd nor flock, taste any thing: let them not feed, nor drink water: 8But let man and beast be covered with sackcloth, and cry mightily unto God: yea, let them turn every one from his evil way, and from the violence that is in their hands. 9Who can tell if God will turn and repent, and turn away from his fierce anger, that we perish not? 10And God saw their works, that they turned from their evil way; and God repented of the evil, that he had said that he would do unto them; and he did it not.
- English Standard Version
- King James Version
1But it displeased Jonah exceedingly, and he was angry. 2And he prayed to the Lord and said, O Lord, is not this what I said when I was yet in my country? That is why I made haste to flee to Tarshish; for I knew that you are a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, and relenting from disaster. 3Therefore now, O Lord, please take my life from me, for it is better for me to die than to live. 4And the Lord said, Do you do well to be angry? 5Jonah went out of the city and sat to the east of the city and made a booth for himself there. He sat under it in the shade, till he should see what would become of the city. 6Now the Lord God appointed a plant and made it come up over Jonah, that it might be a shade over his head, to save him from his discomfort. So Jonah was exceedingly glad because of the plant. 7But when dawn came up the next day, God appointed a worm that attacked the plant, so that it withered. 8When the sun rose, God appointed a scorching east wind, and the sun beat down on the head of Jonah so that he was faint. And he asked that he might die and said, It is better for me to die than to live. 9But God said to Jonah, Do you do well to be angry for the plant? And he said, Yes, I do well to be angry, angry enough to die. 10And the Lord said, 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. 11And should not I pity Nineveh, that great city, in which there are more than 120,000 persons who do not know their right hand from their left, and also much cattle?
1But it displeased Jonah exceedingly, and he was very angry. 2And 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. 3Therefore now, O LORD, take, I beseech thee, my life from me; for it is better for me to die than to live. 4Then said the LORD, Doest thou well to be angry? 5So Jonah went out of the city, and sat on the east side of the city, and there made him a booth, and sat under it in the shadow, till he might see what would become of the city. 6And the LORD God prepared a gourd, and made it to come up over Jonah, that it might be a shadow over his head, to deliver him from his grief. So Jonah was exceeding glad of the gourd. 7But God prepared a worm when the morning rose the next day, and it smote the gourd that it withered. 8And it came to pass, when the sun did arise, that God prepared a vehement east wind; and the sun beat upon the head of Jonah, that he fainted, and wished in himself to die, and said, It is better for me to die than to live. 9And God said to Jonah, Doest thou well to be angry for the gourd? And he said, I do well to be angry, even unto death. 10Then 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: 11And should not I spare Nineveh, that great city, wherein are more then sixscore thousand persons that cannot discern between their right hand and their left hand; and also much cattle?
The Bible describes God as the unique supreme being, creator and ruler of the universe.
Someone who conveys God's message to human beings or speaks about the future sometimes through words alone, sometimes through dramatic actions.
The main character in the Old Testament book of Jonah. Jonah was a prophet sent by God to the city of Nineveh to preach to the people but he disobeyed. He spent three days in the belly of a whale. Jonah prayed and God gave him a second chance.
Being sorry for one's actions and desiring to act differently in the future.
Name originally given to disciples of Jesus by outsiders and gradually adopted by the Early Church.
An image or action which demonstrates a future event before it occurs
The name given to the man believed by Christians to be the Son of God. Also given the title Christ, meaning 'anointed one' or Messiah. His life is recorded most fully in the Four Gospels.