Jonah: The Rebellious Prophet, a Command from God, and the Big Fish

It’s c. 800 BC, and God’s prophet, Jonah has just come off an assignment that rendered victory for Israel. We have that account in 2 Kings 14. There was judgement for the pagan, Gentiles in the kingdom of Assyria (modern-day Iraq) and there was blessing for the Hebrews. Subsequently, Jonah was proud, felt self-satisfied, and patriotic. Meanwhile, God had a new mission for him. The Assyrians would play a big part in God’s judgement over the northern kingdom. God had a message of salvation for them and Jonah was the prophet he chose to deliver it. Unfortunately, Jonah didn’t care for the idea of saving the enemy. Let’s dig in…

Jonah 1

Map of where Jonah went instead of where wanted him to go. Image by Sweet Publishing from, (CC BY-SA 3.0)
God sent Jonah to Nineveh and he went in the opposite direction! Image by Sweet Publishing from, (CC BY-SA 3.0)

The Lord gave this message to Jonah son of Amittai: “Get up and go to the great city of Nineveh. Announce my judgment against it because I have seen how wicked its people are.”

But Jonah got up and went in the opposite direction to get away from the Lord. He went down to the port of Joppa, where he found a ship leaving for Tarshish. He bought a ticket and went on board, hoping to escape from the Lord by sailing to Tarshish.

But the Lord hurled a powerful wind over the sea, causing a violent storm that threatened to break the ship apart. Fearing for their lives, the desperate sailors shouted to their gods for help and threw the cargo overboard to lighten the ship.

But all this time Jonah was sound asleep down in the hold. So the captain went down after him. “How can you sleep at a time like this?” he shouted. “Get up and pray to your god! Maybe he will pay attention to us and spare our lives.”

Then the crew cast lots to see which of them had offended the gods and caused the terrible storm. When they did this, the lots identified Jonah as the culprit. “Why has this awful storm come down on us?” they demanded. “Who are you? What is your line of work? What country are you from? What is your nationality?”

Jonah answered, “I am a Hebrew, and I worship the Lord, the God of heaven, who made the sea and the land.”

10 The sailors were terrified when they heard this, for he had already told them he was running away from the Lord. “Oh, why did you do it?” they groaned. 11 And since the storm was getting worse all the time, they asked him, “What should we do to you to stop this storm?”

12 “Throw me into the sea,” Jonah said, “and it will become calm again. I know that this terrible storm is all my fault.”

13 Instead, the sailors rowed even harder to get the ship to the land. But the stormy sea was too violent for them, and they couldn’t make it. 14 Then they cried out to the Lord, Jonah’s God. “O Lord,” they pleaded, “don’t make us die for this man’s sin. And don’t hold us responsible for his death. O Lord, you have sent this storm upon him for your own good reasons.”

15 Then the sailors picked Jonah up and threw him into the raging sea, and the storm stopped at once! 16 The sailors were awestruck by the Lord’s great power, and they offered him a sacrifice and vowed to serve him.

17 Now the Lord had arranged for a great fish to swallow Jonah. And Jonah was inside the fish for three days and three nights.

Jonah 1 NLT

Jonah 2

Then Jonah prayed to the Lord his God from inside the fish. He said,

“I cried out to the Lord in my great trouble,
    and he answered me.
I called to you from the land of the dead (Sheol),
    and Lord, you heard me!
You threw me into the ocean depths,
    and I sank down to the heart of the sea.
The mighty waters engulfed me;
    I was buried beneath your wild and stormy waves.
Then I said, ‘O Lord, you have driven me from your presence.
    Yet I will look once more toward your holy Temple.’

“I sank beneath the waves,
    and the waters closed over me.
    Seaweed wrapped itself around my head.
I sank down to the very roots of the mountains.
    I was imprisoned in the earth,
    whose gates lock shut forever.
But you, O Lord my God,
    snatched me from the jaws of death!
As my life was slipping away,
    I remembered the Lord.
And my earnest prayer went out to you
    in your holy Temple.
Those who worship false gods
    turn their backs on all God’s mercies.
But I will offer sacrifices to you with songs of praise,
    and I will fulfill all my vows.
    For my salvation comes from the Lord alone.”

10 Then the Lord ordered the fish to spit Jonah out onto the beach.

Jonah 2 NLT

Jonah 3

Then the Lord spoke to Jonah a second time: “Get up and go to the great city of Nineveh, and deliver the message I have given you.”

This time Jonah obeyed the Lord’s command and went to Nineveh, a city so large that it took three days to see it all. On the day Jonah entered the city, he shouted to the crowds: “Forty days from now Nineveh will be destroyed!” The people of Nineveh believed God’s message, and from the greatest to the least, they declared a fast and put on burlap to show their sorrow.

When the king of Nineveh heard what Jonah was saying, he stepped down from his throne and took off his royal robes. He dressed himself in burlap and sat on a heap of ashes. Then the king and his nobles sent this decree throughout the city:

“No one, not even the animals from your herds and flocks, may eat or drink anything at all. People and animals alike must wear garments of mourning, and everyone must pray earnestly to God. They must turn from their evil ways and stop all their violence. Who can tell? Perhaps even yet God will change his mind and hold back his fierce anger from destroying us.”

10 When God saw what they had done and how they had put a stop to their evil ways, he changed his mind and did not carry out the destruction he had threatened.

Jonah 3 NLT

Jonah 4

This change of plans greatly upset Jonah, and he became very angry. So he complained to the Lord about it: “Didn’t I say before I left home that you would do this, Lord? That is why I ran away to Tarshish! I knew that you are a merciful and compassionate God, slow to get angry and filled with unfailing love. You are eager to turn back from destroying people. Just kill me now, Lord! I’d rather be dead than alive if what I predicted will not happen.”

The Lord replied, “Is it right for you to be angry about this?”

Then Jonah went out to the east side of the city and made a shelter to sit under as he waited to see what would happen to the city. And the Lord God arranged for a leafy plant to grow there, and soon it spread its broad leaves over Jonah’s head, shading him from the sun. This eased his discomfort, and Jonah was very grateful for the plant.

But God also arranged for a worm! The next morning at dawn the worm ate through the stem of the plant so that it withered away. And as the sun grew hot, God arranged for a scorching east wind to blow on Jonah. The sun beat down on his head until he grew faint and wished to die. “Death is certainly better than living like this!” he exclaimed.

Then God said to Jonah, “Is it right for you to be angry because the plant died?”

“Yes,” Jonah retorted, “even angry enough to die!”

10 Then the Lord said, “You feel sorry about the plant, though you did nothing to put it there. It came quickly and died quickly. 11 But Nineveh has more than 120,000 people living in spiritual darkness, not to mention all the animals. Shouldn’t I feel sorry for such a great city?”

Jonah 4 NLT

A Deep Dive into the Story of Jonah

  • Nineveh was the capital city of the Assyrian empire. They were a pagan, Gentile nation — enemies of Israel, the northern kingdom.
  • God had a plan to use the Assyrians to punish Israel for their disobedience. See, king after king managed to keep the people worshiping pagan idols instead of having them turn to the One True God.
  • However, the Assyrians were so bad, that God needed to get them to recognize HIM as the One True God before He could use them for His plan. Thus, He sent Jonah with the message.
  • Jonah, knowing that Assyrian survival would mean the destruction of Israel, objected and fled in the opposite direction.
  • Tarshish was the western-most known place — probably Spain or what today is Portugal. Tarshish is mentioned a lot in the Old Testament starting in Genesis 10. Jonah wanted to get as far away as possible. Like anyone can escape God.
  • It took 3 days and 3 nights of Jonah being in the belly of the fish for him to cry out to the Lord.
  • He cried out of affliction, the wrong motive. He wasn’t sorry for disobeying God’s direct orders.
  • In his prayer, he mentions himself more than he mentions God.
  • After being in the belly of the fish, Jonah’s skin would have been bleached white from the stomach acid. Imagine what he looked like — and smelled like — when he walked into Nineveh.
  • The god the Ninevites worshiped was a fish God. A-ha! The Ninevites had heard about Jonah’s recent stay in the fish-belly motel. Obviously, God knows how to reach people. Remember, there are no such things as coincidences!
  • Jonah speaks a few words to the Ninevites and God’s Spirit changes their hearts. Amazing how He works!
  • Then Jonah goes up to a hill overlooking the city waiting for God’s punishment. However, he is disappointed when nothing happens.
  • All of Heaven rejoices at the repentance of one sinner and Jonah was displeased when a capital city repented.
  • God caused the…
    1. storm
    2. sailors to repent and turn to Him
    3. sailors to finger Jonah as the cause of the storm
    4. big fish to swallow Jonah and subsequently, after 3 days, vomit him out
    5. hearts of the Ninevites to soften, repent and turn to Him
    6. vine to grow to cover Jonah
    7. worm to eat the vine
  • The chapters of Jonah’s book cover…
    1. Disobedience
    2. Discipline
    3. The message not the messenger
    4. The heart of God for the people of Nineveh
  • God showed mercy and grace to Jonah’s enemies through His Spirit’s power.
  • If Jonah can be concerned about a vine that he didn’t plant or water, then God can be concerned about a nation that He loved enough to save.
  • God has the first word and the last word.

God Loves ALL the People of the Earth!

He doesn’t want anyone to perish! He wants the Good News of the salvation of Jesus Christ to be spread throughout the world. Are you OK with God loving your enemies? He loves the Muslims, even the terrorists.

Jesus said…

16 “For this is how God loved the world: He gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life. 17 God sent his Son into the world not to judge the world, but to save the world through him.”

John 3:16-17 NLT

14 “And the Good News about the Kingdom will be preached throughout the whole world, so that all nations will hear it; and then the end will come.”

Matthew 24:14 NLT

Jesus also mentioned Jonah several times…

29 As the crowd pressed in on Jesus, he said, “This evil generation keeps asking me to show them a miraculous sign. But the only sign I will give them is the sign of Jonah. 30 What happened to him was a sign to the people of Nineveh that God had sent him. What happens to the Son of Man will be a sign to these people that he was sent by God.”

Luke 11:29-30 NLT

And again in Matthew 12 and 16…

38 One day some teachers of religious law and Pharisees came to Jesus and said, “Teacher, we want you to show us a miraculous sign to prove your authority.”

39 But Jesus replied, “Only an evil, adulterous generation would demand a miraculous sign; but the only sign I will give them is the sign of the prophet Jonah. 40 For as Jonah was in the belly of the great fish for three days and three nights, so will the Son of Man be in the heart of the earth for three days and three nights.

41 “The people of Nineveh will stand up against this generation on judgment day and condemn it, for they repented of their sins at the preaching of Jonah. Now someone greater than Jonah is here—but you refuse to repent.”

Matthew 12:38-41 NLT

One day the Pharisees and Sadducees came to test Jesus, demanding that he show them a miraculous sign from heaven to prove his authority.

He replied, “You know the saying, ‘Red sky at night means fair weather tomorrow; red sky in the morning means foul weather all day.’ You know how to interpret the weather signs in the sky, but you don’t know how to interpret the signs of the times! Only an evil, adulterous generation would demand a miraculous sign, but the only sign I will give them is the sign of the prophet Jonah.” Then Jesus left them and went away.

Matthew 16:1-4 NLT

God’s Final Purpose for Jonah

800-some years later, God still had a purpose for our rebellious prophet, Jonah. To be a sign of the Messiah, who would suffer and die on the cross, then spend 3 days and 3 nights in the grave (Sheol?), then rise in glory to His throne in Heaven.

Where do YOU see yourself in this story?

It doesn’t matter. What matters is that you humble yourself like the people of Nineveh, repent, give up all your idols and worship and follow Jesus Christ alone.

Jesus is knocking at the door of your heart -- let Him in!
Jesus is knocking at the door of your heart — let Him in!

What are you waiting for?

Invite Jesus into Your Heart and Receive the Gift of Grace, Joy, Peace, and the Confident Hope of Eternal Life…

Top image by Sue Bentley from, (CC BY-SA 3.0)

An Overview of Jonah – BibleProject

Soli Deo Gloria! To God Alone Be the Glory!

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