Who is Jonah, and What Does His Story Mean For Me?

The Book of Jonah 1-4 

He hurried through the city trying to reach a boat in Joppa. He was heading to Tarshish. “There is no way I am going to Nineveh”, he proclaimed. He knew that the Lord had called him to go, but he just didn’t want to go. He asked himself, “Why me? Why must I go and preach to the Ninevites about you Lord? They are a horrible people. They don’t deserve the chance to be forgiven.” While Jonah was in the boat on his way to Tarshish, a great storm consumed the waters. The other sailors aboard knew that Jonah was running from the Lord because he had told them earlier that day. They looked at him and asked, “What can we do to make this storm stop?” He replied simply and said, “Throw me into the sea, for I know that this is my fault.” They tried as hard as they could to row back towards shore but the waters and the winds were much too strong. Jonah had to be thrown overboard. The sailors prayed to the Lord that they would not be held accountable for Jonah’s death, and then they tossed him over. God immediately calmed the sea! (paraphrased from Jonah 1:1-15)


Let’s talk about this for just a minute. God told Jonah to go somewhere. Jonah ran away, climbed into a boat and tried to sail away. A huge storm took over the seas. Jonah got tossed overboard. As soon as that happened, the sea was calm. God calmed the sea as soon as Jonah was thrown overboard! What does this tell us about God?

  1. You can’t run from God.
  2. God will take drastic measures to get your attention.
  3. God is literally in control of all things, like the wind and the seas. 

Have you ever known what God was asking you to do and ran from it? If you think back to that very thing, did you end up with a 2nd chance to try again? God is a God of love, mercy and 2nd chances. When he has a plan for us, a specific plan that he has made known to us, he isn’t going to let us run and hide from it. Sometimes he has to stop us in our tracks, remind us that he is in control and give us time to remember who he is. It is in the remembering that we come back to him and realize what we have to do. So it was with Jonah. 


God wasn’t finished with his plans for Jonah, so he sent a giant fish (some call it a whale) to swallow Jonah whole. Jonah lived within the belly of that fish for 3 day and 3 nights. While he was there, he prayed to the Lord. In short, he prayed something like this; “I was in trouble God, crying from the bottom of a grave, being tossed by your waves. I was out of your sight and thought that I would never see your Holy Temple again but before I could die, you saved me. When my life was flashing before me, I remembered you and you heard my prayer. Salvation belongs to you Lord, I will go and do what I said I would. I am worshiping you, God!” When Jonah had finished praying, God spoke to the fish, and Jonah was vomited up on the shore of the seas. (paraphrased from Jonah 2:1-10)

We again are at a crucial stopping point in our story. Jonah is swallowed by the fish, prays for 3 days and 3 nights, tells God that he will do as he had promised and then is thrown up onto the shores. This is where we see that God is true to his word. He tells us that he hears our prayers and that he answers them in his timing. I would like to assume that Jonah did not want to be in that fish for 3 days. I would also venture to say that he probably started giving up hope, but God did arrive. In his own timing. He knew that Jonah needed to be ready, he had needed that time to pray and be thankful and see the power of God. Don’t you ever feel like God isn’t showing up soon enough? Like maybe he isn’t there at all? I know there are many times that I have felt that way and I will tell you this, I didn’t run to prayer. I didn’t thank the Lord for saving me because it wasn’t the kind of saving I had been looking for. How often as humans do we judge the way that God is working in our lives? I know for me, the answer is too many times to count. Let’s see what happens with Jonah. 


God spoke to Jonah for the second time. “Get up and go to Nineveh”, he said. “Preach to the people, they are not living the way they should be and I can’t ignore it any longer.” You better believe that this time Jonah got up and headed straight for Nineveh just as he had promised. It took Jonah 3 days to get to Nineveh. After entering the city, he walked for another days’ worth of time and then began to preach. He told the people that their city would be smashed in forty days. The people listened to Jonah, they believed him and trusted God. The people of Nineveh called for a city wide fast and dressed in sackcloth (Sackcloth was worn to show repentance and humility. It was made of goat hair. It was very uncomfortable and itchy for the skin). Everyone in the city participated. There wasn’t anyone left out. Rich, poor, famous, estranged, leaders and followers alike.

When the message of all that was happening reached the King, he issued a demand, dressed in sackcloth and sat in the dirt. “No one shall have even a drop of water or one bite of food and everyone, even the animals, must be dressed in sackcloth and turn from their evil ways. We will have nothing and pray to God for forgiveness. Maybe he will see us, hear us and change his mind about what he is going to do to us.”  God did see them, hear them and change his mind. What he was going to do, he did not.                 (paraphrased from Jonah 3:1-10)

Again we see God taking control, in only a way that he can do. Let’s break it down again. 

  1. God commands Jonah to still go to Nineveh. He is determined to reach these people. 
  2. He had Jonah dropped by the fish 3 days walk to the city. This would give Jonah plenty of time to think about these people and what he was going to say. 
  3. The people’s hearts had been softened so that they could hear the words God sent with Jonah. 
  4. God saw that they were a people wanting to change and spared them the destruction he had told them would be coming. 

God doesn’t give up on us! He doesn’t just let us make foolish mistakes and then sit in them. He sends help in all forms. Sometimes we listen and sometimes we don’t, but he is sending help. Sometimes he may be sending you to be the helper! It is so important that we listen to God no matter which side of this battle we are on. He only has his best intentions for us. We are his children. When he sees us being destructive and hurting, he calls to people to come and grab hold of our hearts; to get us to change our ways. Have you ever had to call somebody out on something? A behavior, language, lifestyle, a mistake? Have you ever heard or felt God pulling at your heart strings to reach out to somebody? Yes, I think we all have. Don’t be a Jonah. Don’t run from what God is calling you to do. Run to that person or group of people and save them the way that God is using you to do. God has a plan bigger than we can fathom, and we are a part of that for other people as well as ourselves! 


Jonah was not happy with God. In fact, he yelled at God. “I knew this is what was going to happen. I knew it when I was still back at home. This is why I jumped on that boat at Joppa, this is why I was going to Tarshish. I just knew that you were a God of mercy and grace, not easily angered, rich in love and ready at any moment to forgive instead of punish!” He even went on to say, “Kill me, God. If you won’t kill them then I am better off dead.” God replied with a question and asked, “What do you have to be angry about?” Jonah didn’t want to talk to God so he just left. He went and sat down to sulk and feel sorry for himself. He put together a few branches with leaves in order to make a shelter for himself from the hot sun. Jonah, simply sat to wait and see what would happen to Nineveh.

God arranged for a tree with large leaves to spring up and provide a wealth of shade for Jonah. It worked great to cool Jonah off, and he started to think that maybe things were looking up after all. God hadn’t just sent the tree for shade, he sent it for a lesson. He sent a worm to eat up the leaves and to kill the tree, and it did. He also sent a burning hot sun with the wind in the air. Jonah was so hot that he thought he was going to pass out. He prayed to die. “I’m better off dead!”

God said to Jonah, “What right do you have to be so angry about this tree? How is it that you can change your feelings from happiness to anger overnight about a tree that you didn’t even work to get? You didn’t plant it or water it. You had nothing to do with it. It grew up one night and died the next. So tell me then, why can’t I change my feelings about the Ninevites from anger to happiness. That big city has more than 120,000 of my children who don’t yet know right from wrong, and what of all of those innocent animals?” (paraphrased from Jonah 4:1-11)

Whoa! Do you hear the compassion and the empathy that God is trying to teach Jonah? Sometimes we are so fickle and change our minds about things that have no meaning. Sometimes people don’t understand our decisions, and they get angry with us, but here we are reminded that compassion is a necessary action. Jonah was so upset about his tree dying that he himself wanted to die. Can you imagine how God must have felt thinking about destroying his children in Nineveh? I can’t imagine the amount of time that he spent praying that they would change their ways. God used Jonah as his last resort. He trusted Jonah, even in his anger. Yes, Jonah had to be taught a few lessons along the way, but don’t you think that he the end he understood? I think that he must have. 

What does Jonah’s story from so long ago mean to us today? Why do you think it was chosen to be a part of the Holy Bible, God’s spoken word? 

If you take a look at Jonah, he was just a regular guy. He was selfish, strong willed and bull-headed just like us. Jonah wasn’t a hero, he isn’t someone that we don’t think we can relate to. Jonah was just one of the guys. He disobeyed God, he tried to run away, he got angry, he yelled at God, he lashed out and he accused God of being unfair. Sound familiar? Maybe a little too familiar. God wants us, his children, to see that he uses ordinary people to do extraordinary things. He doesn’t give up on us. He doesn’t let us give up on ourselves, and when we don’t understand why he does what he does, he tries to explain his justice. There seems to be a little bit of Jonah in all of us, yet we are here because of God’s love and mercy, his compassion, and understanding. Don’t quit listening for your call and when it comes, embrace it with all you have. It will save you a lot of trouble to follow God the first time instead of being tossed to where you will have to sit and remember that God is the Almighty King of Kings.