Story of the Chosen People - Helene Guerber

The Story of Jonah

It was probably under the reign of Jeroboam II., one of the greatest kings of Israel, that the word of the Lord came to Jonah, the prophet, saying: "Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and cry against it; for their wickedness is come up before me."

When Jonah heard these words, he was terrified; for Nineveh was not only the great city of Assyria, but one of the finest towns of the ancient world. It lay far to the northeast of Palestine, and was under the rule of a powerful and very despotic race of kings, who took pleasure in building some of the most remarkable edifices in the world.

Although more than twenty-five hundred years have passed since the kingdom of Assyria was destroyed, explorers have lately found the ruins of this great city. After digging in huge mounds of rubbish, they found ruined palaces, adorned with wonderful paintings and sculptures, many of which have been carried to the European museums.

At the time when the voice of the Lord came to Jonah, Nineveh had reached the highest point of its glory and prosperity. The prophet knew the pride of the people, and the power of the king; and it is no wonder that he did not care to go there to deliver so disagreeable a message.



In his terror, Jonah fled to the seaport of Joppa, where he went on board a ship bound for Tarshish. His object was to get us far away from Nineveh as possible, so that he would not need to do as the Lord had bidden him. But no sooner were they far out at sea than a terrible storm arose, endangering the vessel and the lives of all on board.

The sailors, according to the custom of the time, declared that there must be some guilty person on the ship, whose presence brought this peril upon them all. To discover the culprit, they drew lots, and when Jonah was thus found to be the sinner, they cast him overboard, "and the sea ceased from her raging. . . . Now 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."

We are further told that Jonah, who was still alive, "prayed unto the Lord his God out of the fish’s belly," and that God had pity upon him and bade the fish vomit Jonah out upon dry land.

The prophet had been saved from great peril by a miracle, and when the Lord again bade him go to Nineveh, he no longer dared disobey. He finally reached the city, which was so large that it took several days to walk around it. Jonah viewed its magnificent buildings and beautiful sculptures, and, standing perhaps near one of the colossal statues which have been found in the ruins, he preached repentance to the people, threatening them with the overthrow of their great city within forty days, if they refused to listen to his words.

It seems that the people of Nineveh believed God’s words and led better lives. And, because they "turned from their evil way, . . . God repented of the evil that he had said that he would do unto them; and he did it not "

Of course the men of Nineveh were overjoyed to escape the threatened punishment, but Jonah, the prophet, was disappointed because the judgment of God was staid. He went outside the city, and sat there in sulky silence, under a little booth over which the Lord caused a gourd vine to grow in the course of a single night.

The cool shade of the spreading vine was very grateful to the angry prophet, during the sunny hours of an eastern day. But the next night a worm came and gnawed the roots, so that the vine died. Jonah, deprived of its shelter, now complained aloud.

In answer to his murmurs, God said: "Thou hast had pity on the gourd, for the which thou hast not labored, neither madest it grow; which came up in a night, and perished in a night. And should not I spare Nineveh, that great city, wherein are more than six score thousand persons that cannot discern between their right hand and their left?"

You see, it was for the sake of the innocent little children, who could not tell their right hand from their left, that God had spared the great city; and he now wished to remind Jonah that one should be far more pitiful toward one’s fellow-creatures than toward a mere plant.