In the Assyrian city of Nineveh, the people were wicked. Jehovah told his prophet Jonah to go to Nineveh and warn them that they should change their ways. But Jonah ran away in the opposite direction. He got on a ship bound for Tarshish and sailed away.
While the ship was at sea, a violent storm came up, and the sailors were terrified. They prayed to their gods and asked: ‘Why is this happening?’ Finally, Jonah told them: ‘I am to blame. I am running away from what Jehovah told me to do. Throw me into the sea, and the storm will stop.’ The sailors didn’t want to throw Jonah overboard, but he insisted. When they did throw him into the sea, the storm stopped.
Jonah thought he was going to die. As he sank deeper and deeper into the sea, he prayed to Jehovah. Then Jehovah sent a huge fish. It swallowed Jonah, but that didn’t kill him. From inside the fish, Jonah prayed: ‘I promise to obey you always.’ Jehovah kept Jonah safe inside the fish for three days and then made the fish spit Jonah out onto dry land.
Since Jehovah had saved Jonah, did this mean that he didn’t have to go to Nineveh after all? No. Jehovah again told Jonah to go there. This time, Jonah obeyed. He went there and told those wicked people: ‘In 40 days, Nineveh will be destroyed.’ Then something unexpected happened—the Ninevites listened and changed their ways. The king of Nineveh told his people: ‘Call out to God, and repent. Perhaps he will not destroy us.’ When Jehovah saw that the people repented, he did not destroy Nineveh.
Jonah was angry that the city was not destroyed. Just think: Jehovah had been patient and merciful with Jonah, but Jonah was not merciful with the people of Nineveh. Instead, he sat outside the city in the shade of a bottle-gourd plant and pouted. Then the plant died, and Jonah got angry. So Jehovah told him: ‘You care more about this plant than you do about the Ninevites. I showed them mercy, and they survived.’ What was the point? The people of Nineveh were more important than any plant.
“Jehovah . . . is patient with you because he does not desire anyone to be destroyed but desires all to attain to repentance.”—2 Peter 3:9