After the death of Elisha, Joash, the king of Israel, made war upon Ben-hadad the second, king of Syria. Joash beat him three times in battle, and took from him all the cities that Hazael, his father, had taken away from Israel. And after Joash, his son Jeroboam the second reigned, who became the greatest of all the kings of the Ten Tribes. Under him the kingdom grew rich and strong. He conquered nearly all Syria, and made Samaria the greatest city in all those lands.
But though Syria went down, another nation was now rising to power, Assyria, on the eastern side of the river Tigris. Its capital was Nineveh, a great city, so vast that it would take three days for a man to walk around its walls. The Assyrians were beginning to conquer all the lands near them, and Israel was in danger of falling under their power. At this time another prophet, named Jonah, was giving the word of the Lord to the Israelites. To Jonah the Lord spoke, saying, "Go to Nineveh, that great city, and preach to it, for its wickedness rises up before me."
But Jonah did not wish to preach to the people of Nineveh, for they were the enemies of his land, the land of Israel. He wished Nineveh to die in its sins, and not to turn to God and live. So Jonah tried to go away from the city where God had sent him. He went down to Joppa, upon the shore of the Great Sea. There he found a ship about to sail to Tarshish, far away in the west. He paid the fare, and went on board, intending to go as far as possible from Nineveh.
But the Lord saw Jonah on the ship, and the Lord sent a great storm upon the sea, so that the ship seemed as though it would go in pieces. The sailors threw overboard everything on the ship, and when they could do no more, every man prayed to his god to save the ship and themselves. Jonah was now lying fast asleep under the deck of the ship, and the ship's captain came to him, and said, "What do you mean by sleeping in such a time as this? Awake, rise up, and call upon your God. Perhaps your God will hear you, and will save our lives."
But the storm continued to rage around the ship, and they said, "There is some man on this ship who has brought upon us this trouble. Let us cast lots, and find who it is."
Then they cast lots, and the lot fell on Jonah. They said to him, all at once, "Tell us, who are you? From what country do you come? What is your business? To what people do you belong? Why have you brought all this trouble upon us?" Then Jonah told them the whole story: how he came from the land of Israel, and that he had fled away from the presence of the Lord. And they said to him, "What shall we do to you, that the storm may cease?" Then Jonah said, "Take me up, and throw me into the sea; then the storm will cease, and the waters will be calm; for I know that for my sake this great tempest is upon you."
But the men were not willing to throw Jonah into the sea. They rowed hard to bring the ship to land, but they could not. Then they cried unto the Lord, and said, "We pray thee, O Lord, we pray thee, let us not die for this man's life; for thou, O Lord, hast done as it pleased thee." At last, when they could do nothing else to save themselves, they threw Jonah into the sea. At once the storm ceased, and the waves became still. Then the men on the ship feared the Lord greatly. They offered a sacrifice to the Lord, and made promises to serve him.
And the Lord caused a great fish to swallow up Jonah; and Jonah was alive within the fish for three days and three nights. Long afterward, when Jesus was on the earth, he said that as Jonah was three days inside the fish, so he would be three days in the earth; so Jonah in the fish was like a prophecy of Christ. In the fish Jonah cried to the Lord; and the Lord heard his prayer, and caused the great fish to throw up Jonah upon the dry land.
By this time Jonah had learned that some men who worshipped idols were kind in their hearts, and were dear to the Lord. This was the lesson that God meant Jonah to learn; and now the call of the Lord came to Jonah a second time.
"Arise; go to Nineveh, that great city, and preach to it what I command you."
So Jonah went to the city of Nineveh, and as he entered into it, he called out to the people, "Within forty days shall Nineveh be destroyed." And he walked through the city all day, crying out only this, "Within forty days shall Nineveh be destroyed."
And the people of Nineveh believed the word of the Lord as spoken by Jonah. They turned away from their sins, and fasted, and sought the Lord, from the greatest of them even to the least. The king of Nineveh arose from his throne, and laid aside his royal robes, and covered himself with sackcloth, and sat in ashes, as a sign of his sorrow. And the king sent out a command to his people, that they should fast, and seek the Lord, and turn from sin.
And God saw that the people of Nineveh were sorry for their wickedness, and he forgave them, and did not destroy their city. But this made Jonah very angry. He did not wish to have Nineveh spared, because it was the enemy of his own land, and also he feared that men would call him a false prophet when his word did not come to pass. And Jonah said to the Lord:
"O Lord, I was sure that it would be thus, that thou wouldest spare the city; and for that reason I tried to flee away; for I knew that thou wast a gracious God, full of pity, slow to anger, and rich in mercy. Now, O Lord, take away my life, for it is better for me to die than to live."
And Jonah went out of the city, and built a little hut on the east side of it, and sat under its roof, to see whether God would keep the word that he had spoken. Then the Lord caused a plant with thick leaves called a gourd to grow up, and to shade Jonah from the sun; and Jonah was glad, and sat under its shadow. But a worm destroyed the plant; and the next day a hot wind blew, and Jonah suffered from the heat; and again Jonah wished that he might die. And the Lord said to Jonah, "You were sorry to see the plant die, though you did not make it grow, and though it came up in a night and died in a night. And should not I have pity on Nineveh, that great city, where are more than a hundred thousand little children, and also many cattle, all helpless and knowing nothing?"
And Jonah learned that men, and women, and little children, are all precious in the sight of the Lord, even though they know not God.
In most of the books of the Old Testament, we read of the Israelite people, and of God's care of them; but we do not find in the Old Testament much about God as the Father of all men of every nation and every land. The book of Jonah stands almost alone in the Old Testament, as showing that God loves people of other nations than Israel. Even the people of Nineveh, who worshipped images, were under God's love; God was ready to hear their prayer and to save them. So the book of Jonah shows us God as "our heavenly Father.