However, a storm came up and the ship was on the verge of breaking apart. The sailors were afraid, and they prayed to their gods. Then they lightened the load by throwing the cargo into the sea. But the storm kept raging. Meanwhile, Jonah was asleep in the bottom of the ship. The captain went below and said, “Get up and call on your god! Perhaps your god will spare us.”
When the storm did not stop, the sailors cast lots, and the lot fell on Jonah. When they questioned him, he told them he was fleeing from the presence of his God. They asked him what they should do with him, and he said, “Throw me into the sea.” So, they threw him into the sea, and the sea quit raging. Then a fish, actually not a whale, swallowed Jonah, and he was in the belly of the fish three days and nights.
Jonah started praying to be out of the fish’s belly, and he was spewed out onto dry land. God told him again to go to Nineveh, telling him to cry out, “In forty days…Nineveh shall be overthrown!” So, he did.
The king of Nineveh heard Jonah and covered himself with sackcloth and ashes. (This was something done as a sign of repentance.) He rose from his throne and proclaimed, “All human beings and animals shall be covered with sackcloth and ashes, and the people shall turn from their evil ways and violence.” (In an almost amusing touch, the writer portrays that even the animals had to be covered with sackcloth: Jonah 38 “Human beings and animals shall be covered with sackcloth.”) Immediately the people did this, so God changed his mind and did not destroy the city.
So why was Jonah angry? Why did he try to run away from God? Almost two centuries earlier, in the year 722 BCE, the nation of Assyria invaded the nation of Israel, and the people were carried off and scattered among the other nations Assyria had invaded. Nineveh was the capital city of Assyria. As many of the Israelite people did, Jonah still hated the Assyrians. He did not want the Assyrian people to repent.
What the Book of Jonah shows is that at every stage of development in the evolution of consciousness, we see a more inclusive and compassionate divinity described by writers during the 800 years in which the Hebrew Bible was written. As in the Book of Ruth, the Book of Jonah describes a God for more than one “chosen people.” This can also be seen in the Book of Micah, Chapter 4 when the prophet Micah says, “41 In days to come… 4they shall all sit under their own vines and under their own fig trees... 5For all the peoples walk, each in the name of its god, but we will walk in the name of the Lord our God forever and ever.”
The Book of Jonah also portrays a more compassionate God, which can also be discerned during the 800-year period in which the Hebrew Bible was written. When Jonah sat under a bush and pouted, in fact became angry with God, God said to Jonah, “411 “And should I not be concerned about Nineveh, that great city, in which there are more than a hundred and twenty thousand people [referring to the children] … and also many animals?”
The hidden story in the Book of Jonah is little-known or taught. When we are able to read the Hebrew Bible based on the time frame of the writings and the perspective of the writer because of historical events (life conditions at the time), we are able to discern how humankind’s perception of God and ourselves continued to evolve from a God who chose only one group of people to a God who loved all people.