Like Job, Jonah was a descendant of Abraham through his son Isaac It is related that Jonah was sent by God as a prophet to the people of Ninevah, a city in the north of present-day Iraq, to summon them to belief in the One God. For many years, Jonah tried hard to guide his people, But they refused to listen to the message he brought, nor would they listen to his warnings of the wrath of God, and the terrible punishment they would suffer if they continued stubbornly to disbelieve. Their only answer was, “We shall not pay heed to your call, nor shall we be frightened by your threats. Indeed, if you speak the truth then bring upon us the punishment you promise.” And in response to his sincere and truthful guidance, Jonah only received curses and ill-treatment from his people.
One day, Jonah’s anger was such that he felt he could no longer stand such treatment. Forgetting that his duty was solely to convey the message of God, and that guidance lies ultimately in His Hands, Jonah felt that he had failed. Without asking for permission from God, he decided to leave his people and abandon his mission to them.
No sooner had Jonah left Ninevah than the city was plunged into darkness. At once, the people of Ninevah realized Jonahe had told them the truth, and that the punishment of God was now upon them. Deep remorse at their rejection of Jonah’s message now filled their hearts, and they wished that he would return to be with them in their hour of need. All of the city’s inhabitants went out in search of Jonah while at the same time beseeching God to forgive them and to accept their repentance. So sincere were they in their prayers that God accepted their repentance and ceased to punish them. And so the people of Ninevah went back to their city hoping that Jonah would return to live among them as their prophet and teacher.
Jonah, meanwhile, had continued to walk until he had reached a port on the sea. Feeling unhappy and sorrowful, he decided to sail to another land and so boarded a ship that was preparing to lift anchor
The ship sailed for many days. Then, one night, when the ship was far away from land, a violent storm broke out. Fierce winds battered the ship and huge waves engulfed it, flooding the decks. The captain was puzzled, for storms never occurred at that time of year. Now, in those days it was believed that a storm out of season was caused by some ill-omened person on board, and so the captain decided to cast lots to find out who that person was. He wrote the names of the passengers on separate pieces of paper, put them in a box, and then drew one out. The name he drew out was that of Jonah The captain tried once more, and again Jonah’s name was drawn. When the same thing happened a third time, Jonah realized that he would have to obey the captain’s order and jump into the sea. This, the people believed, would save them from the storm.
As he prepared to jump over the side of the ship, Jonah understood that he had done wrong to abandon his people without the permission of God. Looking out at the dark night, full of the roar of wind and waves, he deeply regretted losing his temper. He now knew that he should never have deserted the people to whom God had sent him.
Expecting to drown in the terrible storm Jonah threw himself over the side. However, no sooner had his body hit the high waves than a big whale surfaced and swallowed him up whole. Jonah found himself inside the stomach of the whale in total darkness. At first, Jonah thought he had died, but he quickly realized he could move his limbs. In the darkness he prayed silently, and then aloud:
“There is no God save You. Be Glorified! l have been a wrong-doer.”
Over and over again, Jonah repeated this prayer, and as he did so, the whale came to rest on the seabed, for it felt the weight of the words that Jonah was repeating, and understood that the man in its stomach must be a prophet.
God heard Jonah’s prayer and saw the sincerity of his repentance. So He commanded the whale to cast Jonah onto the shore. Jonah was now back on dry land. But the time he had spent in the stomach of the whale had made him ill, and he was too weak to move. In His mercy, God made a leafy plant near Jonah grow to a great height, so as to shade him from the hot sun while he recovered his strength.
Once Jonah was well again, God sent him back to his people. And so, Jonah returned to Nineveh, to find that his people had abandoned the worship of idols and now worshipped the One God. Had Jonah not repented sincerely and uttered the words of his prayer, he would have remained inside the whale until the Day of Judgment.
Had it not been that he repented and glorified God, he would certainly have remained inside the fish till the Day of Resurrection.