Although the people of Nineveh had become so wicked that the Lord was ready to destroy them, He wanted to give them one last chance to repent. He called the prophet Jonah, saying, “Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and cry against it; for their wickedness is come up before me.”
Jonah did not want to go to Nineveh. Perhaps he was afraid of what the people might do to him when he told them that they would be destroyed if they didn’t repent. He decided to run away from the calling the Lord had given him. Fleeing to a nearby seaport, Jonah found a ship heading for Tarshish, a city far away from Nineveh. After paying his passage, he boarded the vessel, went below, and fell asleep.
Soon after the ship departed, the Lord sent a mighty wind over the sea. The waves pounded so wildly against the sides of the ship that “the mariners were afraid, and cried every man unto his god, and cast forth the wares that were in the ship into the sea, to lighten it.”
One man aboard hadn’t prayed for safety—Jonah. The shipmaster, finding Jonah fast asleep, woke him up and demanded, “What meanest thou, O sleeper? arise, call upon thy God, … that we perish not.”
The crew’s fear increased, and the sailors decided to cast lots to find out who had sinned and caused this storm to come upon them. The lot fell upon Jonah. They asked him who he was and where he came from. Jonah answered their questions, telling them that he was trying to run away from the Lord.
Knowing that he was the cause of the storm, Jonah said, “Take me up, and cast me forth into the sea; so shall the sea be calm unto you: for I know that for my sake this great tempest is upon you.”
The men did not want to throw Jonah overboard. They made one more effort to row the ship to land; however, the storm was too fierce. Praying to the Lord that He would understand what they had to do, the sailors threw Jonah over the side of the ship into the sea. The angry waters became calm.
When Jonah disappeared into the waves, a huge fish prepared by the Lord came from the depths of the sea and swallowed Jonah.
Inside the fish, Jonah began to repent. He was sorry that he had refused to preach the gospel in Nineveh, and he began to pray. He promised to keep his vows to serve as a prophet. Then the Lord caused the fish to vomit Jonah out onto dry land.
The Lord again said to Jonah, “Arise, go unto Nineveh, that great city, and preach unto it the preaching that I bid thee.”
This time Jonah obeyed. Entering Nineveh, he began to prophesy: “Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown.”
Instead of becoming angry, the people accepted Jonah’s words. In fact, the king sent out a decree proclaiming a fast: “Let neither man nor beast, herd nor flock, taste any thing: let them not feed, nor drink water.”
The people of Nineveh prayed mightily that they would be forgiven, and they turned from their evil ways. The Lord heard their sincere prayers and saw that they had repented, so He forgave the people and saved them from destruction.