Jonah is often identified with the big fish which swallowed him. For this reason, some assert that Jonah is a fictional character. However, 2 Kings 14:25 and Christ Himself (Matthew 12:39-41; 16:4; Luke 11:29-32) confirm the historicity of Jonah and his experience.
The Biblical narrative begins with GOD commanding Jonah to go to Nineveh and preach against it (Jonah 1:2). Jonah disobeyed the LORD by going to Tarshish instead of Nineveh (Jonah 1:3). Jonah thought he could run away and hide from the LORD by settling himself at the bottom of the ship (Jonah 1:5; cf. Psalm 139:7-12).
Subsequently, the LORD hurled a severe storm after Jonah (Jonah 1:4-13). After Jonah’s revelation of himself as a runaway prophet of GOD, the crew rebuked him and pleaded for the LORD’s mercy. Terrified, they finally decided to throw Jonah off the ship (1:14-15). With the storm ceasing, the ship’s crew worship the LORD (1:15-16). Jonah was swallowed by a big fish and was in its belly for three days and three nights (1:17).
Jonah prayed and worshipped the LORD while in the belly of the fish (Jonah 2). By GOD’s command, the fish vomited Jonah to dry land and was commanded a second time to go back to Nineveh (Jonah 2:10-3:1). It was in Nineveh that Jonah preached one of the shortest messages recorded in the Bible. The result was tremendous—the whole city from the greatest to the least repented before the LORD, an evidence of the power of GOD’s word (3:2-10).
The final chapter of the narrative describes to us the stark contrast between GOD and Jonah. Strangely enough, the prophet was unhappy with the repentance of Nineveh, revealing the reason for his initial disobedience (Jonah 4:1-2). GOD taught Jonah a valuable lesson about His mercy and compassion towards mankind (4:3-11).
Jonah’s indifference with the people of Nineveh resulted in his disobedience. As Christians, we are sometimes tempted to elevate service above obedience. GOD however desires obedience more than sacrifice (1 Samuel 15:22; Psalm 40:6-8; 51:16-7). How are you my friend? Are there hindrances to your obedience to the LORD? Come to Him in humble obedience and He will lift you up (James 4:6-10).