Hi, I'm Tim Coombs, co-pastor of Trinity Presbyterian Church in Scotia, NY and a member of the network of biblical storytellers. To learn more about its mission, go to nbsint.org.
The story of Jonah is a moral tale which is a very different kind of prophetic story in the Hebrew scriptures. Usually prophets take the task by God and relish it and go out and proclaim on God's part. But the story of Jonah, he's very reluctant. God says go to Nineveh, the Syrian city, and tell them they're doomed. But Jonah doesn't want to do that. Instead of going to Nineveh, he boards a ship going to Tarsish, Spain, the other side of the world. Well, God catches up with Jonah with a great storm. The sailors eventually find out Jonah is the reason for this, and they throw him overboard where Jonah sinks into the sea and is swallowed up by a great fish. And from inside the belly of the fish, Jonah sings a psalm to God, praising God and saying that God will rescue me. And the fish vomits Jonah up. And Jonah this time decides to go to Nineveh and prophecy against it. But a surprise meets Jonah. All the Ninevites repent of their sins. In fact, even the king. And God takes mercy on them. And Jonah is so upset by this he goes and sits outside the city, and God creates a tree to shade him which pleases Jonah.
And then God's going to teach him a lesson. God sends a worm to destroy the tree and Jonah is sitting under the sun, and he's upset with God. And God says to Jonah, ""You're so upset with this tree that you didn't create. Shouldn't I care for this great city of Nineveh, where there's 120,000 people who don't even know their left hand from their right, also much cattle?""
That's how the story of Jonah ends-with this rhetorical question. It was a tale told during the time after the exile when the people came back and began to rebuild Jerusalem, but they got very insulate. And the story of Jonah was told that God's mercy spreads to all people and to remind the people to become a light to the nations.
And that's the story of Jonah.