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Ann Naffziger Answers:
The Book of Jonah is a very short prophetic book. In it, Jonah ran away from his calling (God asked him to preach repentance to the wicked city of Ninevah) only to endanger the sailors whose ship he had boarded. A great storm arose that threatened to sink the ship. Jonah volunteered to be thrown overboard in an effort to quell the storm, and God provided a large fish to swallow up Jonah. He spent three days in the belly of the fish where he had a radical change of heart before he was spewed out upon the dry land.
God again instructed Jonah to preach repentance to Ninevah, and he did so without hesitation. The people repented, and God spared their city. The book abruptly ends with Jonah sulking that God’s gracious mercy extended even to foreigners.
In terms of genre, the book can be considered a fable or a parable, and as such it is not meant to be taken literally. However, it provides a wonderful metaphor for meditation. When have we heard God’s call and run the opposite way? Have we had an agonizing “in the belly of a fish” experience during which we had a chance to reevaluate our poor choices? How did God get us back to dry ground? How have we reacted when God’s mercy has been extended to those we have judged unworthy of it?
The Book of Jonah is a sometimes humorous book that it is easy to read in one sitting should you want more than this “Cliff notes” version.