A long, long time ago there was a man called Jonah who believed in God. One day God gave him a message, and told him he was to travel quite a long way to a city called Nineveh.
Now Nineveh was an important city with a lot of people living in it, but the people didn't do what God wanted them to do. God told Jonah to go to this city and warn them that God was angry with them. But Jonah was too scared to do what God told him to do, and he ran away in the opposite direction. When he got to the coast of the land which we now know as Israel, he went to the town of Joppa (now called Jaffa) which had a port where ships leave from, and he got on a boat going a long way away down the Mediterranean Sea.When they were well out in the sea, God sent a strong storm with winds so strong and waves so big, that they were really worried that the wooden sailing boat would fall to bits. When Jonah was sound asleep in the bottom of the boat, the sailors threw overboard anything they could to try and make the ship lighter. They hoped this would help, because they were so worried, and they prayed to their various gods. Then the captain found Jonah sound asleep. "Wake up!" he said, "What are you sleeping for? Start praying to your God, maybe He will save us." Then the sailors drew lots to see whose fault it was that the storm had come (in our days, it would mean that someone closed their eyes and pulled out piece of paper with a name on it). The name that came out was Jonah's!
Then they said, "Who are you? What have you done to make this happen to us? What is your work? Where do you live?"
Jonah replied, "I am a Hebrew [or, Jew] and I believe in God, and I am running away from Him."
Then the men were really scared, and Jonah told them that if they threw him overboard, then the storm would stop. The sailors didn't want to throw him overboard because they knew he would drown, so they kept rowing hard, but it didn't help at all. So they asked God to forgive them for what they were going to do, and over the side of the boat they threw Jonah, into the huge waves. As soon as they did that, the storm stopped. Amazing! They could hardly believe it, and were so relieved that they thanked God from their hearts.
But something else happened which was amazing. Jonah really thought he was drowning but God had made a huge fish to come along and it swallowed Jonah whole. For three days and three nights Jonah was in the fish's stomach in total darkness, and it must have been pretty horrible in there, don't you think? Then Jonah prayed to God. Jonah knew that he had done wrong in disobeying God, and that God had saved him by making the fish swallow him. He told God how thankful he was, and that he would do as he was told, so God made the fish spew Jonah up on to the land so Jonah didn't die after all.
Then one more time, God told Jonah he was to go to the city of Nineveh and tell them God's message, and this time Jonah did as he was told. He walked and walked until he got to the main part of the city. When he told the people what God would do to them if they didn't obey Him, the people were very sorry and did change and God was very pleased with them. So He didn't destroy their city after all.
A long time later, the people of Nineveh had gone back to being bad , and a strong king came and destroyed the city and most of the people who lived in it. People called archeologists, who dig up old ruins, have found the remains of the city of Nineveh and they know that many centuries ago it used to have huge walls and beautiful decorations. It was also important because at the time it was destroyed, the king was able to read (not many people then could read) and they have found many thousands of clay writing tablets with interesting writing on them, and some of them are in the British Museum in London. They even found that there is still a village there called 'The Village of Jonah', in the local language.
We should think about this story and remember that we too should listen to what God says, and obey Him.
See if you can answer these questions:
1. Why did Jonah disobey God?
2. What happened to Jonah?
3. Did Jonah end up obeying God?
4. Did the city listen then?