The Lord's voice came to Jonas, the son of Amathi: Up, and to the great city of Nineve make your way; I would have you preach to them; great guilt of theirs claims my cognizance. Rise up he did, but his thought was, he would escape to Tharsis, and there avoid the Lord's scrutiny. So he made his way to Joppa, and there, sure enough, was a ship bound for Tharsis; passage-money was paid, and aboard went Jonas with the rest of them, sailing for Tharsis to be out of the Lord's way.
But now the Lord sent out a boisterous wind over the sea, that raised a great tempest there, and the ship was like to have been broken all to pieces. Sore afraid the mariners were, and loud they called upon their god; ay, and fell to throwing the tackle overboard, to lighten ship. And what of Jonas? He had gone down into the ship's hold, and fallen fast asleep. But that would not serve; up came the captain and asked what he meant, to lie there sleeping? Up, said he, and cry out upon your God! Who knows but God will take pity on us, and grant us our lives yet?
By this, the ship's company were of another counsel; Nay, said one to other, cast we the lot, and so find out how it is that such peril has befallen us! Cast lots they did, and Jonas was singled out. Tell us, they cried, for whose sake it is that we are come into such peril! Tell us what your errand is, from where you are journeying and whither, what nation it was gave you birth. I am a Hebrew, he told them, and worship the Lord, the God of heaven, that made the sea and the dry land both. And when they heard (for he told them all) that this was a man who would escape from the Lord's sight, they were in a great taking of fear. What ailed you? they asked. And how must we use you, if we would have yonder seas calmed for us? (Even as they spoke, the waves grew more angry yet.) Why, said he, take me up and throw me over the ship's side, and the sea will grant you respite; doubt there is none, I am the cause of all this peril that has befallen you.
What would you? They fell to the oars, hoping to make land thus, but could nothing avail; ever angrier grew the seas about them. And at last they cried out upon the Lord; Take we this man's life, they said, let it not be to our own undoing! Do not charge us with the death of an innocent man, you who have so manifested your divine will! And with that, they took Jonas up, and threw him over the ship's side. All at once, the raging of the sea was stilled; what awe fell on those mariners! What sacrifices they made, what vows they offered to the Lord!
And what of Jonas? At the Lord's bidding, a great sea-beast had swallowed him up; and there, in the belly of it, three days spent he and three nights. This was the prayer which Jonas made to the Lord his God, there in the belly of the seabeast: Call I on the Lord in my peril, redress he grants me; from the very womb of the grave call I, you are listening to me! Here in the depths of the sea's heart you would cast me away, with the flood all about me, eddy of yours, wave of yours, sweeping over me, till it seemed as if I were shut out from your regard: yet life you grant me; I shall gaze on your holy temple once again. Around me the deadly waters close, the depths engulf me, the weeds are wrapped about my head; mountain caverns I must plumb, the very bars of earth my unrelenting prison; and still, Lord my God, you will raise me, living, from the tomb. Daunted this heart, yet still of the Lord I would bethink me; prayer of mine should reach him, far away in his holy temple! Let fools that court false worship all hope of pardon forgo; to mine to do sacrifice in your honour, vows made and paid to the Lord, my deliverer!
And now, at the Lord's bidding, the sea-beast cast Jonas up again, high and dry on the beach.
A second time the Lord's voice came to Jonas: Up, and to the great city of Nineve make your way; there preach, what preach I bid you. That voice he obeyed; rose up and took the road for Nineve, a great city indeed, three days journey from end to end. And when he had advanced into it as far as one day's journey would carry him, he began crying out, In forty days, Nineve will be overthrown. With that, the Ninevites shewed faith in God, rich and poor alike, proclaiming a fast and putting on sackcloth; nay, the king of Nineve himself, when word of it reached him, came down from his throne, cast his robe aside, put on sackcloth, and sat down humbly in the dust. And a cry was raised in Nineve, at the bidding of the king and his nobles, A fast for man and beast, for herd and flock; no food is to be eaten, no water drunk; let man and beast go covered with sackcloth; cry out lustily to the Lord, and forsake, each of you, his sinful life, his wrongful deeds! God may yet relent and pardon, forgo his avenging anger and spare our lives. Thus, when God saw them amending their lives in good earnest, he spared them, in his mercy, their threatened punishment.
As for Jonas, he took it sore amiss, and was an angry man that day. And thus he made his prayer to the Lord: See if this be not the very thought I had, far away in my own country! Good cause had I to seek refuge at Tharsis from such an errand as this. I knew from the first what manner of God you are, how kind and merciful, how slow to punish, how rich in pardon, vengeance ever ready to forgo. A boon of you, Lord! Take away this life of mine; I had rather die than live. Why, the Lord said, what anger is this?
Jonas had left the city, and sat now under a little arbour he had made for himself on the east of it, waiting there in the shade to see what doom would fall on Nineve. And now, at the Lord God's bidding, an ivy-plant grew up over Jonas head, to give him shade and shelter after his toiling; and great joy he had of his ivy-plant. But when the morrow dawned, came at God's bidding a worm, that struck at the plant's root and killed it. Up rose the sun, and at the Lord's bidding the sirocco came; here was Jonas with the sun's rays beating on his head, and all of a sweat. Now indeed his heart's prayer was, he might die; Better death than life, said he. Why, said the Lord, what anger is this over an ivy-plant? Deadly angry am I, Jonas answered, and no marvel either. Great pity you have, the to Lord said, for yonder ivy-plant, that was not of your growing, and no toil cost you; a plant that springs in a night, and in a night must wither! And what of Nineve? Here is a great city, with a hundred and twenty thousand folk in it, and none of them can tell right from left, all these cattle, too; and may I not spare Nineve?