The Book of Jonah is one of the best known stories in the Bible and is read on Yom Kippur because of its powerful message of repentance:
God instructs Jonah to go to the Assyrian city of Nineveh and warn them that Nineveh will be destroyed unless the people mend their ways.
Hoping to flee and avoid this mission, Jonah boards a ship.
God sends a great storm. The people on the ship, fearing for their lives, discern that Jonah is the cause of the storm and, at Jonah's suggestion, throw him overboard. Jonah is swallowed by a large fish. (The Hebrew word is fish, but it is commonly translated as a whale.) Jonah lives inside the fish for three days, praying to God and accepting God’s command to go to Nineveh.
When Jonah is spit out and returned to dry land, he goes to Nineveh to bring them God’s message. The people repent and are saved. Jonah, however, leaves the city depressed and angry that this city of idol-worshipers heeded God’s warning and will be saved, while his fellow Jews often do not. He sits outside the city waiting to see what will happen.
Jonah falls asleep, and while he sleeps, God makes a gourd grow over him to shade him from the intense heat. Jonah awakens and rejoices over the gourd. On that very night, God sends a worm to destroy the gourd that provided him with protection from the harsh sun, causing Jonah to weep.
God then rebukes Jonah for having pity on a plant that appeared and disappeared in one night, but having no compassion for the one hundred and twenty thousand people in Nineveh.
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