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Yom Kippur: Jonah and the Whale

Jonah and the Whale

A story often told during Yom Kippur.

Themes: The festival of Yom Kippur. Obedience and doing what is right.

Synopsis: Jonah is a special messenger of God.

One day God tells Jonah to go to Ninevah to deliver a message to the people living there. But Jonah has other ideas...

Jonah hops on a ship and sets off across the sea in the other direction. But that night a ferocious storm blows up. The sailors believe that Jonah must be the cause...and Jonah agrees - he is being punished by God.

The sailors throw Jonah overboard and he is immediately swallowed by a great fish. Jonah fears for his life, but what should he do? He resolves he must find a way to get to Ninevah and deliver God's message.

Click on the link below to download or print the story.

Yom Kippur: Jonah and the Whale - supporting resources:

  1. Transcript of story to print

Text of story

Long, long ago - not as long ago as dinosaurs though! - in a hot, desert country, far away, there lived a man named Jonah. Now Jonah was a messenger - a sort of postman if you like - but a very, very important sort of postman. Because he delivered messages from God.

One day, when Jonah was fast asleep in bed, God said to him “Jonah, wake up! I have a very, very important message for you to deliver. You must travel far, far away, to a place called Ninevah - and you must tell the people there that they must stop being bad and wicked and start being good and kind.”

God told Jonah that if the people of Ninevah did not start being good and kind their city would be destroyed.

But Jonah didn’t want]to go far away, so he said to God: “But I don’t want to go. I’m a very busy man. I can’t go tramping across deserts, over dusty mountains and along rivers!”

So instead of going across the sandy deserts, over the dusty mountains and along the great Tigris River...Jonah jumped on a cargo ship going across the sea, over the waves and far, far the other direction! And God was very cross with him.

That night, when Jonah was fast asleep in the bottom of the boat, a terrible storm blew up. The wind blew and the thunder crashed and the waves grew bigger and bigger. The sailors were terrified and thought that the boat would sink and that they would all be drowned. So they threw sacks of rice and grain and big barrels of water and wine over the sides to make the boat lighter.

But still the wind blew and the thunder crashed and the waves grew bigger and bigger. The captain came searching for Jonah and where did he find him? He was curled up fast asleep in the bottom of the boat, snoring like a baby.

Angrily, the captain woke Jonah and asked him what he had done to make God so furious and cause such a terrible storm.

“Oh, no. You are right, captain, it is my fault. I have been bad. I didn’t deliver God’s message. I ran away instead. You must throw me overboard into the waves and the storm will stop and you will all be saved!”

But the sailors didn’t want to throw Jonah into the sea, they didn’t want him to drown. But it was no use. The storm grew worse and worse. The sailors knew they had to save themselves...and so they had to throw Jonah into the sea. And all at once...the wind stopped blowing; and the thunder stopped crashing; and the waves grew smaller and smaller, until the sea was calm.

And while the sailors waved goodbye to Jonah as he swam away...“Bye!!!”... ...there was a sudden whoosh! And a huge black whale leapt up, up, up and out of the sea beside Jonah! Some sailors thought it was a mountain! Others thought it was a huge monster that was going to swallow Jonah up!...And then it one...great...gulp!

“Oh, me! Oh, my!” thought Jonah as he was squished and squeezed through the whale’s slippery tummy. Down, down, down, into its great, black belly. “Oh, I will surely die!” And all around was darkness. “Oh, what will become of me?” he wailed. “What can I do? I was wrong to go away. I should have gone Ninevah to deliver God’s message and try to help the city. Now I shall surely die.”

What should he do? He thought about just giving up. Should he ask for a second chance? So many choices to make! “That’s right! I will ask to be given a second chance! If I can find a way out of this whale I will promise to go straight to Ninevah with God’s message.”

So for three days and three nights he prayed to God - well, it felt like three days and three nights - but Jonah couldn’t be sure because he didn’t have a watch (they didn’t make them in those days) and he couldn’t have seen it anyway because he didn’t have a torch (they didn’t make them either). But, after about that long, Jonah felt the great whale’s stomach grumble and rumble and rumble and grumble and all of a sudden Jonah heard a gigantic, deafening burp - and a great gust of fishy air blew him right out of the whale’s mouth and up onto dry land.

And what did Jonah do? Well, he rushed straight to Ninevah to warn the people! Off he set across the sandy deserts, over the dusty mountains and along the great, brown Tigris River until he reached the city walls. And he asked to see the King.

“King!” he said, “I have travelled from far away, across the sandy deserts and over the dusty mountains and along the great Tigris River with a message for you from God! You must tell your people to stop being bad and wicked and start being good and kind or God will destroy your city!”

And the King believed Jonah and was sorry. And he told all his people that they must beg for forgiveness and try to be good and kind so that their city would be saved.

And God believed that the people of Ninevah were really sorry, so he forgave them and decided not to destroy their city after all. And he also decided that Jonah was really sorry too and was pleased with him for delivering his message - at last.

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