The Story of Jonah

One of the most popular Old Testament reading in Lent is about Jonah. After all, there are a lot of parallels between Jonah and Christ, and in many ways Jonah even prefigured Christ! (We’ll go into that more tomorrow…)

Still, if you’re anything like me, your knowledge of Jonah’s story is probably based more in children’s books than in the actual scripture. After all, the Old Testament scripture can be a bit unwieldy to go through! So, I figured that I would go into the story for today and pair it up with some amazing artwork that sums up the story quite nicely.

…are you ready? Let’s go!

Jonah’s story first starts out with Him avoiding God command to go to Ninevah… which causes quite a storm!

Honestly, Jonah seems a lot more calm than I would probably be. And for good reason… the reason why he wants to ignore God (which is dealt with in the fourth chapter of the book of Jonah) is because God is too kind and merciful and will probably end up forgiving Ninevah anyway, meaning that his whole visit there will end up being a waste. (Which, by the way, is exactly what happens… Ninevah ends up repenting en masse. Here’s an artwork that shows that event!) So, Jonah ignores God and goes another way because he doesn’t want God to waste his time.

Once he gets thrown overboard (and swallowed by a fish), Jonah takes on a different tactic. He prays and realigns himself with God. Here is his prayer:

And with that, he goes to Ninevah!

Anyway, the whale part of Jonah’s story is quite incredible. So, not surprisingly, there’s lots of incredible artwork trying to depict the epic scene. But, since there are so many parts of the scene that honestly would make a better movie, artists did their best to try to capture the story by breaking up the scene in several parts, even while putting them together on the same canvas.

Take this painting, made by a 17th century Italian master!

Jonah and the Whale, by Italian master, c. 17th century. Private collection. Via
Jonah and the Whale, by Italian master, c. 17th century. Private collection.

At the very right, you can see a ship set out from a great port in calm water. Then, in the center, you can see a ship tossed around on choppy waters, lightning flashing all around, with a fish coming up near the side, ready to swallow up Jonah! (You might need to enlarge the picture in order to see the fish… just click on the picture and take a look!) Then, to the left, you can see the ship in calm water, sailing away without Jonah aboard — after all, he was tossed out . And to the right in the foreground, the fish vomits up Jonah, freeing up Jonah so that he can do God’s work.

…and all of this on one canvas!

While this is a pretty late picture that was made when literacy was becoming more widespread, there are many manuscript illuminations from earlier times that detail all these events in a single picture, which stress how important this scene was for Christians to depict.

And it was quite important! After all, this prophet prefigured Christ!


Questions to Ponder:
  • What is the first thing that captures your eye on this epic scene with many parts?
  • After reading the scripture, what do you think your reaction would be were you in the place of Jonah?
  • Does God ever call you to do things that you are reluctant to do because you think they’re a waste of time?


Dear Jesus,

Help us follow You, even when we’re reluctant to do so.


Karina Tabone

Karina Tabone is a wife, mother of four, author, blogger, and lover of Christian artwork. She's the author of the Illustrated Rosary series, which pairs every prayer of the Rosary with beautiful religious artwork. She likes also milkshakes, sunshine, and mystery novels. Follow her on Twitter at @illustr_prayer.

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