Mention the word “Nineveh” and you may get a variety of reactions. Some people may be very familiar with what it is. Others may scratch their heads and think, “Where have I heard of that name before?” However, if you speak in regards to “Jonah in the belly of the whale” almost everyone will immediately recognize this event as being connected to Nineveh. 

In Jonah 1:2  God told Jonah to “Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and cry out against it.” Nineveh was a city and the capital of the Assyrian Empire. Ancient historians believe that it was once the largest city in the world.  God directed Jonah to go to it because He felt that the city needed to repent of its  sins and wanted Jonah to preach to the citizens. Initially, Jonah did not obey God but instead fled to another city called Tarshish by way of a ship headed in the opposite direction from Nineveh. Jonah ended up in the belly of a whale due to his disobedience to God’s command. God caused a great storm to arise which put the ship and its crew in peril as it made its way to Tarshish. During the storm, Jonah voluntarily agreed to be tossed overboard so that the ship might be spared once the sailors discovered that he (and his disobedience to God) was the root cause of their problems. Once Jonah was tossed overboard, God prepared a great fish to swallow him. Jonah spent three days and three nights in the belly of the fish (Jonah 1:17). Jonah begged God for His mercy day and night until he was finally released from the fish. Jonah then boarded a ship to Nineveh in order to preach to its people as God had originally directed (Jonah 3:1-3).

You may be wondering what all of this has to do with you. You’re probably thinking, I’m not going on any deep sea fishing expeditions to Nineveh or any place else, so the likelihood of getting swallowed by a fish is small to none. Must you literally be going to a city and be swallowed by a whale before “Nineveh” is applicable to you? Or is “Nineveh” a place of vulnerability for us all?

I remember wrestling with my own “whale” several years ago after God directed me to “go to Nineveh.” I was working at the time as a therapist for an organization that contracted with a local school district to provide therapy to at-risk teens and their families. I loved my job helping teens and respected the people with whom I worked. I felt so fortunate to be working with great teachers and school staff who seemed to really care about their students. It was during this time that I began to feel prompted to leave my position. I couldn’t believe it. Why would God want me to leave such a great position? I felt that I was making a positive impact on the students and worked well with the school staff in accomplishing my therapeutic goals. 

At first, I ignored God’s promptings as something I had just misinterpreted. When they didn’t go away, I began to ignore them intentionally even though I was confident that God was directing me to leave. Due to my disobedience, like Jonah, I ended up in the belly of my own “whale” that I created. The more I ignored God, the less I began to enjoy my job. 

I had always been someone who couldn’t wait to get to work. I usually arrived hours before everyone else so that I could meet with parents, collaborate with teachers, and prepare for the day ahead. Soon I began to find it increasingly difficult to get to work in the morning and the extensive paperwork that had never bothered me before became a complete drudgery. Part of my position also required that I type progress notes for each client that I saw in therapy. It was imperative that these notes were done in a timely manner. My notes were always done on time and I used to do them with ease. However, after ignoring God for almost a year, I remember that it got to a point where I could hardly type a progress note at all. I felt that each stroke of the keyboard required more and more effort that I no longer seemed to have. As God had corrected Jonah by creating a “great storm,” He had also done so with me, fortunately on a much smaller scale, but with similar impact. God was getting my attention by allowing what I had loved to be turned into something I dreaded. I finally relented and obeyed Him by leaving my job. Something, as with Jonah, I should have done when I initially was prompted to go.