What is most notable about Jonah is not his remarkable experience in the belly of a whale—although this is the event that has sparked the imagination of artists and children for centuries. Rather, it is the fact that of all the prophets, Jonah alone succeeded. Unlike his highly esteemed colleagues Isaiah and Jeremiah, Jonah actually convinces the people to repent. When the Lord sends Jonah to preach in the vast Assyrian capital of Nineveh, the people listen. As he walks the streets, he proclaims merely one sentence—“Forty days more, and Nineveh shall be overthrown!” (Jonah 3:4)—and that is sufficient: “The people of Nineveh believed God. They proclaimed a fast, and great and small alike put on sackcloth.” Even the king of Nineveh donned sackcloth and sat in ashes. “Let everyone turn back from his evil ways,” the king proclaimed, “and from the injustice of which he is guilty. Who knows but that the Almighty may turn and relent? He may turn back from his wrath, so that we do not perish” (Jonah 3:5–9).
The king was right. The Almighty did relent: “And the Almighty saw from their works that they turned from their evil way; and He repented from the evil which He said He would do to them. And He did it not” (Jonah 3:10).