In my distress
I called to the LORD,
and he answered me.
From the depths of the grave
I called for help,
and you listened to my cry.

You hurled me into the deep,
into the very heart of the seas,
and the currents swirled about me;
all your waves and breakers
swept over me.

I said, I have been banished from your sight;
yet I will look again toward your holy temple.”
The engulfing waters threatened me,
the deep surrounded me;
seaweed was wrapped around my head.

To the roots of the mountains I sank down;
the earth beneath barred me in forever.
But you brought my life up from the pit,
O LORD my God.
When my life was ebbing away,
I remembered you, LORD,
and my prayer rose to you,
to your holy temple.

Those who cling to worthless idols
forfeit the grace that could be theirs.
But I, with a song of thanksgiving,
will sacrifice to you.
What I have vowed I will make good.
Salvation comes from the LORD.

—Jonah 2:2-9

Editor’s note: The Minhah (afternoon) service on the Day of Atonement includes a haftorah reading of the Book of Jonah. The rabbis say that Jonah is read “in order to teach us that the compassion of God extends over all that he has created.”* Jonah was told by God to go to Nineveh but instead fled in the opposite direction. The ship on which Jonah traveled met with a great storm. Jonah was thrown into the sea and swallowed by a large fish. He lived in the belly of the fish for three days and nights before God commanded the fish to throw Jonah out onto dry land. Again Jonah was told by God to go to Nineveh, but this time he obeyed. The people of this wicked town repented, and God spared the city.

Jonah was angry with God for not destroying Nineveh. He confused God’s hatred of evil in people with God’s abhorrence of the evil person. God’s mercy and compassion for the people of Nineveh is available to us today. God does not think we are beyond hope. God does not condemn us with no avenue of repentance open: “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him” (John 3:16-17).

*High Holiday Prayer Book. New York: Hebrew Publishing Co., 1951, p. 810.