Jonah’s story is summed up in one verse: “The LORD sent a big fish to swallow Jonah. Jonah was inside the fish for three days and three nights” (Jon 1:17). Jonah was an ordinary man, called by God to preach to Nineveh. But he is also a satirical and ridiculous figure, an example of what a prophet should not be. Fearing that the hated Ninevites might repent, Jonah refused God’s call and tried to run from God by boarding a ship bound for the
opposite direction. So God sent a storm to get him back on course and then sent or commissioned a fish, as a king would appoint an ambassador, to swallow (not chew) Jonah. The fish is not described other than being called “big”.
INTO THE DEPTHS
Jonah had hit bottom. The sea was thought of as the abyss a place of great fear, great terror, and death. Jonah was in the depths of the sea. “inside the fish” (2:1). the belly of the fish pictures Jonah’s spiritual condition. Spiritually he was as distant from God as the fish was from dry land. He was as spiritually dirty from rebellion and disobedience to God as he was physically dirty from the vile contents of the fish’s stomach. God brought Jonah down to a desperate place, and Jonah’s desperation moved him to prayer, and Jonah’s desperation moved him to prayer. In the belly of the fish, Jonah turned to God because he had nowhere else to turn. “From inside the fish Jonah prayed to the LORD his God. Jonah prayed: “I called to be LORD in my distress, and he answered me, From the depths of my watery grave I cried for help, and you heard my cry'” (2:1-2). God is the only one who can help people out of their predicaments. Jonah in the belly of the fish reminds us that the times when we are down and in the pits, while not pleasant, can be profitable. The belly of the fish is not a happy place to live, but it can be a good place to learn. Jonah had to experience the feeling of death before he could know the freedom of life. In a spiritual sense, people need to give up before they can be raised up, getting to that pint where they can do nothing to themselves. When Jonah gave up hope of surviving and could sink no lower, God intervened and saved him. Jonah had to die before he could live.
UP AND OUT
After running away from God, being cast into the depths of the sea, then being swallowed by a fish, death was imminent. But God was up to something great. From God’s perspective, death and the depths are not a problem. Jonah ended up getting vomited onto the shore. ” ‘Victory belongs to the LORD!’ Then the LORD spoken to the fish, and it spit Jonah out onto the shore” (2:9-10). The Hebrew word for spit is graphic. Jonah was not a tragic figure covered with suffering, nor a heroic figure covered with glory, but a ridiculous figure covered with vomit. In the regurgitation, God reveals that stiff-necked rebellion will be dealt with. God laughs at pride and arrogance. In the end, God always has the final word. He always triumphs.
PARALLELS WITH CHRIST
The parallels between Jonah’s story and the life of Christ are striking. Jonah was from a town called Gath-hepher (2 Kings 14:25), a few miles away from Nazareth. Jesus came from Nazareth. Jonah was asleep on a boat in a storm when everybody else on the boat panicked and woked him up, and because of his subsequent actions, the storm was stilled. Jesus fell asleep in a boat and then stilled a storm. Jonah’s name translates to “the dove,” which expands to mean “was given to be beloved one” Jesus once went down into the water and came up out of the water. Then a dove descended and a voice said, “This is my Son, whom I love” (see Matthew 3:16-17). Toward the end of his life, Jesus spelled out the connection between himself and Jonah in what he called the sign of Jonah: “The people of an evil and unfaithful era look for a miraculous sign. But the only sign they will get is the sign of the prophet Jonah. Just as Jonah was in the belly of a huge fish for three days and three nights, so the Son of Man will be in the heart of the earth for three days and three nights” (Matt 12:39-40). Jonah in the belly of the fish and his resulting deliverance are a foretaste of a believer’s victory when Jesus meets them at the lowest place, defeating death.
NOTE: Jonah’s story is a sign of the three days Jesus spent in the tomb. There are multiple other parallels between the two men’s lives.