Jonah 2 : Three Days and Nights in a Fish (The Sign of Jonah)



  1. Jonah's deliverance from death

1.     What happened down there? Jonah describes his moment of despair.

â–        What is strange is it seems Jonah would rather die than go to Nineveh.

â–        But this prayer of thanksgiving leads us to believe he came to his senses as he sank and did some serious praying during those moments. 

â–        We all do that when we get into a grave situation – we pray for God to intervene in desperate circumstances even when our own stupidity has landed us there.

â–        I can certainly relate to Jonah – When I was just 19 I made some choices that had the potential of seriously damaging my future.

â–        I pulled a Jonah – I ran, I hid from God but when I found myself sinking, I pulled a Jonah again and cried out to the Lord – and he saved me!

â–        Elements of Jonah's prayer can be found in various canonical Psalms – leading some interpreters to view Jonah's prayer as a psalm or liturgical prayer common in his day.

â–        Some critical scholars say that chapter 2 was inserted into the text – meaning it was not original to Jonah but an addition – meaning Jonah probably did not say these words.

â–        One of the reasons is that it seems out of place – why would Jonah offer God thanks before he was rescued?

â–        Those of you with little kids might be familiar with the Veggie Tales movie ‘Jonah.’

â–        According to VT – the fish (whale) is viewed as the thing Jonah needed saving from.

â–        But according to the scriptures especially according to Jonah's own recounting of his experience in his prayer – it was the fish that saved Jonah.

â–        It was during the 3 day and night stay in the belly of the fish that he offers this prayer and refers to God hearing his prayer and answering it in the past tense.

â–        Jonah 2:2, I cried for help from the depth of Sheol; You heard my voice. 5 The engulfing waters threatened me, the deep surrounded me; seaweed was wrapped around my head. 6 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.

§       Further evidence of this understanding: Jonah’s reference to “Sheol” and “the pit” are clearly describing his experience sinking in the sea not the fish’s belly.

2.      Sheol – the lowest place on earth – far away from the highest heaven where God dwells.

â–        It is the abode of the dead – those who go down don't come up – the land of no return.

â–        Isaiah 5:14: ...Sheol has enlarged its throat and opened its mouth without measure; And Jerusalem’s splendor, her multitude, her din of revelry and the jubilant within her, descend into it.

â–        Notice how Isaiah personifies Sheol – (inanimate objects described as animate objects)

â–        He describes Sheol in terms of a relentless creature with no measurable appetite.

â–        Proverbs 30:15-16: There are three things that will not be satisfied,

Four that will not say, “Enough”: Sheol, and the barren womb, Earth that is never satisfied with water, And fire that never says, “Enough.”

â–        In other words – the day will never come when Sheol will hang a “No Vacancy” sign out on the front gate. It will never say “I have enough dead in my dwelling.”

â–        And Jonah knew he was Sheol's next victim – Sheol's mouth was wide open ready to consume Jonah like a Big Mac.

â–        Jonah had already helplessly sank into Sheol – from the depth of Sheol I cried for help.

â–        Jonah personifies the sea and its elements – The seaweed comes to life (the tenacles of Sheol – the sarlacc in Star Wars) and is dragging him into the depths of the sea.

â–        “The earth with its bars”  had slammed shut – locking him in his watery grave forever.

â–        Just before Jonah's life slipped away, God did answer Jonah's cry for help.

â–        He reached down and brought Jonah up from the land of no return – Sheol.

â–        God, in his tender mercy and grace and love for his servant rescued Jonah though Jonah did not deserve it in the least.

â–        There in the belly of the fish Jonah remained for three days and nights before the fish vomited him out onto dry land.


TRANSITION: I began quoting Jesus in Matt. 12  - the sign of the prophet Jonah the only sign the Pharisees would get. What Jesus was saying here is that this story of Jonah is in some way points us to the knowledge of Christ.  What I am referring to is “typology.” Jonah is a 'type' of Christ. Type - a symbol of something in the future, as an Old Testament event or figure serving as a prefiguration of a New Testament event or figure.  


  1. Jonah and Jesus

1.     Jonah is a 'type' of Jesus

§       Obvious connection Jesus makes: 3 days/nights in the fish – 3 days/nights in the grave.

§       By saying “3 days/nights” Jesus is not necessarily saying “72 hours”.

§       This is an idiom we use all the time – at the beach Fri – Sun: 3 days.

§       So the significance of the sign is not length of time but the nature of the phenomenon.

§       Some have argued no man could survive in the belly of a fish for that length of time.

§       This is not unreasonable – it is true Jonah should have been dead or at least digested!

§       He is thrown overboard, swallowed whole by a giant fish and yet emerges alive!

§       His survival is a sign of the amazing power of God to preserve him in all circumstances.

§       David said in Psalm 16:10 - You will not abandon my soul to Sheol; Nor will You allow Your Holy One to undergo decay.

§       Jonah was not abandoned to Sheol, nor did he allow him to be dissolved in the fish.

§       Likewise, Jesus experienced even greater misery than Jonah – he actually died

§       Yet 3 days later he shows himself to be truly alive.

§       He was not abandoned to the grave – his body saw no decay but experienced a powerful phenomenon – resurrection.

§       But is this the only connection? I dont think so.

§       Jesus' reference to Jonah is slightly broader in Luke's gospel: As Jonah was a sign to the Ninevites, so also will the Son of Man be to this generation. (Luke 11:30)

§       By this we can see that there are in fact many similarities between Jonah and Jesus.

§       Jonah is sent to bring the knowledge of the true God to a people that are outside of the Jewish race who worship false gods and idols - this lines up perfectly with the gospel.

§       Though Jesus concentrated on preaching the gospel to Israel during his earthly ministry he continued his ministry through his apostles who took the gospel to the Gentiles.

§       Nineveh was the capital of Assyria – Israel's enemy.

§       Jonah is being called by God to love his enemies in a way that Christ has shown love for his as Paul says in Colossians 1:21-22 - “Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds because of your evil behavior. 22 But now he has reconciled you by Christ’s physical body through death to present you holy in his sight...”

§       Jonah's message warned of God's wrath and revealed God's mercy and grace.

§       Once he made it there he declared: "Forty more days and Nineveh will be overturned."

§       God did not have to warn the Ninevites – but because he is a gracious God who is always eager to forgive – he called on Jonah to make God's grace known.

§       Likewise, Jesus came and warned of God's wrath: ...Jesus went into Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God. The time has come,” he said. “The kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe the good news!” (Mark 1:14-15)

§       Don't miss this: by announcing the coming of the Kingdom of God Jesus was warning his audience of God's wrath to come.

§       And the good news was that he came to take that wrath upon himself for those who believe, as Jesus himself said: Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but whoever rejects the Son will not see life, for God’s wrath remains on him. (John 3:36)

§       These are some ways Jonah is like Jesus – but there are many ways Jonah is the opposite of Jesus – or in typological terms – he is the 'antitype.'

2.     Jonah is also an “antitype” of Jesus.

â–        Antitype - An opposite or contrasting type.

â–        Jonah’s descent into Sheol and 3 days/nights in the fish was due to his disobedience.

â–        Jesus obeyed the Lord perfectly during his entire earthly ministry and his death and burial came about because of our disobedience.

â–        Jonah cried out to be delivered from the powers of death and Sheol.

â–        But Jesus willingly subjected himself to them and in order to deliver us from them.

â–        Jonah did not desire to see the Ninevites repent – but Jesus does not want “anyone to perish...” he desires “everyone to come to repentance.”  (2 Peter 3:9)

3.     Summary of the connection

â–        How shall we reconcile the belly of the fish with the tomb?

â–        I began by saying that the fish was God's agent of salvation to Jonah.

â–        Jonah was pulled to safety by the fish – rescued from drowning.

â–        This is what we think of: (coast guard, life guards, life rings, etc.)

â–        Who in their right minds would have thought of a giant fish as an agent of salvation?

â–        It is no wonder so many biblical interpreters struggle to see Jonah as rescued while in the fish – it doesn't line up with our concept of what a successful rescue looks like.

â–        Who would have thought that salvation and the removal of sin would have been accomplished in the manner that it was accomplished by Jesus Christ?

â–        The Jewish nation for so long believed God was going to bring salvation to his people.

â–        And many of those same people believed Jesus was an imposter because the idea of him bringing salvation to God's people through weakness was absurd!

â–        Remember the context when Jesus refers to Jonah as a sign for himself: An adulterous and wicked generation seeks a sign.

â–        At this point in Matthew 12 they had already witnessed Jesus’ miracles – They saw him heal a man with a shriveled hand.

â–        Then Matthew tells us Jesus healed a demon-posessed man who was also blind and mute – but they dismissed his “sign” as nothing more than a demonic sharade.

â–        “It is because he is the prince of demons that this fellow casts out demons.”

â–        Then, just a few verses later, they have the nerve of asking Jesus for a miraculous sign.

â–        Jesus had given them quite enough evidence. Why didn’t they accept it? Because they were asking for a sign on the basis of their own terms.


APPLICATION: Approaching God on our terms is a dangerous road to travel; it is the original sin – Adam and Eve in the garden took the position as the final arbiters of God’s command meaning they approached God on their own terms. Skeptics do this all the time. If you are a skeptic - I would urge you to consider that God does not make sense to you simply because you have approached him on your own terms. And we can even do this as believers – in fact this is what Jonah in one sense does when he receives God’s marching orders. He says – “this doesn’t line up with my agenda – this is not consistent with how I believe things should be.” To truly understand is to “stand under”. To stand under God is to approach God on his terms, acknowledging him as our only Lord – one who has all the right to ask any of us to go to Nineveh. But when we come to him on our terms we usually go our own way – then God’s sends storms into our lives and he sends large fish to retrieve us to remind us of our place. Sometimes he actually gives us over to our blindness as in the case of the Pharisees.


â–        The only sign Jesus said they would get is one that they will easily overlook and dismiss as ridiculous – this sign would be on Jesus’ terms.

â–        A bloody, naked and humiliated homeless man from the armpit town Nazareth - nailed to a cross dying a slow death by suffocation – then buried in a borrowed tomb?

â–        Wow, how impressive! And he is supposed to save us? What a joke!

â–        And yet, the truth is he was accomplishing the greatest rescue operation ever.

â–        Jesus gave himself over to the power of death and Sheol and simultaneously grabbed each by their throats and broke their power over us – we no longer need to fear death.

â–        His resurrection from the dead is evidence that his rescue operation was a success.

â–        So the connection then is that salvation has come to us in a way we would least expect.


CLOSER: When Jonah came to Nineveh, the people had a choice. They could have written off the prophet as a deranged man or they could respond with belief/faith. They responded with faith and God relented from bringing judgment upon them. We have a similar choice today for a similar message has reached our ears – a message of greater urgency for it has come to us through one greater than Jonah. I am of course talking about Jesus. I don’t imagine Jonah’s time in the fish was comfortable or pleasant. It was probably a disgusting experience – BUT it was Jonah’s only hope of being saved. Maybe you are like Jonah and are running from God – trying to live life on your terms and as a result there are storms in your life. If so – you are in danger of drowning in your sin and there is only one way of escape. Just as the Great Fish was Jonah’s only hope from drowning, Jesus is the only savior of mankind from sin.