In our study of Jonah chapter two, we look at Jonah's time inside the big fish, his prayer, and the picture it gives us of Jesus' resurrection. If you were to ask most people if Jonah was alive or dead inside the big fish, most of them would say that he was alive for three days and nights but are they right?
We will examine this question before we jump into the scriptures. First of all, we must understand that it is not a matter of whether God could keep him alive in there but the question we must ask ourselves is what is/was the purpose of this story. There are documented stories of men being eaten by large fish and still living so it would not be any large miracle for God to do the same thing. But, as in everything in the Old Testament, the story points to Jesus and in this case it specifically points to His coming resurrection. As Jesus himself said , in Matthew 12:40, that was the sign of Jesus being in the grave three days and then rising. To properly illustrate the coming resurrection, Jonah would have had to die and, through the examination of his prayer, we will see this also.
From inside the fish Jonah prayed to the Lord his God.
This opening verse does not tell us when he prayed only that he prayed when he was inside the fish. It is possible that he prayed before he died or after he was brought back to life but it would be impossible to pray this while you were dead.
He said: '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.'
Now, we get into Jonah's actual prayer and we immediately see that when the chips were down Jonah knew who to call on. That can be comforting to us in that, when we stray away from obedience to the Lord, He will listen to us when we cry out to Him. Jonah tells us that he called "From the depths of the grave" and that has often been minimized as just spiritual death (separation from God's will) but as we will see it was physical.
'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."'
Jonah recalls how he was in the sea covered by the waves (another example of baptism) and called out to God. He says that he was "banished from your sight" this is a common way of describing death.
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.
This passage paints a grim picture as we can imagine Jonah sinking to the bottom of the sea and then being swallowed by a big fish. He even describes the seaweed which the fish had probably eaten. "the earth barred me in forever" is a description of the grave as at the time that was how it was described. Once again the prayer points to his death but then he says he was lifted up and praised God for doing so. It is such a beautiful picture of Jesus' resurrection and it is also comforting to remember that we too will be resurrected to live with God unless Jesus comes back while we are still alive.
'When my life was ebbing away, I remembered you Lord, and my prayer rose to you, to your holy temple.'
Now, we can see when Jonah prayed as he says it was "When my life was ebbing away". That tells us that he was dying and he knew it but he also knew where to send his appeal for mercy (God's holy temple). This can remind us that there is hope to the very end. When we have friends and relatives that reject Jesus Christ, we can take comfort in the fact that God is waiting and listening for their plea for mercy. We are to tell them that God is there waiting and trust Him to do the rest.
'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.'
Grace (God giving us what we do not deserve) is evident throughout Jonah chapter two. God gave Jonah a second chance and, as we see in this passage, Jonah had settled in his heart that he would listen to God. He must have made a vow as he was dying something like: If you let me live, I will go to Nineveh as you have said. Jonah did not deserve any second chance but God granted it to him and he promised to listen and do what God had told him. When we come to Christ for salvation, we also vow to turn control of our lives over to Him (make Him Lord as well). Like Jonah, when we make a vow to God we should not do so lightly but we should count the cost and be prepared to keep the promise.
And the Lord commanded the fish, and it vomited Jonah onto dry land.
What a picture we have here of the resurrected Christ. Jonah, who was dead, is brought back to physically walk the earth. Many years later, Jesus would be resurrected and physically walk the earth for a time teaching his disciples. It is also comforting to know that God can use anything even a big fish to accomplish His purposes. If he can use a big fish, he can certainly use you and I.