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." NIV translation
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.'" NIV translation
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.