So, we’re working through the book of Jonah, and we handled (as much as possible) the deal with the huge fish in the last post. There is one more important thing about chapter 2 that I’d like to consider here.
How did Jonah survive?
According to everything I have been taught, Jonah was swallowed by the huge fish, survived for three days and nights in its “belly” or “stomach” (depending on your translation) – probably praying the whole time – was spit up on dry land, and made the 400+ mile trek to Nineveh to preach.
It seems like there are only a few possible options here:
It happened naturally – Assuming he was grabbed by a filter feeder, Jonah could have held his breath long enough to survive each time the water was sucked in until it was forced back out through the creature’s gills. It’s possible that Jonah was not actually in the “stomach” (the Hebrew word is frequently used for “inner parts”); he could have stayed in the creature’s large throat area. Additionally, in his prayer he says, “Seaweed was wrapped around my head” (Jonah 2:5).
It was a miracle – Of course, another option is that – regardless of where he was inside the creature or which creature it was – God miraculously preserved him. This is easy to say and possibly believe, because miracles don’t require proof. Call it a miracle, and we have to either believe it or deny it, but there’s no use examining or trying to prove it.
He didn’t actually survive – This one goes against was I remember being taught, but it seems to have the best support. Basically, this says that Jonah did die, and God brought him back to life at some point before or after he was released from the sea creature. Here are some reasons why I believe this could be the case:
- It doesn’t actually say that he lived in the creature for three days and nights, just that he “was in” it that long – big difference.
- In his prayer, Jonah uses words and phrases that refer to the afterlife – Sheol, gates of the netherworld, the Pit. These could be symbolic, since he was as good as dead, or they could have been his actual experience.
“I called out to the LORD from my distress, and he answered me; from the belly of Sheol I cried out for help, and you heard my prayer. … I thought I had been banished from your sight, that I would never again see your holy temple! … I went down to the very bottoms of the mountains; the gates of the netherworld barred me in forever; but you brought me up from the Pit, O LORD, my God. When my life was ebbing away, I called out to the LORD, and my prayer came to your holy temple.” Jonah 2:2, 4, 6, 7
- He needed a miracle of some sort to make it to Nineveh after this ordeal. It seems that a resurrection on dry land before witnesses (who would likely follow him and testify of what they saw) would be enough to effect the repentance we see in 3:5-6.
- The parallel Jesus draws between Jonah and himself is much more natural (and powerful) if Jonah, too, was resurrected after being “buried” for three days and nights (Matthew 12:39-40)
Does it matter?
Yes and no. On one hand, it doesn’t really matter. I have chosen to believe this part of the Bible as God’s Word, just as much as the rest. So, to me, how it actually happened is not as important as the fact that it happened, and that God preserved it for us for a reason.
On the other hand, my intellectual curiosity is piqued when God chooses to not give all of the details. As a teacher, I feel extra responsibility to “teach the message of truth responsibly” (2 Timothy 2:15). It’s not nearly as easy as it seems to say, “Well, the Bible just doesn’t say anything about that.” At least, for me it’s not easy.
Let me use this to encourage you to study God’s Word. If the Bible really is God’s written word, we are foolish to think that we don’t need to invest time in real study (as opposed to simply reading it).
There are several places in Scripture that we find Christians who do not understand the Bible as “weak” or “immature”. Maturity takes time and energy. Serious Bible study is a great way to invest in your relationship with Jesus and be prepared to help others grow, too.
Wondering how or where to start? Talk to me, and I’ll help you get on track to growing in this part of your spiritual life.
Posts in this series: