Did Jonah live in the whale’s belly?


by Shawn Brasseaux

Many say Jonah lived three days and three nights in the great fish’s stomach. This has caused Bible scoffers to laugh at such an “impossibility.” Others say that he died in the whale’s belly. Can we really prove from the Bible which position is correct?

For some years, I believed like most that Jonah lived in the whale’s belly for three days and three nights. One day, someone showed me some verses that caused me to change my view. Let me just say that, had God wanted to keep Jonah alive in the whale’s belly for three days and three nights, He could have easily done so. If He could (and did) call the universe into being from nothing, then surely nothing is too hard for the Creator God. However, for two main prophetic reasons, among other reasons, I do not think God wanted to keep Jonah alive.


Remember, the LORD God personally saw to it that Jonah be swallowed up by a special, large aquatic creature. The Bible never explicitly says that Jonah lived three days and three nights in the belly of the fish. It simply declares: “Now the LORD had prepared a great fish to swallow up Jonah. And Jonah was in the belly of the fish three days and three nights” (Jonah 1:17). So, where is the indication that he died?


If we look at Jonah’s prayer in chapter 2, he began with: “I cried by reason of mine affliction unto the LORD, and he heard me; out of the belly of hell cried I, and thou heardest my voice” (Jonah 2:2). Such language is indicative of physical death. “Hell” in this context does not mean suffering in eternal flames. It was a general term where all souls went upon death in the “Old Testament economy.” According to Luke chapter 16, “hell” in time past was divided into paradise and torment. We will say more about this in point #3 in just a few moments. Since Jonah prayed (“cried out”) of the belly of hell, we see that we are conscious after physical death. Otherwise, Jonah could not pray!


In Matthew 12:38-40, we read: “[38] Then certain of the scribes and of the Pharisees answered, saying, Master, we would see a sign from thee. [39] But he [Jesus] answered and said unto them, An evil and adulterous generation seeketh after a sign; and there shall no sign be given to it, but the sign of the prophet Jonas: [40] For as Jonas was three days and three nights in the whale’s belly; so shall the Son of man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.An abbreviated version is Luke 11:29-30—while it does not mention the three days and three nights, it does refer to “Jonas” (Greek form of “Jonah”).

The Lord Jesus said Jonah in the whale’s belly was a picture of His own physical death. As Jonah spent three days and three nights in the whale, so Jesus spent three days and three nights in the heart of earth. If Jonah were not dead, then we are forced to conclude that neither was Jesus! Jonah was physically dead in the whale as Jesus was physically dead in the tomb. Jonah’ soul was in the paradise side of hell. Likewise, Jesus’ soul was in the paradise side of hell (Luke 23:43). Jonah then resurrected. Jesus likewise resurrected. These many parallels are very interesting, seeing as to Jonah lived circa 800 B.C.


We read in chapter 37 of the book of Ezekiel, commonly called “The Vision of the Dry Bones:” “[11] Then he said unto me, Son of man, these bones are the whole house of Israel: behold, they say, Our bones are dried, and our hope is lost: we are cut off for our parts. [12] Therefore prophesy and say unto them, Thus saith the Lord GOD; Behold, O my people, I will open your graves, and cause you to come up out of your graves, and bring you into the land of Israel. [13] And ye shall know that I am the LORD, when I have opened your graves, O my people, and brought you up out of your graves, [14] And shall put my spirit in you, and ye shall live, and I shall place you in your own land: then shall ye know that I the LORD have spoken it, and performed it, saith the LORD.”

Once God dispersed Israel among the nations beginning with the Babylonian captivity in 606 B.C., Israel “died” with respect to her Promised Land. The lands of the Gentiles are called Israel’s “graves” (verses 12 and 13 above). One day, after our Dispensation of Grace is finished, God will restore Israel. He will “breathe new life” into her, causing her to reenter her land—this time, forever, never again to banish her from it. This is when the Abrahamic Covenant will be fulfilled. This is when Israel will become God’s kingdom of priests to the Gentiles. You can see Isaiah 2:1-3, Zechariah 8:20-23, Isaiah 60:1-3, Isaiah 61:6, et cetera, for more information.

The nation Israel refused to be God’s messengers to the Gentiles. Israel starkly rejected JEHOVAH God and His Word. Likewise, Jonah fled from the presence of the LORD when the LORD instructed him to preach to the Ninevites (Jonah 1:1-3). Israel did not want to become God’s people so they could minister to the families of the earth on God’s behalf. They did not have faith in the Abrahamic Covenant of Genesis 12:1-3. Once God chastised Jonah, Jonah dying and resurrecting, he went to Nineveh without a fuss (Jonah 3:1-3). Likewise, once God chastises Israel via her dispersion, gives her life again, she will minister to Gentiles in her kingdom (Jesus Christ’s Millennial Reign).


Personally, I believe Jonah died. There are four lines of evidence that cause me to believe that Jonah literally died in the sea and was dead in the whale’s belly. Firstly, the Bible never says Jonah lived in the whale’s belly. It says he was merely in the whale’s belly. Secondly, the Bible says Jonah “cried out of the belly of hell.” That indicates physical death. Thirdly, Jonah, in order to picture Jesus’ death, had to also be dead. Lastly, Jonah, in order to picture Israel’s “death,” had to also be “cut off.” When God resurrected Jonah, He was picturing Jesus Christ’s resurrection and Israel’s resurrection. How simple, dear friends, how simple!

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Also see:
» What swallowed Jonah—a fish or a whale?
» Where was Jesus during the three days between His death and resurrection?
» Was Jesus really crucified on Friday?