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The Blue Letter Bible

David Guzik :: Study Guide for Jonah 2

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In the Belly of the Fish

A. Jonah in the fish.

1. (Jon 1:17) Jonah's three days and nights in the fish.

Now the LORD had prepared a great fish to swallow Jonah. And Jonah was in the belly of the fish three days and three nights.

a. The LORD had prepared a great fish to swallow Jonah: Some question if this could happen as the Bible says it did; but surely it is not a difficult thing for God to have prepared a great fish, even if that particular fish was a special creation for that moment.

i. What kind of fish was this? We don't know. Some speculate it was a species of whale, others say it was a large fish know as the "sea-dog." All we can say for certain is that it was a lifeboat fish.

ii. There is a story of a whaler named James Bartley, who in 1891 reportedly fell into the sea while harpooning a large sperm whale; when the whale was killed and dissected, he was found in the whale's stomach, unconscious but alive. While some have argued that the incident was carefully investigated and true, the widow of the ship's captain denied that it ever happened.

iii. It may be questioned if the story of James Bartley is true or not, but certainly the story of Jonah is true because Jesus said it was true. In Matthew 12:40 we read that Jesus said Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish.

b. Jonah was in the belly of the fish three days and three nights: Though Jonah was a rebellious, resistant, and believer, God was not finished with him yet - so the LORD preserved his life.

i. God could have rescued Jonah in any number of ways. He chose this specific way because of the effect it would have on Jonah's heart.

ii. The book of Jonah shows us important principles about the sovereignty of God. What happens when God wants a person to do something, but the person doesn't want to do it? Jonah shows us that God has a way of bringing us to the place where we want what He wants.

c. Three days and three nights: Apparently, Jonah did nothing for three days and three nights in the belly of the fish; it was only after that period was over that he prayed the prayer following.

i. Some have wondered if Jonah spent the time sulking, and finally decided he had to repent fully and seek God - perhaps this is the case. However, the starting point of the prayer in Jonah 2 seems to show that Jonah had cried out to God all the time. The prayer of Jonah 2 came after Jonah received assurance from God that he would be delivered.

2. (Jon 2:1-2) Jonah praises God for His deliverance.

Then Jonah prayed to the LORD his God from the fish's belly. And he said: "I cried out to the LORD because of my affliction, and He answered me. Out of the belly of Sheol I cried, and You heard my voice."

a. Jonah prayed to the LORD his God from the fish's belly: Jonah is still in the belly of the fish but he knows it is enough that the LORD has heard his cry (You heard my voice). In faith, Jonah knows that he will be delivered.

i. Jonah knew God heard him before the answer came. This shows that Jonah had faith and that God can give us a total peace and assurance that our prayers are answered, even before the actual answer comes.

b. In this and the rest of the chapter, Jonah's prayer incorporates many phrases and figures of speech from the Psalms. This shows that Jonah was a man who knew God's Word, and knew it by heart, because there was no Bible and no candle in the fish's belly.

- In my distress I called upon the LORD, and cried out to my God; He heard my voice from His temple (Psalm 18:6)
- Deep calls unto deep at the noise of Your waterfalls; all Your waves and billows have gone over me (Psalm 42:7)
- For I said in my haste, "I am cut off from before Your eyes"; nevertheless You heard the voice of my supplications when I cried out to You (Psalm 31:22)

3. (Jon 2:3-7) Jonah recounts his predicament, his cry to God, and God's faithful answer.

"For You cast me into the deep, into the heart of the seas, and the floods surrounded me; all Your billows and Your waves passed over me. Then I said, 'I have been cast out of Your sight; yet I will look again toward Your holy temple.' The waters surrounded me, even to my soul; the deep closed around me; weeds were wrapped around my head. I went down to the moorings of the mountains; the earth with its bars closed behind me forever; yet You have brought up my life from the pit, O LORD, my God. When my soul fainted within me, I remembered the LORD; and my prayer went up to You, into Your holy temple."

a. You cast me into the deep: Jonah realizes that it was not the sailors that cast him into the sea, it was God Himself. Jonah sees that he has never been out of God's hands, though he tried to run from Him.

b. I have been cast out of Your sight: Jonah's greatest pain was not the calamity, but his separation from God - his feeling that he was cast out of Your sight. Still he was determined - even in the belly of a fish - to turn his heart towards God and His temple. Simply, Jonah remembered the LORD.

c. Yet You have brought up my life from the pit, O LORD, my God: Again, Jonah can praise God for the answer to prayer before the answer came, because God gave him assurance.

4. (Jon 2:8-9) Jonah declares his commitment to God.

"Those who regard worthless idols forsake their own Mercy. But I will sacrifice to You with the voice of thanksgiving; I will pay what I have vowed. Salvation is of the LORD."

a. Those who regard worthless idols forsake their own Mercy: Jonah realizes that resisting God, running from Him - is like being an idolater.

b. But I will sacrifice to You: Jonah repents from running away from God, and he turns to God with sacrifice and thanksgiving.  He will pay his vows to God, and do what ever God tells him to do,

i. At one time or another, Jonah had probably said what we all have said: "Lord, I'll do what ever You want me to do." Now Jonah realizes fully that he must stop resisting God and he should pay his vows to God.

c. Salvation is of the LORD: This is more than a statement of fact; it is Jonah's triumphant declaration. God has saved and will save, and Jonah means it personally. Jonah's salvation is of the LORD.

i. Jonah knows this in the close-up picture; he knows that his salvation is of the LORD. He also now knows it in the big picture; that salvation is not of a nation or a race or a language, or not of man at all. No, salvation is of the LORD.

d. At the end of Jonah 2:9 it is clear that Jonah has repented, but we might wonder when did Jonah repent? There are indications of repentance when …

- Jonah said he feared the LORD and was honest about his story (Jonah 1:9)
- Jonah allowed himself to be cast into the sea (Jonah 1:12)
- Jonah called out to God during the three days and three nights in the belly of the fish (Jonah 2:2, 2:4, and 2:7)
- Jonah renewed his commitment to his vow (Jonah 2:9)

i. So, when did Jonah repent? The answer is found in seeing repentance as more than a one-time event. Though it begins at one time, it must continue and mature. It is an event but it is also a process.

B. Jonah out of the fish.

1. (10a) God speaks to the fish.

So the LORD spoke to the fish,

a. The LORD spoke to the fish: The fish worked at the command of God. Just as much as the fish was under the command of God when it swallowed Jonah, it was under His command when it let him go.

b. To the fish: If God can speak to a fish, He can speak to us. Then again, fish probably don't resist the will of God like we do.

2. (10b) Jonah is expelled from the fish.

And it vomited Jonah onto dry land.

a. Vomited Jonah: Sometimes we don't have much of a choice about how we will be delivered. Jonah might have preferred another method, but God had a purpose in this also.

i. Jonah's deliverance came after Jonah's repentance was complete. Jonah wasn't just sorry for what he did, he was now trusting God again. What work of God, or aspect of His deliverance, will remain undone as long as you resist Him and refused to trust Him?

ii. Jonah's deliverance came after three days and nights had passed, providing a foreshadowing of Jesus' resurrection. Jesus said, For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth. (Matthew 12:40).

iii. Do the three days and three nights of Matthew 12:40 prove that if Jesus rose on Sunday, He must have died on Thursday instead of the traditional day of Friday? Not at all. Rabbi Eleazar ben Azariah (around the year 100 A.D.) said: "A day and a night make a whole day, and a portion of a whole day is reckoned as a whole day." This demonstrates how in Jesus' day, the phrase three days and three nights did not necessarily mean a 72-hour period, but a period including at least the portions of three days and three nights.

iv. Jonah's deliverance came after a remarkable example of laying down one's life. Jonah gave his life to appease the wrath of God coming upon others. But death did not hold him; after three days and nights of imprisonment, he was alive and free.

b. Onto dry land: It is commonly thought that Jonah was vomited out on the shores of Nineveh - but we are not told that this was the case, especially because Nineveh is about 375 miles from the Mediterranean Sea. If Jonah did walk into Nineveh right from the belly of the fish, that would be some vomit!

© 2001 David Guzik - No distribution beyond personal use without permission

Study Guide for Obadiah ← Prior Book
Study Guide for Micah 1 Next Book →
Study Guide for Jonah 1 ← Prior Chapter
Study Guide for Jonah 3 Next Chapter →
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