Harry Whittaker

5) Jonah’s fate (1:17-2:10)

1: 17-2: 10 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.
Then Jonah prayed unto the Lord his God out of the fish’s belly.
And said, 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.
For thou hadst cast me into the deep, in the midst of the seas; and the floods compassed me about: all thy billows and thy waves passed over me.
Then I said, I am cast out of thy sight; yet I will look again toward thy holy temple.
The waters compassed me about, even to the soul: the depth closed me round about, the weeds were wrapped about my head.
I went down to the bottoms of the mountains; the earth with her bars was about me for ever: yet hast thou brought up my life from corruption, O Lord my God.
When my soul fainted within me I remembered the Lord; and my prayer came in unto thee, into thine holy temple.
They that observe Iying vanities forsake their own mercy.
But I will sacrifice unto thee with the voice of thanksgiving; I will pay that I have vowed. Salvation is of the Lord.
And the Lord spake unto the fish, and it vomited out Jonah upon the dry land.

Meantime, what happened to Jonah?

The pictures in the children’s story books of a whale swimming alongside the ship with its great mouth open, ready to swallow up the drowning prophet, are almost certainly misleading.

The details, as preserved in Jonah’s own prayer are fairly explicit:

“The waters compassed me about, even to the soul” (that last phrase means — he lost his life)...

“The weeds were wrapped about my head.
I went down to the bottoms of the mountains;
The earth with her bars was about me for ever:
Yet hast thou brought up my life from corruption”.

All these phrases point to one definite conclusion: in the sea he drowned, and sank to the bottom.

When he revived, he found himself inside the stomach of a great fish. That this great monster was a whale (strictly an animal, and not a fish) is al most certainly correct, un less one is going to postulate (needlessly) that this monster was a unique creation, brought into being specially for Jonah’s benefit.

It may be taken as fairly definite that Jonah, a lifeless corpse, was in the whale’s belly until the time came when he was to emerge to a normal life again. The reason for this conclusion will appear in due course.

It was at the end of “three days and three nights” that Jonah revived and offered his prayer of thanksgiving when as yet he did not know what his fate would be — though indeed he may have inferred a strong reason for hope, from the fact that he had come to life again, and in such a highly unusual environment.

No sooner was his psalm completed than the whale, as much under divine control as those fishes were in the two miraculous catches made by Peter, now swimming in the shallow waters off the Holy Land, became stranded. There, in its desperate struggles, it vomited up the contents of its stomach, Jonah included, and the prophet found himself on a sandbank with easy access to the shore.

The narrative tells nothing of how he was re-equipped with suitable raiment, provided most likely by someone who was satisfied that he told a true story.

One would like to think that at the temple in Jerusalem he encountered again those seafaring men whom he had last seen as they consigned him to the raging waters of the Great Sea. They had vowed a sacrifice to Jehovah, and — one may be sure — that vow was kept.

The unusual sight of these Gentiles seeking to offer sacrifice in the temple would be in itself a strong witness to the truth of Jonah’s extraordinary experience.

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