Jonah 2:6 (NKJV)

I went down to the moorings of the mountains; The earth with its bars closed behind me forever...

All scripture is inspired. On that premise, I believe that Jonah's prayer relates his experience inside the belly of the fish. On the basis of this verse, is it accurate to conclude that Jonah literarily died inside the fish?


3 Answers 3


No, he did not literally die. Jonah was using poetry to express very deep fears. The earth was closed off to him while he was in the belly of the fish. He was a prisoner behind bars. The use of "forever" in prophesy and metaphor often expresses the emotions of the moment, the sense that he had that he might never see dry land again.

I like Clarke's commentary on these verses:

Verse 5

"The waters compassed me about even to the soul - So as to seem to deprive me of life. I had no hope left.

The weeds were wrapped about my head - This may be understood literally also. He found himself in the fish's stomach, together with sea weeds, and such like marine substances, which the fish had taken for its aliment."

Verse 6

"I went down to the bottoms of the mountains - This also may be literally understood. The fish followed the slanting base of the mountains, till they terminated in a plain at the bottom of the great deep.

The earth with her bars - He represents himself as a prisoner in a dungeon, closed in with bars which he could not remove, and which at first appeared to be for ever, i.e., the place where his life must terminate.

Yet hast thou brought up my life - The substance of this poetic prayer was composed while in the fish's belly; but afterwards the prophet appears to have thrown it into its present poetic form, and to have added some circumstances, such as that before us; for he now speaks of his deliverance from this imminent danger of death. "Thou hast brought up my life from corruption."

Verse 7

"When my soul fainted - When I had given up all hope of life.

My prayer came in unto thee - Here prayer is personified, and is represented as a messenger going from the distressed, and entering into the temple of God, and standing before him. This is a very fine and delicate image. This clause is one of those which I suppose the prophet to have added when he penned this prayer."

Verse 8

"They that observe lying vanities - They that trust in idols, follow vain predictions, permit themselves to be influenced with foolish fears, so as to induce them to leave the path of obvious duty, forsake their own mercy. In leaving that God who is the Fountain of mercy, they abandon that measure of mercy which he had treasured up for them."

Verse 9

"But I will sacrifice unto thee - I will make a sincere vow, which, as soon as my circumstances will permit, I will faithfully execute; and therefore he adds, "I will pay that which I have vowed."

Salvation is of the Lord - All deliverance from danger, preservation of life, recovery from sickness, and redemption of the soul from the power, guilt, and pollution of sin, is from Jehovah. He alone is the Savior, he alone is the Deliverer; for all salvation is from the Lord."

Source: here

  • Gina thanks. That was fast. This is a very useful answer. +1
    – user20490
    Dec 19, 2017 at 23:29
  • I used Dakes study Bible and they claim that Jonah actually died and was raised again. Is it actually possible for a human to survive for three days inside the digestive system of a fish?
    – user20490
    Dec 19, 2017 at 23:31
  • God's miracles are not limited. It is men who doubt God and try to put Him in a box. As the type for Christ's death, burial and resurrection, it does not necessitate that it exactly mimicked Christ's death. After all, Isaac was not sacrificed, and he was the type for Christ's sacrifice. Clarke also comments to this effect on vs. 10 at the same source.
    – Gina
    Dec 19, 2017 at 23:58
  • You have a point.
    – user20490
    Dec 19, 2017 at 23:59
  • 1
    Yours was a good reply. Out of curiosity on what Biblical text do you develop the idea that Isaac was a type of Christ? Of course I look at the subject of types as being established by the phrase -- a type is a type when the New Testament says it is. That would of course exclude many of the supposed types that have been put forward over the centuries. That still leaves room for what Roy Zuck calls Old Testament illustrations, which are based on similarities.
    – Ken Banks
    Dec 22, 2017 at 16:34

Scholars are very much split on this issue, with perhaps a majority being in favor of the idea that Jonah did not die. There have been good scholars who are on both sides of the issue.

The arguments for his having died come from two places in Scripture. The first is in Jonah itself, in Jonah 2:2, Jonah cried out from the belly of hell (Sheol the abode of the dead).

2 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. Jonah 2:2 KJV

If this was the only place one might surmise that he did not die because the Hebrew term Sheol can have the figurative idea of a place of exile or the extreme degradation of sin.

What settles the argument in my mind is how the New Testament treats this circumstance. This is given in two of the synoptic gospels (two places in Matthew and one in Luke).

In Matt. 12:22-37 the Pharisees had rejected the healings (which were a sign), even suggesting that Jesus had done so by the power of Beelzebub the prince of the devils. He judged them in verses 25-37. Some of the scribes and Pharisees responded with a statement that they desired a sign, they completely missed that the healings had already been a sign. Jesus responded with the statement that they would only receive the sign of the prophet Jonah.

Matt. 12:39-40 KJV

39 But he 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.

The degree of similarity between Jonah and Jesus hinges on the significance of the phrase Ὥσπερ γὰρ in the original Greek. The first word is an adverbial conjunction that conveys a comparison and does not say how they are similar. When you add the second conjunction the phrase then carries the idea of "for it is just like" something. It therefore is reasonable to assume that Jesus meant that Jonah had died and was resurrected, just as Jesus died and spent three days in the grave before being resurrected.

Later in Matthew (Matt. 16:1-4) there was another group of scribes and Pharisees seeking a sign. This time He just said they would only see the sign of the prophet Jonah without explaining the similarity. The same thing in Luke 11:29-32.


Jonah's song really only makes sense if Jonah actually died in the fish. He praised God for delivering him while he was still in the fish, describing the process of dying and being dead. Only after he thanks God for raising up his life does the fish spit him out. Jonah credits God for raising him from the grave before Jonah is delivered from the fish.

If death was just a metaphor for being in the fish, it makes no sense for Jonah to praise God for bringing up Jonah's life from the pit, while Jonah's life was still under the sea in the fish. Nothing would have actually changed since he was in the fish for three days.

I would have had no problem accepting the poetic language argument if Jonah had sung his song of deliverance after God spit him out. The meaning of the song is just not workable if he sung after three days in the fish without any change in his condition.

Regarding the activity of God there were only two acts performed after Jonah was swallowed:

  1. Bringing up Jonah's life from the pit -Jonah 2:6
  2. Commanding the fish to vomit up Jonah onto dry land - Jonah 2:10

The two actions of God resurrecting Jonah and vomiting him from the fish are chronologically separate and are not the same, as those even of the physical death camp often assert. The 'resurrection' happened in the fish and not out of the fish. Then Jonah was vomited up. There is no mention of God preserving Jonah's life for three days, which would have been a third act of God as any thinking person would acknowledge. This third act would necessarily be read into the text by the figurative death camp, since it is no where present in the text itself.

Now of course, understanding that Jonah literally died and was brought back to life strengthens the meaning of his connection to Jesus, however, I was previously comfortable with the connection without a literal death.

With regard to David and Sheol, he only describes being surrounded by the threat of Sheol or being saved from Sheol. He never actually locates himself in Sheol the way Jonah does.

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