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Jonah 1:17 New International Version

Now the LORD provided a huge fish to swallow Jonah, and Jonah was in the belly of the fish three days and three nights.

Jonah 2:

1 From inside the fish Jonah prayed to the Lord his God.

10 And the Lord commanded the fish, and it vomited Jonah onto dry land.

This fish plays a major role in the story of Jonah. What does it symbolize? Sheol? God? Salvation? Jail?

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  • See Leviathan.
    – Lucian
    May 7 at 16:33
  • Please elaborate it into an answer. For encouragement, I usually +1 to just about any answer for the effort.
    – Tony Chan
    May 7 at 16:44
  • @TonyChan Indeed, this seems like a valid question that provokes much thought. I suspect that the "huge fish" is emblematic of Hades, where the lost now suffer in the torment of flames. (I could be off on this.) +1
    – Xeno
    May 7 at 21:39
  • . . . . .. Up-voted +1.
    – Nigel J
    May 8 at 8:18
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Jesus said:

"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." (Matthew 12:40)

A "beast," as the Bible likes to call an animal, represents a nation, government, or kingdom in prophecy; and the fish/whale which swallowed Jonah is no exception.

For example:

"Thus he said, The fourth beast shall be the fourth kingdom upon earth, which shall be diverse from all kingdoms, and shall devour the whole earth, and shall tread it down, and break it in pieces." (Daniel 7:23)

Jesus makes a direct equation between the belly of the fish and "heart of the earth." At the time of Christ, the kingdom which would most fittingly represent the "heart of the earth" was that of the Roman kingdom. It was the most powerful nation in the known world at that time, and it ruled over all of Israel.

To be in the belly of the whale/fish (a beast of the sea) was to be entirely within its power--virtually to the point of helplessness. Jonah was unable to extricate himself from the belly of the fish. In like manner, Jesus came under the power of the Roman government at his arrest in the Garden of Gethsemane.

Jonah was in the whale's belly for three days; and Jesus was within the power of the Romans for three days. Jesus entered Roman control at his arrest on Thursday night, was crucified by the Romans on Friday, and he lay entombed under seal and guarded by a company of Roman soldiers until the Sabbath was past. This totals three days and three nights:

Thursday night, Friday = 1 full day ⇘
  Friday night, Sabbath = 1 full day   ⇒ 3 full days
 Sabbath night, Sunday = 1 full day ⇗

This three days and three nights fulfilled Jesus' prophecy, for he had specified:

"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." (Matthew 12:40)

As the sacrifice of Jonah by throwing him into the sea saved all of the occupants of the ship, so the sacrifice of Jesus was to provide a means of salvation to all on earth. Unwittingly and unwillingly, Jonah became a type for Christ.

The prophecy seems so clear and the correlation between Jonah's experience with what Jesus predicted would happen to himself so well paralleled, as to give us confidence in the interpretation of the symbols for the prophecy.

The fish represented the Roman kingdom; and its unwilling occupant represented our Sin-bearer, who likewise desired that "this cup" (this experience) should pass from him (see Matthew 26:39,42; Mark 14:26; Luke 22:42; cf. Jonah 1:10).

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  • Very interesting. I had not considered that typology before. +1
    – Xeno
    May 7 at 21:43
  • @Polyhat the belly of the fish = tomb. If you total number of days Jesus was in the tomb varies from 2 days and 2 nights to 2 days and 3 nights based on which gospel you read. So your explanation of the belly of the fish = from the time Jesus was caught is the only way it comes to 3 days and 3 nights. There is still one issue. In all the gospels Jesus had the Passover meal (Thursday night) while in John he does not have it as he is Passover lamb. So according to Johns's gospel Jesus was arrested on wednesday night and hence it is 4 nights and 3 days.
    – Yeddu
    May 8 at 13:13
  • @YedduPrasad I've seen a lot of misunderstanding out there regarding agreement on these times among the several gospels. Most of the misunderstanding stems from the fact that Biblical reckoning of days has nothing to do with midnight: If you see "the evening of the preparation day" (Friday), for example, that means Thursday night to us. Friday night would already have begun the Sabbath, and be called "the evening of the sabbath." I expect that is where your issue lies.
    – Polyhat
    May 8 at 13:20
  • @Polyhat, please check this pdf. Thought it will be easy to explain my point so created this ppt drive.google.com/file/d/11pSW41gZgt3ktOuLVBxOAEp2YMLCNUpm/view
    – Yeddu
    May 8 at 15:43
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The fish or, more to the point, the fish’s belly represents the tomb. To Jonah, being trapped inside the fish was representative of being in the land of the dead. Jonah made this comparison himself when he prayed from inside the fish’s belly:

I called to the Lord out of my distress, and he answered me; out of the belly of Sheol I cried — verse 2

I descended to the base of the mountains. The earth with its bars was around me forever — verse 6

Jonah tried to avoid doing God’s will by sailing to Tarshish, “a maritime country lying in the remotest region of the earth... one of the remote places that have not heard of Yhwh.”* His time in the fish’s belly taught Jonah the futility of hiding from God. After all, what is the sense of running away when one’s life is shown to be entirely in God’s hands?

From the moment God called Jonah to go preach to the Ninevites to when Jonah was regurgitated from the mouth of the fish, this story stands as an enduring testimony of God’s boundless omnipotence and of his absolute power over life and death.

*Singer, Isidore, Ph.D, Projector and Managing Editor. Entry for 'Tarshish'. 1901 The Jewish Encyclopedia. https://www.studylight.org/encyclopedias/eng/tje/t/tarshish.html. 1901.

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I don’t understand why this Q received some downvotes - I’d like to hear why, because it’s a valid question!

The story of Jonah is prophetic. Symbolic. Polyhat has outlined the parallel between Jesus’s death, and Jonah.

MAT 12:40 For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of a huge fish, so the Son of Man will be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.

But there is a little more to add ...

A prophecy is not always something ‘spoken’. Prophecy in the Bible is always pattern. Spoken prophecy is when you are describing or outlining a pattern - one that was [past], is (present] and/or will be [future]. Because prophecy always has multiple fulfillments. This is one ‘uniquely’ Jewish/Hebraic feature’ many interpretations of Biblical prophecy fail to take into account.

We need to consider the previous 2 verses to see ‘more’.

MAT 12:38 Then some of the Pharisees and teachers of the law said to him, “Teacher, we want to see a sign from you.” 39 He answered, “A wicked and adulterous generation asks for a sign! But none will be given it except the sign of the prophet Jonah.

The Pharisees demanded a sign. This ‘demand’ is repeated elsewhere, and again, example in Matthew 16. And, Jonah was a ‘sign’. In fact, it was the only sign that Jesus said they would get. That makes this significant - very significant!

And more, it ended up being a clear sign, that is, one the Pharisees would recognise - not be able to ignore. Remember in ‘Jewish’ thinking, ‘signs’ are based on prophecy which is pattern. With multiple fulfilments. So let’s look at some of these ..

So past - Jonah. This forms or reflects the ‘pattern’. Which is 3 days entombed. This was to be fulfilled in front of the Pharisees in a very short while. Lazarus. Many have an issue with why Jesus delayed going to see Lazarus after hearing he was gravely sick. It was to fulfill this sign. Lazarus had to (1) die, then (2) Be dead for several days - because that was the sign!

And the Pharisees knew this - and it incensed them - that’s why they they wanted to kill Jesus for doing this feat! Because of Jonah! So present - Lazarus. And a little more future - Jesus. And future future - the two witnesses in Revelation. Multiple fullfillments! As with any prophecy.

So yes, Jonah has significance! Highly symbolic. Good Question!

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Matthew 12:40
For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of a huge fish, so the Son of Man will be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.

Jonah may be seen as the type of Christ in that he emerged from the fish's belly and thus appeared to rise from death. The great fish is a symbol of Hades

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