1 Then Jonah prayed to the Lord his God from the belly of the fish, 2 saying,

“I called out to the Lord, out of my distress, and he answered me; out of the belly of Sheol I cried, and you heard my voice.

Verse 1 makes it unambiguous: Jonah was praying while inside the belly of a fish.

People seem to focus on its application with respect to what Jesus said BUT why would Jonah say "belly of Sheol" to refer to his situation?

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    This is a prophetic utterance. Why would David say 'The Lord said unto my Lord : Sit thou at my right hand . . . . ?' Why would Isaiah say 'I saw the Lord high and lifted up and his train filled the temple' . . . ?
    – Nigel J
    Commented Sep 20, 2022 at 18:34
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    Either that comment about the boat is a troll, and/or it is based on someone's fantasy. Either way, it is completely contrary to the text, with nothing Biblical to support it. If you can "interpret" Biblical texts in ways that stretch that far from and contrary to what's written, you can "interpret" them to mean absolutely whatever you want. Commented Sep 21, 2022 at 16:06
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    A Declaration that one Thing is (or represents) another; or, Comparison by Representation. Met´-a-phor. Greek, μεταθορά (metaphora), a transference, or carrying over or across. From μετά (meta), beyond or over, and φέρειν (pherein), to carry. We may call the figure "Representation" or "Transference." studylight.org/lexicons/eng/bullinger/m/… The image of a Whale swallowing him is itself a metaphor for his returning from death after a few days lost in the sea. Whale is more metaphorical than death.
    – Michael16
    Commented Sep 22, 2022 at 17:18
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    Sheol is a word. It speaks of a condition (of death), not a location. One's personal Sheol could turn out to start under water (whether a few inches sufficient to cause drowning, or many fathoms deep.) It could be the point at which Covid causes your last gasp, or when you are atomised in an aircraft when a bomb explodes underneath you. Anyone on the cusp of death, and aware of that grim fact, may speak or think about Sheol swallowing them up.
    – Anne
    Commented Sep 23, 2022 at 8:22
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    @One God the Father I agree. The sign of Jonah being resurrected after three days and three nights in the belly of the whale makes a closer comparison to Jesus being three days and three nights in the heart of the earth (Sheol or Hades) than the other theories offered. Commented Oct 16, 2022 at 23:10

9 Answers 9


Jonah's prayer is obviously poetry. One of the verses of the Song of the Sea (Exodus 15:12) says: ”Thou stretchedst out thy right hand, the earth swallowed them”. Even though it was the waters of the Red Sea that destroyed pharaoh's army.

There are also elements of the Old Testament cosmology. Sheol and tehom (the deep) sometimes seam to be two descriptions of the same place ruled by the enemy.

And the sea gave up the dead which were in it; and death and hell delivered up the dead which were in them: and they were judged every man according to their works. (Revelaton 20:13)

The deep is the place where the dragon (leviathan/serpent) lives.

In that day the LORD with his sore and great and strong sword shall punish leviathan the piercing serpent, even leviathan that crooked serpent; and he shall slay the dragon that is in the sea. (Isaiah 27:1)

Finally, consider a possibility that Jonah actually died. The miracle was not him living in the fish, but him being resurrected after three days and three nights. So the belly of the great fish was also Jonah's grave. ”Yet hast thou brought up my life from the pit”(2:6) The prayer of thanksgiving takes place after his resurrection.

Personally, I think it is a combination of all three.

  • I am certainly partial to the view that Jonah died shortly after being consumed by the great fish. First, it makes sense just physically; humans do not survive their whole body being eating. Second, it makes literal sense since Sheol means hell, afterlife, the pit, or the grave; why press a metaphor when the literal is perfectly serviceable? Third, as you mentioned, it makes the comparison of Jesus far more poignant. Commented Sep 21, 2022 at 13:08
  • @HenryMalinowski except Jesus was not in the grave 3 days, 3 nights. Even considering partial day as a full day, DAY_1 - Friday; NIGHT_1 - Friday/Saturday; DAY_2 - Saturday; NIGHT_2 - Saturday/Sunday; DAY_3 - Sunday. UH OH: no NIGHT_3. Jesus said HEART OF THE EARTH. Has that phrase ever been used to refer to physical tomb? Commented Sep 21, 2022 at 18:01
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    @HenryMalinowski "on the third day" - inclusive counting. First day - day of crucifixion. Second day - the sabbath. Third day - the first day of week. Commented Sep 21, 2022 at 18:02
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    @Maximus1987 Speaking of x days and x nights was, and still is, a well know idiom within Semitic inclusive time-reckoning even it does not describe what occurred in a way that would satisfy a modern journalist or court reporter; as if "3 days and 3 nights" = "at least 72 hours passed". Note the use of "after three days" and "until the third day" in Matt 27:63-64. Or the use of "for seven days" and "on the seventh day" in 1 King 20:29; the same construction is also present in Gen 42:17-18. x days and x nights is simply a way of speaking of anything on the xth day. Commented Sep 21, 2022 at 19:13
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    @Maximus1987 Your certainty about the 3 days comment indicates that you might not (yet) know about double Sabbaths and high holy days. Either Friday or Thursday could be a Sabbath. The simplest way to have some doubts about a (rushed) Friday burial just before sundown is to ponder when the women purchased and prepared burial spices?
    – Stephen
    Commented Sep 21, 2022 at 22:49

He uses a metaphor to describe his feelings inside the belly of the fish.

Consider the possibility that he might start to be digested by the fish, so as it is unpleasant to be in Sheol (hell), the same it is unpleasant to be in a belly of a fish.

The word Belly in Hebrew is בטן, and it can be a metaphor for the term "inner".

Interestingly, Rashi's commentary makes a separation between the word בטן and the word שאול and he interprets it as "from the belly - which is like Sheol, I cried, and you heard my voice".


It is perfectly natural for Jonah to describe his (then) current situation in the belly of the fish as "she'ol" - he knew that he would die without a miracle rescue!

The consistent meaning of "she'ol" in the OT is simply "grave" or "death" to which all people go at death, Gen 37:35, 42:38, 44:29, 31, Num 16:30, 33, 1 Sam 2:6, 2 Sam 22:6, 1 Kings 2:69, Job 7:9, 11:8, 14:13, 17:13, 16, 21:13, 24:19, Ps 6:5, 9:17, 16:10, etc.

However, God forgave and miraculously rescued Jonah (Jonah 2:10); and the belly of the fish did not become his grave.

There is a further poetic component here (at least in part) because Jonah describes his situation in the belly of the fish as "the roots of the mountains" (Jonah 2:6). Thus, there is some poetic license here as well.

  • 1 Then Jonah prayed to the Lord his God from the belly of the fish, 2 saying, “I called out to the Lord, out of my distress, and he answered me; out of the belly of Sheol I cried, and you heard my voice." Here Jonah was already in the fish when he prayed to Jehovah. So according to the "inspired" writer, Jonah was inside the fish. Commented Oct 26, 2022 at 20:01
  • “I called out to the Lord, out of my distress, and he answered me; out of the belly of Sheol I cried, and you heard my voice. Commented Oct 26, 2022 at 20:02
  • He was inside the fish but Jonah now refers to Sheol. That is because man was both a body and a soul. In the Hebrew Scriptures the body would either be buried or unburied and the soul went to Sheol. So these two verses are actually poetic. He was not only inside the fish but he was in Sheol at the same time. The writer describing the story uses both the body and soul both together although in the Hebrews scriptures it was commonly believed there was no consciousness in Sheol. This belief is called "soul sleep" and means that the soul was unconscious until the resurrection. Commented Oct 26, 2022 at 20:11
  • Some Christians retain this "soul sleep" doctrine. And believe the righteous shall be raised from sleep at the moment of the resurrection. Others believe when Jesus ascended into heaven and took all the righteous from Sheol/Hades with him. However, if Luke 23:43 is correct then Jesus went to Paradise the day he died and the malefactor joined him that same day. According to the (parable?) of Lazarus and the rich man, Lazarus went to Abraham's bosum the same day he died so no doubt Paradise and Hades were each compartments of Sheol. Commented Oct 26, 2022 at 20:19
  • @SaberTruthTiger - you are correct that some see the Bible evidence very differently.
    – Dottard
    Commented Oct 26, 2022 at 23:26

The original Hebrew word translated as "belly" comes "from an unused root probably meaning to be hollow" according to Strong's.

"Sheol" simply means "grave".

All Jonah was saying was "from the hollow of the grave", without any supernatural or other implied meaning. (e.g. NWT has it as "Out of the depths of the Grave I cried for help.".)

Is there any reason to think that Jonah even knew where he actually was? From his viewpoint, Jonah wasn't using figurative or symbolic language, he literally thought he was buried in his grave, somehow still having enough space to call out to God.

  • Of course he knew where he was. He was thrown into the sea. He felt the cold water. He might even floated. He was able to move his organs. Then everything changed. It was a bit warmer, and he probably could not move so freely. And he heard the heartbeat of the fish...
    – Kapandaria
    Commented Sep 21, 2022 at 15:15
  • @Kapandaria, fish are cold-blooded so would be more or less at sea-temperature. How many people can recognize a fish's heartbeat? For instance, a great white shark has a two-chambered heart, not four as we do, and it beats about 10 times a minute, not 60 to 100+ as ours do. Would someone encased in total darkness and hearing a muffled drum-beat every six seconds conclude that they were inside a fish, or that they had died and been buried? A blue whale (not a fish) would be warmer inside, but while diving its heart rate is only two beats per minute, which no one but a scientist would recognize. Commented Sep 21, 2022 at 16:14
  • I believe that if you would die, you would know that. And you even have a sign for that: in psalms 115:17 : "It is not the dead who praise the LORD, those who go down to silence". So you have a sign. If you can praise the Lord, it means that you are alive.
    – Kapandaria
    Commented Sep 21, 2022 at 17:24

Jonah 2:1-2 - why say "Sheol" to refer to the literal belly of a literal fish?

It's a poetic expression. Jonah was thrown overboard during the storm and one moment he's struggling in the sea the next moment he is in the belly of this sea monster. If Jonah is taken literally then Jonah was not "dead" when he prayed but cognizant of his peril. He likened his predicament to someone in Sheol.

Sheol, like Hades in the Greek, was spoken of being in the subterranean regions of the earth where departed spirits of the dead would go. Sheol and Hades also both meant the grave. Not everyone who dies is buried but everyone who dies goes to Sheol or Hades. It was the common grave of all mankind because everyone that died would go there. If they drowned at sea, they would go there, if they were burnt to ashes in an inferno, they would go there. If they were atomized in a nuclear blast they would go there.

Ancients had differing views regarding whether those in Sheol were conscious or not. Not all Greeks believed Hades had fire but Sheol was the equivalent of Hades and they had some things in common. The Sheol in the Hebrew Scriptures did not have flames of torment. People who were there did not know they were dead. They knew "nothing'.

Ecclesiastes 9:5-6 (KJV)

5 For the living know that they will die, but the dead know nothing, and they have no more reward, for the memory of them is forgotten. 6 Their love and their hate and their envy have already perished, and forever they have no more share in all that is done under the sun.

The dead men and women in Sheol were said to not have preeminence over the beasts.

Ecclesiastes 3:19 19 For that which befalleth the sons of men befalleth beasts; even one thing befalleth them: as the one dieth, so dieth the other; yea, they have all one breath; so that a man hath no preeminence above a beast: for all is vanity.

A common saying in the Hebrew Scriptures was when someone died they were "gathered unto their people" or "gathered unto their fathers". Since the graves would not all be the same, the "gathering" to their people would most likely be Sheol, the unseen, shades. Read the following to see how it was used:

Genesis 25:8

8 Then Abraham gave up the ghost, and died in a good old age, an old man, and full of years; and was gathered to his people.

Genesis 25:17

And these are the years of the life of Ishmael, an hundred and thirty and seven years: and he gave up the ghost and died; and was gathered unto his people.

Genesis 35:29

And Isaac gave up the ghost, and died, and was gathered unto his people, being old and full of days: and his sons Esau and Jacob buried him.

Genesis 49:29

And he charged them, and said unto them, I am to be gathered unto my people: bury me with my fathers in the cave that is in the field of Ephron the Hittite,

Genesis 49:33

And when Jacob had made an end of commanding his sons, he gathered up his feet into the bed, and yielded up the ghost, and was gathered unto his people.

Numbers 20:26

And strip Aaron of his garments, and put them upon Eleazar his son: and Aaron shall be gathered unto his people, and shall die there.

Numbers 27:13

And when thou hast seen it, thou also shalt be gathered unto thy people, as Aaron thy brother was gathered.

Deuteronomy 32:50

And die in the mount whither thou goest up, and be gathered unto thy people; as Aaron thy brother died in mount Hor, and was gathered unto his people:

The phrase "gathered unto his fathers" had the same sense.

  1. Genesis 49:29

And he charged them, and said unto them, I am to be gathered unto my people: bury me with my fathers in the cave that is in the field of Ephron the Hittite,

  1. Judges 2:10

And also all that generation were gathered unto their fathers: and there arose another generation after them, which knew not the LORD, nor yet the works which he had done for Israel.

  1. 2 Kings 22:20

Behold therefore, I will gather thee unto thy fathers, and thou shalt be gathered into thy grave in peace; and thine eyes shall not see all the evil which I will bring upon this place. And they brought the king word again.

  1. 2 Chronicles 34:28

Behold, I will gather thee to thy fathers, and thou shalt be gathered to thy grave in peace, neither shall thine eyes see all the evil that I will bring upon this place, and upon the inhabitants of the same. So they brought the king word again.

When the judge Samuel was brought up from the regions of Sheol at the prompting of the witch of Endor, Samuel scolded Saul for having him brought him up. He predicted that Saul and his sons would be killed in battle the next day and Saul and his sons were indeed killed in battle the next day, just as Samuel predicted. In verse 19 Samuel told Saul that the next day he and his sons would be with Samuel (in Sheol). Saul and his sons were not buried after the next day's battle. Indeed, Saul's body was hung in the Philistine's temple and was buried only after several days on display. So, the body of Saul is not what Samuel meant when he told him he would be with him the next day. SeeI Samuel 28:5-20

I Samuel 28

5 And when Saul saw the host of the Philistines, he was afraid, and his heart greatly trembled. 6 And when Saul enquired of the Lord, the Lord answered him not, neither by dreams, nor by Urim, nor by prophets.

7 Then said Saul unto his servants, Seek me a woman that hath a familiar spirit, that I may go to her, and enquire of her. And his servants said to him, Behold, there is a woman that hath a familiar spirit at Endor.

8 And Saul disguised himself, and put on other raiment, and he went, and two men with him, and they came to the woman by night: and he said, I pray thee, divine unto me by the familiar spirit, and bring me him up, whom I shall name unto thee. 9 And the woman said unto him, Behold, thou knowest what Saul hath done, how he hath cut off those that have familiar spirits, and the wizards, out of the land: wherefore then layest thou a snare for my life, to cause me to die? 10 And Saul sware to her by the Lord, saying, As the Lord liveth, there shall no punishment happen to thee for this thing. 11 Then said the woman, Whom shall I bring up unto thee? And he said, Bring me up Samuel. 12 And when the woman saw Samuel, she cried with a loud voice: and the woman spake to Saul, saying, Why hast thou deceived me? for thou art Saul. 13 And the king said unto her, Be not afraid: for what sawest thou? And the woman said unto Saul, I saw gods ascending out of the earth. 14 And he said unto her, What form is he of? And she said, An old man cometh up; and he is covered with a mantle. And Saul perceived that it was Samuel, and he stooped with his face to the ground, and bowed himself.

15 And Samuel said to Saul, Why hast thou disquieted me, to bring me up? And Saul answered, I am sore distressed; for the Philistines make war against me, and God is departed from me, and answereth me no more, neither by prophets, nor by dreams: therefore I have called thee, that thou mayest make known unto me what I shall do. *16 Then said Samuel, Wherefore then dost thou ask of me, seeing the Lord is departed from thee, and is become thine enemy? 17 And the Lord hath done to him, as he spake by me: for the Lord hath rent the kingdom out of thine hand, and given it to thy neighbour, even to David: 18 Because thou obeyedst not the voice of the Lord, nor executedst his fierce wrath upon Amalek, therefore hath the Lord done this thing unto thee this day. 19 Moreover the Lord will also deliver Israel with thee into the hand of the Philistines: and to morrow shalt thou and thy sons be with me: the Lord also shall deliver the host of Israel into the hand of the Philistines.

20 Then Saul fell straightway all along on the earth, and was sore afraid, because of the words of Samuel: and there was no strength in him; for he had eaten no bread all the day, nor all the night.

I Samuel 31 recounts the death of Saul and his sons in the battle of the Philistines:

1 Now the Philistines fought against Israel: and the men of Israel fled from before the Philistines, and fell down slain in mount Gilboa.

2 And the Philistines followed hard upon Saul and upon his sons; and the Philistines slew Jonathan, and Abinadab, and Melchishua, Saul's sons.

3 And the battle went sore against Saul, and the archers hit him; and he was sore wounded of the archers.

4 Then said Saul unto his armourbearer, Draw thy sword, and thrust me through therewith; lest these uncircumcised come and thrust me through, and abuse me. But his armourbearer would not; for he was sore afraid. Therefore Saul took a sword, and fell upon it.

5 And when his armourbearer saw that Saul was dead, he fell likewise upon his sword, and died with him.

6 So Saul died, and his three sons, and his armourbearer, and all his men, that same day together.

7 And when the men of Israel that were on the other side of the valley, and they that were on the other side Jordan, saw that the men of Israel fled, and that Saul and his sons were dead, they forsook the cities, and fled; and the Philistines came and dwelt in them.

8 And it came to pass on the morrow, when the Philistines came to strip the slain, that they found Saul and his three sons fallen in mount Gilboa.

9 And they cut off his head, and stripped off his armour, and sent into the land of the Philistines round about, to publish it in the house of their idols, and among the people.

10 And they put his armour in the house of Ashtaroth: and they fastened his body to the wall of Bethshan.

11 And when the inhabitants of Jabeshgilead heard of that which the Philistines had done to Saul;

12 All the valiant men arose, and went all night, and took the body of Saul and the bodies of his sons from the wall of Bethshan, and came to Jabesh, and burnt them there.

13 And they took their bones, and buried them under a tree at Jabesh, and fasted seven days.

When King David's newborn son died David declared that he could go to his son but his son could not come to him. II Samuel 12:16-23.

II Samuel 12

16 David therefore besought God for the child; and David fasted, and went in, and lay all night upon the earth. 17 And the elders of his house arose, and went to him, to raise him up from the earth: but he would not, neither did he eat bread with them. 18 And it came to pass on the seventh day, that the child died. And the servants of David feared to tell him that the child was dead: for they said, Behold, while the child was yet alive, we spake unto him, and he would not hearken unto our voice: how will he then vex himself, if we tell him that the child is dead? 19 But when David saw that his servants whispered, David perceived that the child was dead: therefore David said unto his servants, Is the child dead? And they said, He is dead. 20 Then David arose from the earth, and washed, and anointed himself, and changed his apparel, and came into the house of the Lord, and worshipped: then he came to his own house; and when he required, they set bread before him, and he did eat.

21 Then said his servants unto him, What thing is this that thou hast done? thou didst fast and weep for the child, while it was alive; but when the child was dead, thou didst rise and eat bread. 22 And he said, While the child was yet alive, I fasted and wept: for I said, Who can tell whether God will be gracious to me, that the child may live? 23 But now he is dead, wherefore should I fast? can I bring him back again? I shall go to him, but he shall not return to me.

There were some Christians who believed Hades was a subterranean region where all the dead went. In Hades there was an area called "Abraham's bossom" spoken of in Luke 16:19-31. That was the so-called "good" side of Hades. The righteous dead went there where Abraham was.


19 There was a certain rich man, which was clothed in purple and fine linen, and fared sumptuously every day: 20 And there was a certain beggar named Lazarus, which was laid at his gate, full of sores, 21 And desiring to be fed with the crumbs which fell from the rich man's table: moreover the dogs came and licked his sores. 22 And it came to pass, that the beggar died, and was carried by the angels into Abraham's bosom: the rich man also died, and was buried; 23 And in hell he lift up his eyes, being in torments, and seeth Abraham afar off, and Lazarus in his bosom. 24 And he cried and said, Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus, that he may dip the tip of his finger in water, and cool my tongue; for I am tormented in this flame. 25 But Abraham said, Son, remember that thou in thy lifetime receivedst thy good things, and likewise Lazarus evil things: but now he is comforted, and thou art tormented. 26 And beside all this, between us and you there is a great gulf fixed: so that they which would pass from hence to you cannot; neither can they pass to us, that would come from thence. 27 Then he said, I pray thee therefore, father, that thou wouldest send him to my father's house: 28 For I have five brethren; that he may testify unto them, lest they also come into this place of torment. 29 Abraham saith unto him, They have Moses and the prophets; let them hear them. 30 And he said, Nay, father Abraham: but if one went unto them from the dead, they will repent. 31 And he said unto him, If they hear not Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded, though one rose from the dead.

There was a place also referred to as Paradise. Jesus promised the crucified malefactor that he would be with Jesus in Paradise the same day Luke 23:39-43:

Luke 23:

39 And one of the malefactors which were hanged railed on him, saying, If thou be Christ, save thyself and us. 40 But the other answering rebuked him, saying, Dost not thou fear God, seeing thou art in the same condemnation? 41 And we indeed justly; for we receive the due reward of our deeds: but this man hath done nothing amiss. 42 And he said unto Jesus, Lord, remember me when thou comest into thy kingdom. 43 And Jesus said unto him, Verily I say unto thee, Today shalt thou be with me in paradise.

Later, many believed that Paradise was brought up from Hades into heaven at the time of Jesus' ascension into heaven, bringing the righteous up into heaven with him.

The other part of Hades was where the fire was. This is based on a story Jesus told in the book of Luke, Chapter 16. It could have been a parable but parable or not Jesus's story related that people go to Hades and there they lift up their eyes and realize they are in a place of torment. His listeners would no doubt have understood what he meant.. Just keep in mind there is not just one definition of Sheol or Hades. Both of them meant the common grave too. –

Bible Study Tools: Sheol

What is Sheol in the Bible?

Hell, Sheol, Hades, Paradise, and the Grave

However, they both also meant the place in the subterranean regions of the earth where all the dead go, burial or not. –

In the midst of or in the center of didn't necessarily mean either Sheol or Hades was dead center in the globe we call earth. Tyre, an island mentioned in the Bible, was said to be in the "midst" of the sea even though it was only a mile off the coast (see Ezekiel 26:5, 27:4, 25-27, 32; 28:8).

Ezekiel 26:5 It shall be a place for the spreading of nets in the midst of the sea: for I have spoken it, saith the Lord God: and it shall become a spoil to the nations.

Ezekiel 27:4 Thy borders are in the midst of the seas, thy builders have perfected thy beauty.

Ezekiel 27:25-27 25 The ships of Tarshish did sing of thee in thy market: and thou wast replenished, and made very glorious in the midst of the seas.

Ezekiel 27:26 Thy rowers have brought thee into great waters: the east wind hath broken thee in the midst of the seas.

Ezekiel 27:27 Thy riches, and thy fairs, thy merchandise, thy mariners, and thy pilots, thy calkers, and the occupiers of thy merchandise, and all thy men of war, that are in thee, and in all thy company which is in the midst of thee, shall fall into the midst of the seas in the day of thy ruin.

Ezekiel 27:32 And in their wailing they shall take up a lamentation for thee, and lament over thee, saying, What city is like Tyrus, like the destroyed in the midst of the sea?

Ezekiel 28:8 They shall bring thee down to the pit, and thou shalt die the deaths of them that are slain in the midst of the seas.

People probably thought Hades had fire because they had seen volcanoes and had seen the rivers of fire that poured out of the top of an active volcano. The Jews' Sheol shows no evidence of fire so it probably didn't have it. The Greeks, did, however.

Please read DISSERTATION V.–An Extract out of Josephus’s discourse to the Greeks, concerning Hades. Some people claim Josephus did not write this, but a later Christian writer in or about the third century but it is an interesting read just the same.

Here is more on Sheol from Bible Hub.


If you read each verse twice, and each time read Sheol without translating it but thinking "grave" the first time you read it and "a subterranean place where all the dead go" the second time you read it you will get a feel for how the word was used in Hebrew. In some cases either grave or the subterranean region can fit and either word be used.

Here is something from Ephesians 4:8-9 in the KJV:

8 Wherefore he saith, When he ascended up on high, he led captivity captive, and gave gifts unto men.

9 (Now that he (Jesus) ascended, what is it but that he (Jesus) also descended first into the lower parts of the earth?

I added the words Jesus to the verse.

In 2 Peter 2:4 we have: For if God spared not the angels that sinned, but cast them down to hell, and delivered them into chains of darkness, to be reserved unto judgment;

The Greek word here translated as hell in the KJV means the lowest part of hell. It comes from the word Tartaroo.

More on Tartarus:


More on the greek word Tartarus, the lowest hell:


See also here:

1 Peter 3:18-20

18 For Christ also hath once suffered for sins, the just for the unjust, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh, but quickened by the Spirit:

19 By which also he went and preached unto the spirits in prison;

20 Which sometime were disobedient, when once the longsuffering of God waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was a preparing, wherein few, that is, eight souls were saved by water.

Here is something about Qeber, another Hebrew word for grave.


I hope this helps.


I prefer the explanation that Jonah's prayer/hymn is actually a psalm composed by the book's author or a later editor, not by Jonah himself. It should not be understood from the standpoint of a man trapped in a literal fish, but as a psalm written either about Israel's plight or about a personal spiritual agony. As far as the prayer goes, the fish is not even mentioned. Sheol isn't the belly of the fish. It is Sheol.

The Cambridge Commentary says:

The prayer is remarkable for its many resemblances in thought and expression to passages in the Book of Psalms. The words of the Psalter, however, are not exactly and literally quoted...

The Expositor's Bible Commentary takes the view that the psalm, which was composed by the book's author, expresses Israel's situation during the Exile:

One prophet explicitly describes the Exile of Israel as the swallowing of the nation by the monster, the Babylonian tyrant, whom God forces at last to disgorge his prey. Israel says: (Jeremiah 51:3) "Nebuchadrezzar the king of Babylon hath devoured me and crushed me, he hath swallowed me up like the Dragon." Jonah [is] the type of Israel...[and] the Psalm or Prayer is put into Jonah’s mouth while he is yet in the fish...

In this view "Sheol" is symbolic of Israel's alienation from God and the prayer is a cry for national deliverance. Alternatively it represents the spiritual state of the author, who, like many psalmists, feels cut off from God and prays desperately for salvation. In either case, Sheol is not the belly of the fish, but the belly of the fish may be symbolic of Sheol.

  • It does provide a possible link to what Jesus meant. Maybe "my God, my God why have you forsaken me" links to your answer. Thoughts? I read a theory that Jesus' 3 days, 3 nights start when He was arrested: that "heart of the earth" does not mean a physical tomb. Commented Sep 22, 2022 at 19:10
  • @Maximus1987 A tomb would not be in the heart of the earth. A tomb usually is above "the ground and therefore is probably not what Jesus had in mind when he spoke the "heat of the earth":. What is likely though is that Jesus thought he would be three days and three nights in Sheol or Hades. That could properly be considered the same thing. In Luke 16 Hades was where the rich man went when he died. Lazarus had already died and was in "Abraham's Bosum" with some distance between the two men, but close enough for them to carry on a conversation. This was probably a parable. Or not. Commented Nov 1, 2022 at 2:28
  • It's not likely the Rich Man was in a river of lava or fire, because if he was totally engulfed in flames he would not be able to carry on a conversation with Abraham. Moreover, in Luke 23:39-43 indicates a place where the righteous dead would go when they died. That place was called Paradise and may be another name for Abraham's bosum. Many people believe when Jesus ascended into heaven the day he rose he led the righteous dead into heaven with him. However, when Paul was wrote the church at Corinth he claimed the dead were still sleeping. Commented Nov 1, 2022 at 2:34
  • The dead would be awakened by Jesus' return and live in fresh spirit bodies. But until then the dead were unconscious. Commented Nov 1, 2022 at 2:37

Dottard did an excellent job of pointing out many of the multitude of scriptures that translate sheol as grave, pit, and hell. Although some are translated hell, the majority of them render sheol as the grave. However, many of the scriptures given can also be translated as "hell".

Sheol was thought of as a subterranean region where ALL the dead go, whether they were drowned at sea or left unburied on a battlefield. It also meant the grave for those who were buried. Sheol is basically the grave of all mankind. No matter if they were buried or not.

I've listed the texts of the verses that Dottard provided so a reader can see them and try a thought experiment. When you read these verses, try to think of the Sheol when you read "hell, pit, or grave". Therefore, you can get an idea of how a Jewish person thought when they read those verses. Many places where grave is translated could also be translated from Sheol into hell. By hell, I don't mean a firey place with ugly demons poking you with tridents for all eternity but a pit deep underground where there is no consciousness or pain.

HELL, GRAVE, PIT The consistent meaning of "she'ol" in the OT is simply "grave" or "death" to which all people go at death, (according to Dottard)

Gen 37:35, And all his sons and all his daughters rose up to comfort him; but he refused to be comforted; and he said, For I will go down into the grave unto my son mourning. Thus his father wept for him.

Genesis 42:38, And he said, My son shall not go down with you; for his brother is dead, and he is left alone: if mischief befall him by the way in the which ye go, then shall ye bring down my gray hairs with sorrow to the grave.

Genesis 44:29 And if ye take this also from me, and mischief befall him, ye shall bring down my gray hairs with sorrow to the grave.

Genesis 44:31 It shall come to pass, when he seeth that the lad is not with us, that he will die: and thy servants shall bring down the gray hairs of thy servant our father with sorrow to the grave.

Num 16:30 But if the LORD make a new thing, and the earth open her mouth, and swallow them up, with all that appertain unto them, and they go down quick into the pit; then ye shall understand that these men have provoked the LORD.

Numbers 16:33 They, and all that appertained to them, went down alive into the pit, and the earth closed upon them: and they perished from among the congregation.

1 Sam 2:6 The LORD killeth, and maketh alive: he bringeth down to the grave, and bringeth up.

2 Sam 22:6 The sorrows of hell compassed me about; the snares of death prevented me;

1 Kings 2:6 Do therefore according to thy wisdom, and let not his hoar head go down to the grave in peace.

1 Kings 2:9 Now therefore hold him not guiltless: for thou art a wise man, and knowest what thou oughtest to do unto him; but his hoar head bring thou down to the grave with blood.

Job 7:9 As the cloud is consumed and vanisheth away: so he that goeth down to the grave shall come up no more.

Job 11:8 It is as high as heaven; what canst thou do? deeper than hell; what canst thou know?

Job 14:13 O that thou wouldest hide me in the grave, that thou wouldest keep me secret, until thy wrath be past, that thou wouldest appoint me a set time, and remember me!

Job 17:13, If I wait, the grave is mine house: I have made my bed in the darkness.

Job 17:16 They shall go down to the bars of the pit, when our rest together is in the dust.

Job 21:13 They spend their days in wealth, and in a moment go down to the grave.

Job 24:19 Drought and heat consume the snow waters: so doth the grave those which have sinned.

Ps 6:5 For in death there is no remembrance of thee: in the grave who shall give thee thanks?

Ps 9:17 The wicked shall be turned into hell, and all the nations that forget God.

Ps 16:10 For thou wilt not leave my soul in hell; neither wilt thou suffer thine Holy One to see corruption.

There are more, but these are the ones Dottard gave. Most places where grave is translated from the Hebrew can also be translated hell (not a place of eternal fire).


Then Jonah prayed to the Lord his God from the belly of the fish, 2 saying, “I called out to the Lord, out of my distress, and he answered me; out of the belly of Sheol I cried, and you heard my voice.

OP asks,

"BUT why would Jonah say "belly of Sheol" to refer to his situation?"

Quite often God does everything in the pattern of twos. Often He shows a earthly example as well as a heavenly example. This case bears witness to both as well.

This particular pattern of two, demonstrates two different sons of man being in a grave and being resurrected from it. Jonah, being in the belly of a giant fish, going down to the depths under the waters, to the roots of the mountains. Hope is still still alive with him as he was descending to death.

To the roots of the mountains I descended; the earth beneath me barred me in forever! But You raised my life from the pit, O LORD my God! Jonah 2:6

Where then is my hope? Who can see any hope for me? Will it go down to the gates of Sheol? Will we go down together into the dust?” Job 17:15,16

Jesus Christ also had hope for his flesh and soul.

‘I saw the Lord always before me,
for he is at my right hand that I may not be shaken;
Therefore my heart was glad, and my tongue rejoiced;
my flesh also will dwell in hope.
For you will not abandon my soul to Hades,
or let your Holy One see corruption. Acts 2:25-27

Both men were dependent upon their God to raise them up out of the impossible, death.

Neither Jonah's body saw corruption neither did Jesus body see corruption.

Both Jonah and the Son of man saw the Lord before them and hope was alive in them, Even in the dust:

Both were raised up out of death, up out of the waters and even Jesus ascended through the waters above the firmament.

Jesus too was the seed of man promised to Eve, He became the Son of man that also died, went to the grave but this time he destroyed death. His resurrection proved that He who descended to the lowest parts of the earth also ascended up through the firmament and waters above the to the heavenly realm.

The sign of Jonah to the Pharisees is both a metaphor and prophecy of Jesus crucifixion, burial and resurrection to the heavenly realm. It was God who raised both of them up out of the dead.

Of course the Pharisees could not see all this happening but could relate to the story of Jonah to understand what Jesus was saying.

Jonah was sent by God to be a sign to the people of Nineveh to repent, just as Jesus was telling these Pharisees they too needed it to repent of their unbelief in Him, because one greater than Jonah was in there midst.


Unfortunately, the story of Jonah is being manipulated, implying that he was resurrected to show evidence of the Crucifixion story. Jesus did give a sign Matt 12:40 (as Jonah was), but did not say he was going to be resurrected. Matt 26:56 – ‘Then all the disciples forsook him, and fled’ So no one really knows – except possibly Peter see bottom of the page.

The miracle is that Jonah was swallowed by a big fish and survived, if he died it would not be a miracle. There is no evidence anywhere in the bible that Jonah died and was resurrected. He goes back to Nineveh and preaches the word of God, no one mentions anything about resurrection.

Sheol is found in the Bible sixty-five times. It is translated “the pit” three times, “the grave” thirty-one times, and “hell” thirty-one times. Hades is used eleven times, being rendered “hell” ten times and “grave” once.

In a nutshell it implies a place of torment where the soul of the wicked will be put after physical death, what we understand as Hell.

Mat. 13:42 - 42 They will throw them into the blazing furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.

2 Peter 2:17 ‘…For them the gloom of utter darkness has been reserved.’


2 1 From inside the fish Jonah prayed to the LORD his God. 2 He said: “In my distress I called to the LORD, and he answered me. From deep in the realm of the dead I called for help, and you listened to my cry.

7 “When my life was ebbing away,

Jonah prayed – you cannot pray if you are dead.

Deep – not dead

God listened – saved him

Ebbing - fading/dying – not dead

Ecclesiastes 9:5-6 (KJV) 5 For the living know that they will die, but the dead know nothing, and they have no more reward, for the memory of them is forgotten. 6 Their love and their hate and their envy have already perished, and forever they have no more share in all that is done under the sun.


Based on the above the dead cannot pray and therefore clearly Jonah was not dead if he is praying to God to be saved.

Some similarities

There are some similarities with Jesus and Jonah – they prayed and were saved.

Psalms 18: 5The cords of Sheol entangled me; the snares of death confronted me. 6In my distress I called upon the LORD; I cried to my God for help. From His temple He heard my voice, and my cry for His help reached His ears.…

Father, I thank thee that thou heardest me. And I knew that thou hearest me always." (John 11:41-42).

Apocalypse of Peter confirms that - The Savior said to me, "He whom you saw on the tree, glad and laughing, this is the living Jesus. But this one into whose hands and feet they drive the nails is his fleshly part, which is the substitute being put to shame, the one who came into being in his likeness. But look at him and me."

'heart of the earth' (tomb is not earth or being buried) & 3 days & 3 nights another issue of when died and when rose etc... Also not mentioned in the below..

Matthew 16:4 4 A wicked and adulterous generation looks for a sign, but none will be given it except the sign of Jonah.” Jesus then left them and went away.

Mark 8:12 And he sighed deeply in his spirit and said, “Why does this generation seek a sign? Truly, I say to you, no sign will be given to this generation.”

For more details that Jesus was not forsaken see: https://hermeneutics.stackexchange.com/a/62632/33268

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