Jonah – Did he die?
v1. “Then Jonah prayed to the LORD his God from the fish’s belly.”
– The word “Then” connects this verse to the end of chapter one. This means that Jonah prayed after being in the belly of the fish for three days and three nights. What he said in this prayer is detailed in the next eight verses. It will become evident shortly that this prayer is actually his third prayer.
v2. “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.’”
– Sheol, or Hades in Greek, is the place of the dead. Jonah went to the righteous portion of Sheol known as ‘Abraham’s Bosom’ (Luke 16:19-31). While his soul was in Sheol, he asked for another chance to fulfil his commission. This was his second prayer.
v3. “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.”
– Jonah describes his experience while he was in the water. He bobbed up and down on the surface of the water for a while, and as he did so, the waves of the sea passed over his head.
v4. “Then I said, ‘I have been cast out of Your sight; yet I will look again toward Your holy temple.’”
– This was Jonah’s first prayer while he was still alive, floating in the water. Even though he realised he was about to die, nevertheless, his faith in his salvation was not shattered. He knew he would yet see God.
v5. “The waters surrounded me, even to the soul; the deep closed around me; weeds were wrapped around my head.”
– As the waters surrounded him, he began to sink below the surface of the water. The expression ‘even to the soul’ is a figure of speech used to imply death (Jeremiah 4:10b). As the deep closed around Jonah, he began sinking even deeper, until he sank down to the level where weeds were wrapping around his head. It’s a picture of a drowning man.
v6. “I went down to the bottoms 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.”
– Jonah eventually drowned and sank to the bottom of the mountains below the Mediterranean Sea. While his body lay on the seabed, his soul entered Sheol, and the ‘bars or gates of Sheol’ closed behind him forever. It was at this point that his dead body was swallowed up by the fish, thereby preserving it. His statement, “You have brought up my life from the pit,” is the same expression used prophetically of the Messiah’s resurrection in Psalm 16:10.
v7. “When my soul fainted within me, I remembered the LORD; and my prayer went up to You, into Your holy temple.”
– When his soul fainted or departed, he said his second prayer in Sheol (v2). God answered him, and Jonah was resurrected after three days and three nights in the belly of the fish. It was after his physical resurrection that he said his third prayer (v1), mentioning his two previous prayers.
v8. “Those who regard worthless idols forsake their own mercy.”
– Having been given a second chance, Jonah now focuses on his mission. Those who worship false gods and false idols are said to forsake their own mercy. This happened to be the status of Nineveh, a city that was totally given over to idolatry.
v9. “But I will sacrifice to You with the voice of thanksgiving; I will pay what I have vowed. Salvation is of the LORD.”
– Jonah’s prayer ends with a thanksgiving and a vow. He gave thanks to the LORD for answering his prayer and resurrecting him, and he vowed to go to Nineveh and finally fulfill his commission.
v10. “So the LORD spoke to the fish, and it vomited Jonah onto dry land.”
– God directed the fish to come as close to shore as was feasible and then vomit Jonah out toward dry land.
When one recognises that Jonah actually died and was resurrected, it becomes easy to understand why Jesus made a reference to His own resurrection as being the ‘sign of Jonah.’ After Israel rejected His messianic claims, Jesus said He would give them no more signs except one: the sign of Jonah, the sign of resurrection (Matthew 12:39-40; 16:1-4). Just as Jonah died and rose again, even so, Jesus would die and rise again. It was no accident that the expression used of the resurrection of Jonah (Jonah 2:6) was also used of the Messiah (Psalm 16:10; Acts 2:27).