Jonah (prophet)

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Jonah and the Whale (1621) by Pieter Lastman

Jonah is the prophet in the Book of Jonah in the Old Testament of the Bible who is famous for being swallowed by a great fish. He is also later mentioned in the Islamic Koran.

The story of Jonah

God orders Jonah to prophesy to the city of Nineveh.[1] Jonah despises the Assyrians and attempts to avoid God's command by going to Joppa and sailing to Tarshish, the opposite direction and as far to the west as he could go.[2] A huge storm arises while Jonah is fleeing.[3] The sailors realize this is no ordinary storm, cast lots, and learn that Jonah is to blame.[4] Jonah admits he is the cause,[5] and states that if he is thrown overboard, the storm will cease.[6] The sailors try to find some other way to escape the storm, but eventually throw Jonah overboard; the seas are calmed,[7] the sailors fear God and make sacrifices and vows to him.[8]

The Lord has a great fish swallow Jonah. While Jonah is inside the fish, he prays to God admitting his sin. After 3 days and nights, God has the fish vomit Jonah out.[9]

Eventually Jonah arrives at Nineveh and warns them of God's coming wrath. They repent and God has compassion on them.[10] Jonah becomes angry that God would forgive Nineveh and not destroy them. God causes a vine to grow and shield Jonah from the hot sun, then the next day he has the vine perish so the sun beats upon Jonah again. Jonah is angry the vine and its shade are gone and tells God that he wishes to die. God reminds Jonah that he is concerned over a vine that he did not tend or cause to grow, so how much more should God be concerned about 120,000 people who 'do not know their right hand from their left'? [11]

Jesus speaking on the story of Jonah

In both the Gospels of Matthew and the Gospel of Luke, Jesus makes mention of the story of Jonah and applies the miracle of Jonah to his own coming miracle.

MT 12:39 [Jesus] answered, "A wicked and adulterous generation asks for a miraculous sign! But none will be given it except the sign of the prophet Jonah. 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.[12]

It is a common Christian understanding that the story of Jonah being in the belly of the fish is a prefiguring of the three days between the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.[13][14]

Some speculate that even though Jesus uses the story of Jonah to parallel His upcoming resurrection, that He still doesn't mean for the story of Jonah to be taken literally.[15]

Jewish thought on Jonah

Jewish thought of course does not tie in the story of Jonah to the life of Jesus, and has come up with other possible meanings. Some believe it is a Midrash [16] and some even a satire.[17]

According to some rabbinical traditions, the great fish that swallowed Jonah had been created in the beginning for the purpose of swallowing Jonah.[18]

Other thoughts

Some skeptics note that a whale can not swallow a human being, but of course the text never makes reference to the great fish being a whale.[19] Nevertheless, how Jonah would have survived the normal digestive process as it is understood for most creatures is a mystery. Perhaps it is, as Jesus alluded to, a miracle.

Modern Usage

The term 'Jonah' has come to mean an unlucky or jinxed person, especially among sailors.

Commentary on the Book of Jonah

See also


  1. Zondervan 2002, JNH 1:2
  2. Zondervan 2002, JNH 1:3-4
  3. Zondervan 2002, JNH 1:4-6
  4. Zondervan 2002, JHN 1:7
  5. Zondervan 2002, JNH 1:9-11
  6. Zondervan 2002, JHN 1:12
  7. Zondervan 2002, JNH 1:15
  8. Zondervan 2002, JHN 1:16
  9. Zondervan 2002, JHN 1:17 - 2:10
  10. Zondervan 2002, JHN 3
  11. Zondervan 2002, JHN 4
  12. Zondervan 2002, MT 12:39-41, see also MT 16:4, LK 11:29-32,
  18. Hirsch, Budde, and Schechter 2002


  • Archer, G. (2006), Encyclopedia of Bible Difficulties, Zondervan Publishing Company, ISBN 978-0310435709
  • Barker, Kenneth L. & John R., III Kohlenberger (1999), NIV Bible Commentary, Zondervan Publishing Company, ISBN 978-0310578505
  • Hirsch, Emil G.; Karl Budde & Solomon Schechter (2002), Jonah, Retrieved on 2007-05-11
  • Zondervan (2002), Zondervan NIV Study Bible, Zondervan Publishing Company, ISBN 978-0310929550