Q. Recently we were having a bible study on the book of Jonah and as I read the book I believe it to say that Jonah was alive in the belly of the fish that swallowed him. The instructor claimed that Jonah died in the fish & was essentially “buried” for three days, thus being a precursor to Christ. I believe that he was alive for the three days & nights, how else could he have prayed to God out of the fish’s belly?
A. Jonah’s prayer in chapter 2 indicates he was praying from the grave. The Hebrew word for grave is “sheol” which means “the abode of the dead.” It’s the place where the spirits of people who died went to await the resurrection. In his prayer he told of how he drowned and sank to the roots of the mountains, in other words the bottom of the sea. In verse 7 Jonah says he prayed as his life was ebbing away. Then the Lord brought his life up from the pit, which is another word for grave.
I believe Jonah experienced physical death and his spirit was out of his body and in sheol for some of the time his body was in the whale, before the Lord reunited his spirit with his body, and had the whale spit him out. This was not a resurrection, it was an out of body experience followed by a resuscitation.
We know this because Jonah died again. Up until last summer you could have visited his tomb in Mosul, Iraq, where the ancient city of Ninevah once stood. Sadly, the ISIS crowd blew it up as an affront to the Christian faith because we see this incident in Jonah’s life as a prefiguring of the death and resurrection of the Lord (Matt. 12:39-40).