Jonah Died

Drew Berding

What do we know about Jonah’s death?
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Although we have been told since we were children about the miracle of Jonah being kept alive in the belly of the fish, I believe a much greater miracle actually occurred there. I think we can make a powerful case from Scripture that Jonah died in the belly of the fish, went to Hades and was resurrected by God, then he was spit up on the land.

If Jonah didn’t die and wasn’t resurrected, then Jesus wasn’t either! See what the Scripture says:

Then some of the scribes and Pharisees said to Him, “Teacher, we want to see a sign from You.” 39 But He answered and said to them, “An evil and adulterous generation craves for a sign; and yet no sign will be given to it but the sign of Jonah the prophet; 40 for just as JONAH WAS THREE DAYS AND THREE NIGHTS IN THE BELLY OF THE SEA MONSTER, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth. 41 The men of Nineveh will stand up with this generation at the judgment, and will condemn it because they repented at the preaching of Jonah; and behold, something greater than Jonah is here.” (Matthew 12:38-41)

Verse 40 above starts with “just as.” This is the Greek word “hosper” (NT:5618) which means “just as, wholly as, exactly like, thus, corresponding, just as if, in an identical manner.”

This word is used consistently 37 times in many different contexts in the New Testament so we know exactly what it means.

For three examples, the identical is word used in the following verses:

John 5:21, “For just as the Father raises the dead and gives them life, even so the Son also gives life to whom He wishes.” 

John 5:26, “For just as the Father has life in Himself, even so He gave to the Son also to have life in Himself.”

Acts 11:15, “And as I began to speak, the Holy Spirit fell upon them just as He did upon us at the beginning.”

Therefore logically, if Jonah didn’t die, if Jonah didn’t go to Hades and if Jonah wasn’t resurrected, then in an identical manner, Jesus didn’t either! However, since we know Jesus did die and he used Jonah as His example and He can’t lie and He can’t misinterpret Scripture, then the only reasonable deduction is that Jonah must have died, gone to Hades and then was resurrected.

Conclusion: It seems to me that dying, going to Hades, being freed from Hades and being resurrected are much greater miracles than perhaps being kept alive in the belly of a fish! 

What is there about “I cried for help from the depth of Sheol” that is ambiguous? He said he was in Sheol. Only dead people go to Sheol. Jonah died.


Appendix

There are many verses within the book of Jonah that support the fact that Jonah died:

Jonah 1:17-2:6, “And the Lord appointed a great fish to swallow Jonah, and Jonah was in the stomach of the fish three days and three nights.

Then Jonah prayed to the Lord his God from the stomach of the fish, and he said, 2 “I called out of my distress to the Lord, and He answered me. I cried for help from the depth of Sheol; You heard my voice. 3 For You had cast me into the deep, into the heart of the seas, and the current engulfed me. All Your breakers and billows passed over me. 4 So I said, ‘I have been expelled from Your sight. Nevertheless I will look again toward Your holy temple.’ 5 Water encompassed me to the point of death. The great deep engulfed me, weeds were wrapped around my head. 6 I descended to the roots of the mountains.The earth with its bars was around me forever, but You have brought up my life from the pit, O Lord my God.” 

  1. Look at the last verse of chapter 1: “And the Lord appointed a great fish to swallow Jonah, and Jonah was in the stomach of the fish three days and three nights.” After he was there for three days and three nights, then Jonah’s prayer in chapter 2 occurred—after he was resurrected. Look carefully at the tenses of the verbs (see below) and this will become obvious. His spirit was resurrected and put back in his body which was still in the belly of the fish. Then the fish spit him out on dry land.
  1. Chapter 2 verse 1: “Then Jonah prayed to the Lord his God from the stomach of the fish”
    1. Then he prayed and said (referring to things in the past tense), “I called out in my distress…I cried for help from the depth of Sheol and you heard my voice.” The words “cried” and “heard” are in the perfect tense—past completed action—not referring to something happening now but something that happened already and was completed.
    2. His dead body had been in “the stomach of the fish” but his soul (spirit) had been in Hades.
  1. Verse 2: “I called out of my distress to the Lord, and He answered me. I cried for help from the depth of Sheol; You heard my voice.” 
    1. Although his body was in the stomach of the fish, His soul had been in Hades (Sheol).
    2. He had been dead but now he was resurrected. His spirit was reunited with his body.
    3. Since he had been in total disobedience and angrily running away from God (in spite of being a prophet of God), he had been cast into the portion of Hades called “Outer Darkness” rather than going to “Abraham’s bosom.”
    4. Notice that he had been aware and able to pray even in Outer Darkness. He had been dead but not insensible.
    5. But observe, even in Hades “You answered me” and “You heard my voice.” If we humble ourselves and repent and accept God’s grace, he can hear us—even in Hades.
  1. Verse 3: “For You had cast me into the deep, into the heart of the seas, and the current engulfed me. All Your breakers and billows passed over me.”
    1. He had been “cast into the deep” [Outer Darkness]. This is reminiscent of Matt 8:12-13, “…but the sons of the kingdom will be cast out into the outer darkness; in that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” 
    2. The “weeping and gnashing of teeth” was experienced by Jonah in verse 2 where he said “I called out of my distress” and “I cried for help.”
    3. “passed over” is in the perfect tense—past completed action.
  1. Verse 4: “So I said, ‘I have been expelled from Your sight. Nevertheless I will look again toward Your holy temple.'”
    1. “said” is in the perfect tense—past completed action.
    2. “expelled” ” is in the perfect tense—past completed action.
    3. When Jonah said “I have been expelled from Your sight”, that reminds me of Matt 7:21-23 where Jesus said, “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven will enter. Many will say to Me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?’ And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; DEPART FROM ME, YOU WHO PRACTICE LAWLESSNESS.’” This sure fits Jonah since he would probably claim: “did I not prophesy in Your name?”
    4. Jonah also said, “Nevertheless I will look again toward Your holy temple.'” Remember the verse in Joel 2:3, “A fire consumes before them and behind them a flame burns [Outer Darkness]. The land is like the garden of Eden before them but a desolate wilderness behind them…” He could look towards Heaven (just like the rich man in Outer Darkness could look towards Heaven and see Lazarus—Luke 16:23) but he couldn’t get there.
  1. Verse 5: “Water encompassed me to the point of death. The great deep engulfed me, weeds were wrapped around my head.” 
    1. “encompassed” is in the perfect tense—past completed action.
    2. “Water encompassed me to the point of death.” There’s no doubt about it—Jonah died.
    3. He drowned.
  1. Verse 6: “I descended to the roots of the mountains. The earth with its bars was around me forever, but You have brought up my life from the pit, O Lord my God.” 
    1. “descended” is in the perfect tense—past completed action.
    2. “The roots of the mountains” refer to Hades.
    3. “The earth with its bars” sounds like Hades with prison bars to prevent anyone leaving.
    4. “The pit” is very frequently used as a euphemism for death and Hades.
    5. “Forever” indicates that he would be there until the end of time (the Great White Throne judgment) unless the Lord intervened. Of course, he could leave at any time that he chose to humble himself and reach out like Peter to the Lord saying: “Lord, save me!” (Matt 14:29).
    6. “Brought up my life”—resurrected.

Conclusion: What is there about “I cried for help from the depth of Sheol” that is ambiguous? He said he was in Sheol. Only dead people go to Sheol. Therefore Jonah must have died.

Photo Attribution: Paola Ocaranza- unsplash.com

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NOTE: Bible references unless otherwise stated are from the NASU (New American Standard Updated) copyright the Lockman Foundation.

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