The Three Days of Jonah – Jonah 1:14-2:10


Last Sunday morning, the title of our message was “The seven Days of Noah.” The theme revolved around the week during which Noah was in the ark before the flood began. They were days of testing and trial for Noah and his family, but they were days of grace on behalf of God toward the rest of the world. I have decided to make that message the first of a small series. Over the next few weeks, Lord willing, we will look at other significant periods of time, although I haven’t decided exactly how many and how long. In preparation I made a list of about a dozen weeks and months, which might develop into lessons for us. We may look at the seven days of Jericho, and the 40 days of Jesus’ post-resurrection appearances. This evening we will look at 90 days in the life of Mary, the mother of the Lord Jesus.

Our theme for this morning could very well be the 3 most important days in the Old Testament. They could be the most important 3 days in human history prior to those 3 days when the Lord Jesus was in Joseph’s tomb. Hopefully that will have whet your appetite just a little.

First we must consider the background to Jonah’s 3 days.

The Word of the Lord came to Jonah, the son Amittai, commissioning an evangelistic ministry in Asyria. Asyria was, at the time an avowed enemy of Israel, as most of her neighbors have been and still are. Like most of us, Jonah may have professed to love the Lord. But he loved himself even more. He may also have professed a patriotic love for Israel which prompted him to disobey his commission. After receiving his divine orders, this prophet of God, took ship, intending to hide from his responsibilities. His destination was Tarshish, which most scholars believe is another name for Spain at the other end of the Mediterranean Sea..

But it is a foolish thing to try to deceive the omniscient God. It is a foolish thing to try to avoid the omnipotent God. “The LORD sent out a great wind into the sea, and there was a mighty tempest in the sea, so that the ship was like to be broken.” The Joppa mariners were likely more terrified than they had ever been in their lives. They had never faced a storm so severe. When they superstitiously began to survey everyone on board, as to the cause of the storm, Jonah admitted that he was trying to flee from the will of Jehovah. So those sailors, after asking the Lord to forgive, them tossed Jonah into the water. Instantly the “sea ceased from her raging,” and those heathen idolaters had to admit to seeing the hand of the Hebrew God.

One of these days, when all the saints gather around the throne of our Saviour, I will search to see whether any of these mariners repented at that point and began to trust and serve Jehovah. Christians need to remember that sometimes their suffering, whether due to sin or not, can be used by God to the blessing of others. In fact our suffering is a better tool toward the salvation of others than mighty miracles. I will look for these sailors in Heaven, but the truth is, I rather doubt I will find them. The miracle of this storm and its sudden end, were probably not greater than the natural disbelief of sinners against such things.

Prior to the calming of the sea, “the LORD had prepared a great fish to swallow up Jonah. And Jonah was in the belly of the fish three days and three nights.”

I said earlier that these 3 days may be the most important in the pre-Christian era.

I hope that you’ve already guessed why. In Matthew 16 we read – “The Pharisees also with the Sadducees came, and tempting desired (Christ) that he would shew them a sign from heaven. He answered and said unto them, When it is evening, ye say, It will be fair weather: for the sky is red. And in the morning, It will be foul weather to day: for the sky is red and lowring. O ye hypocrites, ye can discern the face of the sky; but can ye not discern the signs of the times? A wicked and adulterous generation seeketh after a sign; and there shall no sign be given unto it, but the sign of the prophet Jonas. And he left them, and departed.”

Often in my preaching, I create fictitious illustrations for you to consider. I will usually preface it with “Let’s say, you were doing such and such.” Or I might ask you to use your imagination about something. In the Matthew 16 rebuke of the Jews, was Christ Jesus pointing to Jonah as a fictitious illustration? Could this be similar to a preacher trying to teach children to be honest by pointing to the fable about George Washington cutting down his father’s cherry tree? If the speaker was anyone else but Christ, that might be the case, but it wasn’t.

For a moment we’ll let it stand and move on to Matthew 12:38-41. In a somewhat similar situation to chapter 16, Christ addressed a few Jews who were demanding a sign. “Then certain of the scribes and of the Pharisees answered, saying, Master, we would see a sign from thee. But he answered and said unto them, An evil and adulterous generation seeketh after a sign; and there shall no sign be given to it, but the sign of the prophet Jonas: For as Jonas was three days and three nights in the whale’s belly; so shall the Son of man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth. The men of Nineveh shall rise in judgment with this generation, and shall condemn it: because they repented at the preaching of Jonas; and, behold, a greater than Jonas is here.” In this case, I don’t think there is any argument to say the Lord was using a fable to prove a point. The tone of His words tells us that Jesus believed that the whale was as real as Jonah and Ninevah. If Jonah’s 3 days in the belly of that creature is not true, then Jesus was a liar and a fraud. If Christ was not the sinless, and lie-less, Son of God, and then Christianity is a sham. This is what makes Jonah’s 3 days perhaps the most important seven2 hours in the Old Testament. Christ made Jonah’s literal 3 days in the belly of a whale an historical illustration that He would soon be 3 days in the heart of the earth.

But let’s go back to Jonah.

I admit that some people would like to have a logical, or even a scientific, explanation for Jonah’s temporary quarters inside this creature. In a small way, I would like to have that explanation. I’d like to talk about an air bladder, a large throat, a lack of digestion and so on. But I don’t NEED these things; I don’t need anything more that what the Bible already tells us. You see, Genesis 1:21 makes an interesting comment. In that verse the Bible tells us that God created the fish and all the rest of the aquatic world. But the way it is worded is important. ” And God created great whales, and every living creature that moveth, which the waters brought forth abundantly, after their kind, and every winged fowl after his kind: and God saw that it was good.” Genesis 1 doesn’t speak directly about sharks, giant squid, tuna or even steelhead trout. But it does say “whales” as if we were meant to remember that one specific creature. Jonah 1 says, “The Lord had prepared a great fish to swallow up Jonah.” And Christ Jesus called that great fish “a whale. My point is this: the God who created whales in the first place can create a special whale for Jonah if He needed to. Or – the Lord could have used an old humpback whale to keep Jonah alive in some special way. In either case, this was a miracle, and I have no problem with divine miracles, neither should you. There is absolutely no need for anyone to loose sleep over Jonah’s 3 day stay inside the whale.

One of the lessons stemming from Jonah’s 3 days in the belly of the great fish involves God’s sovereign omnipotence. “God created great whales” and He “prepared this great fish to swallow up Jonah.” And what is your particular need today? Is it spiritual? Is it physical? Emotional? Financial? Medical? Have you lost a borrowed ax-head at the bottom of the river? God can make it float, defy the current and swim back to you. Is there only a tiny bit of meal at the bottom of your barrel? God can extend it into next March, and in the process make it tastier than it ever was before. Is your child near death? Then call on the omnipotent sovereign God to heal her. Furthermore, Jesus has told us, “Your Father knoweth what things ye have need of, BEFORE ye ask him.” God didn’t glimpse the sailors tossing Jonah overboard and then instantly create a whale to catch him. The whole event was under His governorship, and the great fish had been previously prepared. No matter what your need might be the Lord is aware of it and may have already prepared a solution.

While we, as Christians, rejoice in God’s sovereign control over salvation from the sea and from sin, let’s not forget that the situation which created the “man over board” was in God’s control as well. “But the LORD sent out a great wind into the sea, and there was a mighty tempest in the sea, so that the ship was like to be broken.” Also – in chapter 1 we read that the mariners threw Jonah to the sea wolves. But in chapter 2 he admits to God, “for THOU hadst cast me into the deep.” As I said last week, the Lord has many tools on his work-belt, but they are used as He intends.

Keep in mind that this storm was designed to bring down the pride of one man. But there were others who were affected, hurt and nearly drowned while the lesson was being learned. They were NEARLY drowned, but not quite, because God was in complete control.

This should remind you of another great historical storm out there in the midst of the Mediterranean. When Paul, the Apostle, was being transported to Rome to be tried before Caesar, the ship was caught in a tempestuous wind, call “Euroclydon.” This too was a storm designed, built and controlled by the Lord. It appeared that the ship would not make it. It looked like the death of everyone on aboard. But Paul was visited by an angel of God who provided him with a message to the others. “”I exhort you to be of good cheer, for there shall be no loss of any man’s life among you. I believe God that it shall be even as it was told me.” And it was so. God always keeps His word; and God always keeps His word because He can.

When things go bad in your life, remember that the primary lesson many not be intended for you. You might only be one of the passengers on the ship. God raised this first storm to teach Jonah a lesson. That lesson may not be yours, and yet, we can still learn of God’s great power and authority. In Paul’s case, “so it came to pass, that they escaped all safe to land.” And in Jonah’s case, the ship and its crew were spared while Jonah was brought face to face with the results of his rebellion.

Please notice that verse 1seven speaks of three days and three nights. There were three 12 hour days – three6 hours, and three 12 hour nights – another three6 hours. For a full seven2 hours – three full days, Jonah was in the belly of this great fish. And as the New Testament tells us – for a full seven2 hours Christ our Lord was buried in the heart of the earth – three full days as He said. He did not die on Friday and come out of the grave on Sunday morning, because “as Jonas was three days and three nights in the whale’s belly; so (was)l the Son of man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.”

How did Jonah spend his three days of fishy incarceration? Like Saul of Tarsus, Jonah was probably just as blind as if he had no eyes. Like Saul of Tarsus, for three days he “neither did eat or drink.” I can’t say for sure, but if I was in either man’s situation, I would have been terrified. Both men were forced to consider what had brought them to that point – their sins, their rebellion. I doubt that anyone spoke to Saul for three days, and certainly there was none to converse with Jonah – except for the Holy Spirit.

“Then Jonah prayed unto the Lord his God out of the fish’s belly.” Sometimes we must be dragged into the place where there is nothing left but to pray. Usually, we can find other things to do when we are in trouble. We can seek a friend, we can borrow money, we can turn on the computer or some other entertainment. But often the reality is, despite friends, credit and television, there is no hope but in the Lord, so pray. Jonah had not really prayed since the moment he decided to buy a passage to Tarshish.

In prayer, Jonah acknowledged the sovereignty of Jehovah over the entire situation. Lord, “Thou hadst cast me into the deep; in the midst of the seas; and the floods compassed me about: all thy billows and thy waves passed over me.” “The waters compassed me about, even to the soul: the depth closed me round about, the weeds were wrapped about my head. I went down to the bottoms of the mountains.” Jonah admitted that his soul fainted within him until he was ready to submit himself to the King of kings. Those were three important days for Jonah, and they were even more important for Ninevah, because those people needed this evangelist.

At some point during his three days, Jonah, the prophet of God, uttered two profound statements.

Verse 8 – They that observe lying vanities forsake their own mercy.” What is a “lying vanity?” My first inclination and explanation would be to point to idolatry, as do many commentaries. The Hebrew word “hebel” speaks of emptiness, something useless and vain; or something transitory. And the sad truth is that nearly all vanities are deceitful because they promise more than they can deliver. “Hebel” is a fairly common word in the Old Testament, but my preconceived picture was mistaken. That word is never translated “idol” or “Idolatry,” and usually it doesn’t even point in that direction. Furthermore idolatry doesn’t fit into the context of Jonah’s statement – unless pushed really hard.

More often than not the word is applied to various aspects of general life. For example, Job declared “my days are vanity” – useless. And David concurred in Psalm three9:5 “Behold, thou hast made my days as an handbreadth; and mine age is as nothing before thee: verily every man at his best state is altogether vanity. Selah.” Psalm 144:4 “Man is like to vanity: his days are as a shadow that passeth away.” Solomon used the word in a very practical sense. Proverbs 1three:11 – “Wealth gotten by vanity shall be diminished: but he that gathereth by labour shall increase.” Proverbs 21:6 – “The getting of treasures by a lying tongue is a vanity tossed to and fro of them that seek death.” Proverbs three1:three0 “Favour is deceitful, and beauty is vain: but a woman that feareth the LORD, she shall be praised.”

What was JONAH saying? He was admitting that a life spent on anything without eternal and spiritual substance is a wasted life. After SOLOMON said, “Vanity, vanity all is vanity,” he turned and pointed to the Lord. In Christ there is substance; in the Lord there is purpose; in the Lord we find the only place of mercy. Despite being a servant of God, Jonah’s treasury in heaven was not being laid up with silver and gold. He had been shooting himself in the foot.

His second profound comment comes at the end of verse 9 “Salvation is of the Lord.” Before he was saved from out of the fish – before he was saved from the ocean – Jonah acknowledged that salvation belongs entirely to Jehovah – the Lord. If you wish to use Jonah’s deliverance from that fishy belly as an illustration of salvation from sin…. And I, along with thousands of others, have preached gospel messages from this statement…. Salvation belongs to Jehovah – lock, stock and barrel. It was started in eternity past within the covenant among the members of the triune God-head. At some point there was God’s choice to save and whom to save. Salvation is of the Lord because sinners are so blind and stupid they can’t see their need of salvation. God the Son provided the sacrifice necessary for the sinner’s redemption and atonement. God provides the repentance and the faith – they are gifts of His grace. It is Jehovah who guarantees finished product – holiness and glory. Salvation belongs to the Lord from start to finish.

If this was all that came out of Jonah’s three days, those were seven2 very important and useful hours. If there was one Ninevite who repented before the God of the Jews, trusting in Him for deliverance from wrath, then Jonah’s three days were well spent. But the scripture seems to say that the entire city fell on its collective face before God. Furthermore, if there has been one American saved through a gospel message based on Jonah’s statement, then again, those were three good days.

“Salvation is of the Lord.” And it is safe to say that if you don’t worship, serve and humbly trust the Lord Jesus Christ in every season, every week and every day of the year, then there is reason to assume that you don’t possess that salvation. It was necessary for the Lord to prepare a great fish to bring Jonah to his knees and his senses. What will it take to bring you to salvation in the Lord? It may not be nearly so pleasant. Once again, I urge you to “repent before God” and “believe on the Lord Jesus Christ.”