The Prophet Jonah
The Prophet Jonah lived after the Prophet Elisha. Once the Lord ordered him to go to the pagan city of Nineveh, the capital of the Assyrian empire, and to proclaim to the inhabitants of this city that the Lord would destroy them if they did not repent. But Jonah did not want to go and preach to the enemy of the Israelite people and did not obey the voice of God. He went on a ship which was heading for another country. But suddenly at sea a fierce storm arose. The ship was threatened with destruction, and everyone on it became frightened. The crew decided to cast lots to find out what had brought them such a calamity. The lots fell on Jonah. Jonah confessed his sin and said, “Yes, I have sinned in the face of the Lord! Cast me into the sea, and the sea shall be calm.” When they threw him into the sea, the sea became quiet. By the will of God, a huge fish swallowed the Prophet, which in the Bible is called a huge whale. Jonah was in the belly of the whale for three days and three nights, praying to God for forgiveness. Here God revealed his wondrous power in a special way. He preserved him unharmed in the belly of the whale and forgave him.
In three days the whale threw up the Prophet, alive, onto the shore. After this Jonah went to Nineveh to fulfill God’s will. A whole day he walked through the city and preached to everyone, saying, “In forty days, Nineveh shall be overthrown!” The inhabitants believed his words. They, together with the King, imposed a fast on themselves, began to pray and repent of their sins, and the Lord forgave them.
But Jonah murmured against such mercy of God and asked that God take his life. He probably thought that now he would be considered a false prophet.
This time the Lord brought Jonah to his senses. One night, in front of the tent that Jonah set up for himself near Nineveh, a big plant grew up and shaded him from the sun’s intense heat. The next day though, a worm gnawed at this plant, and it dried up. Jonah very much grieved and felt sorry for the withered plant.
Then the Lord said to him, “Thou hadst pity on the plant, for which thou hast not suffered, neither didst thou cause it to grow. And shall not I spare Nineveh, the great city, in which dwell more than six score thousand persons that cannot discern between their right hand and their left hand; and also much cattle?”
The three-day stay of the Prophet Jonah in the belly of the whale and his miraculous salvation was a prefiguration of the three-day death and resurrection of Christ the Saviour.
Note: See Book of Jonah.
Discussion about Jonah’s Three-day Stay in the Whale’s Belly
“Superficial and unbelieving critics,” says scholar Arthur Hook, “believe there are many obstacles to accepting that Jonah was in fact swallowed by a whale and that the Prophet spent three days and three nights in its belly and then was vomited out onto dry land.
“In the first place, not one person who believes in Christ can doubt what took place with the Prophet Jonah, for Christ Himself put the seal on this disputed subject when He said, For as Jonah 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” (Matt. 12:40). Here Christ eliminates, at least as far as it concerned His disciples, the idea that the Book of the Prophet Jonah is an allegory, as critics like to assume. If it is said only in an allegorical sense that Jonah was in the whale’s belly, then the conclusion follows that Christ’s being in the heart of the earth in the course of three days and three nights also has only an allegorical significance. Here we have again an example of how the denial of the Old Testament paves the way for a denial of Christ Himself and His word”
To deny historicity to the Prophet Jonah is equivalent to a denial of all Scripture and this means repudiation of the faith. How can a person, after the innumerable failures of so-called ‘scientific objections’ be against the Bible? How many times have the refutations and sneers at the Bible by ‘the wise men of this age’ been turned back against them themselves. In fact, a simple acquaintance with the text of the original and some scientific knowledge give us the answer in many cases.
Everyone well knows that the text of the Bible was written in Hebrew. In Hebrew a whale is called tannin. In the Bible, however, the sea animal which swallowed Jonah is not called tannin, but dag, which means “big fish” or “monster of the deep.”
For more than 1500 years the holy Church has testified to this by calling this creature which swallowed Jonah a “sea beast.” For example, in the Irmos of the sixth ode of Friday’s Canon of Matins, eighth tone, it is said, “Jonah, in the womb of a sea beast, stretches out his hands in the form of a Cross, thus clearly foreshadowing the saving Passion.” In the sixth ode of the Canon of Matins for Tuesday, fifth tone, it is written, “As Thou hast saved the Prophet from the beast, O Lord, so, I pray, lead me up from the depths of the unconquered passions.”
Science has pointed out to us that there exists a wide variety of types of whales. Thus, for example, there is a species of whales which have forty-four teeth in the lower jaw and reach 60-65 feet in length. However, they have a very small gullet, which may have given a basis for contending that Jonah could not be swallowed by a whale.
There is another form of whale, the “bottle-nosed” whale, which has a beak. Although it is a small whale, reaching up to thirty feet long, it has a rather large gullet and is fully capable of swallowing a man; but the Prophet could not have been swallowed by such a whale because it chews food and has teeth.
There are whales which do not have teeth, but are provided with “whalebones.” Among such a type of whale there are whales which are called “fin-backs.” These whales can be up to 88 feet long. The stomach of such a whale has from four to six chambers or compartments, each of which could easily contain a small group of people. This type of whale breathes air and has on its head a reserve air chamber which appears with the dilation of the nasal cavities. Before swallowing a very large object, the finback whale pushes it through to this chamber. If it happens that something too large is found in the head of this whale, then it will swim to the nearest land, lie in the shallow water and disgorge its burden.
The scholar Dr. Ranson Garvey testifies that his friend, in weight two-hundred pounds, crawled from the mouth of a dead whale into this air chamber. This scholar points out that a dog that fell from the side of a whale boat, after six days was found in the head of a whale, alive. From this account, it is evident that Jonah could remain in the ‘womb,’ that is, in the air chamber of such a whale, for three days and three nights and stay alive. The space in this chamber is equal to 686 cubic feet. Thus, from scientific data we can see that Jonah could have been swallowed by a whale.
Frank Bullen, the famous author of the work, The Swimming of the Sperm Whale, established that the sperm whale often, when it is dying, disgorges the contents of its stomach.
But the Biblical word dag refers to a “big fish.” From this we can conclude that Jonah really was swallowed by a marine creature, by a huge fish. In that case we must consider the fish called “whale shark” or “bone shark.”
This name, “whale shark,” comes from the fact that it does not have teeth. The whale shark reaches seventy feet in length, and filters its food through huge plates in its mouth. This shark has a stomach large enough for a man to fit inside.
Concerning the fact that Jonah spent three days and three nights in the stomach of a big marine creature and stayed alive, we can first of all say, “With God everything is possible.” It is interesting to recall the story in Reader’s Digest about a sailor swallowed by a whale-shark. In 48 hours the shark was killed. When the whale-shark was opened up, imagine the surprise of all those who had gathered when they found a sailor alive, though in an unconscious state, after having been swallowed by this creature. In addition, the sailor had no after-effects of his stay in the stomach of the whale-shark except a loss of hair and a few blisters on his skin. He related that only fear gave him no peace while living in the whale’s stomach. When he had come to consciousness and understood where he was, he again immediately lost consciousness.
“Recently,” writes Fr. I.S., “in the Hawaiian islands Japanese fishermen killed a big white shark. In its stomach they found a full skeleton of a man. It turned out that this was a soldier, entered in the list of deserters, in the clothes of the style of the North American army.”
Thus we see that Jonah could have been swallowed by a big fish even without violating the natural laws of nature. All nonsense and contradiction disappear. Surely and invariably the Word of God can never be found to be in contradiction with scientific truth. This was also established by the father of Russian science, Lomonosov.
It is necessary for us believers to say that it is quite obvious that the events which happened to the Prophet Jonah were undoubtedly the work of the power of God, Who, as Creator of the very laws of nature, has a free will to control them, when He finds it necessary, according to His all-powerful providential action.
The scholar and genius Pascal said, “The last step of reason consists in admitting the existence of many things which are outside the limits of our knowledge, and if reason does not accept this knowledge, it is absolutely weak.” Robert Mayer said, “If superficial minds show off by denying the existence of something higher in the super-material and supersensually perceived world, this pitiful denial by a few minds cannot be blamed on science.”
(Compiled from the book The Truth Of Biblical Miracles, A. Hook and Prophet Jonah And the Small Gullet Of the Whale by Archpriest Paul Kalinovitch.).
(from: The Law of God by Fr. Seraphim Slobodskoy)