Jonah 1:17
Now 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.
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(17) Now the Lord.—In the Hebrew, Jonah 2 commences with this verse.

Had prepared.—The pluperfect is misleading. Render appointed, and comp. Jonah 4:6-8, where the same word is used of the gourd, the worm, and the east wind. The Authorised version renders the word accurately in Job 7:3; Daniel 1:5-10. Previous special preparation is not implied, still less creation for the particular purpose. God employs existing agents to do His bidding.

A great fish.—The Hebrew dag is derived from the prolific character of fish, and a great fish might stand for any one of the sea monsters. The notion that it was a whale rests on the LXX. and Matthew 12:40. But κῆτος was a term for any large fish, such as dolphins, sharks, &c. (See Hom. Od. xii. 97.) And unless we have previously determined the question, whether the Book of Jonah is intended by the sacred writer to be a literal history, or an apologue founded on a history or a parable pure and simple, tota hœc de pisce Jonœ disquisitio, as an old commentator observes, vana videtur atque inutilis. The explanations given by commentators divide themselves into those of a strictly præternatural kind, as that a fish was created for the occasion; or into the natural or semi-natural, as that it was a ship, or an inn bearing the sign of the whale; or that it was a white shark. (For the last hypothesis see all that can be collected in Dr. Pusey’s commentary on Jonah.) In early Christian paintings the monster appears as a huge dragon.

Three days and three nights.—See Matthew 12:40, New Testament Commentary.

Jonah 1:17. Now the Lord prepared a great fish, &c. — We have but an imperfect acquaintance with the natural history of fishes. However, it is a well-attested fact, that there are fishes, sharks, for instance, that grow to a size capable of swallowing and containing a man. The Scripture calls this a great fish in the general, and therefore there is no need to confine it to a whale; in which view, much of the wit thrown out by persons disposed to be merry on the Scripture is quite foreign to the purpose. See more in the note on Matthew 12:40, in Calmet’s dissertation on the subject, and in Scheuchzer. And Jonah was in the belly of the fish three days and three nights — “The Hebrew language,” says Lowth, “has no one word to express what we call a natural day; so that what the Greeks express by Νυχθημερον, they denote by a day and a night. Therefore the space of time consisting of one whole revolution of twenty-four hours, and a part of two others, is fitly expressed in that language by three days and three nights. Such a space of time our Lord lay in the grave;” (that is, one whole νυχθημερον, or natural day, and part of two others;) “and we may from thence conclude that Jonah, who was an eminent figure of him in this particular, was no longer in the fish’s belly.” This miracle of preserving Jonah was evidently very important. It served to spread the knowledge of the true God, the whole transaction having this tendency: see Jonah 1:16. And it also taught Jonah, and in him the whole prophetical order, God’s power and determination to enforce his commands.

1:13-17 The mariners rowed against wind and tide, the wind of God's displeasure, the tide of his counsel; but it is in vain to think of saving ourselves any other way than by destroying our sins. Even natural conscience cannot but dread blood-guiltiness. And when we are led by Providence God does what he pleases, and we ought to be satisfied, though it may not please us. Throwing Jonah into the sea put an end to the storm. God will not afflict for ever, He will only contend till we submit and turn from our sins. Surely these heathen mariners will rise up in judgment against many called Christians, who neither offer prayers when in distress, nor thanksgiving for signal deliverances. The Lord commands all creatures, and can make any of them serve his designs of mercy to his people. Let us see this salvation of the Lord, and admire his power, that he could thus save a drowning man, and his pity, that he would thus save one who was running from him, and had offended him. It was of the Lord's mercies that Jonah was not consumed. Jonah was alive in the fish three days and nights: to nature this was impossible, but to the God of nature all things are possible. Jonah, by this miraculous preservation, was made a type of Christ; as our blessed Lord himself declared, Mt 12:40.Now the Lord had (literally "And the Lord") prepared - Jonah (as appears from his thanksgiving) was not swallowed at once, but sank to the bottom of the sea, God preserving him in life there by miracle, as he did in the fish's belly. Then, when the seaweed was twined around his head, and he seemed to be already buried until the sea should give up her dead, "God prepared the fish to swallow Jonah" . "God could as easily have kept Jonah alive in the sea as in the fish's belly, but, in order to prefigure the burial of the Lord, He willed him to be within the fish whose belly was as a grave." Jonah, does not say what fish it was; and our Lord too used a name, signifying only one of the very largest fish. Yet it was no greater miracle to create a fish which should swallow Jonah, than to preserve him alive when swallowed . "The infant is buried, as it were, in the womb of its mother; it cannot breathe, and yet, thus too, it liveth and is preserved, wonderfully nurtured by the will of God." He who preserves the embryo in its living grave can maintain the life of man as easily without the outward air as with it.

The same Divine Will preserves in being the whole creation, or creates it. The same will of God keeps us in life by breathing this outward air, which preserved Jonah without it. How long will men think of God, as if He were man, of the Creator as if He were a creature, as though creation were but one intricate piece of machinery, which is to go on, ringing its regular changes until it shall be worn out, and God were shut up, as a sort of mainspring within it, who might be allowed to be a primal Force, to set it in motion, but must not be allowed to vary what He has once made? "We must admit of the agency of God," say these men when they would not in name be atheists, "once in the beginning of things, but must allow of His interference as sparingly as may be." Most wise arrangement of the creature, if it were indeed the god of its God! Most considerate provision for the non-interference of its Maker, if it could but secure that He would not interfere with it for ever! Acute physical philosophy, which, by its omnipotent word, would undo the acts of God! Heartless, senseless, sightless world, which exists in God, is upheld by God, whose every breath is an effluence of God's love, and which yet sees Him not, thanks Him not, thinks it a greater thing to hold its own frail existence from some imagined law, than to be the object of the tender personal care of the Infinite God who is Love! Poor hoodwinked souls, which would extinguish for themselves the Light of the world, in order that it may not eclipse the rushlight of their own theory!

And Jonah was in the belly of the fish - The time that Jonah was in the fish's belly was a hidden prophecy. Jonah does not explain nor point it. He tells the fact, as Scripture is accustomed to do so. Then he singles out one, the turning point in it. Doubtless in those three days and nights of darkness, Jonah (like him who after his conversion became Paul), meditated much, repented much, sorrowed much, for the love of God, that he had ever offended God, purposed future obedience, adored God with wondering awe for His judgment and mercy. It was a narrow home, in which Jonah, by miracle, was not consumed; by miracle, breathed; by miracle, retained his senses in that fetid place. Jonah doubtless, repented, marveled, adored, loved God. But, of all, God has singled out this one point, how, out of such a place, Jonah thanked God. As He delivered Paul and Silas from the prison, when they prayed with a loud voice to Him, so when Jonah, by inspiration of His Spirit, thanked Him, He delivered him.

To thank God, only in order to obtain fresh gifts from Him, would be but a refined, hypocritical form of selfishness. Such a formal act would not be thanks at all. We thank God, because we love Him, because He is so infinitely good, and so good to us, unworthy. Thanklessness shuts the door to His personal mercies to us, because it makes them the occasion of fresh sins of our's. Thankfulness sets God's essential goodness free (so to speak) to be good to us. He can do what He delights in doing, be good to us, without our making His Goodness a source of harm to us. Thanking Him through His grace, we become fit vessels for larger graces . "Blessed he who, at every gift of grace, returns to Him in whom is all fullness of graces; to whom when we show ourselves not ungrateful for gifts received, we make room in ourselves for grace, and become meet for receiving yet more." But Jonah's was that special character of thankfulness, which thanks God in the midst of calamities from which there was no human exit; and God set His seal on this sort of thankfulness, by annexing this deliverance, which has consecrated Jonah as an image of our Lord, to his wonderful act of thanksgiving.

17. prepared a great fish—not created specially for this purpose, but appointed in His providence, to which all creatures are subservient. The fish, through a mistranslation of Mt 12:40, was formerly supposed to be a whale; there, as here, the original means "a great fish." The whale's neck is too narrow to receive a man. Bochart thinks, the dog-fish, the stomach of which is so large that the body of a man in armor was once found in it [Hierozoicon, 2.5.12]. Others, the shark [Jebb]. The cavity in the whale's throat, large enough, according to Captain Scoresby, to hold a ship's jolly boat full of men. A miracle in any view is needed, and we have no data to speculate further. A "sign" or miracle it is expressly called by our Lord in Mt 12:39. Respiration in such a position could only be by miracle. The miraculous interposition was not without a sufficient reason; it was calculated to affect not only Jonah, but also Nineveh and Israel. The life of a prophet was often marked by experiences which made him, through sympathy, best suited for discharging the prophetical function to his hearers and his people. The infinite resources of God in mercy as well as judgment are prefigured in the devourer being transformed into Jonah's preserver. Jonah's condition under punishment, shut out from the outer world, was rendered as much as possible the emblem of death, a present type to Nineveh and Israel, of the death in sin, as his deliverance was of the spiritual resurrection on repentance; as also, a future type of Jesus' literal death for sin, and resurrection by the Spirit of God.

three days and three nights—probably, like the Antitype, Christ, Jonah was cast forth on the land on the third day (Mt 12:40); the Hebrew counting the first and third parts of days as whole twenty-four hour days.

Now, Heb. And.

Prepared; created at first, say some; but what need that, when a mighty overgrown fish of a double age may do this; by God’s will and appointment it attended the ship, and followed it in the storm, expecting a prey, and ready to receive the prisoner.

A great fish; a whale, as we read, Matthew 12:40; others say it was a shark, a fish common in those seas.

To swallow up; not to chew upon him, but to take him down whole.

Jonah was in the belly of the fish, in safe custody, three days and three nights, that he might rightly typify Christ’s burial in the grave.

Now the Lord had prepared a great fish to swallow up Jonah,.... Not from the creation of the world, as say the Jews (p); for this is to be understood, not of the formation or making of it; but of the ordering and disposition of it by the providence of God to be near the ship, and its mouth open to receive Jonah, as soon as he was cast forth from thence: and a great one it must be, to take him at once into its mouth, and swallow him down its throat, and retain him whole in its belly; and such great fishes there are in the sea, particularly the "carcharias", or dog fish; the same with Triton's dog, said to swallow Hercules, in which he was three days; and which fable perhaps took its rise from hence. In Matthew 12:40, it is said to be a "whale"; but then that must be understood, not as the proper name of a fish, but as common to all great fishes; otherwise the whale, properly so called, it is said, has not a swallow large enough to take down a man; though some deny this, and assert they are capable of it. Of the "balaena", which is one kind of whale, it is reported (q), that when it apprehends its young ones in danger, will take them, and hide them within itself; and then afterwards throw them out again; and certain it is that the whale is a very great fish, if not the greatest. Pliny (r) speaks of whales six hundred feet long, and three hundred and sixty broad; and of the bones of a fish, which were brought to Rome from Joppa, and there shown as a miracle, which were forty feet long; and said to be the bones of the monstrous fish to which Andromede at Joppa was exposed (s); which story seems to be hammered out of this history of Jonah; and the same is reported by Solinus (t); however, it is out of doubt that there are fishes capable of swallowing a man. Nierembergius (u) speaks of a fish taken near Valencia in Spain, so large that a man on horseback could stand in its mouth; the cavity of the, brain held seven men; its jaw bones, which were kept in the Escurial, were seventeen feet long; and two carcasses were found in its stomach: he says it was called "piscis mularis"; but some learned men took it to be the dog fish before mentioned; and such a large devouring creature is the shark, of which the present bishop of Bergen (w), and others, interpret this fish here; in which sometimes has been found the body of a man, and even of a man in armour, as many writers (x) have observed. Some (y) think it was a crocodile, which, though a river fish, yet, for the most part, is at the entrance of rivers, and sometimes goes into the sea many miles, and is capable of swallowing a man; some are above thirty feet long; and in the belly of one of them, in the Indies, was found a woman with all her clothes on (z):

and Jonah was in the belly of the fish three days and three nights: that is, one whole natural day, consisting of twenty four hours, and part of two others; the Jews having no other way of expressing a natural day but by day and night; and to this the antitype answers; namely, our Lord's being so long in the grave; of whose death, burial, and resurrection, this was a type, as appears from Matthew 12:40; for which reason Jonah was so miraculously preserved; and a miracle it was that he should not in this time be digested in the stomach of the creature; that he was not suffocated in it, but breathed and lived; and that he was able to bear the stench of the creature's maw; and that he should have his senses, and be in such a frame of mind as both to pray and praise; but what is it that the power of God cannot do? Here some begin the second chapter, and not amiss.

(p) Pirke Eliezer, c. 10. fol. 10. 2.((q) Philostrat. Vit. Apollonii, l. 1. c. 7. (r) Nat. Hist. l. 32, c. 1.((s) Nat. Hist. l. 9. c. 5. (t) Polyhistor. c. 47. (u) Nat. Hist. l. 2. c. 26. apud Schotti Physics Curiosa, par. 2. l. 10. c. 10. sect. 9. (w) Pantoppidan's History of Norway, par. 2. p. 114, 116. (x) Vid, Lipen. Jonae Displus, c. 2. th. 6. in Dissert. Theolog. Philol. tom. 1. p. 987. (y) Vid. Texelii Phoenix, l. 3. c. 6. p. 242, 243. (z) Mandelsloe in Harris's Voyages and Travels, vol. 1. B. 1. c. 2. p. 759.

Now the LORD had prepared a great fish to swallow up Jonah. And Jonah was in the {m} belly of the fish three days and three nights.

(m) Thus the Lord would chastise his Prophet with a most terrible spectacle of death, and by this also strengthened and encouraged him of his favour and support in this duty which was commanded him.

17. had prepared] Rather: assigned, or appointed. (LXX. προσέταξε.) The same word and tense are used of the gourd, the worm, and the East wind, ch. Jonah 4:6-8. They do not necessarily imply any previous or special preparation, much less the creation of these various agents for the purpose to which they were put; but merely that they were appointed to it by Him, whom “all things serve.” He sent the fish there to do His bidding. The word is rendered “appointed” in Job 7:3, Daniel 1:5; Daniel 1:10; and “set” in Daniel 1:11.

“By God’s immediate direction it was so arranged that the very moment when Jonah was thrown into the waves, the ‘great fish’ was on the spot to receive him; God charged the animal to perform this function, as He afterwards ‘spoke to’ it (Jonah 1:10), or commanded it, to vomit out the prophet on the dry land.”—Kalisch.

a great fish] Probably a shark. See note A.


There is no reason to suppose that the fish which swallowed Jonah was not naturally capable of swallowing him whole. The old objection, that it is said to have been a whale, and that the gullet of a whale is not large enough to allow of the passage of a man, rests, as is now generally known, upon a mistake. Jonah’s fish is not really said to have been a whale. Even if it were, it might be urged that one kind of whale, “the sperm whale (Catodon macrocephalus) has a gullet sufficiently large to admit the body of a man” (Smith’s Bible Dict., Art. Whale), and that if whales are not now found in the Mediterranean, they may have been “frightened out of it” by the multiplication of ships, and may have been common there in Jonah’s time, when “navigation was in its infancy, ships were few and small, and they kept mostly along the shores, leaving the interior undisturbed.” (Thomson, The Land and the Book, pp. 68, 69.) But in fact the common idea of Jonah being swallowed by a whale has no real warrant in holy Scripture at all. Our Lord, indeed, is made to say in our English Bibles that Jonah was “in the whale’s belly” (Matthew 12:40); but the word (κῆτος) used by Him to denote Jonah’s fish is taken from the Greek translation of the Book of Jonah, with which He and His hearers were familiar, and cannot be restricted to a whale, or to any of the so-called Cetaceans. It means “any sea-monster, or huge fish,” and is used of a “seal, or sea-calf, and later especially of whales, sharks, and large tunnies.” (Liddell and Scott, Lex. s. v.). The Bible then does not say that Jonah was swallowed by a whale. The O. T. simply speaks of “a great fish,” and the N.T. employs a strictly equivalent term. Here we might be content to leave the question. We are not bound to show what the fish was. It is, however, interesting to enquire whether any particular fish can with probability be fixed upon, and the rather because the choice of an agent ready to hand and naturally fitted for the work accords with that “economy” of the miraculous which is characteristic of holy Scripture. Now it has been satisfactorily proved that the common or white shark (Carcharias vulgaris) is found in the Mediterranean, and well-authenticated instances have been given of its having swallowed men and other large animals entire. “A natural historian of repute relates, ‘In 1758, in stormy weather, a sailor fell overboard from a frigate in the Mediterranean. A shark was close by, which, as he was swimming and crying for help, took him in his wide throat, so that he forthwith disappeared. Other sailors had leaped into the sloop, to help their comrade, while yet swimming; the captain had a gun which stood on the deck discharged at the fish, which struck it so, that it cast out the sailor which it had in its throat, who was taken up, alive and little injured, by the sloop which had now come up. The fish was harpooned, taken up on the frigate and dried. The captain made a present of the fish to the sailor who, by God’s Providence, had been so wonderfully preserved. The sailor went round Europe exhibiting it. He came to Franconia, and it was publicly exhibited here in Erlangen, as also at Nurnberg and other places. The dried fish was delineated. It was 20 feet long, and, with expanded fins, nine feet wide, and weighed 3924 pounds. From all this, it is probable that this was the fish of Jonah.’ ” (See Dr Pusey’s Commentary on Jonah, Introd., pp. 257, 258; Smith’s Bible Dict., Art. Whale, where other instances are given.) There is another fish, of which the Norwegian name is Rorqual, i.e. whale with folds, which from its peculiar internal construction is thought likely by some commentators to have been the receptacle of Jonah. “The distinguishing feature of the whole genus is the possession of ‘a number of longitudinal folds, nearly parallel, which commence under the lower lip, occupying the space between the two branches of the jaw, pass down the throat, covering the whole extent of the chest from one fin to the other, and terminate far down the abdomen;’ in the Mediterranean species ‘reaching to the vent.’ ” It has accordingly been suggested that “it may have been in the folds of a Rorqual’s mouth, which in the case of an individual 75 feet long (such as was actually stranded at St Cyprien, Eastern Pyrenees, in 1828) would be a cavity of between 15 and 20 feet in length, that the prophet was imbedded.” (Speaker’s Commentary in loc., and Encycl. Brit. quoted there.) It would seem, however, that this Rorqual’s throat is not large enough to swallow a man, so that on the whole it is most likely that Jonah’s fish was a shark.

three days and three nights] At this point the transaction becomes clearly miraculous. The swallowing of Jonah by the fish may have been in the course of the ordinary working of divine Providence. His preservation within it for so long a time plainly belongs to that other working of Almighty God which, though it be no less after the counsel of that Will (Ephesians 1:11) which is the highest and only Law, appears to us to be extraordinary, and which we therefore call miraculous.

A comparison of 1 Corinthians 15:4 with Matthew 12:40 shows that the period of Jonah’s incarceration in the fish was divinely ordered to be a type of our Lord’s being “three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.” This is the only passage in the O. T., if we except Hosea 6:2, in which there is any prophetical intimation of the length of time between our Lord’s burial and resurrection.

Verse 17. - § 4. Cast into the sea, Jonah is swallowed alive by a great fish, is whose belly he remains unharmed three days and three nights. Had prepared; Septuagint, προσέταξε, "appointed;" so in Jonah 4:6, 7, 8 (comp. Job 7:3; Daniel 1:10, 11). The fish was not created then and there, but God so ordered it that it should be at the place and should swallow Jonah. The prophet seems, from some expressions in his psalm (Jonah 2:5), to have sunk to the bottom of the sea before he was swallowed by the fish. A great fish; Septuagint, κῆτος (Matthew 12:40). There is nothing in the word to identify the intended animal, and to call it "a whale" is simply a mistranslation. The white shark of the Mediterranean (Carcharias, vulgaris), which sometimes measures twenty-five feet in length, has been known to swallow a man whole, and even a horse. This may have been the "great fish" in the text (see Dr. Pusey on Jonah, pp. 257, etc.). Was in the belly of the fish. God used the natural agency of the fish, but the preservation of Jonah's life in the animal's belly is plainly supernatural. It is, indeed, analogous to the life of the child in its mother's womb; but it has besides a miraculous element which is unique, unless it was an actual death and revivification, as in the case of Lazarus. Also God ordained this transaction as a type of the resurrection of Christ. Three days and three nights; i.e., according to Hebrew usage, parts of the days and nights; i.e. one whole day, and parts of the day before and after this. Jonah was released on the third day (comp. Matthew 12:40 with 1 Corinthians 15:4; and Esther 4:16 with Esther 5:1). The historical nature of this occurrence is substantiated by Christ's reference to it as a figure of his own burial and resurrection. The antitype confirms the truth of the type. It is not credible that Christ would use a mere legendary tale, with no historical basis, to confirm his most solemn statement concerning the momentous fact of his resurrection.

Jonah 1:17(Heb. Ch. 2:1). "And Jehovah appointed a great fish to swallow up Jonah." מנּה does not mean to create, but to determine, to appoint. The thought is this: Jehovah ordained that a great fish should swallow him. The great fish (lxx κῆτος, cf. Matthew 12:40), which is not more precisely defined, was not a whale, because this is extremely rare in the Mediterranean, and has too small a throat to swallow a man, but a large shark or sea-dog, canis carcharias, or squalus carcharias L., which is very common in the Mediterranean, and has so large a throat, that it can swallow a living man whole.

(Note: The aqualus carcharias L., the true shark, Requin, or rather Requiem, reaches, according to Cuvier, the length of 25 feet, and according to Oken the length of four fathoms, and has about 400 lance-shaped teeth in its jaw, arranged in six rows, which the animal can either elevate or depress, as they are simply fixed in cells in the skin. It is common in the Mediterranean, where it generally remains in deep water, and is very voracious, swallowing everything that comes in its way - plaice, seals, and tunny-fish, with which it sometimes gets into the fishermen's net on the coat of Sardinia, and is caught. As many as a dozen undigested tunny-fish have been found in a shark weighing three or four hundredweight; in one a whole horse was found, and its weight was estimated at fifteen hundredweight. Rondelet (Oken, p. 58) says that he saw one on the western coast of France, through whose throat a fat man could very easily have passed. Oken also mentions a fact, which is more elaborately described in Mller's Vollstndiges Natur-system des Ritters Carl v. Linn (1 Thessalonians 3.p. 268), namely, that in the year 1758 a sailor fell overboard from a frigate, in very stormy weather, into the Mediterranean Sea, and was immediately taken into the jaws of a sea-dog (carcharias), and disappeared. The captain, however, ordered a gun, which was standing on the deck, to be discharged at the shark, and the cannon-ball struck it, so that it vomited up again the sailor that it had swallowed, who was then taken up alive, and very little hurt, into the boat that had been lowered for his rescue.)

The miracle consisted therefore, not so much in the fact that Jonah was swallowed alive, as in the fact that he was kept alive for three days in the shark's belly, and then vomited unhurt upon the land. The three days and three nights are not to be regarded as fully three times twenty hours, but are to be interpreted according to Hebrew usage, as signifying that Jonah was vomited up again on the third day after he had been swallowed (compare Esther 4:16 with Esther 5:1 and Tob. 3:12, 13, according to the Lutheran text).

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