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Is the story of Jonah hard to swallow?

Many people find the story Jonah hard to swallow, but the Sperm whale certainly didn’t. 🙂

Some people object, saying the sperm whale isn’t a fish. But when the Bible says “fish” the Hebrew word simply means a large sea creature. We should be careful not to impose modern categories of ocean life on ancient texts. People in Jonah’s day obviously didn’t distinguish between different types of marine life like we do today.

Another candidate people suggest is the great white shark, which is capable of swallowing a man whole.

A whale shark is even larger than a great white shark (see picture above), but it’s problematic because the oesophagus is very narrow.

Others suggest an undiscovered (maybe extinct) reptilian creature, popularly spoken of in other, non-Jewish ancient texts, which reportedly had tentacles and a dog-like head. This creature has the advantage of being non-carnivorous (not meat eating) – meaning Jonah’s body would not have been digested by the enzymes in the belly of the beast. This response however may be missing the point. For when Jesus alluded to Jonah in Mat 12:40, he seems to suggest that Jonah actually died. Jesus was no doubt thinking of Jonah’s prayer in Jonah 2:2, “I cried for help from the depths of Sheol” – (the place where the dead await their resurrection).

Of course, none of this is the point of the tale of Jonah and the whale. The point of the book of Jonah is that those sinister forces that seek to swallow you and drag you down are still under the control of an Almighty God, and even from the darkest place God hears the prayer of a repentant sinner.

This message taught in Jonah holds true even if you think Jonah is an allegory or myth that never actually happened. If you find the story hard to swallow, and think Jonah is a type of novella (like small novel or a good yarn told to entertain and instruct but not actual history), you still have to confront the Jesus who is being prophetically anticipated through Jonah’s life. For like Jonah, Jesus was crucified and buried in the depths, but on the third day he rose again to new life, preaching a message to a sinful city that they can be forgiven and find peace with God.


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