Footsteps in Faith: Believers, followers should look for truth in the whale’s belly

| July 7, 2011 | 1 Comment

Chaplain (Maj.) Steve Hommel
Brigade Chaplain, 500th Military Intelligence Brigade



While on deployment with the Joint Special Operations Task Force-Philippines, on the island of Mindanao, I was asked an interesting question during lunch.

As we broke lumpia together, two friends teasingly asked me, “Come on, ‘Chaps,’ do you really believe Jonah was swallowed by a whale, or what?”

I told them that in Jonah 1:17, “The Lord appointed a great fish to swallow Jonah, and Jonah was in the stomach of the fish three days and three nights.”

I am not sure if the creature that swallowed Jonah was actually a whale or not, although I think it likely. The Hebrew words “gadol dawg” are translated as “whale” in the King James Version of the Bible and, more accurately, as “great fish” in the New American Standard Bible. This translation could be referring to a whale, but it could also be used for several other kinds of large sea creatures.

In addition, Dr. John Morris, president of the Institute for Creation Research, wrote, “There are several species of whale and of sharks alive today, with gullets large enough to swallow a man whole.”

The point is, the story is not impossible.

Clearly this event was miraculous and not a natural phenomenon. Thus, we don’t have to give it an explanation limited by modern experience or knowledge.

Could a man survive for three days and three nights in the belly of a fish? The Biblical idiom “three days and three nights” does not necessarily mean three, 24-hour days. It means any part of three days. But could a man survive even that long?

There are historical accounts from whalers during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries that record sailors being swallowed by whales and recovered alive, many hours later, when the creatures were processed.

For Christians, the account of Jonah and the whale, or a great fish, has an added significance.

Jonah is the only Old Testament prophet whom Jesus likened to himself. Matthew 12:40 states, “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.”

Jonah’s ordeal was a sign of Christ’s own death, burial and resurrection.

While the Bible does, from time to time, employ metaphors and other figures of speech, according to interpretation, Jonah’s ordeal should be taken literally. The Biblical account is not intended to be symbolical or metaphorical. It is a literal, historical account of something that actually happened.

While Jonah’s experience was indeed miraculous, it is also not beyond the realm of natural possibility.

One should not get lost in the dramatic details of being swallowed and vomited up by a great fish — no matter how gross that must have been. The real importance of Jonah’s story is that it served as a prophetic foundation for the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ, the Messiah.


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Category: Footsteps in Faith, News, Standing Columns

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  1. Al Perez says:

    Nicely put, Pastor!

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