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Jonah and the Great Fish

by Stephen Davey

Some of the most scrutinized words in the Bible appear in Jonah 1:17: “And the LORD appointed a great fish to swallow up Jonah.”

Scientists and skeptics have tried to disprove the miraculous account of “a great fish” swallowing a living person.

Some have tried to reimagine the meaning of the words, theorizing that “The Fish” was the name of another boat that sailed by and picked up Jonah. Another author suggested that Jonah swam to shore and stayed at an inn called, “The Fish.”

The lengths people go to deny the Word of God would be humorous if it were not so tragic.

Frankly, it’s not that much of a stretch to assume that God can control His own creation. Besides, we know that an average sperm whale—an animal known to swim in the Mediterranean Sea, where Jonah is currently treading water— has a throat large enough to swallow an entire eighteen-wheeler or mobile home.

But remember, we don’t require the validation of science to confirm the truth of God’s Word. The unapologetic record of Scripture is enough, even when there are no further details or explanations provided.

Notice again the first four words of verse 17, “And the LORD appointed . . .”. God sent this fish to rescue Jonah from drowning and transport him to the place God wanted him to be. And this won’t be the last time in this book we see God’s complete control over members of His creation. 

As Jonah sits in the belly of this fish—the underwater taxi ordained by God—he certainly feels hopeless and helpless. Eventually—after three days of soul searching—Jonah does what we often do when we feel hopeless and helpless: he prays.

Jonah chapter 2 records the only underwater prayer in history, and there are three elements in his prayer that reveal true repentance. These elements will reorient Jonah to obeying God; and they will do the same for us when we find ourselves needing to pray this same kind of prayer.


In verse 3, Jonah admits that his circumstances are God’s discipline for his disobedience. He prays, “For you cast me into the deep, into the heart of the seas, and the flood surrounded me; all your waves and your billows passed over me.”

Some will recognize the discipline of God in their life and despise it, or be discouraged by it, or resist it, or ignore it. But Jonah recognized it as a demonstration of God’s authority over his life.


Jonah goes on in verses 4-6 to describe his feelings of sinking to his death. He recalls in verse 7: “When my life was fainting away, I remembered the LORD, and my prayer came to you, into your holy temple.”

Jonah recognizes that even though he was unable to save himself, God could. “Yet you brought up my life from the pit, O LORD my God” (Jonah 2:6).

One author pointed out the precious truth that God had mercy on Jonah before Jonah will invite the Ninevites to experience the mercy of God for themselves.


At the end of his prayer, Jonah says, “But I with the voice of thanksgiving will sacrifice to you; what I have vowed I will pay” (Jonah 2:9).

Think about this promise: what can Jonah pay? What sacrifices can he make? He’s in the belly of a whale; his matches are probably too wet to start a fire.

The truth is, Jonah can offer the same payment you and I can when we run back to Him: a broken spirit and a contrite heart. The psalmist says that God will never despise those sacrifices (Psalm 51:17).

With that, God accepts Jonah’s return to the ministry. He commands the fish to taxi Jonah back to land. Verse 10 say, “And the LORD spoke to the fish, and it vomited Jonah out upon dry land” (Jonah 2:10).

Jonah has been rescued by the grace of God—and he’ll never forget it. By the way, that same grace is extended to you today.

You don’t need a big fish to prove that God loves you too!

If you want to explore Jonah in more detail, Stephen's book is available here.

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