Did you know that Jonah experienced death? Jonah 2:2 [2:3 in Hebrew] says, “I have called from my affliction to the Lord, and He answered me; from the belly of Sheol (מבטן שאול; mibeten sheol) I cried.” For most of the biblical period, the afterlife was conceived as existence in Sheol – the place of the dead. “Sheol” was the Hebrew counterpart of the Greek “Hades.” The reality of Sheol is not just a poetic device in Jonah’s prayer; as the would-be prophet cries from the midst of the fish, he is confined to the realm of the dead.

Jonah 2:5 [Hebrew 2:6] solidifies the prophet’s position at the brink of death quite clearly: “The waters engulfed me up to my throat (עד נפשׁ; ad nephesh), the deep surrounded me, weeds wrapped my head.” One cannot, from a logical standpoint, survive waters that have encompassed one’s head – which is where Jonah finds himself in the current predicament. Jonah is taking on water and actively drowning; he is in the process of dying.

At the turning point of his prayer, Jonah describes himself at the very point of death and alludes to his subsequent resurrection: “I went down to the bottoms of the mountains; the earth with its bars was around my forever. But you [God] have brought my life up from destruction” (2:7 [6]). While many Bible readers may see these words as only a metaphor, it is important not to downplay these references to physical death and resurrection. Jesus recalls Jonah’s experience in reference to His own real death and resurrection, saying that “just as Jonah was… in the belly of the fish, so the Son of Man will be… in the heart of the earth” (Matt 12:40). Jesus uses Jonah as a template for his own death and his return from the realm of the dead. Therefore, a more concrete reading of Jonah’s prayer can highlight God’s true power of bodily resurrection.

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77 COMMENTS

  1. Very educative and insightful. Many people believe that Jona's death was staged.They do not know the power of God of raising the dead to life.
  2. Just in the last video published on Off the Kirb Ministries YouTube channel 2 days ago, Joe Kirby mentioned this. Coincidence? Probably.
    • Dr. Lyon's article was written several weeks ago, but was not published until today. (our faculty has to produce materials well in advance of the publication dates on the website)

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    • I believe that Jonah's experience was literal. However, I don't believe he actually died; especially knowing that God is able to preserve a life no matter what the environment is...Daniel 3:8-30. I believe that through inspiration, Jonah wrote of his experience inside the fish as an metaphoric picture of D&R.

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  3. This is great stuff and thank you for this particular insight, I pray for Israel every day and I love learning about hebrew origins. Thank you again +++
    • He spent 3 days in the belly of the great fish after praying to God for his rescue. Remember also that Jesus committed His spirit to the Father before His last breath on the cross. So Jonah actually died and came back to life.
  4. a christian group on facebook are just talking over the understanding of the suffering forever burning hell of the unsaved - big issue I know but from an hebraic understanding can you help us on this?
    • If he was dead, how did he cry? Does this confirm the fact that the dead are not actually dead, but existing somewhere else, as against Jehovah's witnesses teaching that there's no soul and that the dead are completely dead?

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  5. “I have called from my affliction to the Lord, and He answered me; from the belly of Sheol (מבטן שאול; mibeten sheol) I cried.” How can a dead person cry out to God?
    • To add support to your point, see Psalm 6:5 "For in death there is no remembrance of thee: in Sheol who shall give thee thanks?" (ERV). In fact, the entire Book of Jonah must be read as an allegory, much like the Book of Job. None of it is literal.
    • Well, it may be so that a person in Sheol can call out to God because the person most likely does not lose the ability to remember. Look at the example of the parable when Jesus talks about Lazarus and the rich man. The rich man was aware of his surroundings, including the people on the other side of the chasm. So I would think that, although someone might pass into Sheol, they wouldn't lose their knowledge of God.

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    • Are you making materialist assumptions here, George? The writer(s) of the text believed that, as persons, we continue to exist in Sheol after the death of the body. You may believe otherwise, but there is no contradiction in the text.

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    • Now you have opened my eyes,I have understood what the story of Jonah really means, thank you sir more Grace.
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  6. I've always felt DEEPLY that Jonah died. It was like it was revealed to me! The comment and comparison of Jesus confirmed it! I'm so glad that someone else sees it as it REALLY IS!!
    Thanks to the Almighty God for His Revelation to YOU!!!!
    • Yes Reuben, I too concluded years ago that Jonah died and knew was dead, not merely having a nde. I based my conviction on ‘The earth with its bars closed behind me forever’ (Jo. 2:6). However our conviction on life after death is based on Jesus’ experience.
  7. A very interesting information. Want to grow more in knowing the words of God. I am interested in increasing my knowledge about God.
    • Wonderful interpretation when seeing it from the Hebrew perspective.
      Amazing prayer of Jonah when in the midst odmf difficulties but still our God was at hand.
      Even the Lord quoted the very words of Jinah to assure us that hades is real.
      Amen to the Almighty Omni-presence God.
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