Jonah 2: Watershed Moment

Christ Covenant Church
Jon Marq Toombs
12 November 2017
Texts: Jonah 2
The Gospel according to Jonah
Ordinary Time

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Controversy over the Book of Jonah. Is it historical or mythical? Is it allegorical or literal? It is best to follow the lead of Christ and the apostles on matters like this, over against the scholars.

Jesus treated it like a true story, and so should we.

However ones takes it, it is undeniably Christo-centric/-telic. That’s the point. So we want to lift the veil and see Christ in the story.


“And the Lord appointed a great fish to swallow up Jonah. And Jonah was in the belly of the fish three days and three nights.”

Natural Explanation

No one knows exactly what kind of fish it was, but many theories abound: the great fish was a sperm whale, a basking shark, or even a megamouth shark. These creatures are known to have inhabited the Mediterranean Sea.

Non-Natural Explanation

The great fish was a one-of-a-kind sea creature, specially appointed for this task.

As Robin Parry explains in his book The Biblical Cosmos: A Pilgrim’s Guide to the Weird and Wonderful World of the Bible (p. 42):

It is quite possible that the fish was a cosmic sea monster of the kind we have considered above. It is interesting to note that when the Hebrew text was translated into Greek the word chosen to translate dāg was not ichthus (fish), nor enalion (sea creature), but kētos, meaning gargantuan fish or sea monster. This was a word with dark and scary connotations. When Jesus in Matthew’s Gospel speaks of the beast that swallowed Jonah it is, of course, a kētos (Matt 12: 39– 40), a vast and lethal sea monster. This is not the friendly whale of modern children’s Bibles, smiling sweetly as it rescues Jonah.


Jonah has been thrown into the chaotic and dangerous depths of the sea. He speaks of sinking, being surrounded by “the deep,” of being tangled in seaweed, and then of going down further still— of descending to the roots of the mountains into “the land whose bars closed upon me forever,” “the pit” (2: 6), “the belly of sheol.” Jonah speaks as if he were dead— in sheol, the realm of the dead. Christian readers through history have, following Jesus’ lead (Matt 12: 39– 40), noted this link between being in the belly of the fish and being in the realm of death and have seen Jonah’s tale as paralleling Jesus’ own story of descending into death for a period and then returning back to life. But the association of the giant fish with the realm of the dead further enhanced its monstrous image. This fish, certainly for early Christian readers, was death. Yet, monster though it may be, this is one of God’s lethal pets, serving God’s purposes. The fish is the means not of Jonah’s terrible end but, unexpectedly, of his salvation from the sea. Even the dragons serve God.

[Note — Jonah 1:17 LXX καὶ προσέταξεν κύριος κήτει μεγάλῳ καταπιεῖν τὸν Ιωναν καὶ ἦν Ιωνας ἐν τῇ κοιλίᾳ τοῦ κήτους τρεῖς ἡμέρας καὶ τρεῖς νύκτας ]

The crucial point here is that God ordained a great fish to swallow Jonah and save him. In this way, Jonah experienced salvation through judgment, life through death.

SIGN OF JONAH — Matthew 12:38-41

According to Jesus, the story of Jonah was a sign of the gospel. “For just as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth” .

As Jonah was lifted up and baptized in the sea, so Jesus was lifted up and baptized in suffering at the cross.

As Jonah was baptized in the sea – and died, and was buried, so Jesus was baptized at the cross — he was crucified, died, and was buried. (Mark 10:38-39; Luke 12:50)

As Jonah was buried at sea and descended into death; so Jesus was buried in the ground (earth) and descended into death (Sheol/ Hades).

As Jonah was in the belly of a great fish for three days and three nights, so Jesus was in the heart of the earth three days and three nights.

As Jonah was raised up from the realm of the dead and did not see decay, so “Jesus did not see decay, but God raised him up, loosening the pangs of death, because it was not possible for him to be held by death.” (Acts 2:24ff)

As Jonah was raised to new life and went on mission to Ninevah, so Jesus was raised to a new life and went on mission to all the nations.


The captain urged Jonah to pray to his god, but he did not pray until he was in the belly of the big fish.

The Lord sent Jonah to cry out against Ninevah, but he did not cry out until he was in the belly of the big fish — a dead man in the belly of Sheol.

Chiastic Structure shows movement down then up.

Descent vvs 1 -6

vs 6 turning point — swallowed by the massive sea creature

Ascent vvs 6-10

Jonah’s shame was deeper than the sea, God’s grace was deeper still.

Three Baptisms

1) Jonah was “baptized” the sea but rescued by the great fish which was a symbol of Jesus Christ. In other words, the mere act of water-baptism did not save him but union with the Christ-fish. Not all the baptized will be saved, only those who are consumed by the great fish. That is, only those who are consumed by and connected to Christ Jesus by grace through faith will be saved. Salvation is from the Lord. Key: not merely outward sacramental but inward mystical union and communion with Christ.

2) Christ was baptized in suffering on the cross. This is described in Mark 10:37-38. Also, Jesus’s prayer in the garden and the cross sounds like the cries of Jonah in Sheol. See Hebrews 5:7. The point here is that the scriptures describe the crucifixion as a flood. See Psalm 69:1-3 = Jonah “drowned” in the sea because of his own sins, but Jesus “drowned” in the flood (sea) because of our sins.

3) We who were baptized with water and believe in Jesus Christ are saved. Not by virtue of the water but by virtue of the life-blood of Christ. As 1 Peter 3:21 says, baptism saves you (God’s elect exiles cf 1 Pet. 1:2) by means of the resurrection of Jesus Christ, not the washing of dirt from the body. Salvation is from the Lord. Sacramentally, we are united to Christ in his death and in his life: spiritually and mystically, we are united to Christ in his crucifixion and his resurrection. (Romans 6:1-4)

The baptism of Jonah and our baptism center on the baptism of Jesus Christ at the cross of Calvary not the Jordan River. We are saved only by the salvific work of God in Christ. God sent Jesus as the true and better enormous fish to swallow us; he appointed him to save us from the destructive waters.

As Jonah was swallowed by a great fish in the sea and saved in it, so all of us who were baptized into Christ have been swallowed up by the true and better fish, ΙΧΘΥΣ – Jesus Christ Son of God Savior – are saved in him. Jesus saved us from death and carried us to life.

As Jonah was baptized in the sea – and died, was buried, and was raised to a new life and mission ( = vomited onto dry land), so we were baptized with water and united with Christ in his baptism — not his baptism in water at the river Jordan, but his baptism of suffering on the cross at Golgotha. (Mark 10:38-39; Luke 12:50).

As we will see next, we were sent out into the land on mission to the world.


Baptism disrupts our personal narrative and alters our life-course. It marks the end of the old storyline of disobedience and rebellion towards God. And it marks the beginning of a new storyline of obedience and mission with Jesus.

Baptism is a watershed moment in our personal experience. Once we were driven by guilt and fear to hide from God, but now we are driven by grace and faith to serve God’s purpose and mission.

From a personal and existential vantage point baptism is an enacted prayer.

Jonah called out to the Lord in his distress. He prayed for salvation when he was baptized in the sea. (Jonah 2) Likewise, when we were baptized we called on the name of the Lord and prayed for a clean conscience towards God. Baptism is a sinner’s prayer for salvation. Jonah’s baptismal prayer was heard in the holy temple.

From a theological vantage point baptism is a gracious work of sovereign grace.

God sent the storm to stop Jonah in his tracks. God cast him into the heart of the seas. God caused the flood and waves and the deep to surround him. God ordained a savior to rescue him. God raised him up from the deep grave. Jonah 2 is a story of God’s irresistible grace for man dead in trespasses and sins.

Salvation belongs to the Lord – and he gives it freely to whomsoever he wishes to save – whether the pagan sailors in the boat, the prophet in the sea, the Ninevites in Assyria, or the people sitting in this room—even you.

“Salvation belongs to the Lord!” And it is only found in the Lord.

Those who cling to worthless idols forfeit the grace that could be theirs, but those who call out to the Lord will be saved.

Pastoral Prayer — Based on Psalm 107:23-32

O God our Savior, like our brother Jonah,
we have often fled from the face of our God,
we have gone down to the sea in ships, seeking to do our will,
what seems right in our own eyes,
what feels right in the moment,
struggling for life in the chaos of the deep;
and we have seen the dreadful deeds of the Lord,
his wondrous works in the deep.
For he commands and raises the stormy winds,
which lift up the waves of the sea, and bring chaos to order.
They mount up to heaven; they go down to the depths;
in these severe mercies our courage melts away,
our resistance and rebellion are exposed;
we reel and stagger like drunken men
and you bring us to our wits’ end.
Then, harassed by our sin and helpless in your Spirit,
we cry to the Lord in our trouble,
and you deliver us from our distress, again and again.
You make the storm be still,
and the waves of the sea hush.
When the waters are quiet, we rejoice in your grace;
and when you brought us to our desired haven,
we find rest in the Lord Jesus Christ.
Now, let us thank the Lord for his steadfast love,
for his wondrous works to the children of man!
Let us extol him in the congregation of the people,
and praise him in the assembly of the elders.
Whoever is wise, let him attend to these things;
let them consider the steadfast love of the Lord. Amen