The Meaning of Jonah 1:17 Explained

Jonah 1:17

KJV: Now the LORD had prepared a great fish to swallow up Jonah. And Jonah was in the belly of the fish three days and three nights.

YLT: And Jehovah appointeth a great fish to swallow up Jonah, and Jonah is in the bowels of the fish three days and three nights.

Darby: And Jehovah prepared a great fish to swallow up Jonah. And Jonah was in the belly of the fish three days and three nights.

ASV: And Jehovah prepared a great fish to swallow up Jonah; and Jonah was in the belly of the fish three days and three nights.

What does Jonah 1:17 Mean?

Study Notes

prepared
Four prepared things. Jonah 4:6 ; Jonah 4:7 ; Jonah 4:8
great fish
No miracle of Scripture has called forth so much unbelief. The issue is not between the doubter and this ancient record, but between the doubter and the Lord Jesus Christ. Matthew 12:39 ; Matthew 12:40 . Science, "falsely so called" 1 Timothy 6:20 failing to take account of the fact that it deals only with the outward phenomena of a fallen race, and of an earth under a curse Genesis 3:17-19 is intolerant of miracles. To faith, and to true science, miracle is what might be expected of divine love, interposing God in a physically and morally disordered universe. Romans 8:19-23 .
prepared
Four prepared things. Jonah 4:6 ; Jonah 4:7 ; Jonah 4:8

Verse Meaning

The identity of the great fish remains a mystery since the only record of what it was is in this story, and that description is general. The Hebrew word dag, translated "fish," describes a variety of aquatic creatures. The text does not say that God created this fish out of nothing (ex nihilo) nor does what the fish did require such an explanation. There are many types of fish capable of swallowing a human being whole. [1] Two examples are the sperm whale and the whale shark. Occasionally today we hear of someone who has lived for several days in a fish or in some other large animal and has emerged alive. [2] Notwithstanding Jonah"s experience has been one of the favorite targets of unbelievers in the miraculous, who claim that this story is preposterous (cf. Matthew 12:39-40). Some Bible students have faulted some commentators for documenting instances of large fish swallowing people who have survived, as if such suggestions slight God"s power. They do not necessarily.
"The numerous attempts made in the past to identify the sort of fish that could have kept Jonah alive in it are misguided. How would even Jonah himself have known? Can we assume that he caught a glimpse of it as it turned back to sea after vomiting him out on shore ( Jonah 1:1 10])? How much could he have understood of what had happened to him when he was swallowed? These questions have no answer. To ask them is to ignore the way the story is told. What sorts of fish people can live inside is not an interest of the scripture." [3]
Significantly God saved Jonah"s life by using a fish rather than in a more conventional method such as providing a piece of wood that he could cling to. Thus this method of deliverance must have some special significance. The Jews were familiar with the mythical sea monster (Ugaritic lotan, Heb. leviathan) that symbolized both the uncontrollable chaos of the sea and the chaotic forces that only Yahweh could manage (cf. Psalm 74:13-14; Psalm 104:25-26). The Hebrews did not believe that leviathan really existed any more than we believe in Santa Claus. Yet the figure was familiar to them, and they knew what it represented. For Jonah to relate his experience of deliverance in his ancient Near Eastern cultural context would have impressed his hearers that a great God had sent him to them. It is probably for this reason that God chose to save Jonah by using a great fish.
Here God controlled the traditionally uncontrollable to spare Jonah"s life. The God who is great enough to control it could control anything, and He used His power for a loving purpose. This is more remarkable since Jonah , as God"s servant, had rebelled against his Master. God"s method of deliverance therefore reveals both His great power and His gracious heart.
"Men have been looking so hard at the great fish that they have failed to see the great God." [4]
"It is the greatness of Israel"s God that is the burden of the book." [5]
Jonah was able to calculate how long he was in the fish after he came out of it. Obviously he lost all track of time inside the fish.
Ancient Near Easterners viewed the trip to the underworld land of the dead as a three-day journey. [6] Original readers of this story would have concluded that the fish gave Jonah a return trip from the land of the dead to which Jonah , by his own admission, had descended ( Jonah 2:2; Jonah 2:6).
The three-day time was significant also because Jonah"s deliverance became a precursor of an even greater salvation that took three days and nights to accomplish ( Matthew 12:40). God restored Jonah to life so he would be God"s instrument in providing salvation to a large Gentile (and indirectly Jewish) population under God"s judgment for their sins. He raised Jesus to life so He would be God"s instrument in providing salvation for an even larger population of Gentiles and Jews under God"s judgment for their sins.
For the second time in this story God took the initiative to move His prophet to carry out His will (cf. Jonah 1:1). This time Jonah turned to the Lord.

Chapter Summary: Jonah 1

1  Jonah, sent to Nineveh, flees to Tarshish
4  He is betrayed by a great storm;
11  thrown into the sea;
17  and swallowed by a fish

What do the individual words in Jonah 1:17 mean?

And had prepared Yahweh a fish great to swallow - Jonah And was Jonah in the belly of the fish three days and three nights
וַיְמַ֤ן יְהוָה֙ דָּ֣ג גָּד֔וֹל לִבְלֹ֖עַ אֶת־ יוֹנָ֑ה וַיְהִ֤י יוֹנָה֙ בִּמְעֵ֣י הַדָּ֔ג שְׁלֹשָׁ֥ה יָמִ֖ים וּשְׁלֹשָׁ֥ה לֵילֽוֹת

וַיְמַ֤ן  And  had  prepared 
Parse: Conjunctive waw, Verb, Piel, Consecutive imperfect, third person masculine singular
Root: מָנָה  
Sense: to count, reckon, number, assign, tell, appoint, prepare.
יְהוָה֙  Yahweh 
Parse: Proper Noun, masculine singular
Root: יהוה 
Sense: the proper name of the one true God.
דָּ֣ג  a  fish 
Parse: Noun, masculine singular
Root: דָּאג 
Sense: fish.
גָּד֔וֹל  great 
Parse: Adjective, masculine singular
Root: גָּבֹול 
Sense: great.
לִבְלֹ֖עַ  to  swallow 
Parse: Preposition-l, Verb, Qal, Infinitive construct
Root: בָּלַע 
Sense: to swallow down, swallow up, engulf, eat up.
אֶת־  - 
Parse: Direct object marker
Root: אֹות 
Sense: sign of the definite direct object, not translated in English but generally preceding and indicating the accusative.
יוֹנָ֑ה  Jonah 
Parse: Proper Noun, masculine singular
Root: יׄונָה  
Sense: son of Amittai and a native of Gath-hepher; 5th of the minor prophets who prophesied during the reign of Jeroboam II and whom God sent also to prophecy to Nineveh.
וַיְהִ֤י  And  was 
Parse: Conjunctive waw, Verb, Qal, Consecutive imperfect, third person masculine singular
Root: אֶהְיֶה 
Sense: to be, become, come to pass, exist, happen, fall out.
יוֹנָה֙  Jonah 
Parse: Proper Noun, masculine singular
Root: יׄונָה  
Sense: son of Amittai and a native of Gath-hepher; 5th of the minor prophets who prophesied during the reign of Jeroboam II and whom God sent also to prophecy to Nineveh.
בִּמְעֵ֣י  in  the  belly 
Parse: Preposition-b, Noun, masculine plural construct
Root: מֵעֶה  
Sense: internal organs, inward parts, bowels, intestines, belly.
הַדָּ֔ג  of  the  fish 
Parse: Article, Noun, masculine singular
Root: דָּאג 
Sense: fish.
שְׁלֹשָׁ֥ה  three 
Parse: Number, masculine singular
Root: מִשְׁלֹשׁ 
Sense: three, triad.
יָמִ֖ים  days 
Parse: Noun, masculine plural
Root: יׄום 
Sense: day, time, year.
וּשְׁלֹשָׁ֥ה  and  three 
Parse: Conjunctive waw, Number, masculine singular
Root: מִשְׁלֹשׁ 
Sense: three, triad.
לֵילֽוֹת  nights 
Parse: Noun, masculine plural
Root: לַיִל 
Sense: night.