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"Jonah and the whale" is one of the most famous events of Bible History. Was it actually a whale? Perhaps. Perhaps very likely. The Hebrew word, pronounced dawg, means fish, and is translated as such in the twenty times that it is used throughout the Hebrew Scriptures, beginning from Genesis i.e. "1:26 And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness: and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea" (Genesis 1:26 KJV).
It was surely a literal event, as testified by Jesus Christ (Who also was given the task of Creation of all things, including the great fish of the sea - see Christ The Creator): "12:40 For as Jonas was three days and three nights in the whale's belly; so shall the Son of man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth" (Matthew 12:40 KJV).
"2:1 Then Jonah prayed unto the LORD his God out of the fish's belly, 2:2 And said, I cried by reason of mine affliction unto the LORD, and he heard me; out of the belly of hell [i.e. his grave - see Where Is Hell?] cried I, and thou heardest my voice. 2:3 For thou hadst cast me into the deep, in the midst of the seas; and the floods compassed me about: all thy billows and thy waves passed over me. 2:4 Then I said, I am cast out of thy sight; yet I will look again toward thy holy temple. 2:5 The waters compassed me about, even to the soul [see Where Is Your Soul?]: the depth closed me round about, the weeds were wrapped about my head. 2:6 I went down to the bottoms of the mountains; the earth with her bars was about me for ever: yet hast thou brought up my life from corruption, O LORD my God.
Jonah Chapter 3
With his spectacular object lesson learned, Jonah then made the long overland journey to Nineveh (i.e. from the Mediterranean coast of Israel to what is today central Iraq) to do what The Lord sent him to do to begin with. Jonah arrived in Assyria and began warning "Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown." Amazingly, the people of the great city believed him - amazingly, because The Lord's Israelite prophets were almost always rejected by Israelites, an irony that Christ himself rebuked His own people of Judah for (in another direct historic reference by Christ about Jonah) i.e. "12:41 The men of Nineveh shall rise in judgment with this generation, and shall condemn it: because they repented at the preaching of Jonas; and, behold, a greater than Jonas is here" (Matthew 12:41 KJV).
"3:1 And the word of the LORD came unto Jonah the second time, saying, 3:2 Arise, go unto Nineveh, that great city, and preach unto it the preaching that I bid thee.
Jonah Chapter 4
Jonah was successful in his mission, but he would much rather to have "failed" - at least in the sense of the people of Nineveh rejecting his warning. Jonah (rightly) viewed the people of Assyria as a major threat to Israel - and would much rather have preferred to see The Lord destroy them - another profound irony. Nearly all of The Lord's prophets had little joy because most were ignored and rejected; the one that was successful, Jonah, was also unhappy because of the people that he was successful with.
It was however a plain assurance and proof that The Lord has compassion and forgiveness for anyone who repents and obeys Him. Again, to emphasize: "12:41 The men of Nineveh shall rise in judgment with this generation, and shall condemn it: because they repented at the preaching of Jonas; and, behold, a greater than Jonas is here" (Matthew 12:41 KJV).
"4:1 But it displeased Jonah exceedingly, and he was very angry. 4:2 And he prayed unto the LORD, and said, I pray thee, O LORD, was not this my saying, when I was yet in my country? Therefore I fled before unto Tarshish: for I knew that thou art a gracious God, and merciful, slow to anger, and of great kindness, and repentest thee of the evil. 4:3 Therefore now, O LORD, take, I beseech thee, my life from me; for it is better for me to die than to live.
Fact Finder: How did Jonah's "three days and three nights," as plainly spoken of by the Messiah ("12:40 For as Jonas was three days and three nights in the whale's belly; so shall the Son of man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth" Matthew 12:40 KJV), get ignored by much of the Christian-professing world? How did it cause people to assume the wrong day of Christ's resurrection?