Jonah 1:17 (NKJV) Now the Lord had prepared a great fish to swallow Jonah. And Jonah was in the belly of the fish three days and three nights.
Most of us are somewhat familiar with the story about Jonah and the fish. There is animated cartoons and even major motion pictures that present it. However, did you know Jonah was not in the fish for three days and three nights?
Well, let me explain. Let's start with the name Jonah. Using a tool called an, Interlinear Scripture Analyzer (1), I can search the name in the original Hebrew text. This word is made up of four Hebrew letters and is pronounced yo-naw' (2).
In the original Hebrew Scripture, this word appears twenty-seven times. It is also translated differently in the different books of the Old Testament.
In the book of Leviticus, this word appears seven times, each time it is translated as turtledoves. The Bible says in Leviticus 5:7, "If he [the trespasser] is not able to bring a lamb, then he shall bring to the Lord, for his trespass which he has committed, two turtledoves or two young pigeons: one as a sin offering and the other as a burnt offering." When a trespasser could not afford a bull or lamb for an offering, he was permitted to use a dove or pigeon. The same word used for turtledove is the same word translated to Jonah.
So now you may be thinking, his name was turtledove, so what is the big deal? Now we need to look at the words, days and nights. According to Strong's concordance, days comes from a Hebrew word pronouced yome. This word can also mean the warm hours. The word nights comes from a word pronounced la'-yil (3), this word means a twist away from the light. These words can mean periods of the day or periods of the night.
So what is the significance?
The Bible says in Exodus 29:39, "One lamb you shall offer in the morning, and the other lamb you shall offer at twilight." Offerings were to be presented at the break of day or the break of the night. The verse says Jonah was in the belly of the fish over twilight. This was important if he was going to be the sin offering for these people.
The Bible tells us the people of Nineveh, who Jonah went to preach to, did not discern right from wrong and likely knew nothing about sin offerings (4). Jonah 2:2 tells us Jonah said, "Out of the belly of Sheol I cried, And You [God] heard my voice." Jonah died in that fish. He was likely in the fish for three hours of daylight and three hours of the night.
According to Hebrews 9:22, "... Without shedding of blood there is no remission." Jonah became their sacrifice. This is a picture of God's grace. These people did not know any better, so God provided a sacrifice. This is what Jesus did.
(1) ISA Basic, copyright 2011 by Andre de Mol. http://www.scripture4all.org/
(2) Strong’s Greek and Hebrew Dictionary, copyright 1890 by James Strong, MADISON, NJ. Strong’s numbers, Jonah-H3124, H3123
(3) Strong's numbers, Days-H3117, Nights-H3915
(4) Jonah 4:11, "And should I not pity Nineveh, that great city, in which are more than one hundred and twenty thousand persons who cannot discern between their right hand and their left--and much livestock?"