Jonah/Yunus in the Great Fish

Jonah is the unwilling prophet who tries to get out of the difficult task God has put on his shoulders: warning the people of Nineveh (Bible) or his own people (Qur’an) about the pending disaster. He flees his responsibility by boarding a ship going in another direction. But a storm arises, and after drawing lots, the crew throws him overboard to lighten the ship’s load. He is swallowed by a fish. From its belly, he calls to God for help.

He repents his ways and is reconciled with God. Three days later, the fish spits him out onto a beach. God causes a plant to grow to shelter him from the sun. When he recovers, he returns to his people (Qur’an) or to Nineveh, (Bible) who quickly mend their ways. The impending disaster is averted. The Bible story continues with Jonah extremely irritated that Nineveh is not destroyed, as he had been forced to foretell. He fusses about the plant shriveling. The Qur’an story ends with a plea for religious tolerance, because it is in the power only of God, not of humans, to bring others onto the right path. Thus, the beginning of the story of Jonah is similar to those of other prophets, such as Noah, in that it warns of impending disaster. However, the end is very different. Jonah’s people (Qur’an) or the inhabitants of Nineveh (Bible) repent before God visits his wrath upon them. God forgives them and allows them a period of earthly happiness.

It is this theme of repentance and forgiveness, of reconciliation between God and Jonah, God and the people (of Nineveh), which is celebrated on the Jewish Day of Atonement, or Yom Kippur. On this yearly occasion, the story of Jonah is recited. For Christians, Jonah’s fate foretells that of Jesus’ resurrection after three days.

…the prophet Jonah…was in the stomach of a big fish for three days and nights, just as the Son of Man will be deep in the earth for three days and nights.

Matthew 12:40

Jonah is numbered among the list of prophets, and the Qur’an has a chapter named after him, although the story is also found elsewhere. The Bible also gives Jonah his own chapter.


Jonah sent to Nineveh

Now the word of the Lord came to Jonah…saying, “Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and cry out against it; for their wickedness has come up before Me.”Jonah 1:1-2

Jonah flees to sea

But Jonah arose to flee…from the presence of the Lord. He…found a ship…to go with them …from the presence of the Lord.

But the Lord sent out a great wind on the sea, and there was a mighty tempest on the sea, so that the ship was about to be broken up. Then the mariners were afraid …they said to one another, “Come, let us cast lots, that we may know for whose cause this trouble has come upon us.” So they cast lots, and the lot fell on Jonah. Then they said to him, “What shall we do to you that the sea may be calm for us?” – for the sea was growing more tempestuous. And he said to them, “Pick me up and throw me into the sea; then the sea will become calm for you. For I know that this great tempest is because of me.” So they picked up Jonah and threw him into the sea, and the sea ceased from its raging.Jonah 1: 3-5,7,11-12,15

Jonah in the fish three days and nights
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. Jonah 1:17

Then Jonah prayed to the Lord his God from the fish’s belly. And he said: “I cried out to the Lord because of my affliction, And He answered me. For You cast me into the deep, into the heart of the seas; The waters surrounded me, even to my soul; The deep closed around me; Weeds were wrapped around my head; The earth with its bars closed behind me forever; Yet You have brought up my life from the pit, O Lord, my God. Jonah 2:1-6

Jonah warns Nineveh
So the Lord spoke to the fish, and it vomited Jonah onto dry land. Jonah 2:10

Now the word of the Lord came to Jonah the second time, saying, “Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and preach to it the message that I tell you.” So Jonah arose and went to Nineveh…Then he cried out and said, “Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown!”Jonah 3: 1-4

Nineveh saved
So the people of Nineveh believed God, proclaimed a fast, and put on sackcloth, from the greatest to the least of them. Then word came to the king of Nineveh; and he arose from his throne and laid aside his robe, covered himself with sackcloth and sat in ashes. And he caused it to be…published throughout Nineveh…let every one turn from his evil way and from the violence that is in his hands.

Then God saw their works, that they turned from their evil way; and God relented from the disaster that He had said He would bring upon them…Jonah 3: 5-8,10

The vine grows and shrivels

But it displeased Jonah exceedingly, and he became angry.

And the Lord God prepared a plant and made it come up over Jonah, that it might be shade for his head to deliver him from his misery. So Jonah was very grateful for the plant. But as morning dawned the next day God prepared a worm, and it so damaged the plant that it withered…God prepared a vehement east wind; and the sun beat on Jonah’s head, so that he grew faint. Then he wished death for himself… Then God said to Jonah, “You have had pity on the plant… which came up in a night and perished in a night. And should I not pity Nineveh, that great city, in which are more than one hundred and twenty thousand persons…? Jonah, 4:1,6-11


God sends Yunus

So also was Jonah among those sent (by Us). 37, The Saffat,139

Jonah runs away to the ship

When he ran away (like a slave from captivity) to the ship (fully) laden;

he (agreed to) cast lots, and he was condemned. 37, The Saffat, 140-141

And remember Zun-nun (the man of the fish ed.), when he departed in wrath: he imagined that We had no power over him! 21 The Prophets, 87

The big fish swallowed Yunus

Then the big fish swallowed him, and he had done acts worthy of blame. 37, the Saffat, 142

But he cried through the depths of darkness: “There is no god but You: glory to You: I was indeed wrong!” So We listened to him: and delivered him from distress: and thus do We deliver those who have faith. 21 The Prophets, 87-88

Had it not been that he (repented and) glorified Allah, he would certainly have remained inside the Fish till the Day of Resurrection.37, The Saffat,143-144

The shore and the plant

But We cast him forth on the naked shore in a state of sickness…37 The Saffat,145

Jonah’s people saved
And We sent him (on a mission) to a hundred thousand (men) or more. And they believed; so We permitted them to enjoy (their life) for a while. 37 The Saffat, 145,147-148
Why was there not a single township (among those We warned), which believed – so its Faith should have profited it – except the People of Jonah? When they believed, We removed from them the Penalty of Ignominy in the life of the Present, and permitted them to enjoy (their life) for a while. 10 Jonah, 98
If it had been your Lord’s Will, they would all have believed– all who are on earth! Will you then compel mankind, against their will, to believe! No soul can believe, except by the Will of Allah. 10 Yunus, 99-100

A spreading plant

(A plant is given to Yunus when he was cast ashore, before he returns to warn his people. The gourd is a multifunctional plant akin to the pumpkin, useful as a water carrier, the earliest plant to be domesticated ed.)

And We caused to grow, over him, a spreading plant of the gourd kind. 37 The Saffat,146

So wait with patience for the Command of your Lord, and be not like the Companion of the Fish – when he cried out in agony. Had not Grace from his Lord reached him, he would indeed have been cast off on the naked shore, in disgrace. Thus did his Lord choose him and make him of the company of the Righteous. 68 The Pen, 48-50

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