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.
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Augustine of Hippo
The last question is about Jonah, and it is not put as if it were taken from Porphyry but as if it were a laughingstock of the pagans. It is expressed thus: “Please tell me what we are to think about Jonah, who is said to have been three days in the belly of a whale. It is improbable and unbelievable that he should have been swallowed up with his clothing and should have been inside the fish. If it is figuratively said, please explain it. … I have noticed that this sort of question is a matter of much jest and much laughter to pagans. The answer to this is that either all the divine miracles are to be disbelieved or there is no reason why they should not be believed. We should not believe in Christ himself and that he rose on the third day, if the faith of the Christians feared the laughter of the pagans.
They further object: A dead man recently deceased was raised by the living; but show us that it is possible for a man dead and buried for three days to rise again. The testimony we seek is supplied by the Lord Jesus himself in the Gospels, when he says, “For even as Jonah was in the belly of the fish three days and three nights, so will the Son of man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.” Now when we study the story of Jonah the force of the resemblance becomes striking. Jesus was sent to preach repentance. So was Jonah. Though Jonah fled, not knowing what was to come, Jesus came willingly, to grant repentance for salvation. Jonah slumbered in the ship and was fast asleep amid the stormy sea; while Jesus by God’s will was sleeping, the sea was stirred up, for the purpose of manifesting thereafter the power of him who slept. They said to Jonah, “What are you doing asleep? Rise up, call upon your God, that God may save us,” but the apostles say, “Lord, save us!” In t...
Did Jonah, then, on this account, think that repentance was unnecessary for the pagan Ninevites, when he tried to avoid his duty of preaching? Or was it not, rather, that he foresaw that the mercy of God would be poured out on the heathen also, and so feared it would prove him a false prophet? Actually it was because of a pagan city, which did not yet know God and which sinned in ignorance, that the prophet was almost lost. And he would have been lost, were it not for the fact that what he endured was a type of the Lord’s suffering, by which pagan penitents also would be redeemed.
It is also your duty, O bishop, to follow the examples of those that have gone before and to apply their judgments skillfully to the cases of those who want words of severity or of consolation. Besides, it is reasonable that in your administration of justice you should follow the will of God. As God deals with sinners and with those who return, you should act accordingly in your judging. Now did not God by Nathan admonish David for his offense? And yet as soon as he said he repented, God delivered him from death, saying, “Be of good cheer; you shall not die.” So also, when God had caused Jonah to be swallowed up by the sea and the whale upon his refusal to preach to the Ninevites, when yet he prayed to God out of the belly of the whale, he retrieved his life from corruption. .