God’s Word Is Alive
Was Jonah Really in Hell?
YOU are looking at an artist’s conception of what the Bible writer Jonah calls “hell.” Jonah, who is seen here, wrote: “I cried by reason of mine affliction unto the LORD, and he heard me; out of the belly of hell [margin, “the grave”] cried I, and thou heardest my voice.”—Jonah 2:2, Authorized Version.
Where was Jonah? How did he come to be in this place? Was he able to get out?
God had told his prophet Jonah to go to Nineveh and proclaim that the city was to be destroyed because of its badness. But instead of obeying, Jonah went down to Joppa. As you can see, he pays his fare and boards a ship heading in the opposite direction.—Jonah 1:2, 3.
God is not pleased with Jonah for running away. So He causes a great storm, and it looks as though the ship will sink. Finally, Jonah tells the sailors that it is because of him that the storm is raging. So, at Jonah’s instructions, they throw him overboard. Right away the storm stops, and the sea is calm again. (Jonah 1:4-16) As Jonah sinks down into the sea, a big fish swallows him. Regarding his experience inside the fish, Jonah reported: “I cried . . . unto the LORD . . . out of the belly of hell.”
What did Jonah mean by “out of the belly of hell”? Well, that fish’s belly was surely not a place of fiery torment. But it could have become Jonah’s grave. In fact, Jesus Christ said regarding himself: “Just as Jonah was in the belly of the huge fish three days and three nights, so the Son of man will be in the heart of the earth three days and three nights.”—Matt. 12:40.
Jesus was dead and in his grave for three days. But the Bible reports: “His soul was not left in hell . . . This Jesus hath God raised up.” (Acts 2:31, 32, AV) Similarly, by God’s direction, Jonah was raised from hell, that is, what would have been his grave. This occurred when the fish vomited him out onto dry land.—Jonah 2:10.
What, then, is the Bible hell? It is simply mankind’s common grave. And the heartwarming promise is that hell is to be emptied of its dead, as the Bible explains: “Death and hell [margin, “the grave”] delivered up the dead which were in them.” (Rev. 20:13, 14, AV) Certainly we have strong encouragement to learn more about God and his purposes for blessing mankind.