Temple Imagery in Jonah’s Story

Week Forty-Eight: Jonah; Micah

My fascination with the story of Jonah started with the fish. Could Jonah really survive three days and three nights in a “great fish” which is the word the Hebrews used, or a whale which is what English readers have interpreted the “great fish” to mean? I read stories of fishermen who had supposedly lived through similar experiences. Some of these stories were questionable in terms of their truth, but they made for interesting reading. So, is Jonah’s story true? Was his experience even possible?

Dr. John Morris commented, “The point is nothing about the story is totally impossible. There are fish large enough to swallow a man; men have been known to survive inside a fish. The Bible says it really happened. Christ said Jonah’s experience was an analogy of His own death and resurrection; and God is alive and capable of this feat.”[i]

Our focus should be on the analogy of the Jonah story to our own mortal journey on earth rather than its actual truth or possibility. The Savior himself talked about Jonah as a type or model of the doctrine of the resurrection. Jesus taught: “For as Jonah 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 hearts of the earth.”[ii] Jonah’s experience was to remind us of man’s hope for a resurrection or rebirth after death when man has been swallowed up in the belly of the earth.

Jonah is mentioned in II Kings[iii] as a prophet who prophesied during the reign of Jeroboam II, about 785 BC.[iv] Jonah had been called by the Lord on a specific errand – to call the great city of Nineveh to repentance because their wickedness had come before God. Obviously, the Lord saw in Jonah a skilled teacher, orator, and missionary. The Lord knew that Jonah had the talents to be successful in this assignment. But Jonah hopped on a boat purposefully going in the opposite direction away from his calling from God. Part of his distaste for this calling was his opposition to the idea of saving Gentiles, yet God’s mercy extends to all, even to the inhabitants of a hated foreign city.

How is Jonah’s experience similar to ours? We have each been given an assignment on earth – a calling with a specific purpose. Sometimes, that calling might be to do something we detest or dislike. Our Heavenly Father has a plan for us to grow, live by faith, and have those experiences which will enable us to return to Him. If we endure life’s trials and opportunities with God’s help, we can become victorious. He has given us the talents to be successful and issues callings to us that will bless our lives and the lives of others. These callings are not easy, but they are not meant to be. They are meant to stretch us and strengthen us.

Learning from Jonah’s experience, we can ask ourselves:

Do I run away in the opposite direction when a prompting from the Lord comes into my mind?

When the calling is difficult and I don’t think I can do it, do I put my faith and trust in Him or do I only see my inadequacies and try to run away from it?

Am I following the purpose of my life’s mission? Or are their corrections that I must make in my life’s journey?

While Jonah was trying to run away, the Lord caused a mighty tempest to beat upon the ship that Jonah was in. The boat was about to be broken up in the midst of the sea. The people on board cast lots and the lot fell on Jonah. The shipmaster then asks specific questions of Jonah, almost like a priesthood interview, about what evil Jonah had done, what was his background, and why was he running away. The shipmaster even asked Jonah what Jonah thought they should do to stop the storm.

Jonah answered him honestly: “Take me up, and cast me forth into the sea; so shall the sea be calm unto you: for I know that for my sake this great tempest is upon you.”[v] Jonah’s honesty about himself and his sins are exemplary. He understood what he had done and was willing to make the sacrifice to fix his mistakes in order to save others who were being harmed because of his choices.

Following Jonah’s example, we can ask ourselves:

Do I answer priesthood leader questions honestly?

Am I honest about my mistakes and the way they affect others?

Am I willing to suffer the consequences of my mistakes, no matter how difficult they may be?

The prayer of Jonah while in the belly of the whale is a plea for salvation, redemption, transformation, and rebirth. He is given a second chance in life to define himself as a new man – a man dedicated to God and God’s purposes. And the essence of that change was when he turned to the temple of our God. Jonah looked to the temple for his salvation from the hell he was in.

Jonah prayed: “I am cast out of thy sight: Yet, I will look again toward thy holy temple. …When my soul fainted within me I remembered the Lord; and my prayer came in unto thee, into thine holy temple…. But I will sacrifice unto thee with the voice of thanksgiving; I will pay that that I have vowed. Salvation is of the Lord.”[vi] After Jonah’s prayer and his covenant to consecrate all that he owed to the Lord, “the Lord spake unto the fish and it vomited out Jonah upon the dry land.”[vii]

Jonah looked to the temple and specifically covenanted to be true to the promises and sacrifices he had made in the temple. This rededication to temple covenants was what brought Jonah out of darkness into the light of day – back on the path to his calling.

President Russell M. Nelson reminded us that “every activity, every lesson, all we do in the Church, point to the Lord and His holy house.”[viii]

Receiving a temple endowment is a sacred event that brings spiritual gifts of light into our lives in an ever-darkening world, similar to the redemption Jonah found through his covenantal prayer. The ordinances of the temple help us focus on our Savior and gain (1) greater knowledge of the Lord’s purposes and teachings, (2) power to do all that God wants us to do, (3) divine guidance and protection as we serve the Lord, our families, and others, (4) increased hope, comfort, and peace, and (5) promised blessings now and forever.[ix]

As you contemplate your own temple experiences, ask yourself:

How has the temple transformed me?

Am I looking towards the temple in my daily life?

So, what happens to Jonah after this incredible spiritual experience? As you read Chapters 3 and 4 which relates Jonah’s missionary success in Nineveh, ask yourself:

Did Jonah change after this spiritual rebirth? Or did he return to the person he was before being in the belly of the great fish?

When I have a major spiritual experience in my life, what can I do to keep that spiritual change active in my life?

Alma taught: “[I]f you have experienced a change of heart, and if ye have felt to sing the song of redeeming love, I would ask, can ye feel so now?”[x]

Jonah’s story is an allegory of rebirth and the power of temple covenants that take us from spiritual death to a new life. Through these covenants, we can become filled with light, hope, and a greater understanding of our Savior, Jesus Christ and His calling to each of us. We may be called to do hard things, but through His power, we can accomplish the impossible, just as Jonah did.

May we find joy in the Lord this week as we seek to be true to our temple covenants and follow the call of the Lord.

[i] John Morris, Did Jonah Really Get Swallowed by a Whale? Institute of Creation Research.

[ii] Matthew 12:40

[iii] II Kings 14:25

[iv]Book of Jonah, Encyclopedia Britannica.

[v] Jonah 1:12

[vi] Jonah 2:4, 7

[vii] Jonah 2:9

[viii] Russell M. Nelson, “Personal Preparation for Temple Blessings,” Ensign, May 2001, 32.

[ix] Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints website, “About the Temple Endowment,” https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/temples/what-is-temple-endowment?lang=eng

[x] Alma 5:26

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