The history of Jonah contains a great mystery. For it seems that the fish signifies Time, which never stands still, but is always going on, and consumes the things which are made by long and shorter intervals.
But Jonah, who fled from the presence of God, is himself the first man who, having transgressed the law, fled from being seen naked of immortality, having lost through sin his confidence in the Deity.
The ship in which he embarked, and which was tempest-tossed, is this brief and hard life in the present time. Just as though we had turned and removed from that blessed and secure life, to that which was most tempestuous and unstable, as from solid land to a ship. For what a ship is to the land, that our present life is to eternal life.
The storm and the tempests which beat against us are the temptations of this life, which in the world, as in a tempestuous sea, do not permit us to have a fair voyage free from pain, in a calm sea, and one which is free from evils.
The casting of Jonah from the ship into the sea, signifies the fall of the first man from life to death, who received that sentence because, through having sinned, he fell from righteousness: “You are dust, and unto dust you shall return.”
His being swallowed by the whale signifies our inevitable removal by time. For the belly in which Jonah, when he was swallowed, was concealed, is the all-receiving earth, which receives all things which are consumed by time.
As Jonah spent three days and nights in the belly of the fish and was delivered up sound again, all of us who have passed through the three stages of our present life on earth—the beginning, middle, and end— rise again. For our present time consists of three intervals: the past, the future, and the present. Thus, the Lord spent three days in the earth as a symbol to teach us clearly that our resurrection shall take place after these intervals of time have been fulfilled. Our resurrection shall be the beginning of the future age and the end of this. In that age, there is neither past nor future, but only the present.
Moreover, Jonah having spent three days and three nights in the belly of the fish, was not destroyed by his flesh being dissolved, as is the case with that natural decomposition which takes place in the belly, in the case of those meats which enter into it, on account of the greater heat in the liquids, that it might be shown that these bodies of ours may remain undestroyed. For consider that God had images of Himself made as of gold, that is of a purer spiritual substance, as the angels; and others of clay or brass, as ourselves. He united the soul which was made in the image of God to that which was earthy. As, then, we must here honor all the images of a king, on account of the form which is in them, so also it is incredible that we who are the images of God should be altogether destroyed as being without honor. Whence also the Word descended into our world, and was incarnate of our body, in order that, having fashioned it to a more divine image, He might raise it incorrupt, although it had been dissolved by time. And, indeed, when we trace out the dispensation which was figuratively set forth by the prophet, we shall find the whole discourse visibly extending to this.