After Jonah was swallowed by a giant fish, he realized he could not escape his calling and would continue to suffer until he submitted to God’s will. Jonah described his experience inside the fish as being in the belly of hell (Jonah 2:2). Jonah was fully conscious and aware of what the fish was doing. For three days and three nights, Jonah’s life was miraculously sustained like a child inside his mother’s womb.
At first, Jonah may have thought he would die inside the fish. It wasn’t until the third day of his torture that he cried out to the LORD. The best explanation for why Jonah waited so long to pray was his refusal to accept that God was still in control of his circumstances, even while he was inside the fish at the bottom of the sea.
Jonah’s change of heart is recorded in Jonah 2:8. “They that observe lying vanities forsake their own mercy. But I will sacrifice unto thee with the voice of thanksgiving.” Jonah’s reference to observing lying vanities indicates he may have been involved in idol worship at the time he was called to Nineveh. If so, his resistance to go could be attributed to an affection for the gods of the Ninevites.
Jonah’s message to the people of Nineveh included a deadline for their repentance (Jonah 3:4). The Hebrew word Jonah used to describe what was about to happen was haphak. “In its simplest meaning, hapak expresses the turning from one side to another…The meaning of ‘transformation’ or ‘change’ is vividly illustrated in the story of Saul’s encounter with the Spirit of God” (2015). In response, it says in Jonah 3:5, “So the people of Nineveh believed God, and proclaimed a fast, and put on sackcloth, from the greatest of them even to the least of them.”
The overwhelming response to Jonah’s message shows that the people were affected by the word of God. Even the king of Nineveh, acted accordingly. “For word came unto the king of Nineveh, and he arose from his throne, and he laid his robe from him, and covered him with sackcloth, and sat in ashes” (Jonah 3:6). For the king of Nineveh to humble himself in such a way, he must have been converted or transformed by the Spirit of God.
A sign that the king was truly a changed man was his attitude toward God. The king spoke of God’s mercy as if he knew the LORD personally (Jonah 3;9). As a result of the change that took place, it says in Jonah 3:10, “And God saw their works, that they turned from their evil way; and God repented of the evil that he said he would do unto them; and he did it not.