Jonah, the Whale, and Higher Consciousness

by Joshua Tilghman on July 18, 2012

For hundreds of years Sunday schools all over the country have taught children the Biblical story of Jonah and the whale. But the deeper meaning beyond the literal story takes us beyond a man who was swallowed by a big fish; in its esoteric sense, the story is about the human condition and the initiation process into Christ consciousness that we are all destined to go through. And while the literal viewpoint gives us the impression that Nineveh is being presented with an important opportunity, the real opportunity is for Jonah, and as you’ll see, Jonah experiences an initiation process and subsequent rebirth from his lower nature to his higher nature.

The story begins by the “word of the Lord” instructing Jonah to go to Nineveh to ask them to repent. In ancient religious texts big cities like Nineveh were often symbolic of the lower human mind that is steeped in spiritual idolatry; the hustle and bustle of city life represents the egoistic mind—with our thousands of daily busy thoughts—anchoring the soul to the material plane.

When the “word of the Lord” comes to Jonah, he tries to flee from presence of the Lord by taking a ship out to sea and avoiding his destiny. Since the “presence of the Lord” represents drawing near to him through the stillness of meditation and going within ourselves, we can see that Jonah would rather remain in his ego and lower nature.

As the literal story continues, we learn that the Lord sends a “tempest” (mighty storm). Esoterically, this act starts Jonah’s initiation process. At this point in the story it is important to remind you that most of us are completely unaware that we consciously reside in our lower natures (ego). This is a state of ignorance that was often portrayed in ancient literature as someone who is asleep. I now want you to think about what Jonah was doing on the ship to Tarshish during the raging storm: he was asleep! Think about it. If this story were really literal as so many have taught us, does it make sense that anyone could sleep during a raging storm at sea! Of course not! The Biblical author tells us that the storm was so bad “that the ship was like to be broken,” and there Jonah was in the bottom of it fast asleep. The Biblical author wants us to know that Jonah, as well as all of us, remain in a state of ignorance about our true natures until we are awakened.

As we continue with the story, we see that the other men on the ship to Tarshish are in a panic about how to appease the God that is causing the storm. Jonah comes out and tells them that it is his entire fault because he is fleeing from the Lord. He also tells them that he is a Hebrew that fears the Lord God of heaven, which hath made the sea and the dry land. Like so many of us who are interested in spiritual things, Jonah has a knowledge of the higher nature, but he hasn’t been transfigured yet.

Finally, the Biblical author records these words in chapter 1 verse 17:

“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” (Jonah 1:17).

Here is where the story really gets interesting because of all the important symbolism. The first is the number 3. Jonah was in the belly of the whale for 3 days and 3 nights. Similarly Jesus was in hell for 3 days and 3 nights after the crucifixion. You might even remember that the Apostle Paul was blinded after meeting Christ (in a bright light) on the road to Damascus for 3 days. What’s so important about 3 here? This recurring pattern in Biblical literature is symbolic of the initiation process into higher conscious awareness. It is representative of what some call Christ consciousness where the subconscious and conscious become one. (See story of Adam and Eve here and here to learn more).

So why the number 3? Most ancient religions before Christianity, Judaism, and Islam were based on the zodiac and the sun. During the winter solstice, the sun can symbolically be thought of as dying because during the 3 days around December 21st, 22nd, and the 23rd (it varies slightly from year to year) the sun seems to stand still.

Wikipedia has this to say about the observation of the sun during the solstice:

“Direct observation of the solstice by amateurs is difficult because the sun moves too slowly at either solstice to determine its specific day…”

In a higher state of consciousness beyond the ego, time can be seen for the illusion that it is. This is important to our discussion for several reasons. The solstice was a way that the ancients symbolically represented a higher state of consciousness where time and space cease to exist and all is realized to be ONE in the eternal NOW. As it says of the Lord in Revelations, he is the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and end (of time and space). We mustn’t forget the scripture in Malachi that states that those who fear his name will the sun of righteousness arise with healing in his wing…”

While all this might be interesting, how can we be sure that the 3 days and 3 nights in the whale’s belly symbolically represents the winter solstice where the sun dies and then resurrects to give new life?

To answer that let’s discuss the symbol of the whale based on two more Wikipedia quotes which should help solidify your understanding of the Jonah story as it is supposed to be represented:

“Cetus is a constellation. Its name refers to Cetus, a sea monster in Greek mythology, although it is often called ‘the whale’ today. Cetus is located in the region of the sky that contains other water-related constellations such as Aquarius, Pisces…”

Cetus is also viewed as a misfortune or bad omen by sailors. Superstitious sailors believed in a cetus as the bringer of a great storm or misfortune to the ship that is lost cargo, pirates, or being swept off course…”

Hopefully you’re beginning to understand the way the story of Jonah and the whale unfolds the way it does. The constellations referred to above in ancient lore were identified with grand happenings during the winter solstice. Could this grand event be likened unto a conscious resurrection? Sure it could. In ancient literature the whale, or great fish, usually represented the earth and man’s lower nature. In contrast to this, the sun represents the great light of man’s higher consciousness nature.

So, Jonah in the belly of the great fish represents the dormant state and darkness of the winter solstice (ignorance) that must be overcome if he is going to transcend his lower nature. Remember, Jonah is thrown in the watery grave of the sea, entombed by the great fish, and has the opportunity to rise the third day with his born again, resurrected spiritual nature!

This is what happened to Jesus. Why do you think Jesus is supposed to have been born at Christmas? Because this is the time of the winter solstice! And the story of Jonah is a resurrection story of sorts just like the story of Jesus. Why do you think Jesus himself quotes the story of Jonah as the only true “sign” to the Pharisees?

“…An evil and adulterous generation seeketh after a sign; and there shall no sign be given to it, but the sign of the prophet Jonah: 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 heart of the earth” (Matthew 12:39-40).

Remember I told you earlier that the great fish represented the “earth” and man’s lower nature? Even Jesus is telling us symbolically that his story represents a birthing from the lower nature to the higher nature when he states that the “Son of man” must go to the “heart of the earth” (death to the lower nature).

When we continue with the story of Jonah, we learn that something significant happens to him in the belly of the whale. He begins to pray and meditate on the Lord. Did he really die physically as we are taught in the traditional Christian church? Not at all! Rather he died to his physical nature. The Biblical author makes this clear in Jonah’s prayer:

“I went down to the bottom of the mountains; the earth with her bars was about me forever: yet hast thou brought me up my life from corruption, O Lord my God” (Jonah 2:6).

Notice how this prayer has nothing to do with being the literal belly of a whale. Jonah’s prayer returns us to the theme man’s lower nature as represented by the earth! Remember that the earth represents the lower nature. The corruption he speaks of deals with the physicality. If you look closely at Jonah’s prayer you will see that it is about completing the initiation process into higher awareness through the process meditation and prayer (going within the kingdom). This brings the initiate beyond the physical and into spiritual awareness beyond the ego.

In essence, the three days in the tomb of the earth / whale which Jonah resides gives the opportunity for a new emergence of higher consciousness, through a process of initiation by prayer and meditation. And just like the sun emerges from the winter solstice and provides the resurrection of life by the coming spring, so too, does Jonah rise to give the repentance message to people of Nineveh and God lets them live! Jonah has awakened, and, in the metaphorical sense, the dry ground represents the solid truth of the higher conscious state.

In conclusion, I encourage you to read Jonah’s prayer again while he is in the belly of the whale. The prayer is clearly about Jonah’s soul, and it is a great read when your lower nature seems to be ruling your life. It reminds us to step back from the ego and return to a time of meditation and prayer where we can draw near to the Lord.

How does this knowledge help you?

You have two natures. You are comprised of the low man and the high man. By going within the kingdom through meditation, you begin the process of joining to the two natures into ONE with the Lord. Unlike Jonah, who was forced into this process, I recommend you do it now on your own time. With the changes coming in 2012, many will be forced beyond their comfort zones. It isn’t fun being forced. It’s much better being prepared. I recommend setting aside time early each morning to meditate. Go in with high expectations and be prepared to meet the Lord!

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{ 18 comments… read them below or add one }

oana p October 18, 2012 at 8:10 am

Thank you, thank you…You know you have a mission here, on Earth, don`t you? And you are doing it in style…
Exactly what I needed today. My vision has just become so much more clear, all the pieces coming together.
Bless you,
Love, Oana


Joshua Tilghman October 18, 2012 at 2:44 pm

oana p,

You are most welcome! And I do appreciate your kinds words.


Carol November 12, 2012 at 5:53 am

Joshua, what do you think is coming in 2012, as you mentioned above?”With the changes coming in 2012, many will be forced beyond their comfort zones. ”


Joshua Tilghman November 12, 2012 at 5:27 pm


It’s definitely not the end of the world. I believe it just represents a major change in the way consciousness expresses itself. It’ll be tough for a lot of people who resist, that’s all. Things are changing quickly. In fact, they have been for some time. The new age is simply being ushered in. No one knows everything that it will entail, but I bet it’ll be anything but boring!



Carol November 13, 2012 at 5:57 am

Joshua, I understand that it is not the end of the world, just a radical change. But do you think this will be a physical earth change as well as a conscious/spiritual change? How then, does the Revelation of John fit in?


Joshua Tilghman November 15, 2012 at 3:43 pm


I don’t think the earth will be much different than it is now. However, we must remember that we are dramatically changing the planet. And the rate at which we are changing it is scary. I don’t like it one bit. Pollution, weather experiments, and GMO’s are going to have a huge impact on much of the population. I believe the shift in consciousness is coming as a result of these terrible new technologies.

As far as the Revelation of John goes, it is all about the individual body and mind. The new city is about a state and realization “within.”


anny April 22, 2013 at 10:45 am

Hi Joshua,

Where does this idea of 3 days and 3 nights for the period from crucifixion to resurrection come from? In the crucifixion story Jesus is crucified on Friday, the sixth day, and is raised from death early in the morning of Sunday, the first day of the week. He is in the grave, or in hell, not much more than 1 day and 2 nights. Even if, according to the story, Jonah was in the whale’s belly for 3 days and 3 nights, the comparison does not really fit.

More correct, I think, is the term the third day, which is also a term used in Egyptian mystery initiations, and that term you also find in the bible very often, for instance when Abraham goes with Isaac to the mountain Moriah (meaning: where God is seen!) to sacrifice him and reaches it on the third day. The wedding where Jesus changed water into wine also happened on the third day. But as people do not know any more what that means they ask the third day of what? And often it is translated by a term as some days later or something like that.

Even when we take the example of the three days around the wintersolstice, there are only 2 nights between them and the term third day would fit better.

The term the third day is actually used a lot much more often than 3 days and 3 nights – both in the old and the new testaments and if you know what it means you can find the deeper meaning behind it. But when they translate it differently, the possibility to find the deeper meaning is gone.


Joshua Tilghman April 25, 2013 at 9:27 pm


The idea comes from Jesus as quoted in Matthew 12:40. Jesus states he will be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth. You are right though about the term third day. But scripture is often written in ways that don’t make sense literally to convey a deeper spiritual meaning as you already know.



Laura June 11, 2013 at 11:11 am

Hi Joshua,
I just came across your blog and I really appreciate your insights on biblical passages. Both your writing style and your ideas are fresh and yet timeless. I am a fellow spiritual adventurer and I agree that experience is the best teacher! I love what you have to say here about Jonah, and I wonder if you have also considered the fish as a symbol of wisdom (Like the Salmon of Wisdom from the myth of the Fisher King)? The fish symbol is also associated with Christ, and so I can’t help but think of Jonah being consumed by Christ or Christ consciousness here. Either way, the idea that this is an initiation story holds true. Thanks again for your thoughtful and inspiring words!


Joshua Tilghman June 11, 2013 at 3:18 pm


I appreciate your kind words and thoughtful insight. Yes, I have considered the fish as a symbol of wisdom. I believe it most definitely is since Christ himself represents wisdom. I also wanted to mention that I enjoyed visiting your website as well. Everybody should take the time to learn more about energy and energy work for the body.



Betty Alark October 25, 2013 at 9:20 am

I think the point of Jonah’s pray is that he did acknowledge and cry out to the Lord in his distress; but never the less the Lord had a purpose for Jonah that he wanted him to carry out. Jonah was opposed to going to Ninveh and telling the people to repent in fact he wanted God to bring distruction upon them.

Can we really say that Jonah’s nature — to not care about the people, had changed as a result of being in the belly of the whale? Granted we too have trials that change how we see things and we learn from it and hopefully don’t repeat the action again. But the thing that we realize is that there is a God that we do have a Creator, someone that we do indeed answer too as the created, and God is to be acknowledged by His creation. We have to know where our help comes from and eventually we do come to realize — I can’t do this in my own strength- and when we are brought down to the ground — so to speak we tend to call and for God to save us, since we can’t life ourselves up in our own strenght- if that were true we probably wouldn’t have went down to the ground in the first place. But we do have to learn that yes we hava a Creator that we need to and will acknowledge- since God said:”every knee will bow.”

Jonah went out of obedience to what the Lord sent him to do. He had faith that what ever the Lords purpose was in sending him- that the Lords purpose would be served. What Jonah realized is: who God really is and how much he needs Gods.

We can’t say that Jonah’s lower nature was changed as a result of his experience in the belly of the whale- it doesn’t mean that he loved those people that he never really wanted to go to in the first place; he simple went out of obedience to what the Lord showed him; and realized: well yes what I now realize hopefully they will too.

Jonah didn’t realized anything in his own strength- he realized who God is and his need for him as a result of his experience. But because of that realization- was the nature of him changed? Yes he became aware of what he became aware of- but does that mean the awarness changed his nature?
Did he go off and never have a selfish thought or ego moment- or was he literally changed forever because of his awarness.

Even with “we are being changed from glory to glory” it’s in Gods time and our experiences; it’s not us that is doing the changing but God. In regards to what Paul said” the old man has to be changed” I see two laws within me- etc. I do what I don’t want to do, etc. even he knew that only God could save him. They cryed out to God, and then one day God sends the solution to fix the law that keeps us hostage/in bondage– the Lord/Jesus.

I too ask God: Jesus died on the Christ and took upon His self all of our sins,etc. and I hear those words and I ask “ok” what does that really mean? How did it accomplish all of what the word says He did for us? I don’t know the answer to that question and I’ve never received it .

We don’t see everything that Jesus has done or is doing. But, I simply believe it via having faith in what God says and as a result, I have received the Holy Spirit that changes me inwardly- and I bear witness to the changes and so can other people. The other law that Paul wanted to carry out- is what the Holy Spirit accomplishes within us when we believe what Jesus did for us. And, it takes place out of obedience / having faith in what God has said regarding Jesus.

Awareness and realization comes everyday via the Spirit. And, yes with that realization I am changed; the awarness causes me to see myself for who I wasn’t being and who I couldn’t have been without the awareness. So , Im thankful for the awarness, but does that mean what I am thankful for is: coming into the true nature of myself, of who I really am? Then why do I give thanks? It’s just me coming to realize who I am , right?

In a way I am just sitting here having this dialog with myself; I hope you don’t mind, Joshua!! It helps me to hear myself and work through all of this.

In conclusion: I like being the created and having a Creator to call out to, to acknowledge. And, I like being and becoming in the moment in the now- the present moment; learning who God is but more importantly realizing that God loves me and that I can have a personal relationship with that Creator. God brings us back into proper relationship with Him and that reveals who we are, not that we are God but who our Creator has created us to be in His likeness. Little gods, that create and create with a pure heart and love – the Christ consciousness that does and will reign within us through Jesus Christ to the fullest – in Gods time; from glory to glory.

Thanks Joshua!!


Betty Alark October 25, 2013 at 9:39 am

One more thing: God said that the righteous shall live by faith- faith in Who God is , what God can do and what Gods word says: it is only after we believe, not by seeing or a sign- that we will see and become the righteous through the Holy Spirit living in us. And that’s why God said the only sign you will receive is Jonah. Because the Old Testiment was a case where the people always wanted and needed to see a sign before they would believe and even after God give them signs and miracles they still didn’t believe. Today we that believe that Jesus lived, died for us and resurrected are the righteous through the Holy Spirit living in us; not that we belive that we are God and are the Higher consciousness.

As aforementioned: performing a miracle and having gifts doesn’t make a person ” righteous’ but it does reveal that we can perform them as a result of who we are and our gifts, but it doesn’t make us righteous. Being able to do so doesn’t change our hearts or cause us to use them for the greater good. Something has to change our hearts.

Do you think knowledge, understanding, and awarness does that?


Joshua Tilghman October 29, 2013 at 6:10 pm


What does it truly mean to believe? The Gnostics viewed faith differently than what we are often taught today. For example, Gnosis is “knowing” through experience, over just believing alone. Please see the link below for a thorough explanation:


James December 11, 2015 at 12:21 pm

There is a sign symbol in ancient geometry called the Vesica Piscis that can be used to explain most of the bible stories and consciousness from Genesis to revelation. The word Vesica means bladder or vessel and the word Piscis means fish, the football shape in the middle is called the seat of the soul and the third eye and is related to the Pineal gland located at the top the third ventricle of the brain. Notice the third heaven Paul was taken up to in 2 Cor. 12 and received great revelation and the 3 years Paul went UP to not the old but the new Jerusaelm in a higher consciousness. the mountain of God in Arabia where Moses meet with God also. Gal. 1;15-18 Please meditate on the different meaning of the fish and boat sign of Vesica Piscis and also look at the 1987a super nova pictures of the Hubble tel. could it be the sign for today of higher consciousness and 2012 spiritual pole shift inside our minds not outward. Thank


Joshua Tilghman December 22, 2015 at 7:46 pm

Thanks for the comment, James. I actually touch on the third ventricle and pineal gland in other posts.


Brandon Fornea February 25, 2016 at 12:33 pm

3 days and 3 nights. A six weeks journey for ordinary men. If we take Gilgamesh as higher self (2/3 divine 1/3 human) and Enkidu as lower self (2/3 animal 1/3 human), they overlap at 1/3 human. …and the lower self (Enkidu) dies only after they, together, defeat the bull of heaven. …just some thoughts.


Joshua Tilghman February 27, 2016 at 3:31 pm

Brandon, great comment!


nagamitz April 5, 2017 at 3:30 am

Thanks for the enlightenment. I certainly feel myself being comprised of the low man and the high man – a mixture of belief and unbelief. God bless you. I came to your site because I’m writing a novel about Jonah and trying to improve it. Among other things I proposed a theory about how Jonah could survive in the stomach of the great fish in chapter II. Hope you will give a look at it.


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