on Matthew 12 :40
Three days and three nights - Our Lord rose from the grave on the day but one after his crucifixion: so that, in the computation in this verse, the part of the day on which he was crucified, and the part of that on which he rose again, are severally estimated as an entire day; and this, no doubt, exactly corresponded to the time in which Jonah was in the belly of the fish. Our Lord says, As Jonah was, so shall the Son of man be, etc. Evening and morning, or night and day, is the Hebrew phrase for a natural day, which the Greeks termed νυχθημερον, nuchthemeron. The very same quantity of time which is here termed three days and three nights, and which, in reality, was only one whole day, a part of two others, and two whole nights, is termed three days and three nights, in the book of Esther: Go; neither eat nor drink Three Days, Night or Day, and so I will go in unto the king: Esther 4:16. Afterwards it follows, Esther 5:1. On the Third Day, Esther stood in the inner court of the king's house. Many examples might be produced, from both the sacred and profane writers, in vindication of the propriety of the expression in the text. For farther satisfaction, the reader, if he please, may consult Whitby and Wakefield, and take the following from Lightfoot.
"I. The Jewish writers extend that memorable station of the unmoving sun, at Joshua's prayer, to six and thirty hours; for so Kimchi upon that place: 'According to more exact interpretation, the sun and moon stood still for six and thirty hours: for when the fight was on the eve of the Sabbath, Joshua feared lest the Israelites might break the Sabbath; therefore he spread abroad his hands, that the sun might stand still on the sixth day, according to the measure of the day of the Sabbath, and the moon according to the measure of the night of the Sabbath, and of the going out of the Sabbath, which amounts to six and thirty hours.'
"II. If you number the hours that pass from our Savior's giving up the ghost upon the cross to his resurrection, you shall find almost the same number of hours; and yet that space is called by him three days and three nights, whereas two nights only came between, and one complete day. Nevertheless, while he speaks these words, he is not without the consent both of the Jewish schools and their computation. Weigh well that which is disputed in the tract Scabbath, concerning the separation of a woman for three days; where many things are discussed by the Gemarists, concerning the computation of this space of three days. Among other things these words occur: R. Ismael saith, Sometimes it contains four אונות onoth, sometimes five, sometimes six. But how much is the space of an אונה onah? R. Jochanan saith, Either a day or a night. And so also the Jerusalem Talmud: 'R. Akiba fixed a Day for an onah, and a Night for an onah.' But the tradition is, that R. Eliazar ben Azariah said, A day and a night make an onah: and a Part of an onah is as the Whole. And a little after, R. Ismael computed a part of the onah for the whole." Thus, then, three days and three nights, according to this Jewish method of reckoning, included any part of the first day; the whole of the following night; the next day and its night; and any part of the succeeding or third day.
In the whale's belly - That a fish of the shark kind, and not a whale, is here meant, Bochart has abundantly proved, vol. iii. col. 742, etc., edit. Leyd. 1692. It is well known that the throat of a whale is capable of admitting little more than the arm of an ordinary man; but many of the shark species can swallow a man whole, and men have been found whole in the stomachs of several. Every natural history abounds with facts of this kind. Besides, the shark is a native of the Mediterranean Sea, in which Jonah was sailing when swallowed by what the Hebrew terms דג גדול dag gadol, a great fish; but every body knows that whales are no produce of the Mediterranean Sea, thought some have been by accident found there, as in most other parts of the maritime world: but, let them be found where they may, there is none of them capable of swallowing a man. Instead of either whale or shark, some have translated דג גדול dag gadol, Jonah 1:17, by a fishing cove, or something of this nature; but this is merely to get rid of the miracle: for, according to some, the whole of Divine revelation is a forgery - or it is a system of metaphor or allegory, that has no miraculous interferences in it. But, independently of all this, the criticism is contemptible. Others say, that the great fish means a vessel so called, into which Jonah went, and into the hold of which he was thrown, where he continued three days and three nights. In short, it must be any thing but a real miracle, the existence of which the wise men, so called, of the present day, cannot admit. Perhaps these very men are not aware that they have scarcely any belief even in the existence of God himself!
on Matthew 12 :40
For as Jonas was three days ... - See Jonah 1:17
This event took place in the Mediterranean Sea, somewhere between Joppa and Tarshish, when he was fleeing from Nineveh. It is said that the "whale" seldom passes into that sea, and that its throat is too small to admit a man. It is probable, therefore, that a fish of the "shark kind" is intended. Sharks have been known often to swallow a man entire. The fish in the book of Jonah is described merely as a "great fish," without specifying the kind. It is well known that the Greek word translated whale, in the New Testament, does not of necessity mean a whale, but may denote a large fish or sea-monster of any kind. - Robinson, Lexicon.
Three days and three nights - It will be seen in the account of the resurrection of Christ that he was in the grave but two nights and a part of three days. See Matthew 18:6. This computation is, however, strictly in accordance with the Jewish mode of reckoning. If it had "not" been, the Jews would have understood it, and would have charged our Saviour as being a false prophet, for it was well known to them that he had spoken this prophecy, Matthew 27:63. Such a charge, however, was never made; and it is plain, therefore, that what was "meant" by the prediction was accomplished. It was a maxim, also, among the Jews, in computing time, that a part of a day was to be received as the whole. Many instances of this kind occur in both sacred and profane history. See 2 Chronicles 10:5, 2 Chronicles 10:12; Genesis 42:17-18. Compare Esther 4:16 with Esther 5:1.
In the heart of the earth - The Jews used the word "heart" to denote the "interior" of a thing, or to speak of being in a thing. It means, here, to be in the grave or sepulchre.
on Matthew 12 :40
12:40 Three days and three nights - It was customary with the eastern nations to reckon any part of a natural day of twenty - four hours, for the whole day. Accordingly they used to say a thing was done after three or seven days, if it was done on the third or seventh day, from that which was last mentioned. Instances of this may be seen, 1Kings 20:29; and in many other places. And as the Hebrews had no word to express a natural day, they used night and day, or day and night for it. So that to say a thing happened after three days and three nights, was with them the very same, as to say, it happened after three days, or on the third day. See Esther 4:16; 5:1; Gen 7:4,12; Exod 24:18; 34:28. Jonah 2:1.