The Story Inside the Story


A “story within a story” is also known as a “frame story.” My favorite example is from The Princess Bride. The movie begins with a sick boy whose grandfather comes over to read him a book. Then, the magic happens when the book becomes reality. There’s something similar going on in the Book of Jonah. Remember, God had sent Jonah to the Ninevites so they would have an opportunity to repent. Jonah rebelled, ran away, and then God sent a great fish to swallow him up. While in the belly of the great fish, Jonah’s sin was made clear to him, as was God’s salvation, which brought about repentance. God wanted Nineveh to have this same opportunity. A story of repentance, inside a story of repentance!

  • How have you responded to God’s call to repentance?


2:1 Then Jonah prayed to the Lord his God from the belly of the fish, 2 saying,

“I called out to the Lord, out of my distress,

and he answered me;

out of the belly of Sheol I cried,

and you heard my voice.

3 For you cast me into the deep,

into the heart of the seas,

and the flood surrounded me;

all your waves and your billows

passed over me.

4 Then I said, ‘I am driven away

from your sight;

yet I shall again look

upon your holy temple.’

5 The waters closed in over me to take my life;

the deep surrounded me;

weeds were wrapped about my head

6 at the roots of the mountains.

I went down to the land

whose bars closed upon me forever;

yet you brought up my life from the pit,

O Lord my God.

7 When my life was fainting away,

I remembered the Lord,

and my prayer came to you,

into your holy temple.

8 Those who pay regard to vain idols

forsake their hope of steadfast love.

9 But I with the voice of thanksgiving

will sacrifice to you;

what I have vowed I will pay.

Salvation belongs to the Lord!”

10 And the Lord spoke to the fish, and it vomited Jonah out upon the dry land.

English Standard Version, copyright 2001 by Crossway Bibles. Used by permission. All rights reserved.


1. What do the first three verses show us about Jonah’s view of God?

2. In verse 4, what did Jonah mean when he said, “yet I shall again look upon your holy temple” ? 

3. At what point in these verses do you see Jonah shift from focus on self to focus on God?

4. When faced with distress in your own life, do you focus on yourself or God?


Jonah’s prayer revealed several things about his character. Even in his rejection of God, and the resulting consequence of ending up in the belly of a fish, Jonah recognized that his only help was from God. At that point, God decided Jonah’s lesson was complete. Our lives, as did Jonah’s, have purpose. Very often, we mistake or reject our purpose. Then, we may face a time of discipline, much like Jonah inside the fish. During that discipline, do you have a strong foundation for understanding God’s character?

  • As you pray, thank God that he has redeemed you and has a purpose for your life. Ask for God’s help in understanding his purpose for you more clearly.