The amazing thing about Jonah isn’t that he was swallowed by a whale, but that he was afterward saved from the whale. In fact, the whale incident is one of three examples of repentance and salvation in the Book of Jonah.
As Jonah tries to run from God, he endangers the lives of the sailors on his rented ship (Jonah 1). God sends (literally, “hurls”) a great storm at them, and everyone starts praying to their gods. After Jonah convinces the sailors to put him overboard, the storm instantly ceases. Upon seeing the power of the true God, the pagan mariners turn to the Lord (1:16).
As God sent the storm, so God sent the whale to swallow His rebellious servant (1:17). In the face (or stomach) of God’s judgment, Jonah repents: he turns his heart to obey the Lord (2:9). God is merciful; He forgives those who turn to Him. So, God directs the whale to spit Jonah out on the beach for a second chance, and a second example of repentance and salvation.
Next, Jonah obeys God, goes to Nineveh (capital of Israel’s enemies), and warns them of God’s impending judgment. Despite Jonah’s prejudice (and reluctant warning), the whole city of Nineveh repents (3:5). Like the sailors in the storm and Jonah in the whale, God saves the people of Nineveh from destruction (3:10). The city had been wicked, but God had compassion on them. When they repented, God relented.
Now, Jonah doesn’t get it (Jonah 4). He’s angry that God would spare such sinners. In fact, Jonah cares more about plants and shade than people. No matter, because God is “gracious and merciful” (2:2). The message to Israel then and to us today is the same: God saves every sinner who turns to Him.