In Jonah 2:2, we find that the prophet Jonah had been thrown overboard into the sea as a result of his disobeying Jehovah’s command to go and preach to the Ninevites. Jonah was swallowed by a whale, and he stated concerning that experience, “I called because of my affliction to Yahweh. He answered me. Out of the belly of Sheol I cried. You heard my voice.” (World English)
Jonah was not actually dead and oblivious in sheol (Ecclesiastes 9:5,10), but he reckoned himself to have as good as dead, being as though in a grave inside the belly of the whale.
Similar to this, we read:
By faith Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac, and he who had received the promises offered up his only begotten son, of whom it was said, “In Isaac your seed shall be called,” concluding that God was able to raise him up, even from the dead, from which he also received him in a figurative sense.” (Hebrews 11:17-19, New King James Version) As Isaac was considered figuratively offered up in sacrifice, and thus figuratively dead, so Jonah considered himself to be as good as dead in the belly of the fish.
Thus, Jonah was speaking figuratively when he said that he had been sheol, but the figure provides a type of Jesus, who was in the figurative “heart of the earth” for three days and three nights.
See also our study:
Three Days and Three Nights