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the Week of Proper 5 / Ordinary 10
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Bible Commentaries
Jonah 4

Ironside's Notes on Selected BooksIronside's Notes

Verses 1-11

Chapter 4

The Repentance Of Nineveh

The Holy Spirit has declared that “the carnal mind is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be.” It is a most humiliating truth, but experience and Scripture everywhere corroborate it. It is not that the carnal mind in an unconverted person merely, is so hopelessly evil; but this wretched principle is as unreliable and vile in the greatest saint as in the worst sinner. Indeed, it is when we see the working of the flesh in one who is an example of piety that we appreciate its incurable iniquity as never before. No child of God dare trust the flesh. It will betray him into unholy thoughts and ways every time it is permitted to have control. I say permitted, purposely, for no Christian is of necessity subject to its power. Rightly viewed, it is a foreign thing, that should not have place for one moment. The believer is called upon to refuse its sway, and, in place of yielding his members unto it as though it had a necessary authority over him, he is called upon to make no provision for the flesh to fulfil its lusts. He is to reckon himself dead to it, and to yield himself unto God as one alive from the dead. Let it be otherwise, and defeat is certain-the triumph of the flesh is assured. But if we walk in the Spirit, we shall not fulfil the lust of the flesh.

Now in Jonah, here, we see a saint under the power of the flesh; though we cannot doubt that he was enabled to judge his failure at last, while commanded by God to put the record of it in the form it here bears in order that it might prove an admonitory lesson to thousands. No one doubts that it was the flesh that led to his fleeing from the presence of the Lord. It was the same power that was controlling him when he sat down outside the city, after delivering his message, to see what the Lord would do. Instead of his heart being filled with joy because of the repentance of the Ninevites, he was filled with anxiety as to his own reputation.

Probably few of us realize what a strong place self has in our affections till something arises that touches our own personal dignity. It is then that we manifest what spirit we are of. There is more of the Jonah disposition about us than we like even to admit to ourselves. Yet to own failure is one of the first steps to deliverance from it.

When all heaven was rejoicing at the repentance, not of one sinner, but of a vast multitude, we are told that “it displeased Jonah exceedingly, and he was very angry.” His state is most wretched, yet he is altogether unconscious of it. Puffed up with a sense of his own importance, the weal or woe of so many of his fellow-creatures is as nothing compared to his own reputation. Yet so utterly unconscious is he of the wretchedness of his state of soul, that he can turn to God and express his shameful failure as though he had not failed at all; or even as though the failure, if there were any, was on the part of the Lord Himself.

“He prayed unto the Lord, and said, I pray Thee, 0 Lord, was not this my saying, when I was yet in my country? Therefore I fled before unto Tarshish: for I knew that Thou art a gracious God, and merciful, slow to anger, and of great kindness, and repentest Thee of the evil. Therefore now, 0 Lord, take, I beseech Thee, my life from me; for it is better for me to die than to live.” It seems almost unbelievable that a servant of God could be in such a dreadful state of soul; but, alas, it was but an aggravated form of that insidious disease, pride, that so readily finds a congenial place for growth and expansion in the breast of any saint out of communion.

The tender question of the Lord might well have broken Jonah down, had he not been so thoroughly self-occupied. “Then said the Lord, Doest thou well to be angry?” There is no reproach: just the serious and solemn question that ought to have awakened him at once to his true condition of soul.

How often He would press a similar question upon us when cherishing unholy thoughts or feedings, or walking in our own paths and neglecting His ways! “Doest thou well” to be thus pleasing thyself and dishonoring Him? Surely not! But it is amazing how slow one can be to own how ill he is doing when he has become hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.

On Jonah’s part there is no response in words; but, acting in self-will and wounded vanity, he goes outside the city, and, after building a booth, sits under its shadow, to see what would become of Nineveh and of his prophetic reputation.

In grace God prepared a gourd, which, growing very rapidly, soon overshadowed the petulant prophet, and thus sheltered him from the fierce rays of the almost tropical sun. Because it ministered to his comfort, Jonah was exceeding glad of the gourd. This is the first note of joy on his part that we find recorded, and is in fact the last as well. His gladness was as truly from selfishness as was his sorrow.

But God now prepares something that is to blast that joy. A worm is permitted to destroy the gourd, and then a vehement east wind is likewise prepared by Him who has His way in the whirlwind and in the storm. The sickening heat almost overcame Jonah, so that he fainted; and in his chagrin and wretchedness he wished once more that he might be permitted to escape his trials by dying, saying, “It is better for me to die than to live.”

Again God speaks: this time to inquire in tenderest tone, “Doest thou well to be angry for the gourd?” Gloomily the offended prophet answers, “I do well to be angry, even unto death.” It is the callousness that comes from allowing sin to go unjudged, till all capacity to discern between right and wrong seems to have gone.

The reply of Jehovah is an opening up of His grace that evidently accomplishes its end; for Jonah has no word of self-vindication to offer. He permits God to have the last word, and closes his record abruptly, as though what followed were of too sacred and private a nature for him to publish it abroad. The Lord said, “Thou hast had pity on the gourd, for the which thou hast not labored, neither madest it grow; which came up in a night, and perished in a night: and should not I spare Nineveh, that great city, wherein are more than sixscore thousand persons that cannot discern between their right hand and their left hand; and also much cattle?” The question is unanswerable. Jonah grieved for the loss of the gourd because it had ministered to his comfort. Jehovah yearned over the sinners of Nineveh because of the love of His heart. How opposite were Master and servant! But we must leave the history where God leaves it. The rest we shall know at the judgment-seat of Christ. Meantime may we have grace given to daily judge in ourselves aught that, if left to develop, would lead us as far from Himself as Jonah wandered!

Bibliographical Information
Ironside, H. A. "Commentary on Jonah 4". Ironside's Notes on Selected Books. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/isn/jonah-4.html. 1914.
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