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Bible Commentaries
Jonah 4

Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible - UnabridgedCommentary Critical Unabridged

Verse 1

But it displeased Jonah exceedingly, and he was very angry.

But it displeased Jonah exceedingly, and he was very angry - literally, hot, probably with grief or vexation rather than anger (Fairbairn). Jonah's repugnance to the mission to Nineveh was probably mistaken patriotism, which set the welfare of his country above the will of God. It is true, Ivalush or Pul, who, it is thought, was then reigning at Nineveh, was destined soon to be the first punisher of Israel under Menahem. But if Israel remained impenitent, it was sure to be punished by some other power, even if God had destroyed the Assyrian. Jonah's resistance of God's merciful purpose toward Nineveh was, therefore, altogether mistaken. How sad the contrast between God's feeling, on the repentance of Nineveh toward Him, and Jonah's feeling on the repentance of God toward Nineveh! Strange in one who was himself a monument of mercy on his repentance! We all, like him, need the lesson taught in the parable of the unforgiving, though forgiven, debtor (Matthew 18:23-35).

Jonah was grieved because Nineveh's preservation, after his denunciation, made him seem a false prophet (Calvin). Jonah was grieved because Nineveh's preservation, after his denunciation, made him seem a false prophet (Calvin). But it would make Jonah a demon, not a man, to have preferred the destruction of 600,000 men rather than his prophecy should be set aside, through God's mercy triumphing over judgment. And God in that case would have severely chastised, whereas he only expostulates mildly with him, and, by a mode of dealing at once gentle and condescending, tries to show him his error.

Moreover, Jonah himself, in apologizing for his vexation, does not mention the failure of his prediction as the cause; but solely the thought of God's slowness to anger. This was what led him to flee to Tarshish at his first commission: not the likelihood then of his prediction being falsified: for in fact his commission then was not to foretell Nineveh's downfall, but simply to "cry against" Nineveh's "wickedness" as having "come up before God." Jonah could hardly have been so vexed for the letter of his prediction failing, when the end of his commission had virtually been gained in leading Nineveh to repentance. This, then, cannot have been regarded by Jonah as the ultimate end of his commission. If Nineveh had been the prominent object with him, he would have rejoiced at the result of his mission. But Israel was the prominent aim of Jonah, as a prophet of the elect people.

Probably, then, he regarded the destruction of Nineveh as fitted to be an example of God's judgment at last suspending His long forbearance, so as to startle Israel from its desperate degeneracy, heightened by its new prosperity under Jeroboam II, at that very time, in a way that all other means had failed to do. Jonah, despairing of anything effectual being done for God in Israel, unless there were first given a striking example of severity, thought, when he proclaimed the downfall of Nineveh in 40 days, that now at last God is about to give such an example; so, when this means of awakening Israel was set aside by God's mercy on Nineveh's repentance, he was bitterly disappointed, not from pride or mercilessness, but from hopelessness as to anything being possible for the reformation of Israel, now that his cherished hope is baffled. But God's plan was to teach Israel, by the example of Nineveh, how inexcusable is their own impenitence and how inevitable their ruin, if they persevere. Repenting Nineveh has proved herself more worthy of God's favour than apostate Israel; the children of the covenant have not only fallen down to, but actually below, the level of a pagan people: Israel, therefore, must go down, and the pagan rise above her. Jonah did not know the important lessons of hope to the penitent, and condemnation to those amidst outward privileges impenitent, which Nineveh's preservation on repentance was to have for later times, and to all ages. He could not foresee that Messiah Himself was thus to apply that history. A lesson to us that if we could in any particular alter the plan of Providence, it would not be for the better, but for the worse (Fairbairn). The chief cause of Jonah's displeasure was probably that he grieved at the preservation of Nineveh, the foretold destroyer of Israel (Hosea 9:3; Hosea 11:5; Hosea 11:11; Amos 5:27). The sparing of penitent Nineveh Jonah felt to be the sealing of ruin to impenitent Israel, his country.

Verse 2

And he prayed unto the LORD, and said, I pray thee, O 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.

And he prayed unto the Lord ... O Lord, was not this my saying? - my thought or feeling.

Therefore I fled before unto Tarshish - I anticipated, by fleeing, the disappointment of my hope (that Nineveh should fall), through thy long-suffering mercy. For I knew that thou art a gracious God, and merciful, slow to anger, and of great kindness, and repentest thee of the evil. Jonah here has before his mind Exodus 34:6, where the Lord proclaimed, "The Lord, the Lord God, merciful and gracious, long-suffering, and abundant in goodness and truth." So also Joel (Joel 2:13) quotes the same passage. 'Intensely, infinitely full of gracious and yearning love: nay (as the intensive adjectives passive in form [ chanuwn (H2587) rachuwm (H7349)] imply), mastered (so to speak) by the might and intensity of His gracious love.'

Of great kindness - great in loving tenderness (Pusey).

Verse 3

Therefore now, O LORD, take, I beseech thee, my life from me; for it is better for me to die than to live.

Therefore now, O Lord, take, I beseech thee, my life from me; for it is better for me to die than to live.

Jonah's impatience of life under disappointed hopes of Israel's reformation through the destruction of Nineveh is like that of Elijah at his plan for reforming Israel (1 Kings 18:1-46) failing through Jezebel (1 Kings 19:4).

Verse 4

Then said the LORD, Doest thou well to be angry?

Then said the Lord, Doest thou well to be angry? - or grieved; margin, 'Art thou greatly, or much, angry,' or 'grieved?' (Fairbairn, with the Septuagint and the Syriac.) But the English version suits the spirit of the passage. The Hebrew [ haheeyTeeb (H3190)], moreover, is nowhere used of a passion or quality existing (passively) in a strong degree. The margin is against the language (Pusey).

Verse 5

So Jonah went out of the city, and sat on the east side of the city, and there made him a booth, and sat under it in the shadow, till he might see what would become of the city.

So Jonah went out of the city, and sat on the east side of the city, and there made him a booth - i:e., a temporary hut of branches and leaves, so slightly formed as to be open to the wind and sun's heat. The imperfect protection afforded by the Succah or booth at the feast of tabernacles was designed to remind the Israelites of their past pilgrim state.

And sat under it in the shadow, until he might see what would become of the city. The term of forty days had probably now elapsed: for by this time Jonah was made to see that the threat of destruction in 40 days was not to be carried into effect; and as there is no mention of it being otherwise revealed to him, we can only suppose that he knew the fact by the time appointed having passed by. But still he did not give up hope of Nineveh's overthrow; and probably he thought that nothing more than a suspension or mitigation of judgment had been granted to Nineveh. Therefore, not from sullenness, but in order to watch the event from a neighbouring station, he lodged in the booth. As a stranger, he did not know the depth of Nineveh's repentance; besides, from the Old Testament stand-point, he knew that chastening judgments often followed, as in David's case (2 Samuel 12:10-12; 2 Samuel 12:14), even where sin had been repented of. To show him what he knew not-the largeness and completeness of God's mercy to penitent Nineveh, and the reasonableness of it-God made his booth a school of discipline, to give him more enlightened views.

Verse 6

And the LORD God prepared a gourd, and made it to come up over Jonah, that it might be a shadow over his head, to deliver him from his grief. So Jonah was exceeding glad of the gourd.

Gourd - Hebrew, qiyqaayown (H7021); the Egyptian kiki, the 'ricinus' or castor oil plant, commonly called palm-christ (palma-christi). It grows from eight to ten feet high. Only one leaf grows on a branch, but that leaf being often more than a foot large, the collective leaves give good shelter from the heat. It grows rapidly, and fades as suddenly when injured. It is a native of North Africa, Arabia, Syria, India. It is the Arabic Elkeroa. It has leaves like the plane or the vine, only larger, smoother, and darker. The miraculous instantaneousness of the growth of Jonah's gourd followed according to the analogy of the nature of the plant.

And made it to come up over Jonah, that it might be a shadow over his head, to deliver him from his grief. It was therefore grief, not selfish anger, which Jonah felt (note, Jonah 4:1). Some external comforts will often turn the mind away from its sorrowful bent.

So Jonah was exceeding glad of the gourd - Hebrew, 'was glad with great gladness.'

Verse 7

But God prepared a worm when the morning rose the next day, and it smote the gourd that it withered.

But God prepared a worm - of a particular kind, deadly to the ricinus. A small worm at the root destroys a large gourd. So it takes but little to make our creature-comforts wither. It should silence discontent, to remember that when our gourd is gone our God is not gone. Black caterpillars often in one night strip the palma-christi of its leaves, and leave only the bare ribs. The word "worm" may be here used collectively for many worms or grubs of one kind, prepared by God's providence for the destruction of the shrub.

When the morning rose the next day - after Jonah was so "exceeding glad" (cf. Psalms 30:7, "Lord, by thy favour thou hast made my mountain to stand strong; thou didst hide thy face, and I was troubled").

Verse 8

And it came to pass, when the sun did arise, that God prepared a vehement east wind; and the sun beat upon the head of Jonah, that he fainted, and wished in himself to die, and said, It is better for me to die than to live.

And it came to pass, when the sun did arise, that God prepared a vehement east wind - "vehement," margin, silent, expressing sultry stillness. [ Chªriyshiyt (H2759), from chaarash (H2790), literally, to cut; then to plow; then to be cut off from hearing, and so to be silent.] Thus the English version, "vehement," comes directly from the meaning of the root: otherwise it may mean the wind that blows in plowing time, a dry wind. So Jerome. Buxtorff follows the margin, sultry and still. The east wind is peculiarly burning, and is called sherki or sirocco. The simoon blows in the autumn from the southeast.

He ... wished in himself to die - literally, 'he asked as to his soul to die.'

Verse 9

And God said to Jonah, Doest thou well to be angry for the gourd? And he said, I do well to be angry, even unto death.

And God said to Jonah, Doest thou well to be angry for the gourd? - (note, Jonah 4:4).

I do well to be angry, even unto death - `I am very much grieved, even to death' (Fairbairn). So the Antitype (Matthew 26:38, "My soul is exceeding sorrowful, even unto death"). But how different were the feelings and motives of the type and Antitype. Jonah's grief was the fruit of his own inherent sin: Christ's was the fruit of our imputed sin.

Verses 10-11

Then said the LORD, Thou hast had pity on the gourd, for the which thou hast not laboured, neither madest it grow; which came up in a night, and perished in a night:

Thou hast had pity on the gourd, for the which thou hast not laboured, 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 land; and also much cattle? - "spare," literally, 'have pity,' and so spare [ 'aachuwc (H2347)]. This is the main lesson of the book. If Jonah so pities a plant which cost him no toil to rear, and which is so short-lived and valueless, much more must Yahweh pity those hundreds of thousands of immortal men and women in great Nineveh, whom He has made with such a display of creative power, especially when many of them repent, and seeing that, if all in it were destroyed, "more than sixscore thousand" of unoffending children, besides "much cattle," would be involved in the common destruction. Compare the same argument of Abraham in behalf of Sodom, drawn from God's justice and mercy, in Genesis 18:23-33, "Wilt thou also destroy the righteous with the wicked," etc. A similar illustration from the insignificance of a plant, which today is and tomorrow is cast into the oven, and which, nevertheless, is clothed by God with surprising beauty, is given by Christ to prove that God will care for the infinitely more precious bodies and souls of men who are to live forever (Matthew 6:28-30).

One soul is of more value than the whole world; surely, then, one soul is of more value than many gourds. The point of comparison spiritually is, the need which Jonah for the time had of the foliage of the gourd; however he might dispense with it at other times, now it was necessary for his comfort, and almost for his life. So now that Nineveh, as a city, fears God and turns to Him, God's cause needs it, and would suffer by its overthrow, just as Jonah's material well-being suffered by the withering of the gourd. If there were any hope of Israel's being awakened by Nineveh's destruction, to fulfill her high destination of being a light to surrounding paganism, then there would not have been the same need in that respect to God's cause of Nineveh's preservation (though there would have always been need of saving the penitent).

But as Israel, after judgments, now with returning prosperity turns back to apostasy, the means needed to vindicate God's cause, and provoke Israel, if possible, to jealousy, is the example of the great capital of pagandom suddenly repenting at the first warning, and consequently being spared. Thus Israel would see the kingdom of heaven transplanted from its ancient seat to another, which would willingly yield its spiritual fruits. The tidings which Jonah brought back to his countrymen, of Nineveh's repentance and rescue, would, if believingly understood, be far more fitted than the news of its overthrow to recall Israel to the service of God. (And if Israel thus repented, her threatened overthrow by Assyria, of which Jonah was so apprehensive, would not be executed, just as Nineveh's own threatened overthrow was not executed when Nineveh repented.) Israel failed to learn the lesson, and so was cast out of her land. But even this was not an unmitigated evil.

Jonah was a type, as of Christ, so also of Israel. Jonah, though an outcast, was highly honoured of God in Nineveh; so Israel's outcast condition would prove no impediment to her serving God's cause still, if only she was faithful to God. Ezekiel and Daniel were so at Babylon: and the Jews scattered in all lands, as witnesses for the one true God, pioneered the way for Christianity, so that it spread with a rapidity which otherwise was not likely to have attended it (Fairbairn).

That cannot discern between their right hand and their left - children under three or four years old (Deuteronomy 1:39, "Your children, which had no knowledge between good and evil"). Sixscore thousand of these, allowing them to be a fifth of the whole, would give a total population of 600,000.

Much cattle - God cares even for the brute creatures, which man takes little account of. These, in wonderful Much cattle - God cares even for the brute creatures, which man takes little account of. These, in wonderful powers and in utility, are far above the shrub which Jonah is so concerned for. Yet Jonah is reckless as to their destruction and that of innocent children. The abruptness of the close of the book is more strikingly suggestive than if the thought had been followed out in detail. God's tender accents of pity are the last that fall upon the ear.


(1) How sad a picture of man's fallen nature it is, that what causes joy in the presence of the angels of God often causes grief and displeasure to man! The saving of the hundreds of thousands of sinners in Nineveh, which exhibited the mercy of God in its brightest colours, roused the angry zeal of Jonah. Like many, he would govern God's world better than God himself. He, who had been most of all indebted to the mercy of God, quarrels with the mercy of God, because God showed it toward Israel's enemy, Nineveh. Let us, while we condemn Jonah, remember how often we have indulged in repining against God's providence. Have we never, when our country was threatened by a foreign power, wished the destruction of that power, forgetting that, even if it were destroyed, God has other agents by whom to punish our people when they incur His wrath?

(2) The wonderful truthfulness wherewith Jonah records his own perversity, standing in such striking contrast to God's tenderness and mercy, is a striking mark of inspiration: for no uninspired man would ever have left his faults to stand forth so glaringly to the view without extenuation, or even explanation of his motives. Plainly he thinks, speaks, acts, and writes as if he had no regard to what opinion man may form of him, and only regards the all-knowing God whose censure of him he so faithfully records. We can only conjecture, though with much probability, that his motive was mistaken patriotism, which was reckless of the fate of all others, provided Israel's preservation could be ensured. Though we ought not to imitate his narrowness of spirit, yet we do well to copy his zeal for the spiritual and temporal well-being of Israel. We ought earnestly to love both the literal and the spiritual Israel, the Church, and desire the welfare of both. We also do well to imitate Jonah's comparative indifference to man's judgment, and, like him, to refer our motives to God, whether for censure or vindication. This will impart to us, whatever be our shortcomings, a holy simplicity of aim and sincerity of purpose.

(3) Jonah was taught that God is the same gracious, merciful God, slow to anger, in relation to the pagan, as He is in relation to Israel. Jonah repines at this, as sealing the doom of impenitent Israel. He forgot the good to the Ninevites which he had been the privileged instrument of. Self-will is blind to all else except its own aims. The glory of God's widely-extending mercy is ignored. So Jonah, having now fulfilled his office faithfully, though against his own will as regards the result, desires of God to release him from life, and from the prophetic office which, having failed as to Israel, is regarded by this zealous Israelite as having failed altogether. In this desire for death there was much of an impatient, hasty, and wrong spirit. They who wish to leave life, merely because they cannot have their own way in the world, are very unfit to meet God in the world to come. Our true wisdom and happiness is to make the will of God our will in everything, even in spiritual things: if His providence thwart our cherished plans, let us be sure that He designs something far better, and that our labours in His cause, though not producing the exact results that we contemplated, are nevertheless not lost, but shall work out His infinitely wiser purposes.

(4) They who give way to an impatient, fretful spirit, should ponder God's question, "Doest thou well to be angry? (Jonah 4:4.) Jonah did well to be zealous for Israel; but not well to be zealous against Nineveh when God willed to spare it. "The wrath of man worketh not the righteousness of God" (James 1:20). Let us be careful that when we are angry, we sin not, by directing our anger against the men instead of against their sins. Let our zeal be the fruit of a sincern desire for the glory of God, and not the offspring of irritation at the frustration of our own plans.

(5) God dealt not with Jonah according to his perversity. God saw the root of a right faith in him, amidst the weeds of self-will which for the time overgrew it. God therefore taught him "the more excellent way" (1 Corinthians 12:31) by an appropriate discipline. The gourd rapidly produced by the power of God afforded him a refreshing shadow for a day, while he lingered near Nineveh, still hoping for its destruction. He took this as a token that God willed him to stay where he was, and so he was "exceeding glad of the gourd." With impulsive and impetuous will, he probably thought that the gourd was a sign that God after all would grant him what he so eagerly desired, the destruction of Nineveh. But the gourd withered as speedily as it had sprung up. A worm was prepared by God to smite the gourd: and then, the shadow being gone when it was most needed, the sun and the sultry east wind beat upon Jonah's head; and again, like his great predecessor Elijah, he desired to die, and dared to justify his anger before God himself. "I do well to be angry, even unto death" (Jonah 4:9). This very avowal God, in amazing condescension to Jonah's perversity, turns into the vindication of His own dealings toward Nineveh, which were the cause of the prophet's anger. Thou art grieved even unto death for a senseless gourd, reasons the patient God with His impatient servant. Shall not I, then, the all-loving God, feel concerned for the lives and souls of hundreds of thousands of immortal souls in Nineveh, the creatures of mine own hand? (Jonah 4:11.) If thou art naturally grieved at the withering of a plant which causes thee temporary shelter, shall not I care for "sixscore thousand" innocent children, who must suffer in the general calamity if Nineveh be given to destruction.

(6) God would have spared Sodom for the sake of 10 righteous men. It was therefore in consonance with His just and merciful perfections that He should spare Nineveh for the sake of the 120,000 who, by their incapacity of reasoning, were free from actual, though not from original, sin. Then, too, the mute "cattle," of whose sufferings man takes no account, are cared for by the God whose tender mercies are over all His works. Jonah's figurative gourd, the preservation of Israel through the destruction of its threatened enemy, Nineveh, was a less selfish aim than most of the aims of men of the world. But it was faulty in seeking the end proposed, at all costs, in direct opposition to the will of God, and reckless of the consequences to hundreds of thousands. How infinitely greater is the mercy of God than the mercy of even a holy man! Self taints the best of men. Even good men in good aims need to bow self-will to the will of God. Let us adore with wonder God's exceeding patience with us! Let us try to imbibe some of the spirit of all-embracing love which breathes in the last words of God in this book, so exquisitely tender and pathetic, "Thou hast had pity on the gourd, for the which thou hast not laboured, neither madest it grow; which came up in a night, and perished in a night: and should I not 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?"

Bibliographical Information
Jamieson, Robert, D.D.; Fausset, A. R.; Brown, David. "Commentary on Jonah 4". "Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible - Unabridged". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/jfu/jonah-4.html. 1871-8.
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