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JONAH'S DISPLEASURE AND ITS CORRECTION.
1. Jonah is grieved at the sparing of Nineveh, the expectation of which had led to his former flight, and complains of God's clemency.
It displeased Jonah exceedingly; literally, it was evil to Jonah, a great evil. It was more than mere displeasure which he felt; he was vexed and irritated. The reference is to what is said in the last verse of the preceding chapter, viz. that the predicted destruction was not inflicted. How the knowledge of this reprieve was conveyed to the prophet we am not informed. It probably was made known to him before the expiration of the forty days by Divine communication, in accordance with the saying in Amos 3:7, "Surely the Lord will do nothing, but he revealeth his secret unto his servants the prophets" (see Amos 3:5). Various reasons have been assigned for this displeasure.
(1) Personal pique, lest, his prediction having failed, he should be liable to the charge of being a false prophet.
(2) Zeal for the honour of God, whose knowledge of the future might be discredited among the heathen, when they saw his own servant's words unfulfilled.
(3) Because he saw in this conversion of Gentiles a token of the ruin of his own people, who remained always hardened and impenitent.
(4) A mistaken patriotism, which could not endure to find mercy extended to a heathen nation which had already proved hostile to Israel and was destined to oppress it still further. This last seem to have been the real ground of his annoyance. So deep was this, that he would gladly have seen the sentence executed even after the city had repented (comp. Amos 3:11, "Should not I spare Nineveh," i.e. which thou wouldst have me even now destroy?) He was very angry; Septuagint, συνεχύθη, "was confounded." His vexation increased unto anger.
He prayed. He carried his complaint to God, and was prepared to submit it to him, even while he questioned the wisdom of his clemency. I pray thee (anna); Vulgate, obsecro. A particle of entreaty, "Ah! I pray thee." Was not this my saying? Was not this what I said to myself, viz. that God would spare Nineveh if it showed signs of repentance? My country. Palestine, where the original message reached him. I fled before; literally, I anticipated to fly; Septuagint, προέφθασα τοῦ φυγεῖν, "I made haste to flee;" Vulgate, praeoccupavi ut fugerem. I hastened to fly before I should be reduced to seeing my mission rendered nugatory. For I knew. Joel knew the character of God, and how that he threatened in order to arouse repentance, and that he might be able to spare (see Exodus 32:14; Exodus 34:6, Exodus 34:7). The description of God's mercy agrees with that in Joel 2:13 and Nehemiah 9:17.
Take ... my life from me (comp. Jonah 4:8). Jonah throughout represents himself as petty, hasty, and self-willed, prone to exaggerate matters, and easily reduced to despair. Here, because his word is not fulfilled, he wishes to die, though he will not take his own life. In a different spirit Moses (Exodus 32:32) is ready to die for his people's sake, and Elijah asked for death because his zeal for God had apparently wrought no effect (1 Kings 19:4).
Doest thou well to be angry? Septuagint, Εἰ σφόδρα λελύπησαι σύ; "Hast thou been greatly grieved?" Vulgate, Putasne bene irasceris tu? The English Version is doubtless correct. God bids him consider with himself whether his anger is reasonable. The version of the LXX; however grammatically permissible, is somewhat pointless.
§ 2. Jonah, not yet abandoning his hope of seeing the city punished, makes for himself a hut outside the walls, and waits there to see the issue. Went out of the city. It is best so rendered, and not in the pluperfect. It must have been before the end of the forty days that Jonah perceived that Nineveh would escape. And now, from God's expostulation with him in verse 4, he seem to have conceived the expectation that some catastrophe would still happen; as though God had told him that he was too hasty in his judgment, that he could not know the mind of God, and that because he did not strike immediately he was not to conclude that he would not strike at all. On the east side of the city. The opposite side to that by which he had entered, and where the high ground enabled him to overlook the town, without necessarily sharing in its destruction. A booth. A tent constructed of branches interlaced, which did not exclude the sun (Leviticus 23:42; Ne:14, etc). What would become of the city. He still expected that some calamity would befall the Ninevites, perhaps with the idea that their repentance would prove so imperfect and temporary that God would punish them after all.
Jonah 4:6, Jonah 4:7
3. God causes a plant to spring up in order to shade Jonah from the sun; but it is made soon to wither away and leave him exposed to the scorching rays.
Prepared (Jonah 4:7, Jonah 4:8); appointed (see note on Jonah 1:17). A gourd; Hebrew, kikaion (here only in the Old Testament); Septuagint, κολοκύνθη," pumpkin;" Vulgate, hedera; Aquila and Theodotion, κυκεών. Jerome describes this as a shrub called in Syriac elkeroa, and common in the sandy regions of Palestine. It has large leaves and grows to a considerable height in a very few days, so that a mere shrub becomes quickly a small tree. The scientific name of this plant is Ricinus communis; in Egyptian, kiki; in Assyrian, kukanitu. A drawing of it is given in Dr Pusey's 'Commentary,' p 260. It is also known by the name of the Palma Christi, and from its seeds is expressed "castor oil." But it is very doubtful whether this is the plant intended. Certainly the ricinus is never used in the East as a protection against the sun, for which its straggling, open growth renders it unsuitable; while the gourd, as Mr. Tristram testifies, is used universally to form trellises for shading arbours and summer houses, and affords a most effectual screen. "Orientals," says Dr. Thomson, "never dream of training a castor-oil plant overs booth, or planting it for a shade, and they would have but small respect for any one who did. It is in no way adapted for that purpose, while thousands of arbours are covered with various creepers of the general gourd family." With this testimony it is well to be satisfied. Whatever the plant was, its growth was abnormal in the present ease, though the rapidity with which it developed was merely a quickening of its ordinary powers, in due accordance with its nature and character. From his grief; Septuagint, ἀπὸ τῶν κακῶν αὐτοῦ, "from his evils;" Vulgate, ut … protegeret eum. The Hebrew word is the same as in Jonah 4:1, and it refers, not so much to the physical discomfort occasioned by the heat, but rather to the condition of his mind, the vexation and disappointment under which he was suffering. We exceeding glad; literally, rejoiced a great joy; ἐχάρη χαρὰν μεγάλην. The candour and simplicity of the writer throughout are very remarkable. He may have seen in this providential shelter an intimation that God approved of his intention to wait and see the issue.
Prepared (see note on Jonah 4:6). A worm. Either a single worm which punctured the stem and caused the plant to wither, or the word is used collectively, as in Deuteronomy 28:39, for "worms." A single warm night, with a moist atmosphere, will suffice to produce a host of caterpillars, which in an incredibly short time strip a plant of all its leaves. When the morning rose. At the very earliest dawn, before the actual rising of the sun (comp. Judges 9:33). Jonah seems to have enjoyed the shelter of the gourd one whole day. The withering of the plant came about in a natural way, but was ordered by God at a certain time in order to give Jonah the intended lesson.
§ 4. Jonah grieves bitterly for the loss of the gourd; and God takes occasion from this to point out the prophet's inconsistency and pitilessness in murmuring against the mercy shown to Nineveh with its multitude of inhabitants.
A vehement east wind; Septuagint, πνεύματι καύσωνι (James 1:11) συγκαίοντι "a scorching, burning wind;" Vulgate, vento calido et urenti (Hosea 13:15). The word translated "vehement" is also rendered "silent," i.e. sultry. Pusey and Hitzig rather incline to think it may mean the autumn or harvest wind. Either interpretation is suitable, as, according to Dr. Thomson, there are two kinds of sirocco, equally destructive and annoying—the violent wind, which fills the air with dust and sand; and the quiet one, when scarcely any air is stirring, but the heat is most overpowering. Beat upon the head. The same word for the effect of the rays of the sun as in Psalms 121:6 and elsewhere. Trochon quotes Ovid, 'Metam,' 7.804—
"Sole fere radiis feriente cacumiua primis."
"The sun with earliest rays
Scarce smiting highest peaks."
Rich, 'Koordistan,' 1.125, "Just as the moon rose, about ten, an intolerable puff of wind came from the northeast. All were immediately silent, as if they had felt an earthquake, and then exclaimed, in a dismal tone, 'The sherki is come.' This was indeed the so much-dreaded sherki, and it has continued blowing ever since with great violence from the east and northeast, the wind being heated like our Bagdad sauna, but I think softer and more relaxing. This wind is the terror of these parts." "Few European travellers," says Layard, "can brave the perpendicular rays of an Assyrian sun. Even the well seasoned Arab seeks the shade during the day, and journeys by night unless driven forth by necessity or the love of war" (quoted by Dr. Pusey, in loc). He fainted (see note on Amos 8:13, where the fame word is used of the effects of thirst: comp. Jonah 2:7). His position on the east of the city (Psalms 121:5) exposed him to the full force of the scorching sun and wind. Wished in himself to die; literally, asked for his soul to die; Septuagint, ἀπελέγετο τὴν ψυχὴν αὐτοῦ, "despaired of his life" (1 Kings 19:4). The expression implies that he asked God to grant him his life to do with it what he liked. In his self-will and impatience he still shows his dependence upon God. He may have had in his mind the precedent of his great master Elijah, though his spirit is very different (see note on Psalms 121:3 above). Better for me to die. His wish for death arose from his now assured conviction that God's mercy was extended to the heathen. He argued from the sudden withering of the gourd that he was not to stay there and see the accomplishment of his wishes, and, in his impatience and intolerance, he would rather die than behold Nineveh converted and saved.
God said. Keil and others have noted the variety in the use of the names of God in this passage (Jonah 4:6-9). The production of the gourd is attributed to Jehovah-Elohim (Jonah 4:6), a composite name, which serves to mark the transition from Jehovah in Jonah 4:4 to Elohim in Jonah 4:7 and Jonah 4:8. Jehovah, who replies to the prophet's complaint (Jonah 4:4), prepares the plant as Elohim the Creator, and the worm as ha-Elohim the personal God. Elohim, the Ruler of nature, sends the east wind to correct the prophet's impatience; and in Jonah 4:10 Jehovah sums up the history and teaches the lesson to be learned from it. Doest thou well to be angry? The same tender expostulation as in Jonah 4:4. I do well to be angry, even unto death. I am right to be angry, so that my anger almost kills me. Deprived of the shelter of the gourd, Jonah is immediately depressed, and in his unreasoning anger defends himself against the reproaches of God's voice within him. Septuagint, Σφόδρα λελύπημαι ἐγὼ ἑως θανάτου "I am greatly grieved even unto death," which reminds one of our Lord's words in the garden (Mark 14:34).
The Lord. Jehovah. closing the story, and driving home the lesson with unanswerable force, the prophet himself being the judge. Thou hast had pity; thou on thy part hast spared; Septuagint, σὺ ἐφείσω. For the which thou hast not laboured; Septuagint, ὑπὲρ ἦς οὐκ ἐκακοπάθησας ἐπ αὐτήν, "for which thou sufferedst no evil." The more trouble a thing costs us, the more we regard it, as a mother loves her sickly child best. Neither madest it grow. As God had made Nineveh into a "great city." Which came up in a night, and perished in a night; literally, which was the son of a night, and perished the son of a night. The allusion, of course, is to the extraordinary rapidity of the growth and destruction of the gourd.
Should not I spare Ninevah? The contrast between the feeling and conduct of God and those of the prophet is very forcible. Thou hast compassion for a plant of little worth, in whose growth thou hast had no concern, to which thou hast no right; should I not pity a great city which is mine, which I have permitted to grow into power? Thou hast compassion on a flower which sprang up in a day and withered in a day; should I not pity this town with its teeming population and its multitude of cattle, the least of which is more worth than any senseless plant, and which I uphold daily with my providence? Six score thousand persons that cannot discern between their right hand and their left hand; i.e. children of tender years, who did not know which hand was the strongest and fittest for use; or, metaphorically, who had no knowledge between good and evil" (Deuteronomy 1:39), at present incapable of moral discernment. This limitation would include children of three or four years old; and, taking these as one-fifth of the population, we should set the inhabitants at six hundred thousand in number. The multitude of these innocent children, who must needs perish if the city were destroyed, is an additional reason why it should be spared. A still further claim for compassion is appended. And also much cattle. God's mercy is over all his works; he preserveth man and beast (Psalms 36:6; Psalms 145:9), and as man is superior to other animals, so are cattle better than plants. The book ends abruptly, but its object is accomplished. Jonah is silenced; he can make no reply; he can only confess that he is entirely wrong, and that God is righteous. He learns the lesson that God would have all men saved, and that that narrow-mindedness which would exclude heathen from his kingdom is displeasing to him and alien from his design. "For thou hast mercy upon all; for thou canst do all things, and winkest at the sins of men in order that they should repent. For thou lovest all the things that are, and abhorrest nothing that thou hast made; for never wouldst thou have made anything if thou hadst hated it But thou sparest all; for they are thine, O Lord, thou Lover of souls" (Wis. 11:23, etc).
Repining at God's mercy.
A more mixed character than Jonah's it would not be easy to imagine. God's treatment of him, God's language to him, prove that he was regarded as a servant, as a prophet, of the Lord. His own prayers and thanksgivings indicated a nature in happy fellowship with the Eternal. Yet how lacking in human charity, in true submissiveness, in unselfishness! True to nature, the portrait is one very suggestive to the thoughtful reader, who is anxious to escape self and to serve God.
I. THE CAUSE OF REPINING.
1. Jonah's fear was realized.
2. Jonah's plans were defeated.
3. Jonah's self-importance was wounded.
His sin lay here—he thought little or nothing of the Ninevites, much or altogether of himself. So devoted was he to his own dignity, so filled with a sense of the importance of men's estimate of himself, that he had no pity, no thought, for those to whom he was commissioned. The real explanation is here hinted of much of the repining, murmuring, discontent, which prevail among those professedly religious. Men would complain less frequently and bitterly, did they think less of themselves and more of their fellow men, were they more ready to forget themselves in desiring and seeking the welfare of others.
II. THE FRUIT OF REPINING.
1. Anger and displeasure.
2. Vexation and dejection.
Moses and Elijah, before Jonah, had asked that life might be taken away. Ardent souls, when disappointed, are prone to despondency. But it is one thing to despond because labour is unsuccessful; another thing to despond because men are saved. Because Nineveh was spared, Jonah fain would die. Had Nineveh perished, he would have been willing to live.
III. THE SIN OF REPINING. This appears from the fact, so plainly stated by Jonah himself, that the Divine forbearance and mercy were made the ground of dissatisfaction and complaint. If men murmur at the exercise of God's most gracious attributes, they can have no clearer proof of their want of sympathy with what is best, and no plainer indication of the urgent duty of repentance and humiliation.
The long suffering of God.
The magnificent description of the Divine character is given in language familiar to the pious Hebrews, as is apparent from its almost exact coincidence with other passages of Old Testament Scripture. Nothing could more conclusively contradict the common impression that the old covenant was one of justice only and not of mercy. The language, occurring as it does in close connection with the repining of the prophet, appears strangely out of place. It is surprising that Jonah could have spoken thus of God without feeling himself reproved and silenced. How could he have reflected upon the mercy and kindness of God, and have continued to cherish regret because his threats were not fulfilled, because a great city was spared?
I. THE BENEVOLENT ATTRIBUTES OF GOD. By a redundancy of language, testifying to the depth of appreciation felt, the Lord is declared to be:
3. Of great kindness.
II. THE ACTIONS IN WHICH GOD EXPRESSES HIS BENEVOLENT ATTRIBUTES.
1. He defers the execution of his just indignation against sinners. The narrative gives an impressive instance of this; but it is the lesson of all history.
2. He changes his purposes of wrath into purposes of mercy. Such was the case with Nineveh. Such is the case with humanity at large.
The Prophet Jonah was a singularly complex being. On the one hand, he evidently reverenced and trusted she Lord.; yet, on the other hand, he acted disobediently, and he cherished feelings which were in the highest degree discreditable to one who enjoyed his opportunities of knowing the Divine character and purposes. The inquiry, the expostulation, of the text indicates God's displeasure with his servant; yet the form in which it shapes itself shows that God wished rather that Jonah should rebuke himself, that his conscience should be awakened to condemn the attitude which he had assumed.
I. ANGER IS IN ITSELF AN EMOTION WHICH MAY BE EITHER GOOD OR EVIL. God himself is represented in his Word as having been angry with the wicked; and a righteous anger or indignation with wrong doers is now and again in the Scripture narrative mentioned, with approval. Indeed, a nature to which anger is foreign cannot but be lacking in moral fibre. On the other hand, into how many sins have men been led by giving way to foolish anger?—i.e. to anger either altogether unwarranted or unjustifiable in the degree in which it has been cherished. An angry man can seldom decide with justice or act with consideration.
II. ANGER IS NEVER JUSTIFIABLE WHEN OCCASIONED BY THE ACTION OF A RIGHTEOUS AND GRACIOUS GOD. Now, Jonah saw that the Divine Ruler was "slow to anger" with the Ninevites; yet he himself was quick to indignation and wrath. Anger like Jonah's questions the justice of the Divine proceedings. He who is angry with the plans and purposes of the Eternal sets himself up as a judge of that Being who is Judge of all. There may be occasions for anger with fellow men; but anger with the Creator and Ruler of all is never defensible or excusable. It evinces a sad lack of modesty and of true submissiveness.
III. ANGER IS ALWAYS BLAMABLE WHEN IT IS OCCASIONED BY THE RELIEF AND SALVATION OF MEN. The plain truth concerning Jonah's anger is this—it arose because the Ninevites were not overwhelmed with destruction. If the city had perished, the prophet would have felt satisfaction in contemplating such a fate. Because the city was spared, and (as he thought) his authority was discredited, he gave way to wrath. A more selfish and unamiable temper has never been exhibited.
IV. THERE IS ALWAYS REASON TO SUSPECT THE JUSTICE OF ANGER WHEN IT ACCOMPANIES SOME HUMILIATION OR MORTIFICATION OF SELF. Plainly Jonah thought more of himself than of those to whom he ministered, or he would not have given way to anger because his word of prophecy was not literally fulfilled. Men sometimes endeavour to deceive themselves, to persuade themselves that their wrath is stirred by some infraction of right, when, all the time, the true secret of their anger is to be found in personal mortification. A lesson this of the importance of being upon our guard against the insidious temptation to vanity and self-importance.
The withering of earthly consolation.
If Jonah's vexation and anger were due first to the sparing of Nineveh, and the mortification of his self-importance, similar emotion was excited within him by the deprivation of personal comfort which was appointed by Divine providence.
I. IN TIMES OF TROUBLE GOD APPOINTS DIVINE CONSOLATIONS FOR HIS PEOPLE. The gourd, or palmcrist, which the Author of nature caused to grow up over Jonah's booth, was "for a shadow over his head, to deliver him from his grief." Such a refuge, shelter, shadow, Providence often appoints for those who are in distress. Some unexpected provision for want, some gracious alleviation of suffering, some marvellous deliverance from impending danger, reveals the thoughtful and loving care of the Most High.
II. GOD IN HIS MERCY THUS TURNS SORROW INTO GLADNESS. "Jonah was exceeding glad of the gourd." It was itself beautiful to behold, and its cool shelter was refreshing, and it was a pleasant and welcome emblem of Divine care and kindness. Many have been made glad according to the days in which they have been afflicted, to the years in which they have seen evil. Of many once storm-tossed and imperilled it may be said, "They are glad because they be quiet." It is right to rejoice when Eternal Mercy rescues and delivers those who are in trouble and distress.
III. CONSOLATIONS ARE OFTEN SHORT-LIVED AND DISAPPOINTING. The caterpillars which smote the palmcrist in a few hours robbed Jonah of his comfort, so that his new, dawning joy was overcast with clouds of gloom. And this withering was an emblem of the transitory nature of all earthly happiness and prosperity. The comforts which God sends he takes away, lest we should set our hearts upon created good. Health fails, property is lost, friends die, bright prospects are clouded, hopes perish- Nothing continueth in one stay.
"This world is all a fleeting show,
For man's illusion given;
The smiles of joy, the tears of woe,
Deceitful shine, deceitful flow:
There's nothing true but heaven."
IV. THE PRIVATION OF EARTHLY COMFORTS IS INTENDED TO LEAD MEN TO SEEK THEIR HIGHEST GOOD IN GOD. Such discipline does not, indeed, produce this effect upon all men; many are hardened, some are driven to despair, by adversity. But with regard to the truly pious, it may be said that, when the gourd withers, the Giver is as firmly trusted and as warmly loved as when the shelter was thick and green.
"Though vine nor fig tree neither
Their wonted fruit should bear;
Though all the field should wither,
Nor flock nor herd be there;
Yet God the same abiding,
His praise shall tune my voice;
For while in him confiding,
I cannot but rejoice."
Desire to die.
Deep was the mortification, the disappointment, the dejection, which, more than once, found expression in this wish. It is not an uncommon thing for those whose hearts are blighted, whose prospects are clouded, for whom life has but few attractions left, to wish rather to die than to live.
I. THE EXPLANATION OF THIS WISH.
1. The burden of bodily suffering or weakness, or of mental anguish, may be such as is very hard to bear; and men may wish to lay it down even though with it they lay down the load of life.
2. The memory of trouble, calamity, disaster, may be so distressing that even annihilation has been desired rather than an ineffaceable record of woe. The Christian cannot desire extinction of being, but he may hope that, in passing hence, he may steep his soul in Lethe's oblivious waves.
3. The apparent hopelessness of the earthly prospect tempts men to wish to die. To many who are advanced in life, crippled in body, ruined in circumstances, disappointed in life plans, this earthly existence seems to present no prospects; death seems a relief.
II. THE BLAMABLENESS OF THIS WISH.
1. It implies a habit of discontent and of murmuring. Our circumstances are appointed or permitted by a kind Providence; to wish to escape them is to wish to avoid the discipline ordained for us by our heavenly Father. The Christian pilgrim should be prepared cheerfully, or at least patiently, to finish his path, even to the journey's end.
2. It implies an undue desire for rest. Men's notions of heaven are often carnal and selfish; they look forward to release from labour and service; and sometimes they wish to die that they may enjoy the sweets of repose. But it should be the desire and expectation of all Christians, that they may serve God day and night in his temple. Surely one attraction of the future state for the holy nature is this—it will afford opportunity for higher and purer service.
III. THE COUNTERACTIVE TO THIS WISH. This is to be found in perfect submissiveness to the holy and perfect will of God. Whilst he has work for his people to do on earth, earth is the best place for them; when he wishes them to enter upon heavenly service, he himself will call them hence.
Jonah 4:10, Jonah 4:11
The breadth of the Divine piety.
The close of this very remarkable book is deserving of attention and admiration, as evidently gathering up and exhibiting the purpose for which this composition was designed. Of all things apprehensible by us nothing is equal in interest to the character of the Supreme Ruler and Lord. This is depicted in this closing passage of the narrative and prophecy in the most attractive, encouraging, and glorious colours.
1. GOD'S PITY CONTRASTS WITH MAN'S HARDNESS AND SEVERITY. Jonah, though a prophet of the Lord, would have witnessed the destruction of Nineveh with equanimity and even satisfaction. It might have been supposed that a sinful and fallible being would have been more compassionate. But for the supreme illustration of pity we must look to the Father of all.
II. GOD'S PITY IS EXCITED BY THE SPECTACLE OF A GREAT AND POPULOUS COMMUNITY IN DANGER OF DESTRUCTION. Nineveh was at the other end of the scale, so to speak, from the palmcrist which grew up and perished in a few hours. It was an ancient, vast, populous, powerful, famous city. "Should I not spare," asked God of Jonah, "Nineveh, that great city?" There is in this language something which appeals to our heart. God is represented in the most amiable and attractive light. Such sentiments as these will be cherished by God-like men, by those Christ-like hearts that sympathize with him who beheld Jerusalem, and wept over it,
III. GOD'S PITY IS INTENSIFIED BY THE SPECTACLE OF LITTLE CHILDREN EXPOSED TO DESTRUCTION. By those who are described as unable to discern between their right hand and their left we may well understand babes and young children who had not sinned. Yet these were in danger of being overtaken by the one common calamity and ruin. The tender heart of the All-Father was touched by the possibility of such a catastrophe. And when it was possible to avert it—in harmony with the principles of the Divine government, and so as not to endanger the spiritual interests of humanity—it was a joy to the heart of God to spare the city and the babes of the city's household.
1. Let the hearers of the gospel take advantage of the sparing mercy of the Lord.
2. Let the preachers of the gospel proclaim the sparing mercy of the Lord.
3. Let all Christians sympathize with, delight in, and imitate, the sparing mercy of the Lord.
HOMILIES BY J.E. HENRY
A misanthrope's case against Divine benevolence.
It takes a good deal to make a man of God perfect. After a whole life's discipline the old man of sin will sometimes show his baleful features at the window of the soul. Jonah has just been figuring to our mind as a changed character, returned to his allegiance, going God's errand promptly, and doing his work with faithful zeal. But here he forfeits our good opinion, almost before it has had time to form. The patient's cure has been only seeming, or else he has suffered a bad relapse. At any rate, the narrative leaves him on a spiritual level as low or lower than it found him. He began by quarrelling with a particular command of God, and he ends by quarrelling with his moral government as a whole. If there be a point of religious progress scored at all in connection with the matter, it is the exceedingly minute one that at first he tried to defeat the Divine purpose, and at last, and with an ill grace, he submits to its execution as inevitable. And it may be noted, as a qualifying consideration, that sanctification is the work of a lifetime; and therefore we can look for no very material change in the few days which the narrative of the book covers.
I. A MAN WHO HAS FOUND MERCY HIMSELF MAY YET PRACTICALLY GRUDGE IT TO OTHERS. Misanthropy is Satanic. The devil hates men utterly and intensely. And the man, if there be such, who hates men instinctively, and would destroy them unprovoked, is less human than diabolical Jonah was not such a man. There were considerations, and paltry ones, for which he would have sacrificed all the souls in Nineveh, but, apart from these, he wished them no ill.
1. One of these considerations was supplied by egoism. As the prophet and mouthpiece of God, he had predicted the destruction of the city, even to the naming of the day, and his credit required that the event should now occur. If it did not, his prophecy failed, and his reputation as a prophet suffered, both with the Ninevites and with his own people. The prospect of this he could not stand. In his miserable and guilty self-seeking he preferred the destruction, soul and body, of a million people, to the possible discrediting of his prophetic claims. Such heartlessness in a believing man seems well nigh incredible. But it is far from unparalleled. Every Christian worker approaches it who works for his own credit or advantage, and not for the salvation of men. He may not be conscious of the fact, or he may fail to realize the significance of it, but he virtually and practically prefers that men should perish rather than that he should be deemed a failure. His reputation as a Christian worker, and his success in that character, is more to him than the salvation from sin of all to whom his words may come.
2. Another consideration sectarianism provides. To Israel in its wickedness a whole line of prophets had preached, with no result whatever, save their own extermination (Acts 7:52), and the announcement of inevitable doom on the obdurate race (Amos 5:27; Amos 7:17). The Ninevites' deliverance, establishing as it would the genuineness of their turning from sin, would bring into unfavourable contrast the obstinate impenitence of Israel, would emphasize the needs be of her approaching ruin, and would amount to the preservation and encouragement of the very heathen power by which she was to fall. Then the overthrow of Nineveh by an angry God would have been a terrible example to quote to Israel, and a rod to conjure with when calling on them to fly the wrath of God; whilst its escape the prophet's careless countrymen might wrest to their own destruction, and from it argue that the vengeance denounced would likely never fail. There is an attitude of indifference toward the perishing, into which an analogous spirit of sectarianism sometimes causes believers to fall The question of their salvation gets mixed up with some question of denominational loss or discredit. We desire their conversion, and desire to be the means of it. But we don't desire it supremely or disinterestedly. We don't desire it apart from all denominational considerations. The idea of their remaining a while longer in sin would be almost as tolerable to us as that some rival sect should win their gratitude and adherence by helping them into the kingdom. This is, at bottom, the spirit of Jonah exactly. It is putting an earthly and narrow interest. before the eternal life of souls. It is a spirit unworthy the Christian character, and a shameful stigma on the Christian name.
3. A further consideration may be found in the surviving misanthropy of a half-sanctified nature. God desires infinitely the highest well being of men (Ezekiel 33:11). And men, in proportion as they are God-like, desire it too (Romans 9:1-4). The sinful nature, which is largely selfish, is being taken away, and the gracious character, which is essentially benevolent, is being inwrought. But neither process is complete on earth, and the missionary spirit, which is their joint issue, is proportionally weak. It was so with Jonah. He shows the old nature strong still in pride and petulance and ingratitude, and why not in lovelessness, its characteristic vice? Such a man is incapable of understanding the tender and gracious heart of God, which loves men absolutely and infinitely, and acts in every respect in character. He is incapable of desiring supremely the highest good of men, for he has never climbed to the high spiritual level in which to apprehend his own. A half-sanctified man is considerably more than half-selfish, and a good deal less than half benevolent. If we would know what it is to travail for men's salvation, we must rise to a love of God baptized into the likeness of the Divine love out of which it springs.
II. GOD'S CHARACTER IS CONSTANT, WHATEVER ELSE MAY CHANGE.
. And the supposition is strengthened by the fact that, whilst he gives literally the clauses that speak of God's mercy, he leaves out the clause that speaks of his justice (Exodus 34:7), and substitutes for it a sentiment of his own. But justice and mercy met in the whole transaction. The Ninevites were mercifully spared, yet not unjustly. They might in justice have been destroyed, but not in mercy (Isaiah 55:7; Jeremiah 31:20). Therefore Jonah absurdly makes it a charge against God that he is what he had always gloried in declaring himself to be. So blind and stupid can a sulky servant be. God need not overact his merciful character in order to offend such people; it is his mercy itself with which they have a quarrel.
2. The prophet himself affirms the Divine consistency. "God," we are told, "repented of the evil," etc.; and Jonah says, "I knew that thou art a gracious God... and repentest thee of the evil." The thing that Jonah knew he would do he did. His action was normal and entirely consistent—such action as he has always taken, and will take, in a like case. He repented, in fact, yet did not change. He did what it would be a change to cease from doing in the circumstances. He threatened Nineveh sinning, as he threatens all, and then he spared it turning, as he spares men in every age. His repentance, so called, is his method coordinating itself with the changing conditions of life, and is simply an aspect of his immutability.
III. THE PRAYER OF THE SELF-SEEKER IS OF NECESSITY ILL-ADVISED. (Verse 3) Jonah's prayer was bona fides. It is as a believer he prays. His spiritual instinct brings him in his unhappiness to a throne of grace. "He does not seek a refuge from God. He makes God his Refuge" (Martin). He shows a surly sincerity in unreservedly stating what is working in his mind; and "so long as all can yet be declared unto the Lord, even though it be your infirmity, there integrity still reigns" (Martin). Yet, barring the quality of sincerity, this prayer lacks almost every other element of acceptable worship.
1. It is inappropriate in its matter. (Verse 3) It is not absolutely and necessarily wrong to pray for death. Paul, persecuted and afflicted, had "a desire to depart and be with Christ." It is easily conceivable that a believer, broken down and prostrated with incurable disease, should pray for death as the sole available release. It would be nothing unbecoming if a ripe saint, whose life work is done, and who longs for rest, should make its early coming a matter of prayer. But Jonah was neither past living usefully nor, in his present temper, ready to die. His death, if allowed, would have advanced no interest either of his own or of others. His work was, humanly speaking, far from being done, and his life, if he put a noble interpretation on it, might be of great importance in the world. He was stupidly wanting to fling away from him, instead of prizing and using it, one of God's most precious gifts, and his own most sacred trust. The desire to die, which some consider the cream of all piety, is as often mistaken as appropriate, and far less often a duty than a sin. In such cases men "ask and receive not, because they ask amiss."
2. It is improper in spirit. One can easily see that Jonah was in no praying mood. He was angry and insolent. His prayer was really a contentious manifesto—the joint issue of arrogance and discontent. As such it was utterly offensive to God, and itself a new sin in his sight. The spirit of it, however, made it harmless, as it secured the refusal of its mischievous request. Our union with Christ is a condition of successful prayer (John 15:7). The guarantee of its acceptability is our dwelling in Christ: the cause of its fitness is his Word dwelling in us. The Spirit helps the believer's infirmities, and in these qualities we have the outcome of his work (Ro very gist of prayer is a leaving of ourselves in the hands of God. Its inquiry is, "Lord, what wilt thou have me to do?" and its request is, "Lord, here am I; send me." Such a request is offered in terms of our Father's will, and, being offered in Christ, is ideal prayer to God. But the prayer of wilfulness, of fretfulness, of carnal suggestion in any shape, is lacking in every element that God regards or can accept. "For let not such a one think that he shall receive anything of the Lord."
IV. GOD ANSWERS A FAULT-FINDING PRAYER BY REBUKING THE SPIRIT OF IT. The rule is that believing prayer is answered (Mark 2:24). It is a special qualification of the rule that the answer comes in the form of things agreeable to God's will. Jonah's prayer had enough of faith in it to secure an answer, and yet enough of folly to necessitate an answer very different from the one desired (verse 4). There was wonderful condescension here. Jonah makes an insane request, and it is mercifully ignored. He makes it in a sinful way, and gets the thing he was most in need of—an admonition. The words imply:
1. Are you angry on sufficient grounds? An enumeration of the antecedents of his anger would have covered Jonah with confusion. His contemptibly egotistic refusal to prophesy, as it was his business to do, had not so much been punished, as forcibly overcome, and then forgiven. His life, jeopardized, in the natural course of events, by his own infatuate conduct, had, by a miracle of mercy, been given back to him from the grave's mouth. His recent ministry so tardily exercised had been blessed beyond a parallel, to the saving of a mighty city and the glorious illustration of the mercy and grace of God. These grounds of feeling are the only grounds which, as a servant of God, he could consistently regard. The others, which bore on possible results to his own official prestige, and Israel's moral attitude and fate, were purely speculative, might prove unfounded altogether, and whether or not should have no place in a spiritual mind. A true prophet is a man who speaks for God unquestioningly, who acts for God undauntedly, who is in fullest sympathy with his gracious purposes, and who knows no personal considerations in his work. Well might God ask, "Art thou wiser than I?" "Is thine eye evil because I am good?" If a servant may have an interest antagonistic to his masters; if a man "may make his own narrow capacity the measure by which to judge of the Divine wilt and the Divine procedure" (Martin); if the salvation of a million strangers is nothing in the balance against a possible hurt to a few of our own friends;—then Jonah was fitly angry, and we, in a like case, may fitly be angry also. The words also imply:
2. Is your anger itself a right thing? The will of God is the ultimate reason of things. The way of God is uuchallengeably right. The office of censor over him does not exist, There is no provision in his scheme of government for our being angry, and no place in the chain of cause and effect at which it could come in. We do it solely on our own responsibility, in violation of the Divine harmonies, and at our own risk and loss. It settles nothing outside ourselves, influences nothing, and has no right of way across the field of providence. God is supreme, and men are in his hands, and all duty in relation to his government is, "Thy will be done." The question of men's salvation is God's question in the last appeal. He sits at the helm. He settles who shall be saved, and whether any shall be saved (Romans 9:11, Romans 9:16, Romans 9:22, Romans 9:23). The conversion of sinners is hut the evolution of his purpose; the glorification of saints the realization of his plan. Is not this good tidings for the lust? Seeking God as he thinks with all his heart, the anxious sinner fancies sometimes that the is willing and God is not, and that the question to be solved is the question of overcoming a certain Divine inertia, and getting God's consent to his entrance into life. The idea is a delusion of Satan, and has ruined more lives than could be told. "Ye will not come unto me that ye might have life." That is Christ's way of it. "As I live, saith the Lord God, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked; but that the wicked turn from his way and live." That is God's gospel, the glorious and precious truth. God's willingness to save is infinite. He waits to be gracious. It is you that are not willing. You think you are, and you may be in some respects. But you are not willing perfectly and all round. There is a secret reservation lurking somewhere. Search well and see. If you had ever been wholly willing for a single instant, you would that instant have been across the threshold and in the kingdom. If you are wholly willing now, it is the golden hour of your life, for it is the beginning of the new life in Christ.—J.E.H.
Divine mercy formulating its own apologetic.
God is patient and persistent to a marvel. He sticks to men whom we would unhesitatingly cast off, and bears with them when, to our mind, patience has ceased to be a virtue. His keen eye sees ground for hope where we should utterly despair; and he goes on dealing with cases that we should regard as quite beyond treatment. The case of Jonah was one in point. He displayed a mulish obstinacy, and a tenacious and assertive self-will, on which anything short of the strong arm seemed only labour thrown away. Yet God is neither disgusted nor discouraged. He does not cease to strive; neither does he restart to the violence that would seem so fitting. His mildly suasive measures go on, and go on calmly and confidently, as to infallible success. Verbal expostulation has failed, but that is only one agency of exhaustless Divine resource. The symbolic method of teaching still remains, and may prevail, and God mercifully tries it on the refractory prophet before he will either say, "Cut him off!" or, "Let him alone!" We learn here—
I. HOW TENACIOUSLY A SERVANT OF GOD MAY CLING TO A MUTINOUS PROJECT. (Verse 5) Jonah's leaning toward the destruction of Nineveh was not mere caprice. It was largely selfish. That event would have been to him equivalent to a new credential of office, The heathen abroad and Israel at home he could have referred to it as a miraculous authentication of his word, and a new feather in his official cap. Accordingly, his preference went and his influence tried to work in that direction. In this mind he left the city. He would not mingle with the people. Their abject attentions while dreading death, and their possible ridicule if it did not come, would be alike distasteful. His mission, moreover, was practically fulfilled, and he had no very definite business to detain him longer; whilst there would be a natural desire to be out of the city when its fateful hour should arrive. There was, however, a reason for his departure a good deal less to his credit than any of these. He went to see "what would become of the city." Here was watching for souls in hideous, baleful travesty. He was watching for their salvation, it is true, but watching for it in protesting anger and fear. He cannot bring himself to believe that it will take place; and he climbs the hills overlooking the city from the east to watch developments with a mind divided between anger, curiosity, and misgiving. And here he displayed the deliberation and resource that we observed on other occasions. Anticipating inconvenience from the burning heat, he built himself a rustic arbour in which he could sit in the pleasant shade and comfortably await the end. It is humiliating to think that questions of earthly interest, questions even of personal convenience, will compete successfully at times with the question of men's salvation, for the first place in the attention of God's people. Words have, for some paltry personal consideration, been left unspoken, interviews unsought, measures unattended to, on which, humanly speaking, the question of some one's eternity hung. Those who know God and speak for him want to realize that their doing so is the paramount consideration, with which there is no other matter that may for a moment come into competition. A Paul "counts not his life dear unto him that he might finish the ministry received of the Lord Jesus, to testify the gospel of the grace of God" (Acts 20:24). On no lower level can we, as regards the perishing, "walk in love as Christ also loved us."
II. HOW GOD IN PROVIDENCE BLESSES SINNERS AGAINST HIS GRACE. (Verse 6) Jonah had just complained of the great lenity of God. But he is only quarrelling with his own mercy. He is the very first, as he was the very last, to profit by that lenity himself: The God who offended him by pitying penitent Nineveh gave him unmingled gratification by pitying his rebellious self, and bringing him in his self-made discomfort prompt relief. And the gourd that grew so timely and served so well may be taken as a type of the Divine compensatory arrangements in connection with human life.
1. These always come. God does not forget his people, and cannot disregard their troubles. He heeds and he helps them. Wherever there is the burning sun of calamity there is the gourd of some ameliorating circumstance. They do not intermit; if they did our well being, our very life, would intermit also. They do not fluctuate with our allegiance; if they did they would be at the ebb perpetually. They flow down in a continuous steady stream. "No father like God; none feel for his children like him; none so forgiving and ready to relieve; when none else will pity them, he will; and in the face of manifold provocations the Lord remembereth mercy. When they become sufferers, the Father's bowels of compassion melt over them. We have a High Priest that is soon touched with the feeling of our infirmities" (Jones).
2. They always suit. Appropriateness must characterize a "good and perfect gift," such as all God's are. They are not at right angles to our need, but along the line of it. There is a destroying angel to rout a besieging army (2Ki to quench a dying woman's thirst (Genesis 21:19), an earthquake to shake open prison doors (Acts 16:26), and "sufficient grace" to make a thorn in the flesh endurable (2 Corinthians 12:8, 2 Corinthians 12:9). In fact, God's helpful action bears directly on our sufferings and their alleviation. We get sometimes what we ask for, and always what we need. And we get it too at the moment we need it most. "The sea is opened when Israel is hemmed in on every side; the manna comes down when they have no bread; and the water flows from the rock when they are ready to die with thirst (Psalms 27:10)" (Jones).
3. They do for us what our own skill and contrivance have failed to do. Jonah's booth proved insufficient shelter, and in the hour of its proved inadequacy the gourd grew. God allows us to build our own booth first. We try our hand at improving our earthly lot, to find that we cannot command success. We lay deep plans and put forth stupendous efforts, and then flounder and stick fast. At last, God, who has been awaiting such a juncture, steps in, and, by some unthought of incident, the blocked path is opened, and the thing is done. The testimony of God's people everywhere has been that, not their own brain or arm, but "the good hand of the Lord," has opened their path and made their life's prosperity.
4. They are often appreciated without being traced to their source. "Jonah was exceeding glad of the gourd." And well he might. It intercepted the broiling sunshine, and converted physical distress into luxurious ease. Yet he rejoiced in its grateful shade without considering it to be God's gift or a blessing to thank him for. It is so that many of our mercies are received. They are welcomed and prized and rejoiced in. We are exceeding glad of them, and more than enough are exercised about them. "I become exceeding glad of my gourd. My heart entwines around it. This pleasing prospect; this budding hope; this successful movement; this welcome visitant, the golden-haired little one within my earthly home, crowing in my arms, searching my eye for the kindling glance of joy and love, and dancing gleefully on finding it;—ah! in many a form my gourd may grow; and I am exceeding glad of my gourd, even when I quarrel with God" who gives it (Martin). But our best of blessings we do not trace to their heavenly source. We take them unheeding as to whence or where they come. It is a fault of our life, and a chief cause of our ingratitude and lack of love, that God's gifts are treated often as our own gains, and so are godlessly enjoyed. They are understood only when God is seen in them, and rightly used when used as from his hand; but, received with the dry eye of ingratitude, or with the shut eye of insensibility, they are deforced of their Divine element, and to us are God's gifts no longer.
III. HOW GOD CONFERS SOME GIFTS ONLY TO TAKE THEM AWAY AGAIN. (Verse 7) Jonah got his time of the gourd, but it was a short time.. For one day he reclined luxuriously beneath its shadow; the next came the worm, and his shelter was gone. It is so with many comfortable earthly things. God gives them in mercy, and seeing them either inappreciated or idolized, he in further mercy takes them away. They "perish in the using." At best they could only last a lifetime; often they do not last so long. They are flowers that only bloom to wither, mists that melt away as soon as the sun is risen. And, whilst this is true of them as a class, it is specially true of some varieties. "When things come to us in haste, they as hastily part again; when riches come too quickly they quickly take their flight; sudden glories decay suddenly; the fruit which is soonest ripe is found to be soonest rotten" (Abbot). There is in the sudden removal of valued blessings a needful assertion of the Divine control. The things we have are not our own. We hold them at God's pleasure. And he emphasizes this fact occasionally by taking away the thing or the good of it, when we are just settling down for a whole life's enjoyment. Then we make idols of our mercies sometimes. We put the gift into the Giver's place. The most effectual cure for this is to be left without it. Our Father bestows his favours "not with a view to make man happy in the possession of them, but to win upon man, and to allure his heart w himself by his gifts. Abraham's servant did not bestow the jewels of silver and jewels of gold and raiment on Rebekah to make her joyful in a heathen land, but to win her heart to Isaac" (Jones).
IV. CALAMITY SHOWS MEN HOW BADLY THEY COULD DO WITHOUT GOD'S GIFTS. (Verse 8) The withering of the gourd and the rising of the hot sirocco were timed to synchronize. And there was disciplinary value in the adjustment. The loss of a gift becomes a lesson by emphasizing what and how much it means. Had the gourd remained, the heat would have been little felt. Had not the sirocco followed, the withered gourd might never have been missed. The concurrence of the two events and their obvious adjustment to each other reveal the hand of God, and point the lesson of the providence beyond mistaking. So misfortunes often march on us in companies, and support each other. One trial prepares the way of another, and lays bare the breast for its darts to penetrate. The discipline of grace is a lengthened process, and advances stage by stage to its lofty end of lust killed and a transfigured life.
V. FROM OUR ATTITUDE TOWARD OUR LOVED OBJECTS WE MAY ARGUE UP TO GOD'S ATTITUDE TOWARDS HIS. (Verses 10, 11) Our creation in the Divine image involves this, and all parabolic teaching takes it for granted. The soul is a miniature of God. and the order of coming to pass in it is "after God." Hence the unanswerableness of the question with which the parable and the book both close.
1. The things we love are paltry. A gourd against a city, a worthless plant against half a million of immortal souls. Such is a sample of the contrast between the objects of God's Compassion and of ours. May we not argue that the compassion itself in the one case and the other is in still profounder contrast? God's love and mercy have reference to a lost race. Ours, unless in so far as we are God-like, refer to some trifling earthly object. Let the fact be realized, and the lesson is learned—a lesson of admiration and awe, and lowly gratitude and love.
2. We have but a limited interest in the things we prize. The gourd did not belong to Jonah. He "did not make it grow." He got the use of it for a while, but that was all. So the things we have are not our own. They are left with us as a loan, and held as a brief trust. Our attachment to them has no element of ownership in it, and is therefore destitute of a fundamental excellence. But God loves souls as his property and portion, and with a view to the fruition of them through all eternity. His is indeed a sublime affection—a "love which passeth knowledge."
3. We have done but little for them. (Verse 10) "For which thou hast not laboured." We love what costs us something. It is to the sickly child, which has cost her years of anxiety and care, that the mother's heart cleaves in most intense affection. Labour and sacrifice for an object bind us to it by a special tie. Created by our skill and effort, it is our offspring in a sense, and dear accordingly. This tie was absent in the case of Jonah. He had not produced, nor contributed to the production of, the much-lamented gourd. But what had God not done for Nineveh? His were the lives forfeited, his the blessings menaced, his the repentance which led to the reprieve. In pitying Nineveh God was pitying the work of his own hands, an object in which he held, as a vested interest, all that he had done for it and meant to do.
4. They are of brief endurance. "Which came up in a night, and perished in a night." The time element is an important one in all attachments. The longer they have been growing the firmer they are. Jonah's gourd was lost almost as soon as found, and could not have been the object of any settled regard. But Nineveh had been in God's heart since before the world began, and many in it were to be his joy after time had ceased to be. His love had in it the incomparable strength of continuance, an aspect of "the power of an endless life." What an overwhelming argument for acquiescence in the Divine purpose of mercy! And how often, in the giving and taking away again of some form of earthly good, does God press home the argument on men who are quarrelling with his will! My gourd, like Jonah's, may have grown and flourished, "to the end, perhaps, that it may wither and droop and die; and that my heart, untractable, may at last, by losing it, be taught to feel that, if the object which my poor foolish love fastens on be hard to part with, how infinitely wrong in me to desire God to abandon those purposes which his infinitely wise will hath cherished from eternity, and which he hath bound in with and wrapt around my destiny at once to bless and train me!" (Martin).
Learn from this how to conceive of the value of the souls of men. They are the priceless things. God's masterpieces as to their origin, they are unparagoned as to intrinsic excellence; whilst, as to their place and function, they are the crown jewels of Christ, and the objects for which all heaven is a place prepared. Let saint and sinner mark this well To barter away our soul is a transaction which will not profit us, though we "gain the whole world" instead. To love our neighbour as ourself, and in doing so supremely to love his soul, is "more than all whole burnt offerings and sacrifices." To love God supremely is to combine in ideal ratio the love of self and the love of souls. They are the "children of the Highest," whose hearts are the home of such affection, and they have in its presence the fruition of their inheritance begun.—J.E.H.
HOMILIES BY W.G. BLAIKIE
"But it displeased Jonah exceedingly, and he was very angry," etc. This is not a wholly unexpected manifestation of character in Jonah. His was evidently a strange character, full of contradictory elements. A prophet of the Lord, who can yet run away from his work—influenced by high considerations in the main, yet yielding to a low desire for personal comfort—can sleep in a storm while pagans are at prayer—yet susceptible of profound contrition and repentance—frankly owns himself the cause of the storm—had ignominiously consulted for his comfort, but now generously sacrifices his life—in depth of his humiliation becomes wonderfully penitent, trustful, and obedient. Notwithstanding these contradictions, we should, perhaps, hardly have expected another outbreak of his lower nature, after so striking a Divine discipline and subjugation, and so remarkable a display of honesty, courage, self-sacrifice: it is a surprise to find him again quarrelling with God's appointment, discontented, hard, unmerciful, excited and grieved at the respite of Nineveh. There is a certain inconstancy in impulsive natures; there is a desperate activity of the lower propensities; hence our need of Divine guidance, a continual need—alone is able to keep the very best from falling. "Let him that thinketh he standeth take heed lest he fall."
I. JONAH'S DISPLEASURE. (Verse 10) Proposed change of translation, making words to express grief rather than resentment, is hardly called for. Evidently Jonah lost self-control, and gave way to violent excitement. Here is another proof of the honesty of Bible narrative. It gives a faithful picture of human infirmity—"the law of sin in the members warring against the law of the mind." It would be a very untrue representation if faults corrected once, even by God, were represented as subdued forever. The most distressing experience of true Christians is the renewed activity of their infirmities and corruptions even after profound humiliation and true contrition. "Who can understand his errors? cleanse thou me from secret faults. Keep back thy servant also from presumptuous sins; let them not have dominion over me" (Psalms 19:12, Psalms 19:13).
II. REASON ASSIGNED FOR IT. (Verse 2) God too merciful—his mercy on this occasion judged out of place. Jonah's truthfulness as a prophet seemed to be compromised; he was made to appear foolish in the eyes of men—the whole of the painful experience he had gone through shown to be unnecessary; he would have to return home without bringing word to his people of the great catastrophe by which they would have been compelled to regard God's will. Jonah finds confirmation of the thought that had influenced him at first—God too merciful to inflict great judgments; he seems to find a reason for his original rebellion, and, with irreverent honesty, vindicates himself before God. A very great aggravation of his sin, that what he disliked in God was his graciousness to sinners. The mood of mind which Jonah is represented as expressing openly often has a lurking existence, not less mischievous because half concealed. Mercy of God is sometimes thought to be excessive. So thought Jews when Gentiles were to be admitted to Christian Church. Possibly this transaction was designed to foreshadow that event—Jonah's strong feeling a foreshadow of narrow Jewish jealousy. On a wider theatre, man's terrible selfishness is apt to prevail even over all considerations of mercy; for instance, a merchant interested in fall of price of grain is apt to be grieved for good weather and plentiful harvest—the heir of a rich man (possibly of his father) disappointed when he recovers from serious illness—the heart is apt to grieve at the good of a neighbour, especially of a rival—some one has said, "There is something even in the troubles of our friends which is not altogether displeasing to us"—a state of war is sometimes desired because of impulse to be given to certain branches of trade: in all such cases, the aspect of selfishness is simply hideous—men may well shrink from looking at such pictures of themselves—yet such feelings are by no means uncommon. What surprises in case of Jonah is that, after showing himself a very paragon of self-sacrifice, the selfish feeling should have been so strong, and that he should have given such open expression to it.
III. JONAH'S PRAYER. (Verse 3) He asked to be relieved of his life, which had become too burdensome to him. See here the sad prevalence of carnal spirit—no acknowledgment of higher wisdom of God, of the way in which good might be brought by him out of what seemed to Jonah to be evil. See, too, the sinfulness of a despairing spirit in servant of God—not unnatural in men of world—complications and miseries may arise which overwhelm—misery may be too absolute to bear, and every succeeding step may only aggravate it—dreadful condition of human spirit when absolute misery closes upon it, Such should never be the condition of a servant of God while in possession of his reason—sense of Divine providence, and assurance of protection and guidance should repel it—it is unbelieving men that ask, "Is life worth living?" Unbelief and suicide go together. Observe, in Jonah's case, effect of tolerated sin on his spiritual condition—he loses trust in God—does not see how God can save him even from himself—makes no such request, but only asks him to take away his life. Sometimes it seems so impossible to do right, that we are willing to give up all in despair. "If the light that is in thee be darkness, how great is that darkness!"
IV. GOD'S REMONSTRANCE. (Verse 4) Doest thou well to be angry? Oh the gentleness of the Divine method!—Jonah's thoughts are thrown in upon himself—no Divine denunciation, but Jonah made, as it were, judge in his own case, asked to sit over himself and say if his feeling was right. Resemblance of this to the method of our Lord—his way of putting questions, compelling thought, and constraining a just decision. See his method of dealing with Simon the Pharisee (Luke 7:42). Facility with which God may judge us, by making us judges of ourselves. Difference of our actions as regarded by us, and as seen from God's point of view. It is from God's point of view their criminality is most clearly shown. Hence the sense of unworthiness we feel when we bend the knee, and pour out our spirit before God at night. The actions that at the time seemed right enough assume aspect of sin when looked at, as it were, with God's eyes. In the present case no such effect was made on Jonah; he himself comes before God in sullen, selfish spirit. Even God's question does not subdue him. Summing up the sins of Jonah's spirit in this transaction, we notice:
1. His limiting God. There was but one way, in his view, in which the right thing could be done. Nineveh must be destroyed. To that he had made up his mind, and his whole moral nature was shaken when it appeared that God had another way.
2. His refusing to believe in the efficacy of Divine forbearance. Rough methods of dealing alone are believed in by many—slaves treated with fearful violence—the terrors of the Inquisition brought down on heretics—offence of many at the clemency of Lord Canning after Indian Mutiny—Ireland must be scourged with fire and sword—scoundrels, said Carlyle, must suffer the unmitigated doom of scoundrels. God's methods more merciful—he seeks to win, to humble, to reclaim, to convert.
3. His readiness to sacrifice a vast community to carry out his own idea. His want of regard for human life—a common feeling of the time—in Jonah's view all that vast mass of life was not to be considered, provided a blow was struck that would vindicate his authority, and impress his people.
4. Impatience of spirit, giving birth to rash desires and prayers. Loss of self-control is a very humiliating experience in one who desires to be a servant of God. "He that ruleth his spirit is better than he that taketh a city" (Proverbs 16:32). But "he that hath no rule over his own spirit is like a city that is broken down, and without walls" (Proverbs 25:28). How unlike Jonah was now to what he had been before!—W.G.B.
God's remonstrance with Jonah.
"So Jonah went out of the city, and sat on the east side of the city, end there made him a booth, and sat under it in the shadow, till he might see what would become of the city," etc. Jonah appears to have gone out of the city and taken up his abode in the booth before he knew that Nineveh was to be spared. As Noah entered the ark before the Flood came, and waited for the moment when the judgment of Heaven would verify the warnings of a hundred and twenty years, so Jonah entered his booth before the expiry of the forty days, and waited the moment when the judgment of Heaven would verify his warning. We can imagine him speculating on the form the judgment would take: "what would become of the city"—whether it would perish as Sodom and Gomorrah perished, or as the Tower of Babel, or as the walls of Jericho had fallen down in presence of the ark. That something was to happen he appears not to have had the slightest doubt; this may account for his mortification when he found that, after all, the city was to be spared. The revulsion of feeling after his mind had been wound up to the highest pitch of expectation, and the sense of having been befooled before men, may explain the vehemence of his feeling. In rebuking Jonah it pleased God to do so by means of an acted parable—the parable of the gourd.
I. THE GOURD (or Palma Christi, palmcrist, as some suppose) PREPARED. (Verse 6) Further indication how God is Lord of the whole earth and all therein. This book shows God controlling things inorganic (winds and waves, Jonah 1:1-17; and the east wind, Jonah 4:8); vegetables (the gourd); things fortuitous (the lot); animals (the great fish); reptiles (the worm); also men, both Jonah and the Ninevites. The great object, both of the transactions themselves and of this record of them, is to vindicate the universal sovereignty of God, both natural and moral. The gourd partly natural, partly supernatural; God's purpose in it was to deliver Jonah from his grief. So far as supernatural, a pleasant token that God had not forsaken him. Natural effect to ward off sun, cool the air, prevent feverish irritation, keep mind and body calm and cool. Jonah probably suffered much before it grew up, but would feel immediate relief when it came. Learn herein God's ability to effect important results by simple means-influence of mind on body, and body on mind: "Jonah was exceeding glad of the gourd."
II. THE GOURD DESTROYED. (Verse 7) Again, an important result due to a trifling cause—a worm. Figuratively and spiritually, "the worm Jacob threshing mountains" (Isaiah 41:15). Apparent collisions and contradictions in nature—one force seems to destroy what another creates—as if there were a Siva as well as a Brahma—in the plan of God all work together—it was alike of God to prepare the gourd and to destroy it—the purposes of Divine discipline often require opposite influences at different times, but all are to be regarded as parts of a gracious plan: "I will sing of mercy and of judgment" (Psalms 101:1); "All things are yours, whether the world, or life, or death, or things present, or things to come" (1 Corinthians 3:22).
III. JONAH'S VEXATION. (Verse. 8) Aggravation of his uneasiness by the vehement east wind—whatever comfort of mind might have come through the remarkable origin of the gourd was counteracted by this wind, which seemed a token of God's displeasure—combined distress of body .and mind in Jonah—impulsiveness of his nature again apparent contrast between his two faintings—at Jonah 2:7, "when my soul fainted within me, I remembered the Lord;" here "he fainted, and wished in himself to die"—Jonah his own reprover. The great lesson—we should sit loose to creature comforts, like the gourd—thankful for them while we have them, not repining, and, above all, not despairing, when we lose them. Habakkuk's spirit the model, "Although the fig tree shall not blossom," etc. (Habakkuk 3:17)—Jonah walked by sight, not by faith; he should have said, "When heart and flesh faint and fail, God is the Strength of my heart, and my Portion forevermore."
"But O, thou bounteous Giver of all good,
Thou art of all thy gifts thyself the sum!
Give what thou mayst, without thee we are poor,
And with thee rich, take what thou wilt away."
"It is impossible to help 'moralizing' on the worm and the gourd They are felt inwardly to be emblems, too faithful, of the swift-coursing, closely linked joy and sorrow of this mortal life. The fine plant, leafy green, type of our comforts, successes, joys. The single day of shade it furnished to the heated prophet … transiency of our pleasure. The worm … a small and mean creature, may be a very formidable enemy. The place of its operations probably under the soil … agents unknown to us may smite in secret the sources of prosperity. The time—morning—human helps and hopes often wither at any season when most needed. Utter loss …warning not to set our affections on anything which can be utterly lost … The preparation, indicating how God orders trials for our good" (Raleigh abridged). "Is it not a blessing when the gourds wither? Is it not a mercy in God to sweep them away, even though the heart should be half broken by the loss?… Many will bless God forever because their gourds were withered. Had the gourd not withered, the soul would not have been saved; and the withering of the gourd therefore makes the anthem of the saved the louder" (Tweedie, 'Man by Nature and by Grace').
IV. GOD'S REMONSTRANCES. (Verse 9) Repetition of an old question, and, as before, without evoking a suitable answer. We may note man's self-justifying tendency—especially tendency to excuse passion; excitement of passion is sometimes so great that even a question from God fails to convict—Jonah's mood is so completely self-justifying, that he justifies his wish to die—as if his suffering was really beyond what could be borne. Observe the unbecoming attitude and spirit before God; the true attitude . sinners is that in Romans 3:19, "that every mouth might be stopped, and all the world become guilty before God." Silence is the true condition of the sinner, as far as justifying pleas concerned; or, when silence is broken, such words as the publican's, "God be merciful to me a sinner."
V. DIVINE APPLICATION OF THE GOURD HISTORY. (Romans 3:10, Romans 3:11) Unexpected, yet felicitous, adaptation of the physical to the moral—light thrown on a dark providence—a foreshadow of revelations of many enigmas of providence yet to come. The argument is ad hominem: If Jonah would have spared his gourd, why should God not spare Nineveh? It is also a fortiori: If the fate of the gourd, a perishing and trifling thing, was an object of concern to Jonah, much more must the fate of such a city as Nineveh be an object of concern to God. Observe the force of the how much more—the numbers so different—the relative endurance of the two objects—the labour bestowed on them—the one sensitive beings, the other not. The special reason for sparing Nineveh; it contained more than a hundred and twenty thousand infants, and also much cattle. God's regard for children is here set forth—in these Eastern countries lives of children were little thought of—infanticide was common—in some countries (Moab, etc) children were made to pass through the fire to their gods—massacres of children common (Judges 9:5; 2 Kings 2:1)—their lives precious in eyes of God, even though pagan and uncircumcised—a foreshadow of the gospel view: "of such is the kingdom of heaven"—children may peradventure ward off great calamities—children in great cities are often neglected—immense proportion of deaths occurs under the age of five—mostly due to preventible causes—hence sanitary reform becomes a great duty—laws of healthy upbringing of children are most important—spiritual and moral oversight not less so—the New Testament rule is, Bring them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord." God's regard for cattle—he likes to see them enjoying life—shrinks from what needlessly entails or destroys it—thoughtless and needless infliction of suffering and death on animals is a great sin in God's eye. The prophet is silenced now—he opens not his mouth.
The narrative ends somewhat abruptly; but leaves two great truths full in view—the littleness of man; the greatness of God. The littleness even of a good man, one who in his deliberate judgment and inmost soul honoured God, and sought to serve him, but was very excitable, and could not subdue the poor impulses of the lower part of his nature. The greatness of God, Lord of the earth and the sea, caring for his creatures, not willing that they should perish, but that they should be saved. Especially the greatness of God in clemency, compassion, sparing mercy; for the very attributes that Jonah depreciated are as real as they are noble: "a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger, and of great kindness, and repeutest thee of the evil." This is emphatically the gospel aspect of God's character: "just, and the Justifier of him that believeth in Jesus"—rich in mercy and great in love, sending his Son into the world, "that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but should bare everlasting life." Let us cherish the view of the Divine character that Jonah disparaged; it is the only hope lot us sinners. And again let us remember how the men of Nineveh have not passed entirely off the scene, for, as our Lord said, "The men of Nineveh shall rise up in judgment against the men of this generation, and shall condemn them; for they repented at the preaching of Jonah; and, behold, a greater than Jonah is here."—W.G.B.
HOMILIES BY G.T. COSTER
There "sat" Jonah, watching, displeased with the Ninevites' preservation, grieved at the gentle dealings of their Preserver. And God's only rebuke of him was the gentle question, "Doest thou well to be angry?" In his mood and conduct let us read our own.
I. OUR DISPLEASURE. Have we never been displeased with God's ways? It may have been as patriots. It is easy to be resigned to judgments that come upon our country's enemies. We must beware—beware lest we encourage in ourselves the belief that the great work of God among nations today is to do all for the glory of England. Jonah was displeased that his country's enemies should be spared. Yet God spared them. In our own personal history have we never been displeased with God?—displeased that prosperity has been denied us, who could so wisely have used it? displeased that losses and afflictions have impoverished us, when they seemed so much more needed by others who have been free from them? displeased to lose our one child, when in other homes the many are spared? displeased, it may be, that even the one has been denied us? Have we never charged God foolishly?
II. OUR GRIEF. Jonah was "very grieved" that the Ninevites should be spared. Better, he deemed, that. they should perish. Better for Israel thus to be quit of an enemy. Better for God, as thus vindicating his righteousness. Better for Jonah himself—thus accredited as a prophet of truth. Grieved; but what is he doing with his memory? He, such a sinner against the light, had been spared; then why not these repentant heathen? Ungrateful Jonah! But why wonder at him? Have we not forgotten the Divine goodness? Have we not been grieved at God's dealings? Even in his work how thwarted! How little credit do we get to what we expected! And the work does not prosper in our way. Have we never been grieved, angry, with God?—that that great and good man should be taken away in the midst of his days? that that youth of high promise should be cut down when the bright bud was just showing the brilliant flower? that God's work, where most successful, should be threatened with hindrance and be hindered? that our work for him should be obstructed, and we get so little commendation for it when we had deemed we deserved it so much? Grieved—and therein the evil—by regarding God as at fault.
III. OUR WAYWARD PRAYER. Jonah longed to die. His work seemed to fail because Nineveh was spared. Fail? No; it was a transcendently glorious success. A sublime and ever memorable proof of the Divine mercy. An abiding encouragement to all coming workers for God. So our work, when we count it a failure, may in God's eyes be "not in vain." How we bear ourselves in severe trials of faith will show what spirit and character we are of. Let no wayward prayer be ours. In our peevishness and distrust and vexation God says, "Doest thou well to be angry?" He is ever right, His way is perfect. "Consider Jesus, lest ye be wearied and faint in your minds." What is our grief to his?
"O brothers, let us leave the shame and sin
Of taking vainly, in a plaintive mood,
The holy name of grief!—holy herein,
That, by the grief of One, came all our good."
As with him so with us—the way of the cross is the way to the crown.—G.T.C.
Jonah and the gourd.
Welcome was the broad shadow of the gourd rising round the booth and above it! The great glare in subdued green light streamed through the leaves to the calmed and cooled and comforted prophet. Just now he wished to die. Now he was willing to live—"exceeding glad of the gourd." Short-lived was his gladness. Worm-smitten, the gourd withered. A day of beauty and value, and then the end of it. And now, unsheltered by the plant, exposed to branding sun and burning wind, Jonah longed again to die. Note here: Divine discipline. The gourd, worm, wind, divinely sent, have each a ministry for the prophet. He needs correction if he is to amend. They are to teach him. But such is the Divine pitifulness that there comes—
I. THE LESSON OF REFRESHMENT. There was sent the gourd "to deliver him from his grief." He needed a shadow. It was given, and the plant shielded him from the oppressive, life-exhausting heat. The gloom of his mind had been increased by the heat of the booth; the outer had aggravated the inner weariness. In the coolness of the gourd he was calmed and soothed. The mind affects the body, and the body the mind. "Heaviest the heart is in a heavy air." Much mental and even spiritual depression must be put to the account of physical causes. Jonah sheltered was cheered and refreshed; gloom became gladness. Did he rejoice in the gourd? How, then, must God rejoice to spare his human creatures! And did Jonah meanwhile, "glad of the gourd," with, we may hope, thankfulness to God for it, think that after all God was favourable to his bitter longing for the punishment if not utter destruction of Nineveh though repentant? If so, he thought wrongly. Outward prosperity is no proof of the Divine approval. In doing wrong, in feeling wrong, all may seem to go well with us; still, it is none the less wrong. Are we in accordance with Divine truth and righteousness—our will in harmony with the Divine? Then all providences are in reality friendly, and "even the night is light about us."
II. THE LESSON OF BEREAVEMENT. Did Jonah pity, miss, and mourn for the gourd? Shall not God have pity on the myriads in Nineveh? That was the lesson of his loss to the prophet. But how reluctant to learn it! We may be bereaved of our strength, competence, loved ones. Ah! how God is bereaved! "Shall a man rob God?" What multitudes do—of their love, loyalty, service! He appeals to each. "How can I give thee up?" he says. He may take away his gifts. It is the more fully to give us himself. All earthly gourds will wither. But for all who will, there is an abiding shelter from every storm; a living shelter—Christ, in him, though the tempests come of sorrow, bereavement, death, we have peace, safety, and eternal life.—G.T.C.
Jonah 4:10, Jonah 4:11
An argument from human pity to Divine mercy.
Jonah is met on his own ground. From his human compassion comes the irresistible enforcement of the argument for the Divine mercy. Mark the contrasts.
I. PITY ON THE GOURD; PITY ON NINEVEH. Useful had been the gourd to Jonah. It had made life tolerable; it had gladdened him. He had saddened to see it wither, sorrowed to see it dead. He had pity on it; his pity would have spared it. Nor was he wrong. It is well to be unwilling to see aught that has cheered us perish. But if he was right in his desire to spare that plant, "should not I spare Nineveh?" asked God. Should a plant be more than a great city? God's great thought is upon men. How the Divine pity moved over repentant Nineveh! How the blessed Redeemer longed to save Jerusalem! On his last visit, with what other eyes than those of his disciples did he look upon it!
"They shout for joy of heart,
But he the King, looks on as one in grief;
To heart o'erburdened weeping brings relief,
The unbidden tear drops start."
II. PITY ON THE SHORT-LIVED GOURD; PITY ON THE NINEVITES, IMMORTAL CREATURES. That gourd had but the life of a day. Then "the grace of the fashion of it perished." So frail! But look at those multitudes in Nineveh. Few there had so brief a life as the gourd. And all of them were heirs of immortality, passing to an eternal destiny. How the human transcends all lower forms of life! Did Jonah pity the short-lived plant? Shall not God pity the ever-living multitude in the city?
III. PITY ON THE GOURD THAT HAD COST JONAH NOTHING; PITY ON THE VAST POPULATION THAT GOD HAD MADE AND UPHELD. The gourd "came up over" Jonah; unsought, unhelped by him—curse to him. He brought it not; he kept it not in life. He had done nothing for it, yet how he mourned its decay! Mark the principle implied in this contrast! This—that we show our value of a thing by the labour we expend upon it. This also—that our sense of the value of a thing, our love to it, grows in proportion to our labour for it. How much God had done for the Ninevites! They were all his creatures. If he had not "laboured for" them, he had made them. He was the Fountain of their life. They lived because he held them in life. He could not lightly let them perish; he was their Maker. Jonah had "not made" the gourd to "grow." But God had made the Ninevites to grow; had built them in strength, fed, clothed, preserved them. And, as with us, the more we do for another, the more we love him; so with God and those Ninevites. They were dear to him, and ever dearer because of what he had done for them.
IV. PITY ON THE ONE PLANT; PITY ON THE MANY-PEOPLED CITY. One plant called Gut Jonah's yearning tenderness. But what was that to a man?—a man made in God's image, "endued with sanctity of reason," dowered with immortality? A man? Here was a city full of men. God knew the number. But in this plea he only gives the number of the children. They in their helplessness and innocence were pleas with him for the preservation of the city. Beautiful, effectual priesthood of children! They are unconscious yet mighty intercessors for us. One hundred and twenty thousand of them are in Nineveh. That is a reason why God should spare it. Better that they should live than die. Heaven, to one who has known God's grace and accepted it, temptation and overcome it, who has "served his generation," will be a nobler world than to an infant caught in his unconsciousness to its unexpected bliss. "And much cattle." Not an animal in Nineveh but is worth more than the gourd. Man's Maker is its Maker. And he who made man made it for man. The very cattle are a plea for the preservation of the city.
Conclusive, unanswerable appeal! Jonah, so ready with his replies, is now speechless. He saw that God's way was right. Let our pity to things and persons remind us of God's mercy. A mercy almighty and "to everlasting." A mercy revealed in Christ. A mercy to be accepted. If not, if rejected, if trifled with till life is trifled away—where, where can we look? There is one Saviour, and no other!—G.T.C.
The unconscious priesthood of children.
The Ninevite little ones effectually, though unwittingly, interceded with God for the preservation of Nineveh. And are not little children still unconscious intercessors with God?
1. By their innocence. They have not sinned after the similitude of Adam's transgression.
2. By their dependence. Their dependence on God makes them the dearer to God; their dependence on their parents makes their parents the dearer to him.
5. By their undeveloped moral possibilities. What a work in the earth they may do for God! "I heard the voice of the Lord, saying, Whom shall I send, and who will go for us? Then said"—Ninevite babe and suckling—"spare me, teach me," and then in the future "send me."—G.T.C.
God's consideration for animals. The "much cattle" in Nineveh a plea with God for the preservation of the city. And still, be animals where they may:
1. God has made them.
2. He preserves them. "His full hand supplies their need."
3. He dowers them with beauty, or swiftness, or strength, with sensibility and sagacity.
4. He makes them of varied serviceableness to man, and has given man authority over them. "Thou madest him to have dominion over all sheep and oxen; yea, and the beasts of the field."
5. "He regardeth the life of the beast;" complacently, in their "lower pleasures;" pitifully, in their "lower pains;" constantly and minutely, "not one falleth on the ground" without him.
6. He would have them preserved from cruelty and needless destruction (Exodus 9:19).
7. It is God-like to care for the lower animals.
"He prayeth well who loveth well
Both man, and bird, and beast.
He prayeth best who loveth best
All things both great and small;
For the dear God, who loveth us,
He made and loveth all."
HOMILIES BY A. ROWLAND
The gourd, the worm, and the east wind.
Jonah was not faultless after his prayer and penitence. He undertook his work, and boldly proclaimed his message in Nineveh. His success was beyond expectation. The whole city was moved, and all the inhabitants fasted, repented, and prayed. And in the mercy which is ever his delight, God averted the threatened disaster. "But it displeased Jonah exceedingly, and he was very angry." He was indignant that his message should appear to be unfulfilled, and angry when he found that he had been the means of saving from destruction the most dangerous foes of his own country. Any one who reads the history of Europe at the beginning of this century will understand this feeling. It was with an awful sense of dread that our grandfathers heard that Napoleon had swept into Russia at the head of six hundred and fifty-seven thousand veterans, expecting to return flushed with victory to complete his work of devastation. When the news came that of all that great host only eighty-five thousand men had escaped from the horrors of war and frost and famine, a jubilant shout of thanksgiving went up to Heaven, led by the Christian Church! Sinful though Jonah's feeling was, it was not unnatural, and he sat himself down within view of the city, hoping and praying that at least some smaller disaster would befall it. Our text shows how graciously God sought to bring him to a better state of mind. The withering of the gourd, like the withering of the fig tree, was intended to be an epitome of human experience. Let us learn from it—
I. THAT ALL OUR EARTHLY COMFORTS ARE OF GOD'S PROVIDING. When Jonah set himself to watch what would become of the city, he made for his shelter a booth, formed of the interlaced branches of trees, which imperfectly kept off the heat of the sun. And God prepared a gourd, whose broad leaves spread over the booth till good protection was given from the scorching heat, which even seasoned Arabs dared not brave; and Jonah was exceeding glad of it. There was never more danger than there is now of the non-recognition of God's hand in nature and in history. The clearness with which we see natural phenomena tends to make less credible what is only spiritually discerned. But happy is the man who finds every blessing sweetened to him by the thought, "God gave me this." The great purpose of all his dealings with us is to bring us to thought about himself. Sometimes he turns us back to duty, as Jonah was turned, by a storm; and sometimes he brings us back to a right mind, as Jonah was brought, by a blessing—strangely coming, and then as strangely going.
II. THAT OUR EARTHLY BLESSINGS ARE OF SHORT DURATION. Their brevity is as much God's appointment as their existence. Notice the emphatic declarations in our text: "The Lord prepared a gourd;" "The Lord prepared a worm;" "The Lord prepared a vehement east wind." In other words, the blessing and the cause of its removal both emanated from him.
1. The gourd withered when Jonah reckoned most confidently on enjoying it. It is so with our blessings too. Examples: The wealth amassed with such difficulty seems secure at last, but unexpectedly it vanishes. The child nursed through all the perils of a weakly childhood dies in the fulness of manhood's strength, etc.
2. The gourd withered from a small and secret cause. A worm at the root killed it. Little things, preventible things, as we think them, often cause our losses. We may be ruined by some one we never saw, and of whom we never heard. A noble reputation may be blasted by a silly slander. Yet there is no awful fate blindly striking hither and thither; there is no hostile power supreme over human events. Of every loss we may say, "The Lord gave, and the Lord hath taken away; blessed be the Name of the Lord."
III. THAT TROUBLES SELDOM COME ALONE. It was bad enough to lose the shelter of the gourd, but it was worse to find a vehement east wind springing up just after it withered—not one like ours, cutting in its keenness, but one singularly depressing and relaxing in its effects. It came over the burning desert sands; it drank up fire by the way; it dried the skin, and filled the pores with dust, and beat upon the wayfarer like the blast of a furnace. Jonah found it the more unbearable because his shelter was gone. Sorrow comes on sorrow—financial anxiety, domestic bereavement, impaired health, unexpected loss, following each other till our souls are overwhelmed. But God is patient with us, in spite of our angry thoughts; he pities our passionate weeping, and waits till we can say with him who in his agony prayed yet more earnestly, "Thy will, not mine, be done."
CONCLUSION. While Jonah was pitying the gourd whose beautiful leaves were withered, and was grieving over the loss of its shade, God pointed him from it to Nineveh, and said, "If you sorrow over this, how much more do I sorrow over that? You have not laboured for this gourd, but I have laboured for that city. The gourd could never be worth much, but what might not Nineveh be if only its people were redeemed from sin?" Thus would he point us from the contemplation of life's sadness to the contemplation of its sin. He would remind us that as we would sacrifice anything to save the life of one we love, so he has given his only Son to save us from sin and death eternal.—A.R.
HOMILIES BY D. THOMAS
Emblems of man's earthly good, and God's disciplinary procedure.
"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," etc. I shall use these verses as presenting an emblem of man's earthly good, and an emblem of God's disciplinary procedure.
I. AS AN EMBLEM OF MAN'S EARTHLY GOOD. I take the "gourd" to represent this. What this plant was, whether it was, as some suppose, a kind of cucumber, which sprang swiftly from the soil, and covered the booth which Jonah had reared and under which he sat, or a kind of ivy that crept up and overshadowed his dwelling, or some plant of more rapid growth and more luxuriant foliage, it matters not. We are told the Lord "prepared" it. It was some indigenous plant, characterized by a speedy growth and abundant leafage, and whose growth, perhaps, was stimulated by a Divine infusion of an unusual amount of vegetative force. It was a great blessing at the time to Jonah. It screened him from the rays of the Oriental sun, and refreshed his sight with its verdure. And it is said that "Jonah was exceeding glad of the gourd." He felt that it was good. Now, this gourd was like man's earthly good in three aspects—in its development, its decay, and destruction.
1. In its development.
(1) It came out of the earth. The gourd was not a plant sent down directly from heaven. It grew out of the soil. So with all our worldly good. From the earth come all our granaries, our wardrobes, our houses, and all that blesses our material existence. It is all out of the earth.
(2) It came out of the earth by Divine agency. It was not the less a Divine gift because it seemed to grow in a natural way. God produced it. He "prepared" it. All the earthly good we possess, even that for which we have laboured with the greatest skill and persistent industry, is the gift of God. He it is that gives us our daily bread, and that furnishes us with food and raiment.
2. In its decay. "But God prepared a worm when the morning rose the next day, and it smote the gourd that it withered." Not long, perhaps only a few hours, had the gourd spread its shady and refreshing influence over Jonah's dwelling place before the worm began to gnaw at its vitals and soon smote it. Mark the decaying agent, a "worm."
(1) How mean! It was not some huge quadruped of the wild, or some royal bird from the craggy cliffs or towering forests, but a worm. The work of destruction is very easy. We are crushed "before the moth."
(2) How prompt! Decay commenced at once. "When the morning rose the next day" it had done its work. The worm of decay begins its work with the commencement of our earthly good. It gnaws at the foundation of mansions as soon as they are built, at friendships as soon as they are formed, at life as soon as it begins. "As soon as we begin to live we all begin to die." This worm of decay is working everywhere.
(3) How secret! It works unseen, underground. It gnaws at the vital roots. It is an unseen agent. Who sees the worm that strips the trees in autumn, that steals strength from the strongest animal, and gnaws away the life of the youngest? Verily man and all his earthly good is being "destroyed from morning to evening."
3. In its destruction. "God prepared a vehement east wind; and the sun beat upon the head of Jonah, that he fainted, and wished in himself to die." "This wind," says an old expositor, "was not as a fan to abate the heat, but as a bellows to make it more intense." It may be that this vehement east wind was that terrible simoom which was common in that land, and which smote the four corners of the house in which Job's children were. How desolate is the prophet now! The burning beams of the sun are beating on his head. His booth is destroyed, his gourd is withered to the roots, and the east wind like a breath of fire is drying up the current of life. His existence became intolerable. He wished in himself to die. Here, then, is a picture of our earthly good. However abundant in its nature and delicious in its enjoyment, like this gourd it must go from us. The worm will gnaw out its existence and the east wind will utterly destroy it, and when it is gone and we are stripped of everything but sheer existence, unless Christ is formed in us the Hope of glory, our life will be intolerable, and we shall seek for death as our only relief.
II. AS AN EMBLEM OF GOD'S DISCIPLINARY PROCEDURE. The Eternal, in order to get Jonah into a right state of mind, employs a variety of agency. It is suggested:
1. That God disciplines man by facts. Precepts and theories are powerless in the human soul compared with actual facts. "I have heard of thee," says Job, "by the hearing of the ear, but now mine eye seeth thee." Nature is a system of facts. Human life is an experience of facts, the Bible is a record of facts, and by facts God disciplines the human soul. The gourd was a fact, the worm was a fact, the east wind was a fact, and these facts went down to the centre of Jonah's soul.
2. That these facts are varied in their character. Here was the pleasant and the painful. The gourd, how pleasant! the simoom and burning sun, how painful! So now God employs the pleasurable and the painful to discipline our souls to virtue. He employs the small and the great. Here was the insignificant worm and vehement wind. "Lo, all these things worketh God oftentimes with man, to bring back his soul from the pit, to be enlightened with the light of the living" (Job 33:29, Job 33:30).
3. That these facts are adapted to their end. Jonah did not wish that mercy should be shown to the Ninevites. He desired their destruction. This was his state of mind, and a bad state of mind it was, and God dealt with it by giving him a lesson in personal suffering. He taught him what suffering was.
1. Let us not trust in earthly good. It is but a mere gourd. It must wither and rot. "All flesh is grass." Trust in righteousness. "Trust in him that liveth forever."
2. Let us improve under the disciplinary influences of Heaven. Life is a moral school, a school in which the great Father seeks to make his children meet for the "inheritance of the saints in light."—D.T.
God reasoning with man.
"And God said to Jonah, Doest thou well to be angry for the gourd?" etc. The whole Book of Jonah develops at least the following truths:
1. That the regard of Heaven, even under the old dispensation, was not confined to the Jews. Jonah was sent to Nineveh, a city far away from Judea, whose population had neither kinship nor sympathy with the Jewish people. It is represented as a bloody city, full of lies and robbery, its ferocious violence to captives is portrayed in its own monuments. The opinion that once prevailed very extensively in the Christian world, and which still prevails to a certain extent, that the Eternal Father confined his interest and communications entirely to the descendants of Abraham, is without foundation; Nineveh, Egypt, and Babylon were as dear to him as Jerusalem. He revealed himself to Pharaoh as well as to Moses, and to Nebuchadnezzar as well as to Daniel.
2. That wickedness, if persisted in, must end in ruin. "Arise," says Jehovah to Jonah, "go... to Nineveh, and cry against it; for their wickedness is come up before me." And because of its wickedness it was on the verge of destruction. So it ever is, sin leads to ruin. "The wages of sin is death."
3. That true repentance will rescue a people from their threatened doom. Though the ruin of Nineveh seemed all but settled to take place in about forty days, yet because it repented the terrible doom was averted. "When God saw their works, that they had repented of their evil ways, he repented of the evil he said he would do unto them; and he did it not" (Jonah 3:10). It is ever so. "Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts: and let him return unto the Lord, and he will have mercy upon him; and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon." Amongst the many remarkable and suggestive passages in this book, not the least striking and significant is that which I have now selected for meditation. I shall employ it to illustrate the amazing interest God takes in mankind. This is seen—
I. IN HIS REASONING WITH A MAN WHO IS IN A BAD TEMPER. That the "High and Holy One that inhabiteth eternity" should notice individual man at all is a condescension transcending our conceptions, but that he should now enter into an argument with one who is under the influence of a bad temper is still more marvellous. Jonah was "angry," and the intensity of his anger became so intolerable that he wished to die. "Therefore now, O Lord, take my life, I beseech thee; for it is better to die than to live." Why was he angry?
1. Because of the Divine compassion shown to the Ninevites. Jonah had proclaimed their destruction in forty days, and fully perhaps did he expect that the truthfulness of his word would be attested by the fact. But the forty days passed away, and no thunderbolt of destruction came; it was preserved, and preserved by God because it repented. It seems that he would sooner have seen Nineveh in ruins than have had his word falsified before the people. His vanity was wounded. He thought more of his own reputation than of the lives of a teeming population. "Doest thou well to be angry?" The question implies a negative. "No; thou doest ill; thine anger is a sinful anger." There is a righteous anger; hence we are commanded to "be angry and sin not." Indignation against falsehood and meanness and selfishness and impiety is a holy passion—a passion that must often flame out in all pure hearts in passing through a world of corruption like this. This, however, was not the anger of Jonah; his anger implied vanity, heartlessness, and irreverence.
2. Because of the loss of a temporal blessing. The gourd that grew up in a night and mantled his tent with its luxurious leafage, thus sheltering him from the rays of the burning sun, was felt by him one of his greatest temporal blessings. "He was exceeding glad of the gourd." That was now taken from him, the worm gnawed it to death, and as the hot simoom rushed at him, and the rays of the burning sun beat upon his head, he deeply felt its loss, and he was angry; he was angry with God for depriving him of this blessing. He was thus angry with the Almighty for showing compassion to the Ninevites, and also for depriving him of this temporal blessing. His anger seems to have been not a passing emotion, not a momentary flame, but a fire that rendered his life unbearable. "Let me die," he says. The passions of the soul have often extinguished the natural love of life and snapped the mystic cord that unites the body to the soul. Now, is it not wonderful that the great God should condescend to reason with a man in such a state of mind? Man is wont either to shun the individual who is indignant with him, or to hurl anathemas at his head. Not so the Infinite Father. Calmly and lovingly he reasons with his indignant enemy. "Come now, and let us reason together, saith the Lord: though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow."
II. IN HIS REASONING WITH A MAN WHO IS IN A BAD TEMPER IN ORDER TO IMPRESS HIM WITH THE REALITY OF HIS COMPASSION. "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: and should not I spare Nineveh, that great city, wherein are more than six score thousand persons that cannot discern between their right hand and their left hand; and also much cattle?" The Almighty here argues from Jonah's pity for the gourd—the plant—to his compassion for Nineveh. The argument is from the less to the greater. If you, Jonah, feel pity for that mere vegetable production which you had for a few hours only, and which you yourself did not produce, conceive of my compassion for the inhabitants of Nineveh. The comparison here implied between the plant and Nineveh may be expressed in three questions.
1. What if this one plant to the men that inhabit Ninevah? What is the grandest production in the vegetable world, the most stately and symmetrical tree towering as the king of the forest, to one human being? The tree is the production of the earth, cannot think of its Creator, cannot itself alter its own position, is the mere creature of external influences, and must exhaust itself by its own growth; but man is the offspring of the Infinite, capable of tracing his existence to its Source, having the power to move as he pleases, and endowed with powers inexhaustible, and ever-increasing development! But if a plant is nothing to one man, what is it to the thousands of men that are found in Nineveh? You, Jonah, would have spared the one plant: shall not I spare the million of men?
2. What is this one plant even to the unconscious infants in Nineveh? "Wherein are more than six score thousand persons that cannot discern between their right band and their left hand." What is one plant to a hundred and twenty thousand unconscious infants? Out of those infants will grow sages, poets, saints, kings and priests unto God. What men, in visiting cities, concern themselves with the babes that breathe therein? And yet the purest, divinest, most influential portion of the population are the babes. The great Father regards the infant population. His blessed Son, when here, took babes in his arms, and said, "Of such is the kingdom of heaven." Even one babe is of more worth in the universe than the whole vegetable kingdom.
3. What is one plant to even the irrational creatures in Nineveh? "Also much cattle." Though the cattle are below children in the scale of being, they are greater than plants. They are endowed with sensibilities; they have locomotive powers; and for their use the vegetable kingdom exists. God has an interest in the brute creation. "He openeth his liberal hand, and supplies the need of every living thing." He feeds the cattle on the hills, makes provision for the finny tribes of ocean, feeds the fowls of heaven, and prepares nourishment even for the world of microscopic existences. If God thus regards those creatures, with what kindness should we treat them, taking care that they suffer not, either from want of food or the cruelty of man! Such is a brief and imperfect sketch of the argument here employed to impress Jonah with God's compassion for Nineveh. To use the language of another, "It is very beautiful; if you linger over it, planting your feet in the steps of it, touching the several links of it as you pass along, you will say it is beautiful. The skilfulness with which it is introduced, the forbearance with which it is conducted, the condescending regard to the prophets infirmities, the recognition of human excellence, the delicate allusions, the precious truths hidden in them, the accumulation of force as the argument goes on, the comprehensive linking of the different worlds of life to each other—plants, animals, infants, men—the easy transition from one to another, the abruptness of the close, too, indicating in its own way the completeness of the triumph,—all these proclaim the argument Divine."
CONCLUSION. What subject is more suited to cheer and sustain our hearts amid the somewhat saddening associations connected, for instance, with the closing of the year, than the truth that the great God is lovingly interested in mankind? Every year as it passes bears away objects once most dear, the companions of our youth, and the dear friends of our riper years. And how dark, dreary, and depressed we might feel without the assurance that amidst all these changes and bereavements the great Father lives on, and feels the deepest and most vital interest in our weal I Though years, as they roll on, take away from us, and from our world, those whom we have known and loved, the great Father continues here. He has not withdrawn from the world and left it in an orphan state, dreary and desolate. He is here—here with every human being, here reasoning with the thoughtless, enlightening the ignorant, consoling the sad, strengthening the weak, guiding the perplexed, restoring the lost.
"God liveth ever!
Wherefore, soul, despair thou never!
What though thou tread with bleeding feet
A thorny path of grief and gloom,
Thy God will choose the way most meet
To lead thee heavenward, to lead thee home;
For this life's long night of sadness
He will give thee peace and gladness.
Soul, forget not in thy pains,
God o'er all forever reigns."
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Exell, Joseph S; Spence-Jones, Henry Donald Maurice. "Commentary on Jonah 4". The Pulpit Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
the Third Week after Epiphany