Lectionary Calendar
Friday, June 21st, 2024
the Week of Proper 6 / Ordinary 11
StudyLight.org has pledged to help build churches in Uganda. Help us with that pledge and support pastors in the heart of Africa.
Click here to join the effort!

Bible Commentaries
Jonah 4

Utley's You Can Understand the BibleUtley Commentary


Jonah 4:0


Jonah's Anger and God's KindnessJonah's Second Call to Preach to Nineveh(Jonah 3:1-11)Jonah's Anger and God's MercyThe Grievance of the Prophet and God's Answer
Jonah 4:1-4Jonah 4:1-5Jonah 4:1-3Jonah 4:1-4
Jonah 4:4
Jonah 4:5-8Jonah 4:5-8Jonah 4:5-11
Jonah 4:6-8
Jonah 4:9-11Jonah 4:9-11Jonah 4:9
Jonah 4:10-11

READING CYCLE THREE (see “Guide to Good Bible Reading”)


This is a study guide commentary, which means that you are responsible for your own interpretation of the Bible. Each of us must walk in the light we have. You, the Bible, and the Holy Spirit are priority in interpretation. You must not relinquish this to a commentator.

Read the chapter in one sitting. Identify the subjects (reading cycle #3). Compare your subject divisions with the four modern translations above. Paragraphing is not inspired, but it is the key to following the original author's intent, which is the heart of interpretation. Every paragraph has one and only one subject.

1. First paragraph

2. Second paragraph

3. Third paragraph

4. Etc.

Verses 1-4

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: Jonah 4:1-4 1But it greatly displeased Jonah and he became angry. 2He prayed to the LORD and said, “Please LORD, was not this what I said while I was still in my own country? Therefore in order to forestall this I fled to Tarshish, for I knew that You are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abundant in lovingkindness, and one who relents concerning calamity. 3Therefore now, O LORD, please take my life from me, for death is better to me than life.” 4The LORD said, “Do you have good reason to be angry?”

Jonah 4:1 “it greatly displeased Jonah” The ADJECTIVE (BDB 949) and VERB (BDB 949, KB 1269,Qal IMPERFECT) are COGNATES, which intensifies the meaning (cf. Nehemiah 2:10). Jonah was angry that God was going to spare Nineveh.

Jonah uses ףעה (BDB 949) often and in several senses.

1. wickedness, Jonah 1:2

2. calamity, Jonah 1:7, Jonah 1:8; Jonah 3:10; Jonah 4:2

3. displeased, Jonah 4:1

4. discomfort, Jonah 4:6

The term used of Ninevites is now used of Jonah (cf. The Expositors Bible Commentary, vol. 7, p. 385). What a reversal! Sin without light is one thing, but sin with light is far more serious and condemnable (cf. Luke 12:48).

“he became angry” This Hebrew VERB means “to burn” (BDB 354, KB 351, Qal IMPERFECT, cf. Jonah 4:1, Jonah 4:4, Jonah 4:9[twice]). Jonah became angry even before the deadline of forty days was complete. Jonah's worst fear, that Nineveh would repent and that YHWH would spare them, had come to pass. Jonah was accurate in his theology (cf. Jonah 1:9; Jonah 4:2), but failed in love (cf. 1 Corinthians 13:1-8).

Jonah 4:2 “He prayed” In an attitude of anger, with an I-told-you-so prayer, Jonah was trying to justify or rationalize his previous rebellious actions (i.e., “to forestall this I fled to Tarshish”).

“You art a gracious and compassionate God” Jonah is angry about this (i.e., God's not punishing Assyria's sin)! This mercy is the very nature of God which had saved Jonah from the sea. The source of this theological statement is Exodus 34:6 then repeated in Numbers 14:18-19; Nehemiah 9:17, Nehemiah 9:31, Nehemiah 9:32; Psalms 86:5, Psalms 86:15; Psalms 103:8, Psalms 103:11-13; Psalms 145:8; Jeremiah 32:18-19; and Joel 2:13. Jonah uses words similar to those of Joel; possibly he was influenced by Joel's prophecy. See Special Topic: Characteristics of Israel's God.

The ADJECTIVE “gracious” (BDB 337) is used only of God. The ADJECTIVE “merciful” (BDB 933) is from the NOUN “womb,” which denotes intense parental love (cf. Hosea 1:6; Hosea 2:4 vs. Hosea 2:19, Hosea 2:23[twice]).

The CONSTRUCT “slow to anger” (BDB 74 and 60) is an idiom that is literally “long of nose” (i.e., slow to flare the nostrils, cf. Numbers 14:18; Nehemiah 1:3). Love, not wrath, is God's basic character (cf. Isaiah 28:21; Lamentations 3:33).

For the CONSTRUCT “abounding in lovingkindness” (BDB 912 and 338) see Special Topic: Lovingkindness (hesed).

“one who relents concerning calamity” See notes at Jonah 3:9 and 10.

Jonah 4:3 “please take my life” The death wish (BDB 542, KB 534, Qal IMPERATIVE, cf. Numbers 11:15; Jeremiah 20:14-18; 1 Kings 19:4) expressed in this verse (cf. Jonah 4:8) is very different from Jonah's attitude while he was in the great fish.

Verses 5-8

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: Jonah 4:5-8 5Then Jonah went out from the city and sat east of it. There he made a shelter for himself and sat under it in the shade until he could see what would happen in the city. 6So the LORD God appointed a plant and it grew up over Jonah to be a shade over his head to deliver him from his discomfort. And Jonah was extremely happy about the plant. 7But God appointed a worm when dawn came the next day and it attacked the plant and it withered. 8When the sun came up God appointed a scorching east wind, and the sun beat down on Jonah's head so that he became faint and begged with all his soul to die, saying, “Death is better to me than life.”

Jonah 4:5 “he made a shelter” This is the word “booth” (BDB 697), which refers to a temporary shelter such as was used in the Feast of Tabernacles (cf. Leviticus 23:40-42). God provided a better shade by means of the plant (probably a castor bean plant, but this word occurs only in this context, cf. Jonah 4:6). In desert areas shade can make a temperature difference of sixty degrees! This again shows God's love versus Jonah's anger.

Jonah 4:6 “appointed” This does not mean that God created here, but that He assigned (BDB 584, KB 599, Piel IMPERFECT, cf. Jonah 4:6, Jonah 4:7, Jonah 4:8) an existing creation a task to perform (cf. Jonah 1:17). God is in control of nature (i.e., a plant, Jonah 4:6; a worm, Jonah 4:7; and a scorching east [cf. Genesis 41:6] wind, Jonah 4:8; as well as a great fish, Jonah 1:17).

“Jonah was extremely happy” This is a COGNATE ACCUSATIVE (BDB 970, VERB and NOUN), like Jonah 4:1, “greatly displeased” or Jonah 1:16, “feared greatly.”

Jonah 4:8 “scorching east wind” This refers to the sirocco, which is a hot, dry, dusty, strong east wind from the desert (cf. Exodus 10:13), which could easily destroy foliage. It usually is used in judgment contexts (e.g., Psalms 48:7; Jeremiah 18:17; Ezekiel 17:10; Hosea 13:15).

The term “scorching” (BDB 362) is used only here in the OT. BDB says, “we make no attempt to explain.” However, KB 353, gives the ancient translations:

1. Septuagint, Peshitta, and Vulgate have “scorching” or “muggy”

2. the Aramaic Targums have “silent” (cf. NRSV)

Ultimately KB (slightly changed the MT by one consonant) says “sharp” or “scorching” (wind), meaning “hot.” The term appears once in the DSS meaning “east wind.”

NASB“he became faint” NKJV“he grew faint” NRSV“he was faint” TEV“about to faint” NJB“he was overcome”

This point of unconsciousness (i.e., faint, cf. Amos 8:0;13) parallels his experience in the great fish (cf. Jonah 2:7). Here sunstroke was the cause (cf. Isaiah 49:10).

Verses 9-11

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: Jonah 4:9-11 9Then God said to Jonah, “Do you have good reason to be angry about the plant?” And he said, “I have good reason to be angry, even to death.” 10Then the LORD said, “You had compassion on the plant for which you did not work and which you did not cause to grow, which came up overnight and perished overnight. 11Should I not have compassion on Nineveh, the great city in which there are more than 120, 000 persons who do not know the difference between their right and left hand, as well as many animals?”

Jonah 4:9-11 These verses show God's love in contrast to Jonah's selfishness and racial pride. God's love even extends to the animals (cf. Jonah 3:8; Jonah 4:11).

Jonah 4:10, Jonah 4:11

NASB“compassion. . .compassion” NKJV“pity. . .pity” NRSV, NJB“concerned. . .concerned” TEV“fell sorry. . .pity”

This VERB (BDB 299, KB 298 Qal PERFECT, Jonah 4:10 and Qal IMPERFECT, Jonah 4:11) means “have pity” or “look on with compassion.” It is used in a negative sense in Isaiah 13:18; Jeremiah 13:14; Jeremiah 21:7; Ezekiel 5:11; Ezekiel 7:4, Ezekiel 7:9; Ezekiel 8:18; Ezekiel 9:5, Ezekiel 9:10; Ezekiel 16:5; Ezekiel 24:14. This is not the same word for “compassion” used by Hosea (BDB 933, KB 216, cf. Hosea 1:6; Hosea 2:4, Hosea 2:19, Hosea 2:23).

Several of Jonah's words and phrases seem to come from Joel 2:0, this term as well (cf. Joel 2:17, i.e., “spare”).

Jonah 4:10 “which came up overnight and perished overnight” This phrase is an idiom for the transitoriness of earthly things (cf. Isaiah 40:6-8). Jonah had the immediate perspective; YHWH had the eternal. Jonah was self-centered; YHWH was concerned for the welfare of human beings made in His image (cf. Genesis 1:26-27), now estranged from Him (cf. Genesis 3:0, esp. Genesis 3:15).

Jonah 4:11 “120,000 persons” Some see this as referring to the total population; others, because of the phrase, “do not know,” think it refers only to children (e.g., Isaiah 7:15). The contextual emphasis seems to be that these cruel pagans (citizens of Nineveh and surrounding small cities) are ignorant of God, yet they are more spiritually responsive than God's knowledgeable, covenant prophet!


A. God's children often rebel against Him and have improper attitudes.

B. Unbelievers often show more compassion and concern than believers.

C. God loves all humans and is actively involved in their salvation (Genesis 12:3; Genesis 22:18; Genesis 26:4; Exodus 19:5; Ezekiel 18:23; Ezekiel 33:11; John 1:29; John 3:16; 1 Timothy 2:4; 1 Timothy 4:10; 2 Peter 3:9).

D. Faith and repentance are all that is necessary for salvation, not complete theological knowledge or ritual (cf. Acts 16:31).

E. God's nature is accurately stated in Jonah 1:9 and Jonah 4:2.

F. God controls history, nature, and is even involved in the minor events of life.


This is a study guide commentary which means that you are responsible for your own interpretation of the Bible. Each of us must walk in the light we have. You, the Bible, and the Holy Spirit are priority in interpretation. You must not relinquish this to a commentator.

These discussion questions are provided to help you think through the major issues of this section of the book. They are meant to be thought provoking, not definitive.

1. Do we have a full account of Jonah's preaching?

2. Were the people of Nineveh truly saved?

3. What message did this book have to Israel? (and to your life?)

4. Explain repentance in your own words. Define the Hebrew and Greek concepts of repentance.

5. Contrast (Israel's) Jonah's knowledge of God and the (Gentiles') pagan sailors' and Ninevites' knowledge of God and faith toward Him.

6. What is the meaning of Jesus' use of this account in Matthew 12:38-45?

Bibliographical Information
Utley. Dr. Robert. "Commentary on Jonah 4". "Utley's You Can Understand the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/ubc/jonah-4.html. 2021.
Ads FreeProfile