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Bible Commentaries
Jonah 4

Whedon's Commentary on the BibleWhedon's Commentary

Verses 1-2

1, 2. Displeased Jonah exceedingly,… was very angry Since his message remained unfulfilled, he feared that his honor as a prophet was at stake; which would be of supreme moment to a selfish person.

He prayed Many commentators have considered the prayer an expression of pious devotion, but its contents make this impossible. Keil comes nearer the truth when he says, “He tried to quarrel with God by praying.”

Was not this my saying Not openly, perhaps, but in his heart he suspected that Jehovah would save the Ninevites, if they repented.

Therefore Because of this suspicion.

I fled before R.V., “I hasted to flee.” The Hebrew construction is peculiar (G.-K., 114n, note 3), and the exact meaning is doubtful. Either “I fled before,” that is, when thou didst call me the first time; or “I was beforehand in fleeing,” that is, I sought to avoid the commission because I knew the message would remain unfulfilled; or “I sought to prevent by fleeing,” the very thing that has now happened.

Tarshish See on Jonah 1:3.

For I knew His conviction as to what God would do arose from his knowledge of the divine character. For the rest of the verse see on Joel 2:13.

Verses 3-4

3, 4. Therefore now Since he is discredited as a prophet (Deuteronomy 18:21-22), life is no longer worth living; yet he does not think of taking his own life; he asks Him who gave it to take it away.

It is better for me to die than to live Elijah also (1 Kings 19:4) prayed God to take his life (compare Numbers 11:15), but his weariness of life was due to another cause. G.A. Smith points out the difference between the two prophets in these words: “Elijah was jealous for Jehovah, Jonah was jealous of him.” The former failed in his attempt to convert the people to whom he was sent; the latter did succeed, but was disappointed when the Ninevites were converted; he grudged them the divine pardon. Jonah was too narrow; he “could not bear to see the love which, as he thought, was promised to Israel alone, and cherished by her, bestowed equally on her heathen oppressor.” He would rather die than see this done. Jehovah does not condemn Jonah harshly for this unreasonable outbreak; he rather attempts to brings him to his senses.

Doest thou well to be angry? “It is the gentle question of suggested reproof, designed to still the tumult of passion and lead to consideration and reflection.”

Verse 5

5. Jonah’s reply is not given, but evidently he continued to sulk. He would have nothing more to do with the city; hence he withdrew and determined to watch further developments, hoping, perhaps, that his announcement of destruction would yet be fulfilled.

East side Probably on some elevation from which he might overlook the city.

Made him a booth He evidently intended to remain for some time.

Till he might see Von Orelli supposes that when Jonah left the city the forty days had not yet expired, and that the prophet determined to wait for the expiration of the fixed period to see whether judgment would be executed. It is more likely, however, that Jonah discovered the will of God to save the city from the nonfulfillment of the prophecy at the end of the forty days. Only then his anger was aroused; nevertheless he hoped in his heart that the judgment was not withdrawn, but only postponed.

In this hope he was again disappointed; instead he was taught another lesson of the divine mercy.

Verse 6

6. Jehovah God As in Genesis 2:4. Both names are used to indicate that God, mentioned as supreme so frequently in the book, and Jehovah, the God of Jonah, are identical.

Prepared See on Jonah 1:17 (compare Jonah 4:7).

Gourd This translation of the Hebrew word, which occurs only here (6-10), is based upon LXX. The plant meant is the Palma Christi, or castor-oil plant ( Ricinus communis). It is described by Jerome as being very abundant in Palestine, growing especially in sandy places. The same author (so also Pliny) calls attention to its rapid growth: “In a very few days what you saw as nothing but a herb you now look upon as a small tree.” Its broad leaves are admirably adapted to protect against the sun.

Made it to come up Or, it came up over the booth erected by Jonah; thus it protected the prophet’s head against the rays of the sun.

To deliver him from his grief R.V., “from his evil case.” A.V. seems to have in mind the displeasure of Jonah (Jonah 4:1), as if the offered shade could remove the irritation and displeasure. But his trouble was so deep-seated that the “gourd” could hardly do away with it.

It is better to think of the heat of the sun beating upon the prophet’s head. This affliction (so the Hebrew might be rendered), which may have increased the bitterness of his spirit, the plant was to remove. Most commentators consider the words a later interpolation.

Jonah was exceeding glad When the sun burned him no longer. It is not unlikely that with the heat went some of his bitterness.

Verse 7

7. The joy was short-lived. At the divine command a worm came which gnawed the roots of the “gourd,” so that it perished.

Smote As in Jonah 4:8, to indicate the suddenness of the effect. Concerning the suddenness with which the castor-oil plant perishes Dr. Pusey says: “On warm days when a small rain falls, black caterpillars are generated in great numbers on this plant, which in one night so suddenly and so often cut off its leaves that only their bare ribs remain; which I have often observed with much wonder, as if it were a copy of that destruction of old at Nineveh.” 8. With the “gourd” dead, the hot rays of the sun could again beat mercilessly upon the head of Jonah.

Vehement [“sultry”] east wind See on Hosea 12:1. When these east winds are blowing the temperature rises very rapidly (G.A. Smith, Historical Geography, p. 67). The exact meaning of the word translated “vehement” or “sultry” is not known; but it is clear that the author intends to describe the wind as extraordinarily intense and disagreeable. Jonah soon became aware of the change.

He fainted Not necessarily, “he became unconscious,” for he retained his senses sufficiently to wish for death; but, “he became completely exhausted” (Amos 8:13). The old despondency returned, increased by the intense heat, and once more he prayed for death (Jonah 4:3).

Verse 9

9. God again deals very patiently with Jonah. He addresses him as in Jonah 4:4: “Doest thou well to be angry?” To which the prophet replies that he has every reason to be exceedingly angry, even so far as to desire death (Judges 16:16; Matthew 26:38). “The reply betrays a strange degree of willfulness; it shows the prophet in the attitude of a sullen child toward a loving father who is remonstrating with it.”

Verses 10-11

10, 11. By his answer Jonah unwittingly offers Jehovah the opportunity to put him to shame. The prophet’s attitude is absurd. He grieves over the destruction of an insignificant plant, in which he could have no vital interest; he had expended no labor upon it, nor had he caused its growth. How absurd to find fault with Jehovah for sparing Nineveh with its thousands of inhabitants! The two verses are full of marked contrasts.

Thou… I The pronouns are emphatic in Hebrew.

Gourd… Nineveh The former small and insignificant, the latter great and magnificent. The superiority of the latter’s claim upon the divine mercy is further indicated:

That cannot discern between their right hand and their left hand Children of the tenderest age. They have as yet done no wrong; surely for their sake alone God would be justified in saving the city. The age limit to which this expression may be applied is variously estimated. Some think of three years, others of seven. The latter is favored by the fact that among Orientals seven years seems to be a favorite period by which to reckon childhood. Since, as commonly estimated, children under seven years of age constitute about one fifth of the entire population, the number given here would make the population of Nineveh about six hundred thousand. If the other estimate is accepted the number would be considerably increased. Nineveh proper cannot have contained such a large population; the city in its widest extent must be in the mind of the author (see on Jonah 3:3).

Much cattle The animals also were guiltless. Besides, as Calvin remarks, “Oxen were certainly superior to shrubs. If Jonah was right in grieving over one withered shrub, it would surely be a harder and more cruel thing for so many innocent animals to perish.” An additional reason for the divine mercy is at least implied. Jonah had expended no labor upon the plant, but how much effort and care had Jehovah bestowed upon the population of Nineveh! The fact that he sent a prophet to preach there (Jonah 1:2; Jonah 3:2) was evidence of his interest in the city. Could he cast off the inhabitants when they turned to him?

What an insight these words give into the divine love and mercy, into the very heart of God! Jonah had condemned himself; “he was obliged to keep silent, defeated, as it were, by his own sentence.”

Verse 11


When Jonah found that his threat was not being fulfilled he became angry and prayed Jehovah to kill him, since life was no longer worth living (Jonah 4:1-3). Jehovah remonstrated with him (Jonah 4:4). The prophet left the city and, having prepared a booth, settled down to await developments (Jonah 4:5). By an object lesson Jehovah taught Jonah the folly and sin of his displeasure over the salvation of Nineveh and showed that God was perfectly justified in averting the doom of the city.

Bibliographical Information
Whedon, Daniel. "Commentary on Jonah 4". "Whedon's Commentary on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/whe/jonah-4.html. 1874-1909.
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