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Bible Commentaries

Joseph Benson's Commentary of the Old and New Testaments
Jonah 4

 

 

Verses 1-3

Jonah 4:1-3. But it — The divine forbearance in sparing Nineveh; displeased Jonah exceedingly — “Seeing that what he had foretold against the Ninevites did not happen, he was afraid lest he should pass for a false prophet and a deceiver, his ministry be despised, and his person exposed to the violence of the Ninevites. He was therefore very peevish and impatient, and he vents his complaints in the following verse.” And he prayed unto the Lord — He uttered expostulations and complaints in his prayer to God, wherein he pleaded an excuse for his former disobedience to God’s commands. O Lord, was not this my saying — Did I not think of this, and suppose that it would be the case, that thy pardon would contradict my preaching? Therefore I fled before unto Tarshish — Namely, to avoid coming upon this message, for I knew that thou art a gracious God — I knew by the declarations thou madest to Moses, (Exodus 34:6,) and by several instances of thy mercy, that thou dost not always execute the punishments thou threatenest against sinners; being moved by thy essential goodness and mercifulness to spare them. Therefore now, O Lord, take, I beseech thee, my life from me — “I cannot survive the confusion of seeing my prediction vain and to no effect; I cannot bear to live under the imputation of being a false prophet.” For it is better for me to die than to live — We may learn from this, that Jonah was naturally a man of a hasty, impatient temper; for he here shows himself to have been exceedingly vexed without any just cause. For it does not appear that the Ninevites would have despised him, or looked upon him as a false prophet, though the city was not destroyed; because their having recourse to fasting, humiliation, and turning from their evil ways, was in order to avert the wrath of God, that he might repent and turn from his fierce anger, and they perish not; see Jonah 3:9; and therefore they would, in all probability, have attributed the city’s preservation to this their humiliation and repentance, and have still looked upon Jonah as one that was divinely commissioned. So that he was indeed moved to these passionate expressions and exclamations purely by his own hasty disposition, and not from any just cause given him.


Verses 4-9

Jonah 4:4-9. Doest thou well to be angry? — What a mild reproof was this from God, for such a passionate behaviour as Jonah manifested! Here the prophet experienced that Jehovah was a gracious God, merciful, and slow to anger. Here we learn by the highest example, that of God himself, how mild and gentle we ought to be if we would be like him, even to those who carry themselves toward us in the most unreasonable and unjustifiable manner. So Jonah went out of the city — The words should rather have been rendered, Now Jonah had gone out of the city: for the particulars related in the foregoing verses took place after his departing out of the city, and sitting somewhere in view of it, expecting some extraordinary judgment to come upon it; but being disappointed, he broke out into that expostulation with God already mentioned. We may observe, in this book, several instances of facts related first, and then the manner how these facts were brought about explained afterward. And sat on the east side of the city — Probably in a place where he could best see the city; and there made him a booth — A little cot, or shed of twigs. Or, a shelter, as Bishop Newcome translates the word, observing, that it signifies both an artificial cover, such as a tent, or booth, and also a natural one, as Job 38:40; Jeremiah 25:38, where it is used of the covert of a lion. The LXX. render it σκηνη, a tent; and the Vulgate, umbraculum, a little shed. And the Lord prepared a gourd — This is supposed to be spoken of a shrub growing in Palestine, bearing broad and very thick leaves, so that it affords a great shade. Bochart, Hiller, and Celsius say, that the ricinus, or palma- christi, is here meant; a supposition which is favoured by its height, which is that of the olive, the largeness of its leaves, which are like those of the vine, and the quickness of its growth: see Pliny, Nat. Hist., lib. 15. cap. 7. Whatever kind of plant it was that shaded Jonah, we may justly attribute a miraculous growth to it. Indeed the relation in the text evidently supposes that, saying that God made it to come up over Jonah: that it might be a shadow, &c., to deliver him from his grief — That is, from the inconvenience which he felt from the heat. So Jonah was exceeding glad of the gourd — As vehement in his joy now as in his grief before. His passions were strong, and easily moved by trifling events, whether of an agreeable or disagreeable nature. We are not told that Jonah saw the hand of God in this plant’s rising up so suddenly to shelter him, or that he was thankful to God for it. But God prepared — That is, sent, or excited, a worm — By the same power which caused the gourd suddenly to spring up and spread itself. And it smote the gourd — Early next morning it bit the root, so that the whole gourd withered. And when the sun did arise — That is, when it was got to some height; for the day-break is spoken of before, and this seems to signify some space of time after that: besides, the sun’s being described as beating on the head of Jonah, shows that an advance in the day is here intended; God prepared a vehement east wind — The winds in the hot countries, when they blow from the sandy deserts, are oftentimes more suffocating than the heat of the sun, and they make the sun-beams give a more intense heat. The sun beat upon the head of Jonah that he fainted — Was overpowered by the heat, and ready to faint. And wished himself to die — As he had done before; and said, It is better for me to die than to live — But Jonah must be made more wise, humble, and compassionate too, before it will be better for him to die than to live. And before God hath done with him, he will teach him to value his own life more, and to be more tender of the lives of others. And God said, Doest thou well to be angry for the gourd? — For an insignificant, short-lived plant? God adds this circumstance to the question before proposed, that Jonah might be his own judge, and at once condemn his own passions, justify God’s patience and mercy, and acquiesce with satisfaction in God’s merciful dealings with the inhabitants of Nineveh. And he said, I do well to be angry — When a similar question was asked before, he was silent; but now he is out of all patience, and quarrels openly and rudely with God, who had spared Nineveh, which Jonah thought ought to have been consumed as Sodom, or as the old world was. Even unto death — I have just cause to be angry, even to that degree as to wish myself dead. The prophet here records his own sin, without concealing any circumstance of it, as Moses and other holy writers have done.


Verse 10

Jonah 4:10. Then said the Lord — Jonah having thus showed his love and pity for the gourd, God proceeds to judge him out of his own mouth; Thou hast had pity on the gourd, &c. — Thou deplorest the loss of the gourd, and thinkest it a severe misfortune to thee, and hard that thou shouldest be deprived of it, though it was not made by thee, came up without any labour of thine, and was by its nature of a short duration: — if this is the case with thee in regard to a mean, short-lived plant, think how unjustly thou judgest, when thou condemnest my mercy toward the Ninevites! How much more severe would it have been to have destroyed a whole city, in the ruin of which many innocent creatures, as children and brute animals, must necessarily have been involved; and, what is still more awful, many immortal beings have been plunged into everlasting misery! If thou supposest I ought to have spared or preserved the gourd, because it shaded thee from the heat; think how much more my essential goodness and kindness toward my creatures, the work of my hands, must incline me to spare them whenever it can be done any way consistently with my justice or the laws of my government.


Verse 11

Jonah 4:11. And should not I — The God of infinite compassion; spare Nineveh, that great city? — Wouldest thou have me to be less merciful to such a large and populous city as Nineveh, than thou art to a shrub? Surely the lives of so many thousand men, to say nothing of their immortal souls, are much more valuable than the life of a single contemptible plant. Wherein (in which city) are more than six-score thousand persons that cannot discern, &c. — That is, infants, who have no knowledge between good and evil, as it is expressed Deuteronomy 1:39. If we compute these as a fifth part of the inhabitants of Nineveh, the whole sum will amount to six hundred thousand persons, which are as few as can well be supposed to have inhabited a city of such large dimensions. And also much cattle — Besides men, women, and children in Nineveh, there are many other of my creatures that are not sinful, and my tender mercies are, and shall be, over all my works. If thou wouldest be their destroyer, yet I will be their saviour. Go, Jonah, rest thyself content, and be thankful that the goodness which spared Nineveh hath spared thee, in this thy inexcusable frowardness, peevishness, and impatience. I will be to repenting Nineveh what I am to thee, a God gracious and merciful, slow to anger and of great kindness, and I will turn from the evil which thou and they deserve. This reasoning seems to have silenced Jonah’s complaints, and made him sensible of his fault in repining at God’s mercy. It has been observed, that the book of Jonah ends as abruptly as it begins. It begins with a conjunction copulative, And the word came unto Jonah, &c., which has made some commentators think that it was but an appendix to some of his other writings: and it ends without giving us any manner of account, either of what became of the Ninevites, or of Jonah himself after this expedition. It is likely, indeed, from the compassionate expressions which God makes use of toward the Ninevites, that for this time he reversed their doom; and it is not improbable that Jonah, when he had executed his commission, and been satisfied by God concerning his merciful procedure, returned into Judea. We may presume, however, that the repentance of the Ninevites was of no long continuance; for, not many years after, we find the Prophet Nahum foretelling the total destruction of that city. See Calmet and Bishop Newton.

 


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Bibliography Information
Benson, Joseph. "Commentary on Jonah 4:4". Joseph Benson's Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/rbc/jonah-4.html. 1857.

Lectionary Calendar
Saturday, December 14th, 2019
the Second Week of Advent
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