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Bible Commentaries

The Biblical Illustrator
Jonah 4

 

 

Verse 1-2

Jonah 4:1-2

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

The shortness of human charity

Why is Jonah so much offended and so very angry? Surely there is here some great dishonour to God; or some great enormity or departure from the immutable and unchanging law of everlasting righteousness, goodness, and truth. If neither of these two, at least there is some dreadful denunciation of judgment, or some terrible threatening, at which the very nature of man doth tremble. But here is the wonder, there is nothing that is any just cause; no cause at all of any true offence, or real provocation. It is a shame to say what is the cause. This good man is displeased with God Himself, and he is offended at the Divine goodness and compassion, and that God hath respect to the repentance of sinners. It is strange that he should be angry at this, because it is a thing contrary to the sense of the lower and of the upper world. We have found the man of whom it is spoken in the Gospel, that “his eye was evil because God’s was good” (Matthew 20:15). He prefers his own conceited credit and esteem before the lives and beings of six score thousand persons. All God’s denunciations against sinners are to be understood with a clause of reservation. He always excepts this ease--if the sinner repent. If he forsake his iniquity he shall surely live. That which makes the wonder the greater is that Jonah, whom we find in this distemper, is of all the prophets the type of Christ. In his temper and disposition he is no type of Christ. That temper admits of no apology.

1. Nothing is more unreasonable in itself.

2. Nothing is worse for Jonah himself, and the whole world besides him. For what would become of us all if there were no place for repentance? And how should Jonah himself be pardonable for his present distemper if God should not allow place for repentance?

3. Nothing is more unnatural in respect of his office as a prophet. Was it not his very work to promote repentance and reformation among sinners?

4. Nothing worse can be put upon God than to be represented as implacable and irreconcilable.

5. And this would render men hopeless and desperate in the world. This is not the first distemper that we find Jonah in. At first we find him in great refractoriness and disobedience. Then we find him stupid and senseless, and more blockish than the idolatrous mariners. Then we find him in a case of desperate insolency. For we have no reason to think his wish to be cast into the sea came from the greatness of his faith. Then we find him in a state that is unnatural, barbarous, and inhumane; for he desired the destruction of others just to save his own reputation. All these distempers are aggravated by his late deliverance in the belly of the whale. Moreover, he is not overcome by the declaration of the reason of things, when it comes out of the mouth of God Himself. The story leaves Jonah without any account of his returning to himself, and to a due temper.

1. Learn to consider in how sad and forlorn a condition we are, if God be not for us and with us.

2. How sin multiplies and grows upon us if once we fall into a distemper.

3. Notice the great danger of selfishness.

4. Let this be for caution and admonition. Persons acquainted with religion, if once out of the way of reason and conscience, prove more exorbitant than others. What great care a man should take to preserve his innocence and integrity! For our better security let us consider--

Avoid self-confidence, and ever keep this confidence--our sufficiency is of God. It seems that Jonah did know before hand that, if Nineveh did repent, God was so gracious and merciful that He would revoke the sentence. Observe, then, how passion transforms a man. How selfishness narrows and contracts a man’s spirit. Sin is the cause of judgment. There is not stay at all in the way of sin. But repentance alters the case. Notice how God deals with man to bring him to a right mind when He finds him in his distemper. God deals with Jonah by reason and argument. What a strange kind of prayer Jonah’s was! Indeed, he rather quarrels with God than prays to Him. In prayer let us take care of two things.

1. That our mind be in a praying temper.

2. That we offer to God in sacrifice prayer-matter.

Consider the person with whom Jonah is displeased. None other than God Himself. Consider the cause of his offence. He is offended with God’s goodness, and with sinners’ repentance. He is offended that repentance takes effect. See, then, that you keep out of passion, if you would not shamefully miscarry. Remember your own weakness and infirmity, and be modest and humble. Let us preserve our innocence, and beware of running into such heat of temper and mind. Take care of selfishness and narrowness of spirit. (B. Whichcote.)

Contrast between the response to God of Jonah, and of the Ninevites

1. Beware of a spirit of selfishness.

2. Beware of the peril of approaching your Creator in a peevish and discontented mood.

3. Rejoice that under the Gospel the true efficacy of repentance has been explained to you. You know how and why it can be effective. (W. H. Marriott.)

Jonah’s anger

There is one thing most wonderful, and that is, that God should be so good as He is.

I. Jonah’s selfishness. Selfishness is one of the last evils that is rooted out of the nature of man, and it is hardly possible to limit the extent of the evil that selfishness works in us; it is the great hinderer of good. Selfishness is at the root of that exceeding anxiety lest our fellow-men should undervalue us. The great fear on the part of Jonah was lest his dignity should suffer by the repentance of the Ninevites, and lest, therefore, he should lose his character as prophet, and should be spoken of as an utterer of falsehoods. We see connected with it a slight estimation of the life and comfort of others. Thus the selfish man is continually violating the spirit of the second table of the law. We find selfishness existing in a very prominent way whenever men are found to be murmuring at God’s will, if that will is opposed to their own.

II. The Lord’s lesson to him. Now Jonah was disposed to show the same rebellious spirit as before, in objecting to the manner in which God was dealing with Nineveh. In dealing with him, God gave him comfort to prevent his suffering, and then removed the comfort. God thus deals with us constantly. We all need to be taught that creature comforts are but vanities, and that our only real comfort and consolation is in the Lord Himself.

III. God’s unchangeable love. We might have expected that such a man as Jonah God would have chastised and banished from His presence. What condescension we can see in His dealings with him! What a contrast between Jonah’s selfishness and God’s love. (Montagu Villiers, M. A.)

Bible phases of indignation

Anger is not necessarily a proof of corruption of the heart, but is often an inseparable part of life. The Divine Creator has planted in our beings this self-defensive attribute for noble and serviceable purposes. See the two sides of this passion, as exemplified in the difference between the anger of Jonah and that of Jesus. One only shows the spirit of selfishness, which is fretful and unruly, while the other shows the grandeur of a self-sacrificing spirit united with piety and love.

I. The order of Jonah is the type of unrighteous passion. Its sin consisted in--

1. Its selfish nature. It was his own honour he feared for, not the glory of God.

2. Its unjust character. He would have had God repudiate His justice and mercy and love to gratify a sinful prophet.

3. Its uncharitable folly. It was vindictive. It was not against the evil, but the good.

II. The anger of Christ as a type of righteous indignation. “He looked round about on them in anger, being grieved for the hardness of their hearts.” Contrasting it with Jonah’s, observe the following points.

1. It was sinless.

2. It was just.

3. It was merciful.

Severity is no token of hatred. Kingsley says: “The highest reason should tell us that there must be indignation in God so long as there is evil in the universe.” Hazlett says: “Good-natured people there are amongst the worst people in the world. They leave others to bear the burden of indignation and correction.” (Alfred Buckley.)

The anger of Jonah

Servant of God as he was, Jonah here displayed the infirmity of many a good man in his irritability and ill-disposition. While, on the other hand, a bad temper has been described as the “vice of the virtuous,” a good one has been characterised as nine-tenths of Christianity. Professor Drummond has forcibly pointed out, “that for embittering life, for breaking up communities, for taking the bloom off childhood, in short, for sheer gratuitous misery-producing power, this influence of an ill-temper stands alone.” It was this irritable, testy, uncontrollable disposition which cast such a reflection upon the prophet Jonah as he ran down to the port at Tarshish, and fled from the Lord, a disposition which appears to have cooled off after having passed through a period of trial and become repentant, but which, when God acted contrary to his expectations, flamed out again, as if he were composed of combustible material.

I. Jonah’s bad temper was shown by the way in which he disputed with God. Jonah was neither willing to leave to God the results of his mission to Nineveh, nor ready even to go to that city. When God asks for that implicit obedience to which He has a right, He does not make an unreasonable demand. Some seem to think they display a human and rightful prerogative when they question God’s ways and authority, forgetting that by a thousand ties we are bound to accede to the Divine wishes, and that our wills are never in a more normal condition than when they are subjected to the One who never errs. “Our wills are ours to make them Thine,” said Tennyson, and when they will not be subservient to God a curse is pronounced upon them such as that uttered by Isaiah when he exclaimed, “Woe unto him that striveth with his Maker”--the woe of a conscience ill at ease, of a soul insensitive to the Divine love, and a heart shut out from that blessed communion which is accorded to those in harmony with God. And this penalty fell upon Jonah when he argued and disputed with God, who had an absolute claim to an unquestioned obedience.

II. This bad temper narrowed Jonah’s vision and outlook, Intensely national, patriotic, and partisan, he could not see why Jehovah should display His saving mercy to another nation, and that so wicked as Nineveh, when He had made Israel His chosen, and the sole depositary of His will. Why take the children’s bread and give it to dogs? Was not salvation of the Jews? He was against a missionary Gospel, just as the Pharisees objected to the Gospel being proclaimed to the publicans and sinners; and as Peter was opposed to opening the door to the Gentiles, but about which his eyes were opened when he saw the sheet let down from heaven, and was sent to the house of the devout Cornelius. Believing that God is a gracious God, slow to anger, and repents of the evil when He sees a heart contrite and penitent, Jonah, like the elder son of the parable, was angry when he saw there was a possibility of the Ninevites being saved from destruction. Oh, how passion will narrow one’s vision! Scarcely anything will as surely exclude a wide, impartial, and generous view of things. Just as it is said that a frightened horse can see little and becomes almost blind, so an irritable temper will narrow the creed and sour the life. Just notice the way which God took to enlarge Jonah’s vision and soften and mollify his disposition. Sorry for the gourd? Yes, though it was but a plant, but not sorry for the souls against whom he had cried, that they should be overthrown and destroyed, nor was he glad when they repented. What a lesson! Men grieve over the loss of property, but not over the loss of souls. They repent over the loss of a cargo, the burning of a house, or destruction of a church, but, how pitiable! there is so little anxiety for the eternal loss of that which is beyond the price of rubies, so that to-day many a man can say truly, “No man careth for my soul.”

III. Moreover, Jonah’s ill-temper diminished his affection and love for his fellow-men. We draw artificial distinctions of soul values, by esteeming the soul of an educated, wealthy, and refined person of more value than that of the downtrodden and humanly forsaken one. But to such a man as Jonah, the prophet of God, or to any Christian worker, no such distinction should be made. And no such discrimination will be made if the right temper possesses the Christian. We must learn to love men, love them broadly, largely, comprehensively. But you say there is nothing lovable in the vast majority of men. Even so; yet, Christian workers, you must love men, for there is no other force that will carry you through, and inspire you to the accomplishment of your mission.

IV. Through this ill-temper Jonah failed to keep due and necessary control of himself. “He that is slow to anger is better than the mighty, and he that ruleth his spirit, than he that taketh a city.” Our trouble is not in having strong, impetuous, fiery, passionate natures, Who can measure the fire and passion in such natures as Luther, Whitefield, Spurgeon, or Moody? They were volcanoes, Niagaras of passion, but made serviceable to God and humanity. “What a waste of power,” said Edison, as he looked at the most magnificent falls in the world; and when I see deep, strong, fiery natures spending their vitality in petulant anger as did Jonah, I feel like saying, “What a waste of power.” Bring the stream and electricity of your nature, and harness it in the service of God. It is little that the manufacturer cares for a small trickling stream running through the meadows, but he does value a torrent that leaps from rock to rock, and crag to crag, and rushes with furious energy through the valley. Smother your passion, crush your anger, quell your wrath? No; pour them out upon sin. Let them come down upon evil in high and low places, and switch them on to the waggons on the King’s highway. “He was very angry.” Is it unusual for the soul to be angry with God? Here is a man to whom God gave a child which was deformed in body, defective in mind, and an object of care day and night, which was freely given by a loving mother. Some years, after another child was given, handsome, plump, and the pink of perfection; but, strange to say, in a short time it was taken, and folded in the bosom of a safe keeping God. Far from saying “Thy will be done,” a spirit of petulance arose in the father’s bosom, in which he denied the existence of God, and turned his back upon love and hope, running a swift course to business ruin and moral failure. “He was very angry.” Shame! Pity! Keep the fiery steed in hand; or, better still, give God the reins.

V. This bad temper unfitted him to pass into the presence of his maker. Jonah was not backward in talking about dying. “O Lord, take, I beseech thee, my life from me, for it is better for me to die than to live,” and when the sun’s rays beat upon his head he wished in himself to die, and said, “It is better for me to die than to live.” Angry people are apt to wish they were dead, for when the fog of passion and disappointment weighs upon the spirit the ill-tempered man speaks unadvisedly with his lips. Is a man fit to die in such a temper as this? (T. M. Fothergill.)

Jonah’s displeasure

I. The nature of Jonah’s displeasure may easily be misunderstood. There are two kinds of displeasure. One is wrath, the other is grief. The word used of Jonah may mean either angry or distressed. Perhaps grieved is the proper idea here. Notice the impotence of mere external experience in relation to a person’s inward disposition. Jonah had passed through trying experiences, yet he was the same man.

II. The intensity of Jonah’s displeasure. “Exceedingly, and he was very grieved.” It was deep distress in the prospect of calamity to his own country. Sparing Nineveh involved the future destruction of Israel. The prophet may have foreseen this. No doubt the destruction of an impenitent heathen community would not have appeared to Jonah so terrible as such a thing must appear to ourselves. And if Jonah was grieved at the escape of the Ninevites from death, he was himself anxious to die. He did not desire a worse fate for them than for himself. Of some men it is said, “their bark is worse than their bite,” and Jonah might have been one of these men.

III. The extreme distress of Jonah found expression in prayer.

1. The prayer contains a reference to a former saying of the prophet himself.

2. The prayer contains an account of his flight.

3. It contains an account of Jonah’s conviction concerning the Divine character. He knew that the Lord is gracious, merciful, slow to anger, of great kindness.

4. It contains a petition on the prophet’s part for death. An unbecoming, as well as unusual, prayer; but the petition of a noble-minded man. He knew the sanctity of his own life too well to commit suicide. The prayer was caused by his despondency in relation to the cause of God. (Samuel Clift Burn.)

Jonah’s temper

Jonah’s spirit at this time was not worthy of the character in which he came to Nineveh. Courage, indeed, he had shown, in raising his single voice in the name of the Lord in the midst of an idolatrous and wicked people. But he had not yet learned compassion for perishing sinners; or, if he had any such feeling, it was quite overborne, for the present, by a selfish regard to his own reputation; he was chagrined at the discredit brought upon his own predictions by the forbearance of God exercised towards the Ninevites. Foolish man! He had put himself in the place of God. He had forgotten, it should seem, that he was sent to preach the preaching that God should bid him, and had imagined that he was denouncing Jonah’s threatenings, and not those of the Most High, when he said, “Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be destroyed.” Having put himself in the place of God, he vainly concluded that his own credit was concerned in the execution of the threatened judgment. But whosoever exalteth himself, though it be in the exercise of even a Divine commission, shall be humbled;--and the sooner he is effectually humbled, the better for himself. With respect to the Divine veracity, the vindication of that may safely be left in His hands whose “word is truth.” As for the credit of His ministers, it is, indeed, a very light matter; but that, too, may be committed to Him who has the hearts of all men in His hands, and who has said, “Them that honour Me, I will honour.” (Matthew M. Preston, M. A.)

The selfish man

We turn again to the dark side of Jonah’s character; and very dark it is. Poor man! Whom is he angry with, and what is the ground of his displeasure? Some of the most prominent evil tempers that break out in the prophet on the occasion are the following--

1. Extreme selfishness. There is no principle in fallen man that does so much mischief in the world as that of selfishness; none dishonours God more; none produces so much injury to mankind; it prevents more good, and produces more evil, than any other temper of mind. Indeed, every sin and every suffering seem to have their origin in selfishness, and to proceed from it in one way or another. Selfishness is sin essentially. Self is the fountain of evil, and all sorts of sins are but as so many streams that issue from it. What is self-will? It is a contest between man and his God who is to have his way. What is the real cause of so much discontent and restlessness in the minds of men? It is striving with God whose will is to be done.

2. Jonah was a very peevish, quarrelsome, and fretful man. He retains his unhappy temper of mind wherever he goes, and however he is treated. Whether you strike or stroke him, he snarls. Guard against this miserable temper of mind which must be painful to one’s self, disagreeable to others, and offensive to God. Learn that this peevish, fretful, and discontented temper is a stubborn sin, difficult to subdue, and a disease which is seldom cured.

3. Jonah betrays the greatest ingratitude to his kind, indulgent God. Not one expression of thankfulness do we hear from him. He is sullen and silent, full of anger and displeasure. The ungrateful man has a bad soul, unhappy in himself, and disagreeable to others; he enjoys nothing of what he possesses, let him possess ever so much. Possession and enjoyment are distinct things. True and lively gratitude is one of the most amiable and pleasing of all dispositions. May our wills be swallowed up in the will of God; may our spirits be satisfied with all that God does; and may our hearts be thankful for all His gifts, which are numerous, free, precious, constant, and eternal! (Thomas Jones.)


Verses 1-11

Verse 2

Jonah 4:2

And he prayed unto the Lord, and said.

The secret of Jonah

In this verse we have the key to the whole Book of Jonah; the secret, the motive both of his character and of his mission. God had sent the prophet to Nineveh, to threaten the inhabitants of that wicked city with the doom due to their sins. “God does not always pay on Saturdays,” says an old proverb, but sooner or later He pays every man, and every race, the wages they have earned. When the Ninevites were convinced that pay-day had really come at last, that they were about to receive the wages of their iniquity, they repented and turned every one from his evil way. And when they repented of the evil they had done, “God repented of the evil He had said He would do unto them.” That is to say, when they were no longer sinners, they were to be no longer treated as sinners. But when, and because, God was no longer angry, Jonah became very angry. That God should “turn away from the evil” He had threatened against Nineveh was itself an evil, and a great evil, to him,--so unlike may men of God be to the God whom they serve. Jonah was angry, and in his anger he “prayed unto the Lord”; and in his prayer he let out the secret of his anger, and, indeed, of the whole story. Now, an angry man may certainly do worse than pray. But if his prayer show that he is angry with God, and angry because God’s mercy is wider than his own, can he do much worse than pray such a prayer as that? Jonah was angry not only because God’s mercy was shown to be wider than his own, but because he had always known that it would be. Jonah’s reluctance sprang from his fear of God’s mercy, his knowledge of God’s humanity. What he was really afraid of was, that God would be too kind to keep His word. If the Ninevites were forgiven, instead of destroyed, why, then, he, Jonah, would be made to look like a fool--a prophet who could not read the omens, nor forecast the future, nor interpret the Voice that spake within his heart. There is no need, however, to insist that Jonah had no other motive than this. Human nature is so complex that men rarely act from a single motive. His main sin certainly was a want of pity for his fellows, an egotism so profound as to move him, a sinful man, to reproach God for His grace to man. He was angry with God for the very reason which should most of all have induced him to love Him,--because he knew God to be gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and of great kindness. Have we mastered the great lesson of this book? Do we believe that God loves all men, without distinction of race and creed, and willeth not that any should perish, but that all should turn to Him? There are yet many among us who, if they never doubt God’s mercy for themselves, utterly disbelieve that God’s mercy, in any efficient sense, embraces the whole world. They have never thought nobly of God, but have rather conceived of Him as altogether such an one as themselves. No hope, however “large,” should be unwelcome to a merciful man, who believes in a God more infinitely merciful than himself. Even though he be not able to entertain it, it should not make him angry. We should miss the moral of this story were we to conclude that we are merciful simply because we trust in a larger mercy than some of our neighbours. There is a taint of Jonah’s selfish jealousy in us all, of his indifference to the fate of others, so that our comforts, our salvation, our security are assured. The better we are, and the better we know ourselves, the more eager shall we be to modify Jonah’s prayer, and to cry,--“O Lord, I beseech Thee, make me to know that Thou art a gracious God, and full of compassion, slow to anger, and plenteous in mercy, and repentest Thee of the evil.” (Samuel Cox, D. D.)


Verse 3

Jonah 4:3

It is better for me to die than to live.

Is life worth living

Jonah’s mission, though in some respects strange and terrible, was one of mercy, to lead the Ninevites to repentance; and Jonah knew this from the first. The Lord could have found another messenger, but He had chosen this man for His purpose; so He brought him back, and commanded him for the second time to go to Nineveh, and “cry the cry that I bid thee.” The mercy shown to Nineveh displeased Jonah exceedingly, and made him very angry. It was not merely that he seemed to be discredited by the issue, and made a fool of, but he was vexed and chagrined at what took place, and boded no good from it. He would have let the doom fall without a warning. As Jonah sat in his booth there is still some lingering hope in his mind that the threatened overthrow may yet take place. He shows no sign of brotherly-kindness; he does not sympathise with the Divine philanthropy that has no pleasure in the death of the wicked. And so, when mercy rejoiceth against judgment, he thinks it well to be angry, even unto death. He counts that for him “it is better to die than to live.” It is the fretting of a wounded and disappointed spirit. His words bring up a question that has been asked again and again--Is life worth living? The question is a vague one, and really covers a wide diversity both of meanings and mental moods. Life is very different to different men. The problem of life will be viewed differently by men according to their different standing-point. We must find some standing-point which does not shift with the century, or with the changing conditions under which we pass. Such is furnished us by the revelation of God’s purpose of grace in Christ Jesus. What we see in Christ is the very life which is the gift of God for man’s possession. If we would only cease trying to fit theological notions into a perfect system, and set ourselves to view this revelation of God’s gracious purpose, the problem of life would be wonderfully cleared and simplified. (J. Culros, D. D.)


Verse 4

Jonah 4:4

Then said the Lord, Doest thou well to be angry.

Anger reproved

Jonah’s anger was not justifiable; for it rose high against God, and quarrelled with the dispensations of His providence and grace. A man is known by his temper, as much as by his speech and behaviour. The temper of Jonah was peculiar. He was a man of some goodness. He was a man of prayer and a prophet; yet his piety was greatly defective, and his virtues were tarnished with much imperfection. His history exhibits a sad picture of pettishness, fretfulness, and impatience.

I. The circumstances of the case, and the temper of the prophet under them. Jonah was displeased exceedingly because God had accepted the repentance of Nineveh; that He exercised mercy, and turned away His wrath from that numerous people. We cannot acquit him of much that was wrong on this occasion. He was off his guard. He was greatly influenced by a proud and rebellious spirit. Henry observes of his prayer,--It is a very awkward prayer. Indeed, what could we expect from a man agitated with such a temper? How unhallowed is the petition, “Now, O Lord, take, I beseech Thee, my life from me.” We cannot but notice the long-suffering goodness of God, the tenderness of Divine compassion, in the expostulation with Jonah.

II. The temper of the prophet was extremely censurable. Is anger, then, in no case allowable? It may be directed against sin, in ourselves or in others. It was not allowable in Jonah. Every emotion of displeasure with the dispensations of God is extremely censurable; for--

1. Each of them is just.

2. Most of them are merciful.

3. All of them work together for good.

Then, “in your patience possess ye your souls.” Self-possession is a great and most desirable attainment. (T. Kidd.)

Jonah’s vexation

With what strange feelings of disappointment must every one rise from the perusal of this chapter! For Jonah fails again under his disappointment. What was it that displeased Jonah? The salvation of the sinners of Nineveh who repented. The grace of God manifested in the salvation of Nineveh. With the Divine purposes of grace he had no sympathy. He was displeased because he was not a minister of wrath to sinners. But how does he give vent to his displeasure? In prayer to God. He upbraids God for being a gracious God, merciful, slow to anger, and of great compassion, and for having resolved to manifest this grace of His character in the salvation of this great city. For what does he pray? For death to himself, unless God would give up Nineveh and its inhabitants to death and destruction. This is the thing which he says in his heart’s desire and prayer before God. Jonah even seems to say that he has not repented of going to Tarshish, but rather, in his present mood repents of returning and going to Nineveh, after he received the second call. What is this but to say that he repents of his repentance? Every feeling was sacrificed to resentment at the non-fulfilment of his prophecy. If forty days passed and Nineveh were not overthrown, what would men say of Jonah and his prophecies? He would have sacrificed Nineveh to a point of honour, to a feeling of pride or vanity, to a thought of personal interest or aggrandisement, to public opinion, or national bigotry and sectarian spite. Such is selfishness when it stands up barefaced to proclaim itself in all its nakedness before God. Now admire the forbearance of God. All He said in answer to this prayer of mixed pride and petulance was, “Doest thou well to be angry?” God is not angry, though Jonah is angry. But a rebuke is not the less severe that it is administered in a spirit of mild and gentle love; and such surely is the spirit in which God deals with Jonah’s conscience; not answering the fool according to his folly. With this question, like an arrow stuck in his spirit, God leaves the angry man to himself. Jonah gave no answer. Anger is sullen, and sullenness is silent. He went out to the east of the city, made a booth to shelter himself from the sun, and over this a large-leafed gourd quickly grew. Jonah began to be better pleased. The next day the gourd withered, and Jonah was exposed and distressed. Then God asked His question again, “Doest thou well to be angry for the gourd?” Now Jonah’s vexation rises; he justifies his anger, and says to God that he has good cause to be offended, and even weary of life. Then God interpreted the sudden withering of the gourd. Out of his own mouth Jonah was judged He was pitiful towards a gourd, and complained of God’s being pitiful towards myriads of immortal souls. God silences all cavil respecting His present work of providence; He sets at rest all controversy respecting His purpose of grace to sinners, like the men of Nineveh, by an appeal to Jonah’s own conscience. And Jonah is speechless. Learn --

1. That in the end God’s purpose of grace in the salvation of sinners will be justified.

2. Want of sympathy with God’s purpose of grace and salvation to sinners is a common sin.

3. This want of sympathy betrays itself, in selfishness like Jonah’s, in self-seeking, self-pleasing, self-indulgence.

4. God is still rebuking this sin of selfishness, or want of sympathy, as He rebuked Jonah here, both in His Word, and in His providence. (N. Paisley.)

Jonah and the passions

This chapter presents the weakness of human nature; the illusion of the passions; the bad effects that flow from the want of self-government. Here is a prophet, an advocate of righteousness, and a denouncer of the judgments of heaven, fallen into rather disgraceful circumstances, forgetting the dignity of his office, and losing the command of himself; discomposed and agitated by passion. And what was the cause? His work seemed to be a failure, and he would rather see that populous city laid in ashes, than that the least imputation should fall upon his own prophetic character. To him came the expostulating voice of God: “Doest thou well to be angry?” The mild rebuke was ineffective. Then came the appeal, “Doest thou well to be angry for the gourd?” Stung with rage, and overcome by his passion, the prophet replied, “I do well to be angry, even unto death.” Angry? With whom? With God, the Father of mercies. For what? For pardoning a vast multitude, all humbled in dust and ashes before Him, Could a small personal interest plead against the voice of nature, and harden this prophet’s heart against every sentiment of humanity? It is the nature of the passions to concentre our views in one glowing point, and thus cause us to overlook whatever might allay their fervour. Hence the undoubting confidence with which the impassioned mind insists upon its own rectitude, and even glories in the violence of its emotions. Nor is it the angry and revengeful only; the voluptuous, the ambitious, and distempered minds of every description all find specious arguments to reconcile the indulgence of their own will, and their personal gratification, with the general good; at least, to palliate, if they cannot altogether justify, their conduct, from the inevitable pressure of events and peculiarity of situation. We cannot but be astonished at the height to which Jonah’s mind was inflamed--at the degree in which his feelings were exasperated. How weak is man! When clouded with passion, his boasted reason, instead of disentangling the perplexity of his affairs, or impelling him to act wisely and virtuously, often serves only to aggravate his misery, and to justify him in his perverseness. During this temporary insanity all things upon which the eye is fixed appear enlarged and gigantic. Into what extravagancies, what miseries, what crimes are men precipitated for want of learning and practising the art of self-government. How greatly ought we to be upon our guard, not only against the violence, but against the illusion of the passions! It is certainly in our power, by the vigorous exercise of our mental faculties, to reduce the objects which are magnified and distorted by the magic of passion to their natural shape and just dimension. Change of scene will often help us in this self-mastery, and time has a quieting power. Devout and regular attendance on the duties of religion will greatly favour and shorten the process, and render our passage through the tempestuous region of the passions not only safe but salutary. Let the considerations which reason and religion present induce calmness of spirit, and “give rest to our souls.” The shortness of life, the emptiness of worldly pleasures, the approach of eternity. Within the hallowed round of religion all is peace. (P. Houghton.)

Jonah, the petulant man

I. The reason of Jonah’s petulance. Why was Jonah angry? The highest and noblest success of preaching is in its constructive and saving effects, not in its destructive results. But Jonah thought otherwise. To him destruction meant success, but salvation he thought failure.

II. The resort. Whither did he flee in his petulant fit? “Unto the Lord.” Can a man in a passion pray? Jonah’s prayer was a perverted privilege. He made it the medium of access to God for self-vindication and Divine vituperation. This is the first attempt at excusing himself for going to Tarshish. The greatness of God’s mercy was his present grievance. Jonah’s prayer closed with--

III. A request. It was as unreasonable as it was unjustifiable. Self-will prompted it, and peevishness uttered it. “My reputation as a truth-speaking prophet will be slain, therefore I prefer being slain myself.” What cowards disappointed expectations make us.

IV. Petulance divinely questioned. The question has a sting which enters deeply into Jonah’s soul. Physicians probe wounds before they heal them. Temper is the shadow of the tempter.

V. Petulance in retirement. Temper generally seeks solitude when its tide is ebbing. Sulks like to mope by themselves in seclusion.

VI. Petulance subjecting Jonah to inconveniences. Petulance is the parent of manifold discomforts--physical, mental, social, moral, ecclesiastical. It is the multiplier of life’s sorrows, the inventor of ghostly troubles, the despotic subjector to manifold inconveniences.

VII. Petulance under divine symbolic correction. The gourd is to be the means of physical amelioration, and then the medium of symbolic spiritual correction. Jonah learned this lesson. If the perishing of a mere gourd was a source of great grief to him, how infinitely more painful to God would be the destruction of multitudes of intelligent beings. (J. O. Keen, D. D.)

The recurrence of old sins after repentance

When Jonah saw that the threatened ruin came not,--“it displeased Jonah exceedingly, and he was very angry.” Jonah lived and served God under the old covenant, which spoke chiefly of Divine judgements, and comparatively little of Divine mercy. Moreover, he patriotically dreaded the growing power of the enemies of his race. He was moved, even to anger, at the sight of God’s mercy to the sinner. Though in this troubled condition, Jonah could pray, and complain to God. God dealt tenderly with him. God even withholds any reproof or censure. He but seeks to teach His servant by a sign, such as might personally touch his heart. The gourd sprung up. The gourd withered. Then God pleaded with His servant, bidding him to think how, if he were grieved for the plant, how much more God must desire to spare the great city. Let us take home a solemn warning. How striking it is that even in a prophet’s soul the same dispositions he had renounced when he returned to God could rise up again, and overcome him! Yet this is what we are all liable to. Old temptations, old passions, rise up again, and sometimes with even stronger force, because of having been long kept back. Repentance really is a state to be continued and persevered in. Contrition is a power that is to penetrate the soul, to make it and to keep it tender and soft; and this cannot be at once. Remember our Lord’s words, “Watch and pray, lest ye enter into temptation.” To cease from a penitent state of mind till sin is wholly vanquished is for a soldier in some dangerous country to lay down his arms and sleep, forgetful of the danger of a night attack. Why did Jonah become angry? Because he had not ]earned what he might have learned of the character of God. What ever may be the ordering of the mysterious destiny that besets us, is it not a creature’s true condition to adapt his purposes and his feelings to the purposes of his Creator? (T. T. Carter.)

Uses of anger

There is an anger that is sinful, and there is an anger which is not sinful. The difference lies not so much in the character or even the degree of the emotion, but rather in the motive which rouses it and the object towards which it is directed. Jonah’s anger was that of a mortified vanity and a wounded self-love; it was the anger of bodily discomfort and an insubordinate will; the anger of a most irrational jealousy, of an utterly selfish and heartless pride. Sometimes we read of anger in our Lord Jesus Christ. There we see it having place in the heart of absolute love and goodness, where selfishness is a name unknown, and where yet the very fire which warms and illuminates is a fire also of consuming fierceness towards the evil which will not have it for its good. The maxim “Be ye angry and sin not” has a voice for all of us. Anger need not be sin, but in human hearts it always borders upon it. Anger cherished and fostered is a sin at once. Being angry without sinning is an important point in Christian ethics.

1. There is a feeling to which we give the name of moral indignation. We thus distinguish it from other kinds of anger, more or less selfish and self-asserting, such as anger at an inconvenience, at a slight, at a disappointment, or even at a providence. Of this kind are all those broodings over the superior advantage or happiness of other ranks or other people, over the circumstances of the station or the education or the success in life, over the events which make a home dreary, or over the natural temperament which makes a heart gloomy, or over the peculiar predispositions and tendencies which make it doubly difficult to be good,--all of which, when thoroughly sifted, are a “replying against God.” Moral indignation is characterised chiefly by this, that it is quite unselfish. It is the feeling that rises in the breast of a man on seeing the ill-treatment of an animal, a child, or a woman. To stand by and see these things without remonstrance or without interference is no forbearance: it is cowardice, it is unmanliness, it is sin. In such cases to be angry is a virtue. It is a higher exercise of the same virtuous indignation, to feel where it does not see--where it only reflects and meditates upon the misery and the wickedness and the living death which hangs so heavily and so hopelessly upon the world.

2. There is place also for anger, not only in the contemplation of wrong, but in the personal experience of temptation. There is aa indignation, even a resentment, even a rage and fury, which may be employed without offence to the Gospel, in repelling assaults upon our peace and virtue. “Be ye angry and sin not” has often been exemplified, in its truth and power, in the experience of the man, young or old, who would none of the tempter’s enticements, or of the companionship of the profligate.

3. There is a place for moral indignation in connection with the great personal tempter. (C. J. Vaughan, D. D.)


Verses 5-11

Jonah 4:5-11

So Jonah went out of the city.

God’s expostulation with Jonah

We may presume that Jonah had two reasons for going out of Nineveh. One was, that he might provide for his personal safety. The other, that he might witness the execution of Jehovah’s threatening, and be a spectator of the ruin which he had himself predicted. With this view he went to the east side of Nineveh, perhaps because there was an eminence where he would be secure from danger, and from which he could survey the wide extent of the devoted city. Whatever were the images of ruin which presented themselves to the mind of Jonah, it is certain that he looked, nay, that he longed, for the destruction of the city. What a contrast to our blessed Lord looking down upon Jerusalem from the Mount of Olives. What forbearance and condescension Jonah had experienced at God’s hand! The very mildness of the Divine expostulation ought to have made him ashamed of his folly and perverseness. But God’s reproof was disregarded, and we have now to notice the other method which God adopted in order to bring him to a better mind. The gourd relieved Jonah from much physical suffering, and by diverting his attention from the bitter disappointment over which he had been brooding, it helped materially to tranquillise his mind. Brief, however, was the stay of the gourd, and of his tranquillity. A worm ruined the gourd. Afflictions seldom come single. Sun and wind followed loss of gourd. Jonah felt his very life a burden. When men set their hearts upon earthly treasures, and forget their obligations to the Giver of all good, they are ill prepared for encountering adversity. Then their days are days of darkness, and they become weary of life without being prepared for death. What was the design of the peculiar trial to which Jonah was subjected? The trial was sent to convince him of his sin in wishing the destruction of Nineveh in opposition to the will of God, and for the sake of maintaining his own credit as a prophet. Instruction had to come to him by the way of chastisement. But pride perverts the understanding, and passion darkens it; and when these unhappy influences are at work, men, when visited with trouble, are slow to perceive the end for which God afflicts them. Thus it was with Jonah. See God’s reproof of the prophet, as given in verse 11. He had sighed very bitterly over the premature decay of the mere gourd; should he not have had pity on the populous city? Thus God reproved Jonah, and condescended to vindicate His own procedure. With His solemn and touching expostulation the book closes. Learn from the case of this prophet the indispensable necessity of cultivating an humble and self-denying spirit, and of guarding with holy jealousy against any such feelings as would prompt us, on the one hand, to arraign the equity of Jehovah’s dispensations, when they seem to be averse to our personal comfort or our fancied honour, or would prevent us, on the other, from cherishing compassion for any of our fellow-creatures, or even for the beasts that perish. And let us be encouraged, by the view here given us of the character of God, to approach Him, in the exercise of faith and penitence, by the way of His appointment. He delighteth in mercy. Beware lest we should be found to despise the goodness and forbearance of God. (David Couper.)

Out of sympathy with God

From first to last, in this book, we have an exhibition of God’s mercy in all its greatness and heavenly grandeur, and, as contrasted with this in the most forcible way, an exhibition of man’s littleness. The exhibition of mercy on God’s part is of the richest and most gracious kind. Jonah in his conduct was but a representative of his nation. What he did and felt as an individual, they would have done and felt as a nation in like circumstances; and the one great purpose of the book seems to be to prove how wrong he was in his unwillingness to appreciate God’s mercy towards the Gentiles, in order that his fellow-countrymen, who had exactly the same ideas, might take a warning from him, and give up their exclusive spirit and haughty bearing towards other nations. We are often in danger of sinning in the same way as Jonah and the Jewish people. There are times when we are inclined to take narrow and exclusive views of God’s mercy.

I. Jonah’s displeasure. He went out, and sat on the east of the city. He made himself a booth, a mere hut of branches. There he sat and watched the city to see what would become of it. He had hoped, perhaps, that fire would come from heaven and destroy Nineveh, as Sodom was destroyed of old. But no such hope was to be realised. The fortieth day arrived, and no destruction took place. Why was Jonah so displeased at this grand exercise of God’s mercy, at this triumph of mercy over judgment? In some measure it may be accounted for on natural causes. He may have been experiencing that depression of spirit which is the natural result of physical weakness, produced by bodily or mental toil. Mistaken zeal for God may also in part account for the prophet’s displeasure. He may have fancied that the Ninevites were not in a fit state to appreciate mercy. Personal pride also had some share in it. It is hard for a man, even when a prophet of God, to forget himself in doing God’s work. He was afraid that the Ninevites would despise him as a prophet of lies. A more satisfactory reason than these must be found. Jonah’s displeasure resulted from the fact that his exclusive love for his own country and his own people caused him to have no sympathy with this extension of God’s mercy to a Gentile people. To his way of thinking, Nineveh’s being spared, was like the strengthening and prospering, of his country’s greatest enemy. Taking such a view of the case, he had no sympathy whatever with God s mercy being extended to them. In God s dealings with Nineveh there was a glorious revelation of many mercies yet in store for the Gentiles. If Jonah saw that vision, that “first fruits” of mercy to the Gentiles, he turned away from the sight and shut his eyes. It did not agree with another vision, a picture of his own fancy--the lasting greatness of the Jewish people as the exclusive people of God. Jonah came to a better mind afterwards. His heart was enlarged, and his sympathies widened, when God spoke to him. It was then that he wrote this story.

II. God’s plea in vindication of his sparing mercy. There is something wonderful in this condescension on God’s part to argue with the prophet and to justify Himself. He shows him the folly and the wrongness of his displeasure. But He has to prepare Jonah’s mind first of all.

1. He begins by taking away Jonah’s displeasure. An angry man cannot look all round a question; he takes a one-sided view, and keeps to that. And Jonah, before he can see the full meaning of God’s mercy, must become calm, and rid himself of all his vexation. This God did when He prepared the “gourd,” and caused it to overshadow the prophet. This plant is of exceedingly quick growth. It is chiefly remarkable for its leaves. Only one leaf grows on a branch, but, being large, sometimes measuring more than a foot, and spread out in the shape of an open hand, their collective shade would afford excellent shelter from the heat of the sun. There was nothing miraculous in the fact of this plant springing up beside Jonah’s resting-place, but if the words be taken literally, the development of the plant so quickly is certainly miraculous. The Ruler of nature is here working, not contrary to, but in harmony with, and yet above, natural law. Under the shelter of this plant Jonah’s spirits revive, displeasure vanishes, and he who yesterday was exceedingly displeased is now found “exceeding glad.” Jonah is now in a better state of mind to listen to God.

2. But God has something more to do before He speaks to Jonah. Comfort is to be followed again by discomfort. The gourd withers, and a “vehement east wind” arises. This was not as our east winds. It was the sultry and oppressive wind which blows in the summer months across the vast Arabian desert, and produces universal languor and relaxation. Thus exposed, the prophet sinks down into weariness and languor. Sorrow comes over him, and he longs to die. Now the voice of God comes to him. “Doest thou well to be angry for the gourd?” Let us have a clear idea of the point on which God’s argument turns. It is neither the gourd nor the worm that God lays hold of in His plea, but Jonah’s sorrow for the gourd. The gourd was a loss to the man, for which he grieved. But it was more and better than a selfish regret. Man has a sympathy with all life, not only in the animal, but also in the vegetable world. Jonah pitied the gourd, with its short life. Then came further sublime Divine pleadings. In the light of heaven Jonah now sees his unreasonableness. All his fault lay in not allowing God to have the same sympathies as he had himself. What was a gourd compared with the great city of Nineveh? Yet Jonah pitied the one, and was angry because God had pity upon the other; Jonah was all wrong, and he sees it now and is silent. Silently and in shame he rises and goes home to his country and to his people, to tell them how wrong he was, that they might know how right God was. (James Menzies.)


Verse 6

Jonah 4:6

And the Lord God prepared a gourd.

The Eastern gourd

Is there any gourd in Palestine of growth so rapid as to lay a foundation for the statement that Jonah’s grew up in a night? Certainly not. Without any of that anxiety about the how and the possible in miracles, we may remark that there is an economical propriety in selecting this vine rather than any other, and for several reasons. It is very commonly used for trailing over temporary arbours. It grows with extraordinary rapidity. In a few days after it has fairly begun to run the whole arbour is covered. It forms a shade absolutely impenetrable to the sun’s rays, even at noonday. It flourishes best in the very hottest part of summer; and, lastly, when injured or cut, it withers away with equal rapidity. In selecting the gourd, therefore, there is not only an adherence to verisimilitude, which is always becoming, but there is also an economy, if we may so speak, in the expenditure of miraculous agency. The question is not about power at all. The same God who caused the gourd to grow in a night could make a cedar do so likewise; but this would be a wide departure from the general method of miraculous interposition, which is to employ it no further than is necessary to secure the result required. Is there any reason to suppose that, after all, it was not a gourd, but some other plant--that of the castor-bean, for example, as many learned critics have concluded? Orientals never dream of training a castor-oil plant over a 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. As to ancient translations, the Septuagint gives colocynth, a general name for gourd; and the Vulgate, castor-bean. (Thomson’s Land and Book.”)

Jonah and his gourd

Learn--

1. That all our comforts, small and great, come from God.

2. As our comforts, so also do our trials, come from God.

3. Every gourd of earth, every enjoyment here, has a worm at its root.

4. There is a plant, better than any gourd of earth, under the shadow of which we may live in peace and die in hope.

That plant is Christ. (E. Blencowe, M. A.)

Jonah’s gourd

Here the Lord doth first give Jonah matter of delight in a plant miraculously raised up to cover his booth, and keep him from the heat which increased his grief. Then again, his passion is stirred up by occasion of the Lord’s sudden removal of the gourd, and raising such a wind as might effectually make the sunbeams beat upon him. By all which the Lord lays a ground of more sensible reproving of him for his former bitterness. Doctrine--

1. A spirit once broken and embittered with troubles is easily grieved and stirred up.

2. The Lord, in healing the infirmities of His people, uses first to lance their sores, and discover more of their putrefaction, before He apply any healing plasters; therefore is Jonah’s passion more kindled ere the former distemper be healed.

3. God in His holy providence may ensnare men who are wilfully given to passions, with more occasions to vent more of their corruptions.

4. From this sending of the gourd and the worm, and the effects of it in Jonah, we may see--

Jonah’s gourd; or the vanity of all earthly enjoyments

There is that in the conduct of Jonah which claims our pity and provokes our resentment; especially when we see him have more regard for his own honour than for the lives of so many thousands that know not their right hand from their left. Perhaps, in passing our censure upon him, we shall condemn ourselves. Is it an uncommon thing, to find Christians in the same spirit? The history records an instance of God s pity in the provision of the gourd. But the swiftly growing plant more swiftly faded. This reminds us of the vanity of all earthly enjoyments. What are they, even the best of them, but as the gourd that grew up in a night and perished in a night? We refer to those pleasures which have their root in corruption and luxury. But it is also true of those enjoyments which are consistent with virtue and piety. Which of them can afford us more than a momentary delight? Mutability is the characteristic of all things under the sun. The scene is ever shifting, and like the vagaries of a dream, which only appear to amuse for a moment, and then are gone. Jonah was exceeding glad of the gourd. He set great store by it, more than by the lives of all the inhabitants of Nineveh. And how apt are we, like him, to overrate our comforts! We forget that our happiness has its root in the earth. There lurks a worm at the root of every gourd. Sin has marred our happiness and given the death-sting to all our comforts. Sometimes our enjoyments are our punishments. Where is the heart that does not ache at the loss of some earthly good? The same God who prepared the gourd prepared the worm. The hand of God is to be acknowledged in all our pleasures, and in all our so-called calamities. He does not measure His kindness by our merit. Blessings that come in the ordinary way deserve our sincere acknowledgments; much more should we be thankful for undeserved favours. But we often complain of the evils we suffer that God sends to us. We look to second causes, and fret as though there were no God to rule in the earth. There cannot be good or evil without the Divine permission. The gourd grew up in a night; might not this circumstance have taught Jonah to expect it as suddenly to decay? Pleasures that are quick in their growth seldom last long. The vanity and uncertainty of all our earthly enjoyments show us that error lies somewhere, and where should we look for it but in the nature of man? Whence is man’s misery but from his inordinate attachment to the creature? God Himself is our only end. Let our trims remind us of our sins, and we shall see in the end that God has been correcting us for our profit, that compassion has guided the rod to recall us to our proper resting-place. Here we learn the importance of religious principle. Without it, what can we do in a changing world where all perishes in the using, and is sometimes blasted by the touch? Religion will produce a satisfaction in the mind which no evil can disturb; let the worm destroy, let the gourd wither, let all natural things take their course, or perish by violence, yet the well-principled man shall be happy without them all, for none of these things are essential to his bliss; having God for his portion and choice, he is blessed. (Owen Morris.)

Earthly comforts

From the history of the prophet thus brought to a close we learn--

I. Not to prize earthly comforts too highly. Jonah finds comfort in life only from the gourd which God had suffered to grow up. Improve this.

1. Let us remember that all our comforts spring but from the earth.

2. Earthly comforts are only gourds; they rise up suddenly, and aa suddenly decay.

3. Earthly comforts have a worm at their root. They carry in themselves the seeds of their own dissolution. The very means by which we are supported in life have in them the seeds of disease, decay, and death.

4. Earthly comforts are short in their duration. As they rose like the gourd, so, like that, they may wither in a night.

II. Not to be grieved overmuch at the removal of earthly blessings.

1. Consider their real character.

2. We should believe that there is much wisdom and mercy in their removal.

3. Remember that God can either restore these things to us, or give us better in their stead.

4. We should look forward to a better and more enduring substance.

III. Learn from our own troubles to feel for others.

1. Learn to pity those who have not such comforts as we have.

2. To mourn on account of those who are losing their souls. Let the people of God seek resignation to His will. (W. Cooper.)

Emblems of man’s earthly good, and God’s disciplinary procedure

.

I. Emblem of man’s earthly good. The gourd represents this. It was like it in its development, its decay, and its destruction. It came out of the earth. It came out by Divine agency. The decaying agent was mean. The decay was prompt. The work was done in secret.

II. Emblem of God’s disciplinary procedure.

1. God disciplines man by facts.

2. These facts are varied in their character.

3. These facts are adapted to their end. Learn--

The history of Jonah’s gourd

I. The springing up of this gourd. This took place under very remarkable and truly affecting circumstances.

1. Learn that a gracious God sometimes visits us with mercies when we have reason to expect judgments. Rage drives Jonah out of Nineveh into the scorching heat of an eastern sun, and there, while he is quarrelling with God and asking for death, springs up suddenly a wide-spreading plant to shelter and comfort him. In seasons like these faith is weak, and a compassionate God stoops to its weakness. He gives the soul sensible indications of His love, recalls it to its duty and happiness, by mercies which it can feel and understand.

2. There is no want of His servants too small for God to notice, and no suffering too light for Him to relieve. Jonah’s worthless head is as much an object of His concern as Jonah’s guilty soul. In no point do we mistake more than in this. “This matter,” we say, “is too contemptible to be taken to God.” We limit, we dishonour God when we say, “This is too small for Him.” The care He invites us to roll on Him is, all our care.

3. The Lord often reveals His greatness by the mode in which He imparts comfort and manifests compassion. Refer to those dispensations of Providence, those unexpected deliverances, and blessings and comforts which every servant of God occasionally experiences: things occurring so that he must be blind who does not see in them the Divine hand. We have not to run after goodness and mercy.

II. The effect produced on the prophet’s mind by this inter-position of God on his behalf. Jonah rejoiced in the gourd with great joy

1. Well may we wonder at the folly of that heart which could take so much pleasure in so mean a thing; but there is still greater reason to wonder at its amazing selfishness. This history is like a libel on human nature.

2. The ingratitude of the human heart. We too have often’ forgotten God in the comforts He has given us. Those very comforts have been the causes of our forgetting Him. They have separated between Christ and our soul.

III. The withering of this overvalued gourd.

1. All earthly comforts are short-lived; they are frail and perishing. They often die while we are rejoicing in them.

2. The comfort that most delights us is generally the first to perish. The mercies we lose the soonest are those we love the best. This is the testimony of fact.

3. Our comforts are often taken from us when they appear to be the most needed. Our prop gives way when we are the weakest. The gourd withers in the morning, just when the sun is beginning to scorch.

4. Our comforts often perish from unforeseen and very inconsiderable causes. A trifle--a worm--destroys them. Such is the history of this miraculous plant--it sprang up, it gave delight, it brought into sight the baseness of the human heart, and then it withered. Is not this the history of every comfort the earth yields? It speaks to us all. It bids us care less about a passing world. It calls us to seek after that refuge and comfort of which no creature, either small or great, can rob us. Is there such a refuge? Yes. It is in Christ Jesus, in a manifested, incarnate God; in His cross and righteousness and spirit, in union and intercourse with Him. And it is nowhere else. A crucified Jesus is the one only remedy for all human ills, the one only source of all solid happiness. (C. Bradley.)

The preparations of God

Let the subject be--The precise personal action of God in the discipline, or teaching troubles, of His people. The Lord’s teaching by grouping and combination. One teaching suggested to us by these combinations of God is the need of profound humility in judging any of His dealings while they are going on; and of unlimited faith in Him as the preparer and arranger of everything. In no case do we know the whole of a matter. We see but one part, and do not understand the relation of that part to the whole. Jonah did not know what real relationship that gourd had to him. We are taught that we must not quarrel with any one dealing of God. We must not think there is failure because one part of a dealing is, to all appearance, not doing its work. Though one mean and another has apparently come short in your hand, view God in combination, and do not despair. God taught Jonah by a combination of facts, by personal experiences, personal suffering. The incidents of our lives are instinct with educational power. Only, we must see God in them. Alas! that life’s facts are so barren of teaching to many. Men fail to read their own lives. By this education of facts God’s teaching is very penetrating. Observe also the grouping together of opposites--of pleasure and pain; God reproduces in daily life--the gourd, the worm, the wind. Often we see light and darkness; or conversely, darkness and light mingled in our homes, our business, our relationships, and our only way of being at peace, and being helped heavenward by all that comes, is by seeing in them the preparations of the Lord. The same thoughtfulness by which God arranged the prophet’s teaching arranges ours, if only we will learn. The same sovereignty which has the gourd, the worm, and the wind at command has things great and small, all ready to do us good. The same patience in waiting while His combination of circumstances were doing their work is waiting on us now. (P. H. Power, M. A.)

So Jonah was exceeding glad of the gourd.

Gladness is not gratitude

The sequel shows clearly that the prophet had not one spark of gratitude to God for His merciful interposition in his extremity. He was “glad of the gourd,” which, springing up in a night, sheltered him from the burning rays of a fierce sun, but not thankful to God whose goodness had provided it; the feeling was purely selfish and sensual, destitute utterly of piety. Glad of the gift, but not a thought of the Giver; for as soon as the gourd “withered away” he was angry,” and “wished for death, and bitterly complained to God, and justified his folly and petulance.

In all this, Jonah is a type of multitudes of nominal Christians--“glad” because of God’s great mercies, but never grateful; the temporal gift, but not the Divine Giver, is thought of. (Homiletic Monthly.)


Verse 7

Jonah 4:7

But God prepared a worm when the morning rose the next day.

The prepared worm

Just when Jonah had felt the delight of the shadowing foliage, and had begun to promise himself a most comfortable retreat against an Assyrian sun, the broad-leaved gourd withered. What caused this calamity? A worm. No, that is not all. God prepared the worm. But He also prepared the gourd. Does He, then, build up in order to destroy? Does He give comfort to His creatures in order to torment them by its removal?

I. God is the author of affliction. God asserts in His Word, that all the losses in the world are sent by Him. By evil is often meant calamity, not wickedness. God is the Author equally of prosperity and adversity to His creatures. He uses agents, but we must not forget that He is behind them. He is the Author of affliction, whatever may be the agencies He uses in the course of His providence.

II. He uses the natural laws of the world as his agents in afflicting. The worm merely followed the impulses of its nature. That is all science can say. But God has made all things, however great, however small, for Himself. The things which we call laws are only the methods of His activity, Nature is a forlorn object to study unless we find it a mirror to reflect God.

IV. God is just in afflicting us. Simply as the Maker and Owner of His creatures, God has a right to afflict. But He has entered into a covenant with us. He has said, “Do ye according to My commandments, and ye shall live.” What is the record of our race since? Have we obeyed, or have we disobeyed? Surely we have come into the need of affliction. If God would be just in casting us down to hell for our disobedience, surely He is just in laying upon us disciplinary afflictions.

IV. God afflicts us in his love. With all Jonah’s sins against God, it was not to punish him that God prepared a worm. God’s aim in affliction is our restoration, our improvement. There are uses of adversity. However harsh the voice of God may seem to us, it is yet a Father’s voice, with a Father’s heart behind it. Inferences--

1. If God afflicts, how foolish it is to go to the world for relief.

2. God’s worms for us prove an interesting study.

3. When our gourds wither it is proof that God is near. (Howard Crosby, D. D.)

A worm-smitten gourd

I. God has a right to recall His gifts.

II. God may recall at any time. He has placed Himself under no obligation.

III. God may recall the gift when it is apparently most needed. “When the morning rose “ the gourd was smitten.

IV. God may recall the gift when we are beginning to appreciate it most. When “Jonah was exceeding glad because of the gourd,” it withered.

V. God may recall the gift by any instrumentality He may choose. “A worm” smote the gourd. Some apparently insignificant thing may be God’s agent for our deprivation.

VI. God, after recalling the gift, can comfort the sorrowing, and can compensate for the loss. (Homiletic Review.)

The lesson of the gourd

Jonah’s gourd teaches us that the Lord mercifully cares for the comfort of His creatures, and that He is kind even to the unthankful and to the evil. Perhaps Jonah was a little too glad of the temporal refreshment of the gourd. This is the mistake we are all tempted to commit with regard to our temporal comforts and conveniences. We are so glad of them that we pillow our hearts upon them. But are our earthly comforts incorruptible and undecaying? There is a worm at the root of all our earthly comforts. The fashion of this world passeth away. But let a man, through grace, enjoy his comforts soberly, habitually regarding them as transient things; let him look up through the gift unto the Giver, and then, when his gourd is withered, he will still bless and magnify the Hand that withered it. (A. Roberts, M. A.)

Creature comforts withered

A very awful proof of human depravity, in God’s own people, is recorded in the case of Jonah. If Jonah’s corruption is very conspicuous, the mercy of God is yet more so, both as it respects Jonah and the Ninevites. See what absolute obedience God requires of all His prophets and people in general This prophecy teaches us that God’s dispensations may vary, and be different from His threatening, without any change taking place in His nature or purpose. God so wisely governs His kingdom that even in His very punishment of the rebellions of His people He investeth them with honour, so little is His goodness dependent on human worthiness. Here we find Jonah exceedingly displeased, very angry indeed, at God’s merciful conduct towards Nineveh. He reasons with God against His merciful conduct towards that great city. In the heat of his angry impatience he wants to die. God rebukes Jonah’s impatience in gentle terms, and the prophet seems to have conceived some hope that God for his sake might yet destroy the city; therefore he fled from it and waited the issue in painful suspense. He made a booth, and rested under its shade, and to make it more comfortable God covered it with a gourd. But as Jonah’s grief had been carnal and rebellious, so now his joy was merely sensual, the excess of which it behoved the Almighty to curb. Therefore God suddenly destroyed the gourd. Doctrine--That as mankind in general are apt, like Jonah, to delight to sit under the shadow of a gourd, God hath very wisely, and in great love, ordained a worm at the root of every gourd of creature delight and comfort; by which means He drives His people to a more excellent dwelling-place, and more certain dependence.

1. Point out some things in which people are apt to promise themselves great pleasure and satisfaction, but which in the event evidently appear to be no better than Jonah’s withered gourd. Such as riches, self-indulgence in food, children, human esteem, connections in social life. Trust in mere outward ordinances. Too high expectations even from relation to a gospel church.

2. At the root of every gourd there is a canker worm, whose envenomed bite smiteth it that it withereth. Apply to the above-mentioned human pleasures. God will by no means have creatures dignified with any dignity besides that with which He Himself is pleased to invest them. Now point out a certain antidote against the poison of this canker-worm which is the thing to be attended to.

The God of the worm

This writer does not, as many foolishly do, banish God from His universe to watch in idle unconcern its workings from afar. This book says, God answered, God commanded, God saved, God bethought, God excited the wind, God made the great fish, God caused a gourd to grow, God made a worm, God repented and God spared. It is God, God, God. He is the explanation of all things, and His existence gives purpose and meaning to all things. Or think again of the character of God as it is here explicitly set forth in words. He is “the gracious God and merciful, long-suffering, abundant in kindness, and repentant of the evil.” This is one of the most evangelical writings in the Old Testament. What an expression it gives of the Divine love to all mankind, and how it forespeaks like the first gleam of the dawn that universal brotherhood of men so bound up with the Fatherhood of God as it is proclaimed by Christ. How nobly, too, the doctrine of repentance and its value are stated. Assuredly this is a great book with a great message and high teaching on the nature, character, and purpose of God. And now, keeping all that in view, and distinctly remembering that the God of this book is” the merciful and is a God of purpose, let us think of the statement of the text, “And the Lord prepared a worm.” That is a truth before which many people stagger. There are people, some who may be said never to have thought at all, and some who have thought much but mistakenly, who cannot understand the character of a holy God who in any way sends pain, suffering, loss, who, in short, prepares a worm. They can understand the God of the gourd, who provides protection and safety, but they cannot understand a God of discipline and rebuke and chastisement. At such a thought they rebel and stagger, or sulk in unbelief. They are prepared readily and gladly to believe in the God of the gourd, but not in the God of the worm; in the God of the rose, but not in the God of the thorn. Happiness, gifts, and love, these are all marked by His hand, but loss and suffering and sorrow, too, may be His instruments of good. Through the chastisement of His love men may find the best He has to give. And yet we must be careful here to differentiate. Is it not true that a great deal of the sorrow and evil that are in the world are wrongly blamed on God? There is nothing plainer than that a large proportion of the evil that afflicts man and burdens life is a direct outcome of the breach of God’s laws of truth and justice and love. They are clearly the fruit of sin, and sin is in man’s will. But sin is against God’s purpose, and He is ever seeking to destroy it. Ah! “It’s man’s inhumanity to man that makes countless thousands mourn”; it is the selfishness and the pitilessness, the unscrupulousness and injustice of the human heart, the ignorance and superstition of the human mind that have caused the very creation to groan and travail in pain; it is no will or act of God’s. To-day, as then, there is the tendency for people, by ignorance and injustice and moral laziness, to bring upon themselves and their neighbours the ravages of disease, the miseries of unholy social relationships, the shame that crushes the heart with unhealable sorrow, and to blame God for it all, and to preach resignation in the midst of it, when it is our plain duty to rise up and to deal with the causes of such things--to slay the evil, to tear up its roots, to fight “against the wrong that needs resistance and for the cause that needs assistance,” and to bring in the Kingdom of God, which is life and health and peace. But after all that has been said, there still remain suffering and evil in the world, and we can do nothing to explain it, and still less to remove it. It is oftentimes a great mystery, and it burdens many hearts with heavy perplexity. The only explanation that can be given of it is that God permits it; yea, that He sends it, and that tie has got a great purpose in it. “Neither did this man sin, nor his parents; but he was born blind in order that he might manifest the works of God.” The man suffered not only for himself but for others; yea, in his suffering there was a Divine purpose. He illustrated that great principle everywhere present in nature and in life, and which found its sublimest expression in the Cress itself, the deep and precious truth that much suffering is vicarious. Now towards such pain, suffering, sorrow--and which cannot be removed and but little explained--two attitudes may be assumed. In the midst of it men may forget God, or ignore Him altogether, or rebel against Him. There are many people who are not able to see God for their trouble; they are afflicted with the rebellious heart. All this, of course, in no way mitigates the evil or helps them in the day of their suffering; it only twists their nature and warps and stunts their inner life. It is evil added to evil, and no gain anywhere, for the trouble still remains. Rebellion only aggravates the trouble. To have done with God and religion makes matters worse instead of better. The other attitude is that of humble submission and recognition of the truth that God has prepared a worm, and that He, the merciful and the holy, has a purpose in it. Before anyone can have any light on the great mysteries of suffering and sorrow he must first learn and distinctly recognise that the end of life is not happiness, but character; that discipline is necessary to character, that submission and a spirit of devout resignation are the only way to get good by seeking even through pain and suffering--character, holiness, Christ-likeness. It is a truth which all the great teachers of the world have declared. It was taught by Buddhist as it was by the Greek dramatist, by the Stoic as it is by the Christian; but the Christian looks at it from a loftier height than any other, and recognises in it the fatherly purpose of the Eternal God, “who maketh all things work together for good to them that love Him,” and causeth “our light affliction, which is but for a moment, to work for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory. Resignation is the attitude of the wise. The distinct recognition of the fact that God made the worm is the wisdom of the holy. But how many mistake what is meant by resignation! Mr. Gladstone, whom Lord Salisbury described as a “great Christian,” in writing to his wife, said that “resignation is too often conceived to be merely a submission, not unattended by complaint, to what we have no power to avoid. But that is less than the whole work of a Christian. Our full triumph will be found when we not merely repress inward tendencies to murmur, but when we would not even, though we could, alter what in any matter, God has willed.” Here is the great work of religion, here is the test from which sanctity is attained. And surely sanctity is God’s greatest gift to men. How many of the saintliest characters that the world has known have been those who have learned this great lesson in the school of God, when they met pain without murmuring, and sorrow with resignation; when through loss they found gain, and so treasured up in themselves that enduring wealth. The greatest instrument that the world has ever known for the shaping of human character is the will of God, and the glad acceptance of it as wisdom and love and life. I read somewhere not long ago an illustration that may help us to understand this truth and seal it on our hearts. The end is not clear, not yet; some day it will become plain, when the tuning is over and the discipline is done. Meanwhile we can trust Him who is the God of the worm as He is of the gourd, the God at once of the rose and thorn. (D. L. Ritchie.)


Verses 8-11

Jonah 4:8-11

He fainted and wished in himself to die.

Jonah’s woe

It would be difficult to say whether the tokens of God’s holy justice, or of His abounding mercy, be the more numerous in the Scriptures. But all doubt is dispelled the moment that we understand the Gospel of our salvation. We can no longer question the loving-kindness of the Lord, when we see what has been done that sinners might have hope. But God’s mercy had strangely distempered the mind of the prophet. He complained like one defrauded of his due. And that complaint led only to misery. What made others happy only fomented Jonah’s grief. Sunrise brought no joy to him; the wind parched him, and withered the gourd; he was smitten with faintness by the eastern sun; he became weary of existence; he prayed that he might die.

1. The longer a sinner continues in his sin, the more wretched does he become. Jonah was obviously sinking deeper from hour to hour.

2. Suffering and sin are inseparably linked by the appointment of the holy God. It is the sinner himself who brings sorrow on the sinner.

3. God in holy sovereignty may punish sin by sin. When His creatures go astray His restraining grace is sometimes withheld, and then sin follows sin in rapid succession, until the wanderer at last perhaps stands appalled at his own iniquity, or else is proved to be hopelessly degenerate. See in Jonah’s case how transgression followed transgression, lie is offended at the mercy of God to Nineveh. He refuses to acknowledge his waywardness,--he would rather die. Then he withdraws from all intercourse with those whom God had in mercy spared; their proximity was a source of pain to Jonah. Then he pines for death; then he tries to justify his waywardness, and comes at last to declare that he did right in sinning. It is thus that sin deludes the very conscience, darkens the understanding, and enslaves the will. Blinded by passion, resolute in self-defence, determined to acknowledge no fault, but to vindicate all that he had done, Jonah makes a confession which justifies the ways of God with Nineveh. If the prophet lamented the loss of the gourd, and pitied it when it perished, surely much more might the compassionate One pity the city which had repented. (W. K. Tweedie.)

Impatience under trials

Afflictions produce a twofold effect: either making us more submissive to God, or rendering us impatient, irritable, and rebellious. They had the latter effect on Jonah.

1. His impatient grief was inconsiderate. It was passion, not reason, which dictated the prayer that he might die. No sooner were his wishes crossed than he broke out into discontented complainings. In our own case, reflection would silence many of our complaints. We should especially beware of expressing weariness of life in such cases.

2. His impatient grief was rebellious. He was not willing to have his Maker’s will done.

3. It was extremely selfish. The saving of so many thousands gave him no pleasure unless his word was honoured.

4. It was unbelieving. Could he not trust God to take care of his reputation? And which of us can say that he is not often impatient and repining? The habit of re cognising the hand of God in little things that try our temper would repress many a peevish exclamation. (W. H. Lewis, D. D.)

Jonah’s passion, and God’s forbearance

1. The first element in Jonah’s character was moral cowardice. In what lay his sin? Simply in his unwillingness to discharge a plain positive duty. Learn--

2. The next element was, imperfect views of the Divine character and government.

The weariness of life

This was the desire of Jonah when the Lord smote the gourd so that it died. In the disappointment of his soul he wept over it, and in the trouble of his spirit his prayer was for death. It is so with not a few selfish people. When sorrow touches anything that is theirs they are overwhelmed. They seem to feel, think, and act as if all the agencies of life and providence were in motion but for them, and as if all were out of order when they suffer inconvenience, and all rightly going when they are in comfort. This estimate of ill-being or well-being, in its relation to self, is extremely low; and yet it often takes a religious form of expression. Why should we regard calamities as in any way peculiar or severe because they come near to us? This distinction you will ever observe through life--the selfish make little of the sufferings which their neighbours have to bear, however great, while they are loud about their own, however small. The sufferings of the selfish render them more selfish, the sufferings of the generous make them more generous. There are, however, many instances in which the weariness of Jonah may fall upon the spirit without his bitterness, and without his misanthropy. Many a one, with a sincerer despondency, is ready to exclaim with him, “It is better for me to die than to live.” How often is this the sentiment under severe physical pain, whether it is uttered or concealed. How natural, in the tossings of convulsive irritation, to fix the mind upon the quiet grave! If the love of life is stronger in age, the consciousness of life is stronger in youth. This very strength of consciousness may, and sometimes does, turn into a disgust of life. Having not deeply entered into the moral purposes of life, anything which cuts off the young from its sparkling felicities cleaves them almost to despair. The loss of this world’s goods may fall heavy on the spirit, but the wound, though deep, is seldom incurable,--there is a worm more destructive than that which consumes our health and property. It is the worm of insatiable passion. This turns life into an irritable, discontented dream, with waking starts of more than ordinary loathing, in which the desire often obtrudes on the sickened mind, to be well rid of such an existence. Desire that once passes the moderation of nature is disease; it is worse than any ordinary illness, because it is in the mind. It becomes an inward and rooted malady. A man is thus a victim to his own best advantages. Many, whose circumstances and constitution place them much nearer to nature, are not always wholly saved from this temper. With all that is substantially needful for a good and enjoyable life, they become weary and sullen, and fret, and make others and themselves most unhappy; they are not content, because their wishes are not sound. I can conceive of one to whom life is worn out, and whose wish to leave it we can scarcely censure. It is one who has survived his kindred and his companions, and remains alone in the desert of adversity and the world. Many that are scorned elsewhere have an asylum from contempt among their kindred. They are nothing, or worse than nothing, to those who have only remotely seen them, and yet everything to those who have lived near them and with them. Much of dissatisfaction with life arises from a doubly false estimate of life. We underrate our own position in it; we overrate the positions of others. Out of this doubly false estimate spring correspondent false contrasts and desires. Take a certain level of comfortable existence to begin with, and life from that is equal in all essentials. All poetry, song, drama, fiction, and religion imply this. The passions are the same; the same in their experience, the same in their results. All that makes the essence of life is equal; and the proof may be put into one short sentence:--the grief or the enjoyment that reaches life makes nothing of station. But if it were not even so, yet complaint against life would be against wisdom, virtue, and religion. Where is the wisdom of that man who murmurs at that which he could not avoid, or could not have changed? There are those who say that they have lost all interest in life. It is to them and not to life that poverty comes; for life is ever rich in interest. Life is rich for the senses; for the affections; for the moral sentiments; for sympathy. If a man has clear views of God and of His providence, if he has a trustful and patient spirit, he will be grateful for his enjoyments, and he will meekly bear his griefs. He will try to extract from his circumstances all the good which they yield him, and he will not darken his position with imaginary calamities, Experience will convince him that he might be more unhappy, and humility will suggest that he has, on the whole, more pleasure than he merits. In the worst trials faith will teach him that earth is not his rest, that his afflictions here, light and enduring but for a moment, working for him an eternal weight of glory, are but as hasty April showers that usher in an everlasting summer. The day of life spent in honest and benevolent labour comes in hope to an evening calm and lovely. Earth, to each of us, is but as the gourd of Jonah. Happy for each if at the close of it he can say, not in a querulous discontent, but in believing trust, “It is better for me to die than to live”; or rather, if he can say with the tranquil joyfulness of old Simeon, “Lord, now lettest Thou Thy servant depart in peace.” (Henry Giles.)


Verse 9

Jonah 4:9

Doest thou well to be angry for the gourd?

Jehovah’s appeal to Jonah

I. Jonah’s then mood. “God said to Jonah, Doest thou well to be angry?”

1. Observe the point of this appeal. To be grieved for the gourd was to be grieved for himself.

2. The compliment involved in this Divine appeal. God made Jonah judge in his own case.

3. Note the response of the prophet to this appeal. “I do well to be grieved, even unto death.” Candid, if somewhat passionate.

II. The propriety of the divine procedure. Note the correspondence between the words “pity” and “spare.” God did not contradict the prophet. There is a double contrast presented in this branch of the appeal. The contrast between Jonah and Jehovah; and between the gourd and the city.

1. The labour expended on the city was one reason why God should spare it.

2. The growth of Nineveh was another reason.

3. The antiquity of Nineveh was another.

4. The commodiousness and magnitude of Nineveh was another.

5. The presence of the children and cattle was another. (Samuel Clift Burn.)

God reasoning with man

The amazing interest God takes in mankind is shown--

I. In his reasoning with a man who is in a bad temper. Jonah was angry, and the intensity of his anger became so intolerable that he wished to die. Why was he angry?

1. Because of the Divine compassion shown to the Ninevites.

2. Because of the loss of a temporal blessing.

II. In his reasoning in order to impress this man with the reality of his compassion. The comparison between the plant and Nineveh may be expressed in three questions.

1. What is this plant to the men that inhabit Nineveh?

2. What is this one plant even to the unconscious infants at Nineveh!

3. What is one plant to even the irrational creatures in Nineveh! (Homilist.)

The sinfulness and cure of absorbing passion

The Book of Jonah is a standing rebuke of intolerance among the sacred writings of a most intolerant people. It is because it exposes and rebukes the sin of intolerance that this book has been preserved. The reason of Jonah’s disobedience to the heavenly voice is boldly and frankly told in the history. No tenderness for the prophet’s reputation is allowed to veil his sin; exclusiveness is laid bare in all its baseness and malignity. There is no need for us to offer other explanations of the prophet’s conduct. National antipathy and religious exclusiveness will account for it all. Equally marked in this history is God’s determination to expose the workings and rebuke the sin of exclusiveness. Why was the hard and obstinate Jonah called and forced to a work that was so uncongenial to him, a work that goaded him to wildest turbulence, and called out his bitterest passion? It was for Jonah’s sake, that his bad heart might be searched and corrected. We have here God’s solemn rebuke of a common sin, and many a man may find here searching and humbling lessons. Jonah rebelled against the mission appointed him, but he had to fulfil it. To do God’s work is our sole discharge. It is only by obeying God’s bidding that we can be purged from the sinfulness that makes obedience unwelcome. God’s chosen servants have to yield to Him, though often in the yielding they are searched and convicted of startling wickedness. In the working of Jonah’s anger we see the characteristics of all absorbing passion; and God’s mode of curing him is an example of the myriad influences by which He restores the self-absorbed to true and healthy life.

I. The sinfulness of absorbing passion.

1. The sinfulness is seen in Jonah’s contempt of life. A man’s worth may be measured by the reverence he has for his life. The Gospel, which delivers us from a coward fear of dying, was never intended to foster an equally coward fear of living.

2. The sinfulness is seen in that it works insincerity. Even after Jonah has recognised that God is sparing the city, he still affects to believe that it will be overthrown. He hastens out of it lest he should be partaker of its plagues. Under his booth he pretends that he is awaiting its destruction. What hateful affectation and insincerity! But is it very uncommon? How much of life is wasted because of our refusal to acknowledge that we have outgrown the expectations of the past, or that time and change have swept us far beyond them!

3. The selfishness of an absorbing passion is illustrated in Jonah’s contempt for the men of Nineveh. He will not share in their repentance, nor encourage them to hope in God’s mercy; he shuts himself up alone to brood over his anger. All passion tends to arrogance. Self-absorption means scorn of our fellows. A single passion may arrogate to itself the whole sphere of life, and constitute itself the be-all and end-all of existence. It is well for us to be aware of this. Our holiest emotions may become overweening.

II. God’s cure for absorbing passion. Notice the exceeding gentleness with which God reproves and seeks to restore the angry prophet. The disobedient are constrained by a force too strong for them; but even the ungracious doing of duty brings the spirit into fitness for gentler discipline. The Lord cares for Jonah in his self-will. When God smites the gourd, and sends the vehement cast wind and burning sun to beat on Jonah’s head, it is that tie may speak his words gentler than the gourd-shade, and reveal Himself to the stricken spirit as “the shadow of a great rock in a weary land.” How different is this from man! We should have been glad that the self-absorbed man should be his own tormentor. God seeks to restore the prophet by awakening love in his heart: awakening his interest, and making him tender over the gourd. Over the wretched, gloomy Jonah, sprung up the wondrous plant, and its leaves and tendrils drew off his thoughts from himself, and as he watched it grow, a new interest was awakened in him. His heart softened to the plant, and he becomes strangely tender and reverential over a gourd. There is something wonderful in life, even though it be the life of a common weed. Jonah loves his gourd, and “has pity” on it when it is smitten. The first result of Jonah’s tenderness would seem to be a deeper gloom. Another wrong is added to his suffering; and again he cries for death. But it has not all been in vain; for he is prepared to listen to the voice that once more sounds in his ears. His reply, “I do well to be angry,” was bad and bitter; but perverse and sullen silence before God is far worse than perverse and sullen speech. How wonderful is God’s answer. The tenderness that was in Jonah, poor as it was, mingled with selfishness as it was, was yet, in its dim and partial way, an emblem of the tenderness of God for every creature He has made! Thou canst not bear that what has lived, and lived for thee, should die. And shall I be careless of the great city? “There is this sacred energy in love, however poor it may be, however mixed with selfishness, that it admits us into the secret of God’s counsel, helps us to bear Divine mysteries, and understand God’s ways. Since on every hand God has put the tokens and witnesses of His Divine care and tenderness, do we not hear on every hand the voice that calls us from our absorbing passions, from our griefs, our angers, and our woes? Life is worth living when every human creature is felt worthy of our love: the voice of duty will sweetly beckon us to human sympathy and human helpfulness. And so the dark mystery of your life will be read. In God’s care for all men you will find yourself surrounded by God’s care for you. The wise and blessed purpose of the individual destiny is seen in the one eternal purpose of love to men. (A. Mackennal, D. D.)

The character of Jonah

The immediate occasion of Jonah’s anger was the withering of the gourd. There had been, however, a prior occasion of his wrath. He had been offended with the patience and lenity which God had exercised towards the inhabitants of Nineveh, contrary (as he unreasonably thought) to the commission that had been given him, to threaten their destruction. If Jonah was grieved at the destruction of the agreeable and useful gourd, the destruction of a populous, flourishing, and powerful city ought to be a much more mournful and distressing sight; and if this could be prevented, though it had been threatened, it ought to give him joy. His behaviour exhibits to our view the hurtful effects of that pride and wrath, which, in certain circumstances, more or less arises in the breast of every man. Learn these lessons--

1. That the mind of man, being prone to gratify every passion which it feels to the utmost possible extent, therefore gives the object for which it is conceived that figure and importance in its own imagination whereby it is fitted to afford the most extensive and complete gratification.

2. That the mind of man, being thus disposed to magnify the object of every passion beyond its real nature and extent, it is hereby equally disposed to justify the passion it conceives, however excessive and unreasonable. What use ought we to make of Jonah’s example? It ought to put us on our guard against that fatal self-deceit which leads men to give themselves a false description of the objects of their several passions, and as false a description of the innocence and justice of the passions which they have conceived. Being of a passionate and peevish nature, his pride and anger being raised, by what Jonah apprehended might hurt his interest and reputation as a prophet, every pious, every tender and humane consideration was entirely overlooked. We should learn to put ourselves upon our guard against the influence of this pernicious self-deceit, and to make it, as far as possible we can, the invariable measure of our conduct.

1. To proportion the degree of our affections to the real merit and importance of the cause by which they are produced; and

2. To exclude the false, artificial apologies by which the most unjust and criminal attachments in the heart of man are ready to conceal, or justify their own excess. This conduct will, indeed, require a careful attention to ourselves and much self-correction and command. To enforce this instruction the following reflection ought to be attended to, namely, that the artifice by which the mind of man imposes on itself, in the indulgence of its sinful and irregular desires, whatever present ease or pleasure it may give, must become, ere long, the source of anguish and remorse. We have reason to believe that the consciences of men will hereafter punish them in the same manner for those iniquities which they now commit calmly and without remorse. Without great vigilance and much inspection of ourselves we are in the utmost danger of misapprehending our own character and of justifying ourselves. This dangerous self-deceit proceeds from two causes.

1. From the self-love and vanity which is natural to every man.

2. From the artifice of sinful passions.

By the first, men are laid under a general partiality in favour of themselves, and are disposed to form a more favourable opinion of their own character than it is entitled to. By the second, they are hindered in a more particular manner from perceiving the iniquity and guilt of those parts of their character and conduct which are directed by the influence of their sinful passions. When these two causes of self-deceit meet, they must betray a man into a total ignorance and misapprehension of himself. (W. Craig, D. D.)


Verse 10-11

Jonah 4:10-11

Thou hast had pity on the gourd.

Jonah’s gourd

There is no mention of Israel in this Book of Jonah. It is concerned solely about the welfare of a foreign nation. There can be no doubt that the spirit of the book is entirely opposed to Jewish feeling. While its form is historical, in substance it is prophetical. It contains great and important truths which Israel was in danger of overlooking, and foreshadows a time when God’s mercy towards mankind should no longer be restrained within the limits of the seed of Jacob. All the concern of the writer is to point a moral lesson. The exclusive spirit which regarded all nations as made to subserve the welfare of Israel was always hateful to God. But Jonah is scarcely to be blamed for not seeing what many excellent Christians have failed to see. We must not throw stones at Jonah, for our own houses are sufficiently brittle. Look at the lesson of the gourd. It had cost him nothing, his wisdom had not provided it, nor his care cherished its growth, yet he resented the loss of it as a personal injury. It was a parable designed to convey a needful lesson to abate Jonah’s peevish grief at the sparing of Nineveh. God answered Jonah by dealing with the plant as Jonah would have had Him deal with Nineveh. What was there, then, in Nineveh, which answered to the consolation Jonah derived from the plant? Its sentient life and evident happiness, the work of God’s hands, unspoiled as yet by human wickedness, was God’s gourd, the consolation of His heart when the hot wind of Nineveh’s wickedness blew upon Him. He could not bear the thought of sending the pestilence to crush in pain and death all this innocent life and enjoyment, or of giving up these tender little ones to the cruel carnage of savage foes. Judgment is His strange work, and only when absolutely necessary will He sacrifice the innocent and helpless for the sake of punishing the world and purifying its moral atmosphere. This is a very beautiful lesson. It sheds a shaft of tender light into God’s dealings with mankind. God will not let the happiness of creation be sacrificed for the sake of punishing human Corruption. The final lesson of this Book of Jonah is full of encouragement, and gives us a conception of God which is scarcely surpassed even in the New Testament. He is represented as more merciful than His servant, and as possessed of far wider sympathies. If God were not more merciful than man there would be little hope for us. Repentance instantly calls forth Divine mercy. The prayer of the contrite no sooner reaches His ear than the justifying word goes forth. (E. W. Shalders, B. A.)


Verse 11

Jonah 4:11

And should not I spare Nineveh, that great city.

Great cities; or our fellow-creatures

Jonah’s disquietude had arisen from a strange cause; it was from the exercise of God’s mercy in sparing the lives and the city of a mighty people. Jonah could not bear that his message should seem not to take effect. He regarded the sparing of the city as a dishonour done to him.

1. The great thought which these words suggest to our minds is’ God s great compassion for the helpless and ignorant.

2. A comparison between the view which God takes of great masses of human beings, and that with which we sometimes, in carelessness or pride, are disposed to look upon them. We live, in fact, on the outside of our fellow-creatures; we exercise little sympathy with them. Jonah’s fault was his heartless selfishness. How could a man that knew anything of the soul’s value express himself as Jonah did but under this fatal influence?

3. What are our thoughts and feelings and views in similar circumstances? What do we feel when contemplating great masses of human beings in helpless innocence, or in degraded ignorance? There is nothing more impressive than a great city. If we are true brethren of the God-man, if the manhood of Christ is more than a name to us, if it is a word of real sympathy, then it must unlock the chambers of our hearts to our brethren. Then every man we deal with, every servant, every neighbour will be an object of interest to us. The watchword of the whole creation now is the name of Jesus Christ. (C. E. Kennaway, M. A.)

The Divine character and purposes

Had we met with the Book of Jonah in the Apocrypha, we should have been tempted to overlook the profound teachings contained in it, and we should have regarded it as a traditional story, wrought up into its present shape by some writer of a later time, whose spirit was, by contact with better forms of heathenism, liberated and delivered from Jewish prejudices. What is the special contribution which is made by it to the body of revelation?

1. The first and broadest teaching regards the character of God as the God of nations.

2. Another aspect of the book is its bearing upon the popular mind at the time it was written, its teachings as to the character of God as the God of Israel.

3. It was a direct and very powerful protest against mere priestism and ceremonialism. Jonah had nothing to do but preach repentance. And God spared Nineveh simply on their turning from their wickedness and confessing their sins.

4. What can be said of “God’s repenting Him of the evil”? The proclamation to Nineveh carried an implied condition. It meant that the same God who pronounced the sentence was ready to recall it on the repentance of the people. The unconditional form of the proclamation is merely the tribute which is paid to the justice of God, which is absolute, which can never be changed as justice, which is honoured even in the remission of punishment, and which must be proclaimed as the foundation on which all true repentance is made to rest. But the prophet’s appearance was an invitation to repentance and salvation. God morally regards us at any moment just as we are. Of course He has considered our future and provided for it all. What we are now God regards us as being, and treats us accordingly. (R. A. Redford, M. A.)

Reflections on the story of Jonah

1. The warning furnished by this history, to beware of allowing expected results to interfere with present and pressing obligations.

2. Another reflection respects the spheres of greatest usefulness for the servants of God, and admonishes them to watch for the leadings of providence, rather than give way to their own desires and inclinations. Men are not always the best judges of the department of service by which they can do most to glorify God, any more than of the particular stations they can most successfully occupy.

3. The benefit which may be derived, both for direction in duty and for the profitable study of His Word and ways, from a connected and orderly view of His dispensations.

4. Whenever and wherever God is pleased to manifest of His grace and goodness, it is our part to acknowledge and rejoice in the manifestation. (Patrick Fairbairn.)

The education of a prophet

According to tradition, Jonah was the son of the widow of Zarephath, whom Elijah raised to life again; and the sturdy youth who stood at the prophet’s side throughout that long and terrible day on Mount Carmel He was further identified with a young man whom Elisha sent to anoint Jehu to be king over Israel. Certainly he belonged to that stern order of men, and had a great “zeal for God, but not according to knowledge.” He greatly needed enlargement of mind and soul; and in the end, I think, received it. And the story of this book, so far as it relates to Jonah, is a study of a typical zealot or religionist in contact with the larger purposes of the Divine loving-kindness not sympathising with them, or even understanding them; yet learning at last, perhaps after much Divine discipline, in some small measure to share them.

1. He is first of all shown in association with the rough heathen Phoenician sailors, and their humanity is seen in gracious contrast with his own temper. For he is now endeavouring to put the whole Mediterranean sea between himself and his duty, which, if faithfully performed, may save a vast city from its doom, and it is because he foresees this as a likely result that, instead of going to Nineveh, he is trying to flee into Spain. But these poor sailors will save this foreigner, bird of ill passage though he is, if they can. But Jonah emerged from the dread experience that followed, when he “went down to the bottom of the mountains and the earth with her bars was about him for ever,” unsoftened in feeling. He is as austere and pitiless as before, and thinks himself more righteous than God. It is infinitely strange that men can come forth from dark seas of peril and judgment, and, after deliverance, deny one morsel of compassion to their fellow sinners!

2. But Jonah, unreconciled to the thought of God’s clemency to others, goes on his sulky way to Nineveh, “that great city, great unto God,” wherein were “six score thousand persons that cannot discern between their right hand and their left hand”--little children, and, as it is humanely added, “also much cattle.” He cries aloud in the broad thoroughfares and beside the massive temples his message of doom, “Yet forty days.” It is said that four years before the siege of Jerusalem an unknown man traversed the city continually crying, “A voice from the east, a voice from the west, a voice from the four winds, a voice against Jerusalem and the Holy Place, a voice against the bridegroom and the bride! Woe, woe to Jerusalem!” But this voice was more immediate, “Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be destroyed.” Now, it says a great deal for the tolerance of the people that they suffered a foreigner thus to denounce them. People do not always care to be told of their sins, and the judgment to come. “Am I therefore become your enemy,” says Paul,” because I tell you the truth? “Ah, there is often no surer way! But these heathen not only permitted the message to be spoken in their midst; they allowed it to resound in their consciences. They repented, after a godly sort, “they turned from their evil way.” And so theirs was a repentance unto life, not to be repented of. How salutary is this grace--this turning of the mind from sin, this honest regret and resolve!

3. “But it displeased Jonah exceedingly, and he was very angry.” It is the littleness of man, which everywhere in this book is confronted by the majesty and the magnanimity and the philanthropy of God. The prayer of Jonah that follows is the most remarkable prayer on record. Here is this narrow, parochial, inadequate man presuming to speak to the Almighty as if on level terms with Him--nay, as if he spoke from a superior eminence of wisdom and virtue! “I pray Thee was not this my saying,” he cries, “when I was yet in my country?” It has all turned out, he declares, as he knew it would. But when his prayer returns into his own bosom, Jonah now becomes a spectacle unto angels and unto men. He went out of the city, and built himself a booth and waited to see what would become of the city. Perhaps the clock had not struck; perhaps there was something wrong with his chronology; perhaps the people would lapse again into sin, and the doom fall after all. Ah, how different from the spirit of Him who, when He beheld Jerusalem in its sins and foresaw its coming ruin, wept over it!

4. But Jonah did not weep over the city: He wept over himself. In his mortification and mental and physical exhaustion he thought that he wanted to die; though, when death was very near him in the deep seas, he was of another mind. But just as when his great predecessor, Elijah, in the wilderness, “requested for himself that he might die,” God took no notice of the request, but inquired about his duty once and again: “What doest thou here, Elijah?” So God took no notice of Jonah’s request, but inquired once and again about his temper: “Doest thou well to be angry?” And, as God taught Elijah by a nature parable, the whirlwind, the earthquake, the fire, and the still, small voice, so He taught Jonah by the parable of the gourd. “Thou hast had pity on the gourd,” said God. It was a form of self-pity, no doubt; but, then, how much of our sympathy starts from a selfish root! It is a great thing when feeling splits away from a purely personal reference, and puts forth an altruistic branchlet. Time and grace may make much of a sentiment not so pure and lofty in its beginning as one would wish. Think, Jonah, think! “Thou hast had pity on the gourd.” You did not make it; it was not yours; yet its short-lived glory touched you with some regret. I have made both plants and men. Ought I not to have pity on men failing and passing? Think! till you, too, pity them with Me.

5. Did Jonah learn the lesson of charity, and take a larger and a gentler mould? There is some reason to think that he did, for as the story leaves him he is still under the hand of God, and God is still speaking. The inference is that he receives the Divine admonition. He has no answer to make, and God is still with him, and not failing nor forsaking this cross-grained servant of His. We love the amiable. What a mercy it is that God loves the unamiable also, and the awkward and ignorant and dim-sighted, and is kind to the unthankful and the evil. But there is perhaps another reason for hoping that God’s teaching was not in vain. In 2 Kings 14:25 we learn that Jonah prophesied with reference to the re-conquest of Moab under Jeroboam II., who “restored the coast of Israel from the entering of Hamath to the Sea of the Plain.” Now, in the oracles contained in Isaiah there is one concerning Moab, not by Isaiah, but spoken, it is said, “ in time past” (R.V.). By a number of eminent critics this is supposed to be the substance of Jonah’s prophecy during the reign of Jeroboam

II. If we can take this view we may well consider how different the tone of this prophecy is from that which we should expect from the accuser of Nineveh. It is full of tender feeling and humane regret. “I will weep with the weeping of Jazer for the vine of Sibmah: I will water thee with my tears, O Heshbon and Elealeh: for upon thy summer fruits and upon thy harvest the battle shout is fallen . . . Wherefore my bowels sound like an harp for Moab, and mine inward parts for Kirheres” (Isaiah 16:9; Isaiah 11:1-16). We cannot recognise in these words the voice of the Jonah who went to Nineveh; and, indeed, it may be the voice of another Jonah, whom God’s gentleness had made great. And, whether Jonah learned his lesson or not, the story remains--a poem, in which man is humiliated and God only exalted. “For My ways are not your ways, nor your thoughts My thoughts, saith the Lord: for as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways, and My thoughts higher than your thoughts.” (A. H. Vine.)

The Church and the city

(with Luke 19:41):--These texts from Jonah and the Gospel by Luke are selected that their light may fall upon the subject of the attitude of God toward the cities of to-day. I have not often found myself in agreement with Bismarck, but with his views of cities I perfectly agree: “Great cities are great sores on the body politic.” The crowding of populations into great cities is never conducive to the development of individualism, nor does it make for the ideal socialism. The Divine attitude toward the city has never been that of aloofness from failure and sin, but rather that of keen interest, profound pity, ceaseless activity. Nineveh was a city outside the covenant of the chosen people, a city steeped in heathen customs and wrong-doing. Yet God sent Jonah, and proves in the language of the text this love and care. Jerusalem was the city of privilege and blessing, which killed the prophets and stoned the messengers. The city which Jesus wept over. The Divine attitude toward great cities is one of com passionate interest and love. Every city is known to God. Every part of it is known to Him, the rich and the poor parts. In this city “all things are naked and open to the eye of Him with whom we have to do.” But beyond the infinite knowledge is this other thought, He cares. There is no sorrow that God does not feel. He has abandoned no part of what He Himself created. All the physical disability has His sympathy--the dwellings of the poor, the workshops of our men and women; all the mental sufferings, the misery of mystery and the mystery of the misery; all the spiritual death--“the cursed mountain of sorrow lies heaviest on the Divine heart.” God has not forsaken the city: He is still sending His prophets, His messengers, His Son. Moreover, He is, by His Holy Spirit, the actual and ever-present force for the relieving of every condition of evil and sorrow. No problem is too complex for His wisdom, no opposing force too mighty for His power, no darkness too dense for His light, no trifle too trivial for His notice. He is working for its regeneration. What, then, is the responsibility of the city? What does the Church of Christ exist for? For the select few who to-day worship within the buildings called by His name? Then in God’s name close the doors! Such churches have no mission, and should cease to exist. The Church of Christ exists to reveal God and to act in concert with Him. Would that I could startle you into Christian activity! The sorrow of the city awaits your sympathy, and the saving force and grace of Jesus Christ. How is the city to know that it is not God-forsaken? Through the Church. We have here no continuing city; we seek one to come, whose builder and maker is God. The centres of the Christian life and the civic life are diametrically opposite. The first principle of the Christian life is self-death; that of the civic life is selfishness. The second element of the one is sacrifice; of the other, self seeking. The third law of the one is, “I believe in the salvation of the unfit”; that of the civic life is the survival of the fittest. We seek a city which hath foundations. Many are trying to find it by star-gazing. They thank God for their comfortable lot in life, and wait. Seek the city that is to be here. We must take part in the government of the city. Whether the factory is to be occupied so long and so closely that life and comfort are neglected is not the question of the manufacturer’s profit, but of the worker’s health. If you do not care you are not a Christian. You cannot live near to Christ and be indifferent. We must press forward all the time in our distinctive work of setting men and women into personal contact with Christ. The law of adaptation is one law of progress. There can be no failure in God; if there be any, it is in us. I call every Christian man and woman to attention. Concerning the Divine attitude there is no question. You believe that God loves the city. A boy asked his Sunday-school teacher, Do you think God loves wicked boys?” “Certainly not,” was her reply. Oh, the blasphemy of such an answer! Of course, God loves wicked boys. If He had never loved sinners there would have been no saints. Concerning our relation to God’s attitude toward the city there is room for much heart-searching. We must know the city. Contrast, in conclusion, our texts. Jonah was angry because God forgives. Jesus wept over the sins of the city. I am in sympathy with Jesus rather than with Jonah. Christian am I if I am Christ-like; Christ-like am I if, like Christ, I weep over the city and give myself for it even unto death. (G. C. Morgan, D. D.)

 


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Bibliography Information
Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on "Jonah 4:4". The Biblical Illustrator. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/tbi/jonah-4.html. 1905-1909. New York.

Lectionary Calendar
Wednesday, December 11th, 2019
the Second Week of Advent
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