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Bible Commentaries

Thomas Coke Commentary on the Holy Bible
Jonah 4

 

 

Introduction

CHAP. IV.

Jonah, repining at God's mercy, is reproved by the type of a gourd.

Before Christ 862.


Verse 1

Jonah 4:1. But it displeased Jonah exceedingly Seeing that what he had foretold against the Ninevites did not happen, Jonah was afraid, lest he should pass for a false prophet and a deceiver, his ministry be despised, and his person exposed to the violence of the Ninevites. He was therefore very peevish and impatient, and he vents his complaints in the following verse. There is certainly no reason to be solicitous about the justification of Jonah. It affects not the goodness of God, or the truth of Scripture, that imperfect characters are employed to communicate the divine commands.


Verse 3

Jonah 4:3. Therefore now, O Lord, take, I beseech thee "I cannot survive the confusion of seeing my predictions vain, and to no effect: I cannot bear to live under the imputation of being a false prophet."


Verse 4

Jonah 4:4. Doest thou well to be angry? Hast thou a sufficient cause to be angry? God asks him, whether his reputation is of so great consequence, that for the defence of it many thousands of men who repented should perish. But the reputation of Jonah was really in no danger; for the Ninevites did not doubt that he was sent by God, because they believed God, and sufficiently understood the condition implied, that if they repented they should not be destroyed. See Houbigant. Taylor says, the words should be rendered, Art thou very much grieved? and so Jonah 4:9. See Heb. Eng. Concordance, R. 748, 637.


Verses 5-8

Jonah 4:5-8. So Jonah went out, &c.— Now Jonah had gone out—and he sat, &c. The author of the Observations asks upon this difficult passage, Did Jonah make himself a booth of boughs, in which to wait the event of his prophesy; and did the gourd come up in one single night afterward?—So our version supposes, and this is also Lowth's opinion. But had this really been the case, one cannot easily conjecture why the coming up of the gourd should have given him such an exquisite pleasure, or its destruction so much pain, when he had his booth to shelter him, which he had before thought very sufficient. By the description given of this country by Thevenot, who travelled in it, it should seem, that the lands on the Mesopotamian side of the Tigris, opposite to where Nineveh stood, are low; for they are cultivated and watered by means of little ditches, into which the water is poured out of the river; consequently it might be, and probably was, for the sake of the view he might have of the city, that Jonah placed himself on the east side of Nineveh, rather than on the west in Mesopotamia, towards his own country; and not, as Lowth imagines, the better to escape the pursuit of the Ninevites, in case they should follow him to take him. There is not the least ground to imagine that Jonah had any such jealousy. The side of Mesopotamia, says Thevenot, is well sowed; but the Curdistan shore barren and uncultivated. This made a shelter of more importance to Jonah, few or no trees, we may presume, growing in this barren place, under which Jonah might have placed himself on the withering of the gourd. This accounts for his uneasiness; but then it will not be easy to conjecture whence he could get boughs to make himself a booth. This, joined with the consideration that the word סכה sukkah translated booth, sometimes signifies a shelter, in the preparing of which no art is used, as in Jeremiah 25:38. Job 38:40 and that the words, the Lord prepared a gourd, may also signify, he had prepared one; might lead us to think that this gourd, which Jonah found in this desert place, was the booth under which he placed himself, and all that he had, making it his defence against the heat; the perishing of which, in course, must give him great pain; especially when we consider the intolerable heat of the country; which is such, that Thevenot informs us, he did not go to visit the reputed tomb of Jonah, on the east side of the Tigris, on that account, there being hardly a possibility of stirring abroad two hours after the sun is risen, till an hour after it is set, the walls being so hot, that half a foot from them the heat feels as if it proceeded from hot iron. Concerning the kind of plant, whose shade was so refreshing to Jonah, I do not take upon me to form any conjecture. And as to some of the abovementioned particulars, it is but right to acknowledge, that Rauwolff gives a very different account from Thevenot, if he be rightly translated; for in Mr. Ray's collection he is represented as saying, that they sow the greatest part of the corn there, on the eastern side of the Tigris, and that the Mesopotamian side is so sandy and dry, that you would think you were in the middle of the deserts of Arabia. Thevenot, however, is generally acknowledged to have been an accurate observer; and his account, from a view of the above remarks, seems to throw light on the history of Jonah, and may, on that account, be believed to be a just one. See Observations, p. 86. To these remarks we may just add, that though the Hebrew word קיקיון kikaion, is rendered by many versions a gourd, yet it seems properly to mean the ricinus, or palma-christi. It is described by St. Jerome as a kind of shrub, having broad leaves like the vine, affording a very thick shade, and supported by its own stem. It grows, says he, very commonly in Palestine, and chiefly in sandy places; and if one throws the seed upon the ground, it thrives wonderfully fast, and, within a few days after the plant appears, one sees a little tree. There can be no doubt, however, that this was miraculously raised and prepared for Jonah, as well as the great fish; for the same word is made use of upon both occasions. See chap. Jonah 1:17. The reader will find in Scheuchzer, tom. 7: p. 466 a curious plate and account of the ricinus.


Verse 10

Jonah 4:10. Thou hast had pity on the gourd God confutes the impatient grief of Jonah by a similitude. "You acquiesced in that plant, which afforded you a shade; I acquiesce in the repentance of the Ninevites. Therefore you ought not to grieve because I spare them, unless you prefer your own advantage and reputation to my glory and will." That Jonah is an allegorical person, our blessed Saviour does not suffer us to doubt; who, when he taught that Jonah was a type of his resurrection, shewed at the same time, when those things would have their completion which were meant by the allegory: for as by the miracles which happened in the mission of Jonah, the miracles of the rising church were presignified; so in the disposition of Jonah was pointed out the future disposition of the Jews, who would seek their own glory, and prefer it to the salvation of the Gentiles; who would glow with envy against the Gentiles, though their salvation or Saviour was to spring from the Jews themselves; whom God would not yet utterly desert as a nation, though separating themselves from those converted to him; as he deserted not Jonah, separating himself from the city of Nineveh; but yet whose envy God would not regard, when they would have him indulge and spare their antiquated law, as a dry and withered stem, because he will not forsake the multitude of the Gentiles returning to him, that the Jews themselves may at length become imitators of the Gentiles. By this allegory, which derived its authority from our Saviour, the extraordinary miracles related in this book will be sufficiently explained. It may not be improper to add, that possibly God might design this call to the Ninevites, as a pledge and assurance of his future admission of the people of all nations into the privileges of the Christian covenant. This certainly he might have under his immediate view, to shew the disparity between his nominal people and heathens; and upon the comparison of their several behaviours, to shame them for living unreclaimed, under the constant preaching of his prophets for so many years; when a people, whom they despised, as being strangers to the covenant of the promise, had by the mighty power of his word, been converted or awakened to repentance in the space of three days. See Houbigant, and Calmet.


Verse 11

Jonah 4:11. Should not I spare Nineveh, &c.— It is generally calculated, that the young children of any place are a fifth part of the inhabitants; and, if we admit of that calculation, the whole number of inhabitants in Nineveh amounted to above 600,000; which number will appear by no means incredible, if we consider the dimensions of the city, as given chap. Jonah 3:3. So large a city might easily contain such a number of inhabitants, and many more; and at the same time there might be, as there are in most of the great cities in the East, large vacant spaces for gardens or pastures; so that there might be, as the sacred text asserts there was, also much cattle. It has been observed, that the book of Jonah ends as abruptly as it begins. It begins with a conjunction copulative, And the word came unto Jonah, דבר ויהי vaihei debar, &c. which has made some commentators think, that it was but an appendix to some of his other writings: and it ends without giving us any manner of account, either of what became of the Ninevites, or of Jonah himself, after this expedition. It is likely, indeed, from the compassionate expressions which God makes use of towards the Ninevites, that for this time he reversed their doom; and it is not improbable that Jonah, when he had executed his commission, and been satisfied by God concerning his merciful procedure, returned into Judaea. We may presume, however, that the repentance of the Ninevites was of no long continuance; for, not many years after this, we find the prophet Nahum foretelling the total destruction of that city. See Calmet and Bishop Newton.

REFLECTIONS.—1st, Never was perverseness more strange and unaccountable than here appears in this angry prophet.

1. He is exceedingly displeased at the repentance of the Ninevites, and the mercy extended to them, which one should have thought would have been the very joy of his heart. Perhaps he had imbibed the common Jewish prejudice against the heathen, and was unwilling that the crumbs of mercy should be cast to these dogs. Probably also he esteemed this a deep reflection upon Israel, that heathens should repent so readily, and they continue obdurate. But what seems most to have touched him was his own reputation, lest he should be counted a false prophet. So apt are we to be selfish, and more concerned about the vain world's opinion, than about God's glory, and the good of men's souls.

2. He dares expostulate with God on the subject. It is said that he prayed; but very unlike was this prayer from what he had so lately offered up to God. He begins with justifying himself to God for his flight to Tarshish, insolently insinuating that he was then in the right, having foreseen that this would be the consequence, because, as he suggests, he knew God's gracious character, and his readiness to receive and pardon returning sinners: a most amazing cause indeed for his displeasure! So ready are passionate people to suggest the most absurd reasons to justify their anger. And now in a passion he is tired of life, and wants God instantly to dispatch him, as if it was better for him to die than to live, and bear the reproach of a false prophet: a temper, indeed, very unfit for a dying man: but those who are blinded by their passions are destitute of reflection, and usually deaf to advice.

3. God justly rebukes him for his impatience and causeless perverseness. Doest thou well to be angry? what a mild rebuke for so great a provocation! If God be thus gentle, much more ought we to be so, and use that soft answer which turneth away wrath: or is doing good displeasing to thee? which should have been his delight. Surely never was greater forbearance; instead of striking him dead in judgment, as he deserved, the Lord kindly seeks to soften his resentment, and bring him to a better mind. What miserable, eternally miserable souls had many been, if God had given them their wishes, and sent that death which they impatiently invoked!

2nd, The beginning of strife is usually like the letting out of water; passion, having once taken the reins, goes from evil to worse.

1. Jonah retires in sullen silence, and waits without the city, to see what would become of it, having made for himself a booth with boughs of trees, to shelter him from the sun and rain. (See the Notes.) Probably he thought that if the greater judgments were removed, some lesser ones might be inflicted, and save his credit as a prophet; or he might presume that the repentance of the Ninevites would be of no long continuance, and then their ruin would return upon them.

2. Though in his present spirit he little deserved any favour from God, yet He, who is good to the evil and unthankful, thought upon him in his incommodious habitation, and caused a gourd, or, as others interpret it, a tree called the ricinus, or palma-christi, to spring up suddenly, and spread its shadow over him, to deliver him from his grief: probably the heat of the sun was very troublesome, and added to his other vexations. Note; (1.) They who vex themselves with imaginary ills, are often suffered to feel real misery. (2.) Though we are often froward children, God is a tender father, and pities us even when we deserve punishment.

3. Jonah was exceeding glad of the gourd; he rejoiced with a great joy, as the words may be rendered; excessive in his gladness, as he had been in his anger. So easily do hot and hasty spirits run to extremes; and they who vex themselves about the loss of worldly trifles are usually as easily and as much elated with their gain.

4. God smote the gourd by a worm that he had prepared next morning, and left Jonah as much exposed as ever; and, to make him feel more sensibly the loss, he sent a vehement east-wind, which with the hot sun-beams beat upon him; so that he was quite overpowered, and ready to die with the heat, from which he had no shelter. So quickly fading are all our earthly comforts, when God pleases to send a worm to our gourd; and when we are most happy in them, perhaps even then the instruments are at work to destroy them. In all sublunary goods, therefore, we should rejoice as if we rejoiced nor, that we may be ready to bless God when he takes away, as well as when he gives.

5. Jonah relapses into his former fretfulness, and, with impatient discontent at the loss of the gourd, again wishes for death, as a deliverance from his misery. Thus inordinate affection lays a foundation for inordinate affliction.

6. God expostulates with him on his sin and folly. Doest thou well to be angry for the gourd? Note; It becomes us in all our losses and crosses to check our inordinate discontent and anger, and ask, Do I well to be angry? so long, so often, on such frivolous occasions? One moment's reflection should shame and silence us.

7. Far from standing abashed at this reproof, he daringly vindicates his perverseness: I do well to be angry even unto death. Thus do ungoverned passions bear down reason and conscience; and, deaf to conviction, men vindicate the most glaring absurdity and guilt. Nay, self-murderers, many fret themselves into diseases of body, as well as bring sin upon their souls, and will indulge their fretfulness and rage, though death be the consequence.

8. God, for his conviction, applies to him the case of this gourd, about which he so vexed himself. If he was so concerned about a poor shrub, the growth of a night, or the creature of a day, which he had used no pains to plant or water; with how much more pity might God well regard the vast city of Nineveh, where, besides the other inhabitants, were more than sixscore thousand infants, unable to distinguish good from evil, besides much cattle. The animal life was far preferable to the vegetable, and much more immortal souls to both; and here were thousands, and such as never by actual transgression had offended—arguments which should for ever silence his discontent, and lead him to adore the transcendant mercy and righteousness of God. We may reasonably hope that the prophet was convinced, and humbled to the dust; and that he left us this faithful record of his sin and folly, that we might be warned against the like perverseness, or be encouraged to repent of it, and find mercy.

 


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Bibliography Information
Coke, Thomas. "Commentary on Jonah 4:4". Thomas Coke Commentary on the Holy Bible. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/tcc/jonah-4.html. 1801-1803.

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Monday, December 16th, 2019
the Third Week of Advent
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