|Matthew Henry's Concise Commentary|
4:1-4 What all the saints make matter of joy and praise, Jonah makes the subject of reflection upon God; as if showing mercy were an imperfection of the Divine nature, which is the greatest glory of it. It is to his sparing, pardoning mercy, we all owe it that we are out of hell. He wishes for death: this was the language of folly, passion, and strong corruption. There appeared in Jonah remains of a proud, uncharitable spirit; and that he neither expected nor desired the welfare of the Ninevites, but had only come to declare and witness their destruction. He was not duly humbled for his own sins, and was not willing to trust the Lord with his credit and safety. In this frame of mind, he overlooked the good of which he had been an instrument, and the glory of the Divine mercy. We should often ask ourselves, Is it well to say thus, to do thus? Can I justify it? Do I well to be so soon angry, so often angry, so long angry, and to give others ill language in my anger? Do I well to be angry at the mercy of God to repenting sinners? That was Jonah's crime. Do we do well to be angry at that which is for the glory of God, and the advancement of his kingdom? Let the conversion of sinners, which is the joy of heaven, be our joy, and never our grief.
Verses 1-11. - JONAH'S DISPLEASURE AND ITS CORRECTION. Verses 1-4. - 1. Jonah is grieved at the sparing of Nineveh, the expectation of which had led to his former flight, and complains of God's clemency. Verse 1. - It displeased Jonah exceedingly; literally, it was evil to Jonah, a great evil. It was more than mere displeasure which he felt; he was vexed and irritated. The reference is to what is said in the last verse of the preceding chapter, viz. that the predicted destruction was not inflicted. How the knowledge of this reprieve was conveyed to the prophet we am not informed. It probably was made known to him before the expiration of the forty days by Divine communication, in accordance with the saying in Amos 3:7, "Surely the Lord will do nothing, but he revealeth his secret unto his servants the prophets" (see ver. 5). Various reasons have been assigned for this displeasure.
(1) Personal pique, lest, his prediction having failed, he should be liable to the charge of being a false prophet.
(2) Zeal for the honour of God, whose knowledge of the future might be discredited among the heathen, when they saw his own servant's words unfulfilled.
(3) Because he saw in this conversion of Gentiles a token of the ruin of his own people, who remained always hardened and impenitent.
(4) A mistaken patriotism, which could not endure to find mercy extended to a heathen nation which had already proved hostile to Israel and was destined to oppress it still further. This last seem to have been the real ground of his annoyance. So deep was this, that he would gladly have seen the sentence executed even after the city had repented (comp. ver. 11, "Should not I spare Nineveh," i.e. which thou wouldst have me even now destroy?) He was very angry; Septuagint, συνεχύθη, "was confounded." His vexation increased unto anger.
Gill's Exposition of the Entire Bible
But it displeased Jonah exceedingly, and he was very angry. Jonah was "mirabilis homo", as one calls him, an "amazing man"; the strangest, oddest, and most out of the way man, for a good man and a prophet, as one shall ever hear or read of. Displeased he was at that, which one would have thought he would have exceedingly rejoiced at, the success of his ministry, as all good men, prophets, and ministers of the word, do; nothing grieves them more than the hardness of men's hearts, and the failure of their labours; and nothing more rejoices them than the conversion of sinners by them; but Jonah is displeased at the repentance of the Ninevites through his preaching, and at the mercy of God showed unto them: displeased at that, on account of which there is joy in heaven among the divine Persons, Father, Son, and Spirit, and among the holy angels, even over one repenting sinner; and much more over many thousands, as in this case: displeased at that which is the grudge, the envy, and spite of devils, and which they do all they can to hinder: and the more strange it is that Jonah should act such a part at this time, when he himself had just received mercy of the Lord in so extraordinary a manner as to be delivered out of the fish's belly, even out of the belly of hell; which one would think would have warmed his heart with love, not only to God, but to the souls of men, and caused him to have rejoiced that others were sharers with him in the same grace and mercy, reasons of this strange conduct, if they may be called reasons, are supposed to be these: one reason was, his own honour, which he thought lay at stake, and that he should be reckoned a false prophet if Nineveh was not destroyed at the time he had fixed; but the proviso implied, though not expressed,
"except ye repent,''
secured his character; which was the sense of the divine Being, and so the Ninevites understood it, or at least hoped this was the case, and therefore repented, and which the mercy shown them confirmed: nor had Jonah any reason to fear they would have reproached him with such an imputation to his character; but, on the contrary, would have caressed him as the most welcome person that ever came to their city, and had been the instrument of showing them their sin and danger, and of bringing them to repentance, and so of saving them from threatened ruin; and they did him honour by believing at once what he said, and by repenting at his preaching; and which is testified by Christ, and stands recorded to his honour, and will be transmitted to the latest posterity: another reason was his prejudice to the Gentiles, which was unreasonable for, though this was the foible of the Jewish nation, begrudging that any favours should be bestowed upon the Gentiles, or prophesied of them; see Romans 10:19; yet a prophet should have divested himself of such prejudices, as Isaiah and others did; and, especially when he found his ministry was so blessed among them, he should have been silent, and glorified God for his mercy, and said, as the converted Jews did in Peter's time, "then God hath granted unto the Gentiles repentance unto life", Acts 11:18; to do otherwise, and as Jonah did, was to act like the unbelieving Jews, who "forbid" the apostles to "preach to the Gentiles, that they might be saved", 1 Thessalonians 2:16. A third reason supposed is the honour of his own countrymen, which he thought would be reflected on, and might issue in their ruin, they not returning from their evil ways, when the Heathens did: a poor weak reason this! with what advantage might he have returned to his own country? with what force of argument might he have accosted them, and upbraided them with their impenitence and unbelief; that Gentiles at one sermon should repent in sackcloth and ashes, when they had the prophets one after another sent them, and without effect? and who knows what might have been the issue of this? lastly, the glory of God might be pretended; that he would be reckoned a liar, and his word a falsehood, and be derided as such by atheists and unbelievers; but here was no danger of this from these penitent ones; and, besides, the proviso before mentioned secured the truth and veracity of God; and who was honoured by these persons, by their immediate faith in him, and repentance towards him; and his grace and mercy were as much glorified in the salvation of them as his justice would have been in their destruction.
Jamieson-Fausset-Brown Bible Commentary
Jon 4:1-11. Jonah Frets at God's Mercy to Nineveh: Is Reproved by the Type of a Gourd.
1. angry—literally, "hot," probably, with grief or vexation, rather than anger [Fairbairn]. How sad the contrast between God's feeling on the repentance of Nineveh towards Him, and Jonah's feeling on the repentance of God towards Nineveh. Strange in one who was himself a monument of mercy on his repentance! We all, like him, need the lesson taught in the parable of the unforgiving, though forgiven, debtor (Mt 18:23-35). Jonah was grieved because Nineveh's preservation, after his denunciation, made him seem a false prophet [Calvin]. But it would make Jonah a demon, not a man, to have preferred the destruction of six hundred thousand men rather than that his prophecy should be set aside through God's mercy triumphing over judgment. And God in that case would have severely chastised, whereas he only expostulates mildly with him, and by a mode of dealing, at once gentle and condescending, tries to show him his error. Moreover, Jonah himself, in apologizing for his vexation, does not mention the failure of his prediction as the cause: but solely the thought of God's slowness to anger. This was what led him to flee to Tarshish at his first commission; not the likelihood then of his prediction being falsified; for in fact his commission then was not to foretell Nineveh's downfall, but simply to "cry against" Nineveh's "wickedness" as having "come up before God." Jonah could hardly have been so vexed for the letter of his prediction failing, when the end of his commission had virtually been gained in leading Nineveh to repentance. This then cannot have been regarded by Jonah as the ultimate end of his commission. If Nineveh had been the prominent object with him, he would have rejoiced at the result of his mission. But Israel was the prominent aim of Jonah, as a prophet of the elect people. Probably then he regarded the destruction of Nineveh as fitted to be an example of God's judgment at last suspending His long forbearance so as to startle Israel from its desperate degeneracy, heightened by its new prosperity under Jeroboam II at that very time, in a way that all other means had failed to do. Jonah, despairing of anything effectual being done for God in Israel, unless there were first given a striking example of severity, thought when he proclaimed the downfall of Nineveh in forty days, that now at last God is about to give such an example; so when this means of awakening Israel was set aside by God's mercy on Nineveh's repentance, he was bitterly disappointed, not from pride or mercilessness, but from hopelessness as to anything being possible for the reformation of Israel, now that his cherished hope is baffled. But God's plan was to teach Israel, by the example of Nineveh, how inexcusable is their own impenitence, and how inevitable their ruin if they persevere. Repenting Nineveh has proved herself more worthy of God's favor than apostate Israel; the children of the covenant have not only fallen down to, but actually below, the level of a heathen people; Israel, therefore, must go down, and the heathen rise above her. Jonah did not know the important lessons of hope to the penitent, and condemnation to those amidst outward privileges impenitent, which Nineveh's preservation on repentance was to have for aftertimes, and to all ages. He could not foresee that Messiah Himself was thus to apply that history. A lesson to us that if we could in any particular alter the plan of Providence, it would not be for the better, but for the worse [Fairbairn].
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