Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers
But it displeased Jonah exceedingly, and he was very angry.IV.
JONAH’S DISCONTENT AND CORRECTION.
(1) But it displeased Jonah.—The Hebrew (it was evil to) is stronger. The prophet was vexed and irritated.
He was very angry.—Literally, it (anger) burnt to him. David’s feeling at the death of Uzziah (2Samuel 6:8; 1Chronicles 13:11) is described in the same terms. Selfish jealousy for his own reputation, jealousy for the honour of the prophetic office, a mistaken patriotism disappointed that the great enemy of his country should go unpunished, Jewish exclusiveness which could not endure to see the Divine clemency extended to the heathen, have each been adduced as the motive of Jonah’s anger. Possibly something of all these blended in his mind.
Therefore now, O LORD, take, I beseech thee, my life from me; for it is better for me to die than to live.(3) Take, I beseech thee.—We naturally refer to the history of Elijah for a similar weariness and disgust of life. (Comp. also the case of Moses, Numbers 11:15). It should be noticed, as a contrast of Hebrew with heathen feeling, that none of these men in their loathing of life contemplated the possibility of suicide.
Then said the LORD, Doest thou well to be angry?(4) Doest thou well? . . .—This rendering may be supported by Deuteronomy 5:28; Jeremiah 1:12, and agrees better with the context than the marginal translation, which follows the LXX., and is undoubtedly a very likely rendering of the Hebrew idiom if taken by itself. Jonah apparently gave his own interpretation to the question, one that suited his mood, “Is thine anger just?” Such a question might imply that the doom of the city was only deferred, and that he had been too hasty in giving up the fulfilment of his prediction. Accordingly he went outside the walls, and sat down to watch what the issue would be. On the other hand, the rendering “Art thou so very angry?” suits best the reply in Jonah 4:9, “I am very angry, even to death.” Probably the Hebrew word, like the French bien, kept both its original and derived meaning, and must be rendered well or very, according to the context.
So Jonah went out of the city, and sat on the east side of the city, and there made him a booth, and sat under it in the shadow, till he might see what would become of the city.(5) So Jonah went out.—The explanation given in the preceding note avoids the necessity of giving the verb in this clause a pluperfect force, which else would be necessary to account for the prophet’s continued expectation of the destruction of Nineveh after his irritation at the Divine clemency towards it.
Booth—i.e., of boughs, like those used at the Feast of Tabernacles. (See next Note.)
And the LORD God prepared a gourd, and made it to come up over Jonah, that it might be a shadow over his head, to deliver him from his grief. So Jonah was exceeding glad of the gourd.(6) Prepared.—See Note, Jonah 1:17.
A gourd.—So the LXX. render the Hebrew qiqaion, which, since the time of Jerome, has been usually identified with the Arabic el keroa, the castor-oil tree (Ricinus communis, or Palma Christi; see margin). It is a large shrub, having large palmate leaves, with serrated lobes, and spikes of blossoms which produce the seed, whence the well-known medicinal oil is extracted, in small rough husks. The strongest argument in favour of this view is the proposed derivation of the Hebrew name from the Egyptian kiki, and the rabbinical name for castor-oil, kiki-oil. In spite of this etymological argument, Dr. Tristram says: “Practical reasons cause me to lean strongly to the rendering of our English version, gourd, i.e., the bottle gourd (Cucurbita pepo). In Palestine the vernacularnames are almost identical in sound, “kurah” being the gourd, “khurwah” the castor-oil tree. But the gourd is very commonly employed in Palestine for the purpose of shading arbours. Its rapid growth and large leaves render it admirably adapted for training on trellis-work . . . But the plant withers as rapidly as it shoots, and after a storm or any injury to its stem, its fruit may be seen hanging from the leafless tendrils, which so lately concealed it, a type of melancholy desolation” (Nat Hist. of the Bible, p. 449).
 A Semitic origin for the word is rendered probable by its discovery under the form, quqanitu, on a small tablet which the Babylonian king Marduk-bal-iddin (Merodach-baladan) ordered to be set in a garden. (See letters of Dr. F. Delitzsch, to the Athenœum of May 26th and June 9th, 1883.)
Made it to come up.—Rather, it came up.
Deliver.—In the original there is a play of words on this word and shadow.
But God prepared a worm when the morning rose the next day, and it smote the gourd that it withered.(7) A worm.—Possibly to be taken collectively, as in Isaiah 14:11, for a swarm of caterpillars.
And it came to pass, when the sun did arise, that God prepared a vehement east wind; and the sun beat upon the head of Jonah, that he fainted, and wished in himself to die, and said, It is better for me to die than to live.(8) Vehement east wind.—The derivation from a root meaning silent (see margin) points to what travellers describe as the “quiet kind of sirocco,” which is often more overpowering than the more boisterous kind. (See Thomson, The Land and the ‘Book, pp. 536, 537.) Ewald, however, derives differently, and makes it a rough, scrapy, stingy wind.
Wished in himself to die.—Literally, wished his soul to die. (Comp. 1Kings 19:4.)
It is better.—The italics are unnecessary, and weaken the passage, Better my death than my life. Physical suffering was now added to the prophet’s chagrin, and, as usual, added to the moral depression. It seemed much worse that the logical consistency of Jonah’s teaching should go for nothing now that he was so uncomfortable.
And God said to Jonah, Doest thou well to be angry for the gourd? And he said, I do well to be angry, even unto death.(9) Doest thou well . . .?—See Note to Jonah 4:4. Jonah was really hurt at the loss of his shade, not sorry for the destruction of the gourd. But it is very true to nature that the moment a worthier excuse is suggested, he accepts it, without perceiving that by so doing he prepared the way for his own condemnation. The lesson is to all who would sacrifice the cause of humanity to some professional or theological difficulty.
Then said the LORD, Thou hast had pity on the gourd, for the which thou hast not laboured, neither madest it grow; which came up in a night, and perished in a night:(10) Which came up.—The original is one of those forcible idioms impossible to reproduce, which son of a night was, and son of a night perished.
And should not I spare Nineveh, that great city, wherein are more than sixscore thousand persons that cannot discern between their right hand and their left hand; and also much cattle?(11) More than . . .—This number of infants, 120,000, according to the usual reckoning, gives a population of 600,000.
And also much cattle.—This, which at first reads like an anti-climax, is really, perhaps, the most striking thing in the whole of this marvellous book. Already the idea that a sympathy could exist between Jonah and the gourd has seemed to anticipate by thousands of years the feeling of modern poetry expressed in the lines,
“To me the meanest flower that blows can give
Thoughts that too often lie too deep for tears;”
and now the final touch, laying especial emphasis on the thought that even the cattle are an interest and care to God, seems at once to leap to the truth which even our own age has been slow to learn.
“He prayeth best who loveth best,
All creatures great and small,
For the dear God who loveth us,
He made and loveth all.”