Jonah 4:2
And he prayed unto the LORD, and said, I pray thee, O LORD, was not this my saying, when I was yet in my country? Therefore I fled before unto Tarshish: for I knew that thou art a gracious God, and merciful, slow to anger, and of great kindness, and repentest thee of the evil.
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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.And he prayed unto the Lord - Jonah, at least, did not murmur or complain of God. He complained to God of Himself. He expostulates with Him. Shortsighted indeed and too wedded to his own will! Yet his will was the well-being of the people whose prophet God had made him. He tells God, that this it was, which he had all along dreaded. He softens it, as well as he can, by his word, "I pray Thee," which expresses deprecation anti-submissiveness. Still he does not hesitate to tell God that this was the cause of his first rebellion! Perilous to the soul, to speak without penitence of former sin; yet it is to God that he speaks and so God, in His wonderful condescension, makes him teach himself.

I knew that Thou art a gracious God - He repeats to God to the letter His own words by Joel Joe 2:13. God had so revealed Himself anew to Judah. He had, doubtless, on some repentance which Judah had shown, turned away the evil from them. And now by sending him as a preacher of repentance, He implied that He would do the same to the enemies of his country. God confirms this by the whole sequel. Thenceforth then Israel knew, that to the pagan also God was intensely, infinitely full of gracious and yearning love nay (as the form rather implies. ) mastered (so to speak) by the might and intensity of His gracious love, "slow to anger" and delaying it, "great in loving tenderness," and abounding in it; and that toward them also, when the evil is about to be inflicted, or has been partially or wholly inflicted, He will repent of it and replace it with good, on the first turning of the soul or the nation to God.

2. my saying—my thought, or feeling.

fled before—I anticipated by fleeing, the disappointment of my design through Thy long-suffering mercy.

gracious … and merciful, &c.—Jonah here has before his mind Ex 34:6; as Joel (Joe 2:13) in his turn quotes from Jonah.

And he prayed; in a strange distempered humour sets about this work, and accordingly manageth it; when he designs to pray, his turbulent affections hurry him into unseemly contests and quarrels with God, yet since he fell on his knees with purpose to pray to God, the Scriptures report it as his prayer to the Lord.

And said; either spake it out in words, or else thus reasoned within himself, and now leaves it recorded what were his words, or his thoughts.

I pray thee, O Lord: this begins his complaint, or quarrel against the Lord.

Was not this my saying? did I not think of this? was I not apprehensive that it would be so I should preach avenging justice, and thou wouldst exercise pardoning mercy; thy pardon would contradict my preaching?

In my country; either in Canaan, or Galilee, or in Gath-hepher, where had I died, and never been a prophet to Nineveh, I had ever had the reputation of a true prophet, but now at Nineveh I shall be reported a false dreamer.

Therefore I fled; there was reason for what I did when I declined the message, and fled away from thy presence: he seems to justify that flight which God condemned in him by a miraculous punishment inflicted on him,

Unto Tarshis: see Jonah 1:3.

For I knew; he might know it by God’s dealings with so exorbitantly passionate a man as Jonah himself was, but he knew it from God’s account of himself, Exodus 34:6,7, and many other places of the Scripture.

That thou art a gracious God, who hath bowels of compassion, a heart that is a fountain of tender mercy.

And merciful; readily expressing his compassions toward sinners that need and sue for mercy.

Slow to anger; who dost wait long for the sinner’s return, and dost not hasten thy executions.

And of great kindness; and when provoked thou art yet of an infinite goodness lenity, and kindness, and forgivest the sinner that repenteth.

And repentest thee of the evil: see Amos 3:9,10.

And he prayed unto the Lord,.... But in a very different manner from his praying in the fish's belly: this was a very disorderly prayer, put up in the hurry of his spirit, and in the heat of passion: prayer should be fervent indeed, but not like that of a man in a fever; there should be a warmth and ardour of affection in it, but it should be without wrath, as well as without doubting: this is called a prayer, because Jonah thought it to be so, and put it up to the Lord as one. It begins in the form of a prayer; and it ends with a petition, though an unlawful one; and has nothing of true and right prayer in it; no celebration of the divine Being, and his perfections; no confession of sin, ore petition for any blessing of providence or grace; but mere wrangling, contending, and quarrelling with God:

and said, I pray thee, O Lord, was not this my saying, when I was yet in my country? in Judea, or in Galilee, at Gathhepher; was not this what I thought and said within myself, and to thee, that this would be the issue and consequence of going to the Ninevites; they would repent of their sins, and thou wouldst forgive them; and so thou wouldst be reckoned a liar, and I a false prophet? and now things are come to pass just as I thought and said they would: and thus he suggests that he had a greater or better foresight of things than God himself; and that it would have been better if his saying had been attended unto, and not the order of him to Nineveh; how audacious and insolent was this!

therefore I fled before unto Tarshish; before he could have a second order to Nineveh: here he justifies his flight to Tarshish, as if he had good reason for it; and that it would have been better if he had not been stopped in his flight, and had gone to Tarshish, and not have gone to Nineveh. This is amazing, after such severe corrections for his flight, and after such success at Nineveh:

for I know that thou art a gracious God, and merciful, slow to anger,

and of great kindness, and repentest thee of the evil; this he knew from his own experience, for which he had reason to be thankful, and from the proclamation of God, in Exodus 34:6; which be seems to have respect unto; and a glorious one it is, though Jonah seems to twit and upbraid the Lord with his grace and mercy to men, as if it was a weakness and infirmity in him, whereas it is his highest glory, Exodus 33:18; he seems to speak of him, and represent him, as if he was all mercy, and nothing else; which is a wrong representation of him; for he is righteous as well as merciful; and in the same place where he proclaims himself to be so, he declares that he will "by no means clear the guilty", Exodus 34:7, but here we see that good men, and prophets, and ministers of the word, are men of like passions with others, and some of greater passions; and here we have an instance of the prevailing corruptions of good men, and how they break out again, even after they have been scourged for them; for afflictions, though they are corrections for sin, and do restrain it, and humble for it, and both purge and prevent it, yet do not wholly remove it.

And he prayed unto the LORD, and said, I pray thee, O LORD, was not this my saying, when I was yet in my country? Therefore I fled before unto {b} Tarshish: for I knew that thou art a gracious God, and merciful, slow to anger, and of great kindness, and repentest thee of the evil.

(b) Read Jon 1:3.

2. he prayed] His better mind had not altogether forsaken him. He did not as before flee from the presence of the Lord, but betook himself to Him, even in his irritation and discontent.

I pray thee] A particle of entreaty. In Jonah 1:14 it is translated “we beseech thee.”

I fled before] Lit. I prevented or anticipated to flee. That is, I fled before something could happen. LXX. προέφθασα τοῦ φυγεῖν. The ellipsis has been variously supplied. “ ‘I anticipated or prevented (another charge) by escaping’; that is ‘I fled before’ another charge could reach me.”—Kalisch. “I anticipated (the danger which threatens me) by fleeing to Tarshish.”—Gesenius. “I hastened my flight.”—Rosenmüller; or, “hasted to flee,” R.V.

for I knew, &c.] In common with all Israelites Jonah knew the character of God to be what he here describes it, from His ancient revelation to Moses (Exodus 34:6), repeated frequently by prophets and psalmists (Numbers 14:18; Psalm 103:8; Psalm 145:8), and renewed in exactly the same terms as here by the prophet Joel (Joel 2:13). Knowing that God threatens that He may spare, and warns that He may save, Jonah rightly understood from the first that his mission to Nineveh was a mission of mercy, and therefore he was unwilling to undertake it.

Verse 2. - He prayed. He carried his complaint to God, and was prepared to submit it to him, even while he questioned the wisdom of his clemency. I pray thee (anna); Vulgate, obsecro. A particle of entreaty, "Ah! I pray thee." Was not this my saying? Was not this what I said to myself, viz. that God would spare Nineveh if it showed signs of repentance? My country. Palestine, where the original message reached him. I fled before; literally, I anticipated to fly; Septuagint, προέφθασα τοῦ φυγεῖν, "I made haste to flee;" Vulgate, praeoccupavi ut fugerem. I hastened to fly before I should be reduced to seeing my mission rendered nugatory. For I knew. Joel knew the character of God, and how that he threatened in order to arouse repentance, and that he might be able to spare (see Exodus 32:14; Exodus 34:6, 7). The description of God's mercy agrees with that in Joel 2:13 and Nehemiah 9:17. Jonah 4:2Jonah, provoked at the sparing of Nineveh, prayed in his displeasure to Jehovah to take his soul from him, as his proclamation had not been fulfilled (Jonah 4:1-3). ויּרע אל י, it was evil for Jonah, i.e., it vexed, irritated him, not merely it displeased him, for which ירע בּעיניו is generally used. The construction with אל resembles that with ל in Nehemiah 2:10; Nehemiah 13:8. רעה גדולה, "a great evil," serves simply to strengthen the idea of ירע. The great vexation grew even to anger (יחר לו; cf. Genesis 30:2, etc.). The fact that the predicted destruction of Nineveh had not taken place excited his discontent and wrath. And he tried to quarrel with God, by praying to Jehovah.

(Note: Calvin observes upon this: "He prayed in a tumult, as if reproving God. We must necessarily recognise a certain amount of piety in this prayer of Jonah, and at the same time many faults. There was so far piety in it, that he directed his complaints to God. For hypocrites, even when they address God, are nevertheless hostile to Him. But Jonah, when he complains, although he does not keep within proper bounds, but is carried away by a blind and vicious impulse, is nevertheless prepared to submit himself to God, as we shall presently see. This is the reason why he is said to have prayed.")

"Alas (אנּא as in Jonah 1:14), Jehovah, was not this my word (i.e., did I not say so to myself) when I was still in my land (in Palestine)?" What his word or his thought then was, he does not say; but it is evident from what follows: viz., that Jehovah would not destroy Nineveh, if its inhabitants repented. ‛Al-kēn, therefore, sc. because this was my saying. קדּמתּי, προέφθασα, I prevented to flee to Tarshish, i.e., I endeavoured, by a flight to Tarshish, to prevent, sc. what has now taken place, namely, that Thou dost not fulfil Thy word concerning Nineveh, because I know that thou art a God gracious and merciful, etc. (compare Exodus 34:6 and Exodus 32:14, as in Joel 2:13). The prayer which follows, "Take my life from me," calls to mind the similar prayer of Elijah in 1 Kings 19:4; but the motive assigned is a different one. Whilst Elijah adds, "for I am not better than my fathers," Jonah adds, "for death is better to me than life." This difference must be distinctly noticed, as it brings out the difference in the state of mind of the two prophets. In the inward conflict that had come upon Elijah he wished for death, because he did not see the expected result of his zeal for the Lord of Sabaoth; in other words, it was from spiritual despair, caused by the apparent failure of his labours. Jonah, on the other hand, did not wish to live any longer, because God had not carried out His threat against Nineveh. His weariness of life arose, not like Elijah's from stormy zeal for the honour of God and His kingdom, but from vexation at the non-fulfilment of his prophecy. This vexation was not occasioned, however, by offended dignity, or by anxiety or fear lest men should regard him as a liar or babbler (ψευδοεπής τε καὶ βωμολόχος, Cyr. Al.; ψεύστης, Theodoret; vanus et mendax, Calvin and others); nor was he angry, as Calvin supposes, because he associated his office with the honour of God, and was unwilling that the name of God should be exposed to the scoffing of the heathen, quasi de nihilo terreret, or "because he saw that it would furnish material for impious blasphemies if God changed His purpose, or if He did not abide by His word;" but, as Luther observes (in his remarks on Jonah's flight), "he was hostile to the city of Nineveh, and still held a Jewish and carnal view of God" (for the further development of this view, see the remarks above, at p. 265). That this was really Jonah's view, is proved by Luther from the fact that God reproves his displeasure and anger in these words, "Should I not spare Nineveh?" etc. (Jonah 4:11). "He hereby implies that Jonah was displeased at the fact that God had spared the city, and was angry because He had not destroyed it as he had preached, and would gladly have seen." Offended vanity or unintelligent zeal for the honour of God would have been reproved by God in different terms from those in which Jonah was actually reproved, according to the next verse (Jonah 4:4), where Jehovah asks the prophet, "Is thine anger justly kindled?" היטב is adverbial, as in Deuteronomy 9:21; Deuteronomy 13:15, etc., bene, probe, recte, δικαίως (Symm.).

Then Jonah went out of Nineveh, sat down on the east of the city, where Nineveh was bounded by the mountains, from which he could overlook the city, made himself a hut there, and sat under it in the shade, till he saw what would become of the city, i.e., what fate would befal it (Jonah 4:5). This verse is regarded by many commentators as a supplementary remark, ויּצא, with the verbs which follow, being rendered in the pluperfect: "Jonah had gone out of the city," etc. We grant that this is grammatically admissible, but it cannot be shown to be necessary, and is indeed highly improbable. If, for instance, Jonah went out of Nineveh before the expiration of the forty days, to wait for the fulfilment of his prophecy, in a hut to the east of the city, he could not have been angry at its non-fulfilment before the time arrived, nor could God have reproved him for his anger before that time. The divine correction of the dissatisfied prophet, which is related in Jonah 4:6-11, cannot have taken place till the forty days had expired. But this correction is so closely connected with Jonah's departure from the city and settlement to the east of it, to wait for the final decision as to its fate (Jonah 4:5), that we cannot possibly separate it, so as to take the verbs in Jonah 4:5 as pluperfects, or those in Jonah 4:6-11 as historical imperfects. There is no valid ground for so forced an assumption as this. As the expression ויּרע אל יונה in Jonah 4:1, which is appended to ולא עשׁה in Jonah 3:10, shows that Jonah did not become irritated and angry till after God had failed to carry out His threat concerning Nineveh, and that it was then that he poured out his discontent in a reproachful prayer to God (Jonah 4:2), there is nothing whatever to force us to the assumption that Jonah had left Nineveh before the fortieth day.

(Note: There is no hold in the narrative for Marck's conjecture, that God had already communicated to him His resolution not to destroy Nineveh, because of the repentance of the people, and that this was the reason for his anger.)

Jonah had no reason to be afraid of perishing with the city. If he had faith, which we cannot deny, he could rely upon it that God would not order him, His own servant, to perish with the ungodly, but when the proper time arrived, would direct him to leave the city. But when forty days elapsed, and nothing occurred to indicate the immediate or speedy fall of the city, and he was reproved by God for his anger on that account in these words, "Art thou rightly or justly angry?" the answer from God determined him to leave the city and wait outside, in front of it, to see what fate would befal it. For since this answer still left it open, as a possible thing, that the judgment might burst upon the city, Jonah interpreted it in harmony with his own inclination, as signifying that the judgment was only postponed, not removed, and therefore resolved to wait in a hut outside the city, and watch for the issue of the whole affair.

(Note: Theod. Mops. correctly observes, that "when he reflected upon the greatness of the threat, he imagined that something might possibly occur after all." And Calvin better still, that "although forty days had passed, Jonah stood as if fastened to the spot, because he could not yet believe that what he had proclaimed according to the command of God would fail to be effected .... This was the cause, therefore, of his still remaining, viz., because he thought, that although the punishment from God had been suspended, yet his preaching had surely not been in vain, but the destruction of the city would take place. This was the reason for his waiting on after the time fixed, as though the result were still doubtful.")

But his hope was disappointed, and his remaining there became, quite contrary to his intention, an occasion for completing his correction.

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