Jonah 4
Pulpit Commentary
But it displeased Jonah exceedingly, and he was very angry.
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.
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.
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.
Therefore now, O LORD, take, I beseech thee, my life from me; for it is better for me to die than to live.
Verse 3. - Take... my life from me (comp. ver. 8). Jonah throughout represents himself as petty, hasty, and self-willed, prone to exaggerate matters, and easily reduced to despair. Here, because his word is not fulfilled, he wishes to die, though he will not take his own life. In a different spirit Moses (Exodus 32:32) is ready to die for his people's sake, and Elijah asked for death because his zeal for God had apparently wrought no effect (1 Kings 19:4).
Then said the LORD, Doest thou well to be angry?
Verse 4 - Doest thou well to be angry? Septuagint, Αἰ σφόδρα λελύπησαι σύ; "Hast thou been greatly grieved?" Vulgate, Putasne bene irasceris tu? The English Version is doubtless correct. God bids him consider with himself whether his anger is reasonable. The version of the LXX., however grammatically permissible, is somewhat pointless.
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.
Verse 5. - § 2. Jonah, not yet abandoning his hope of seeing the city punished, makes for himself a hut outside the walls, and waits there to see the issue. Went out of the city. It is best so rendered, and not in the pluperfect. It must have been before the end of the forty days that Jonah perceived that Nineveh would escape. And now, from God's expostulation with him in ver. 4, he seem to have conceived the expectation that some catastrophe would still happen; as though God had told him that he was too hasty in his judgment, that he could not know the mind of God, and that because he did not strike immediately he was not to conclude that he would not strike at all. On the east side of the city. The opposite side to that by which he had entered, and where the high ground enabled him to overlook the town, without necessarily sharing in its destruction. A booth. A tent constructed of branches interlaced, which did not exclude the sun (Leviticus 23:42; Nehemiah 8:14, etc.). What would become of the city. He still expected that some calamity would befall the Ninevites, perhaps with the idea that their repentance would prove so imperfect and temporary that God would punish them after all.
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.
Verses 6, 7. - 3. God causes a plant to spring up in order to shade Jonah from the sun; but it is made soon to wither away and leave him exposed to the scorching rays. Verse 6. - Prepared (vers. 7, 8); appointed (see note on Jonah 1:17). A gourd; Hebrew, kikaion (here only in the Old Testament); Septuagint, κολοκύνθη," pumpkin;" Vulgate, hedera; Aquila and Theodotion, κυκεών. Jerome describes this as a shrub called in Syriac elkeroa, and common in the sandy regions of Palestine. It has large leaves and grows to a considerable height in a very few days, so that a mere shrub becomes quickly a small tree. The scientific name of this plant is Ricinus communis; in Egyptian, kiki; in Assyrian, kukanitu. A drawing of it is given in Dr Pusey's 'Commentary,' p 260. It is also known by the name of the Palma Christi, and from its seeds is expressed "castor oil." But it is very doubtful whether this is the plant intended. Certainly the ricinus is never used in the East as a protection against the sun, for which its straggling, open growth renders it unsuitable; while the gourd, as Mr. Tristram testifies ('Land of Israel,' p. 37), is used universally to form trellises for shading arbours and summer houses, and affords a most effectual screen. "Orientals," says Dr. Thomson ('The Land and the Book,' p. 15), "never dream of training a castor-oil plant overs 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." With this testimony it is well to be satisfied. Whatever the plant was, its growth was abnormal in the present ease, though the rapidity with which it developed was merely a quickening of its ordinary powers, in due accordance with its nature and character. From his grief; Septuagint, ἀπὸ τῶν κακῶν αὐτοῦ, "from his evils;" Vulgate, ut... protegeret eum. The Hebrew word is the same as in ver. 1, and it refers, not so much to the physical discomfort occasioned by the heat, but rather to the condition of his mind, the vexation and disappointment under which he was suffering. We exceeding glad; literally, rejoiced a great joy; ἐχάρη χαρὰν μεγάλην (Septuagint). The candour and simplicity of the writer throughout are very remarkable. He may have seen in this providential shelter an intimation that God approved of his intention to wait and see the issue.
But God prepared a worm when the morning rose the next day, and it smote the gourd that it withered.
Verse 7. - Prepared (see note on ver. 6). A worm. Either a single worm which punctured the stem and caused the plant to wither, or the word is used collectively, as in Deuteronomy 28:39, for "worms." A single warm night, with a moist atmosphere, will suffice to produce a host of caterpillars, which in an incredibly short time strip a plant of all its leaves. When the morning rose. At the very earliest dawn, before the actual rising of the sun (comp. Judges 9:33). Jonah seems to have enjoyed the shelter of the gourd one whole day. The withering of the plant came about in a natural way, but was ordered by God at a certain time in order to give Jonah the intended lesson.
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.
Verses 8-11. - § 4. Jonah grieves bitterly for the loss of the gourd; and God takes occasion from this to point out the prophet's inconsistency and pitilessness in murmuring against the mercy shown to Nineveh with its multitude of inhabitants. Verse 8. - A vehement east wind; Septuagint, πνεύματι καύσωνι (James 1:11) συγκαίοντι "a scorching, burning wind;" Vulgate, vento calido et urenti (Hosea 13:15). The word translated "vehement" is also rendered "silent," i.e. sultry. Pusey and Hitzig rather incline to think it may mean the autumn or harvest wind. Either interpretation is suitable, as, according to Dr. Thomson, there are two kinds of sirocco, equally destructive and annoying - the violent wind, which fills the air with dust and sand; and the quiet one, when scarcely any air is stirring, but the heat is most overpowering ('The Land and the Book,' p. 536, etc.). Beat upon the head. The same word for the effect of the rays of the sun as in Psalm 121:6 and elsewhere. Trochon quotes Ovid, 'Metam ,' 7:804 -

"Sole fere radiis feriente cacumiua primis."

"The sun with earliest rays
Scarce smiting highest peaks."
Rich, 'Koordistan,' 1:125, "Just as the moon rose, about ten, an intolerable puff of wind came from the northeast. All were immediately silent, as if they had felt an earthquake, and then exclaimed, in a dismal tone, 'The sherki is come.' This was indeed the so much-dreaded sherki, and it has continued blowing ever since with great violence from the east and northeast, the wind being heated like our Bagdad sauna, but I think softer and more relaxing. This wind is the terror of these parts." "Few European travellers," says Layard ('Nin. and Babyl.,' p. 366), "can brave the perpendicular rays of an Assyrian sun. Even the well seasoned Arab seeks the shade during the day, and journeys by night unless driven forth by necessity or the love of war" (quoted by Dr. Pusey, in loc.). He fainted (see note on Amos 8:13, where the fame word is used of the effects of thirst: comp. Jonah 2:7). His position on the east of the city (ver. 5) exposed him to the full force of the scorching sun and wind. Wished in himself to die; literally, asked for his soul to die; Septuagint, ἀπελέγετο τὴν ψυχὴν αὐτοῦ, "despaired of his life" (1 Kings 19:4). The expression implies that he asked God to grant him his life to do with it what he liked. In his self-will and impatience he still shows his dependence upon God. He may have had in his mind the precedent of his great master Elijah, though his spirit is very different (see note on ver. 3 above). Better for me to die. His wish for death arose from his now assured conviction that God's mercy was extended to the heathen. He argued from the sudden withering of the gourd that he was not to stay there and see the accomplishment of his wishes, and, in his impatience and intolerance, he would rather die than behold Nineveh converted and saved.
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.
Verse 9. - God said. Keil and others have noted the variety in the use of the names of God in this passage (vers. 6-9). The production of the gourd is attributed to Jehovah-Elohim (ver. 6), a composite name, which serves to mark the transition from Jehovah in ver. 4 to Elohim in vers. 7 and 8. Jehovah, who replies to the prophet's complaint (ver. 4), prepares the plant as Elohim the Creator, and the worm as ha-Elohim the personal God. Elohim, the Ruler of nature, sends the east wind to correct the prophet's impatience; and in ver. 10 Jehovah sums up the history and teaches the lesson to be learned from it. Doest thou well to be angry? The same tender expostulation as in ver. 4. I do well to be angry, even unto death. I am right to be angry, so that my anger almost kills me. Deprived of the shelter of the gourd, Jonah is immediately depressed, and in his unreasoning anger defends himself against the reproaches of God's voice within him. Septuagint, Σφόδρα λελύπημαι ἐγὼ ἑως θανάτου "I am greatly grieved even unto death," which reminds one of our Lord's words in the garden (Mark 14:34).
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:
Verse 10. - The Lord. Jehovah. closing the story, and driving home the lesson with unanswerable force, the prophet himself being the judge. Thou hast had pity; thou on thy part hast spared; Septuagint, σὺ ἐφείσω. For the which thou hast not laboured; Septuagint, ὑπὲρ η΅ς οὐκ ἐκακοπάθησας ἐπ αὐτήν, "for which thou sufferedst no evil." The more trouble a thing costs us, the more we regard it, as a mother loves her sickly child best. Neither madest it grow. As God had made Nineveh into a "great city." Which came up in a night, and perished in a night; literally, which was the son of a night, and perished the son of a night. The allusion, of course, is to the extraordinary rapidity of the growth and destruction of the gourd.
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?
Verse 11. - Should not I spare Ninevah? The contrast between the feeling and conduct of God and those of the prophet is very forcible. Thou hast compassion for a plant of little worth, in whose growth thou hast had no concern, to which thou hast no right; should I not pity a great city which is mine, which I have permitted to grow into power? Thou hast compassion on a flower which sprang up in a day and withered in a day; should I not pity this town with its teeming population and its multitude of cattle, the least of which is more worth than any senseless plant, and which I uphold daily with my providence? Six score thousand persons that cannot discern between their right hand and their left hand; i.e. children of tender years, who did not know which hand was the strongest and fittest for use; or, metaphorically, who had no knowledge between good and evil" (Deuteronomy 1:39), at present incapable of moral discernment. This limitation would include children of three or four years old; and, taking these as one-fifth of the population, we should set the inhabitants at six hundred thousand in number. The multitude of these innocent children, who must needs perish if the city were destroyed, is an additional reason why it should be spared. A still further claim for compassion is appended. And also much cattle. God's mercy is over all his works; he preserveth man and beast (Psalm 36:6; Psalm 145:9), and as man is superior to other animals, so are cattle better than plants. The book ends abruptly, but its object is accomplished. Jonah is silenced; he can make no reply; he can only confess that he is entirely wrong, and that God is righteous. He learns the lesson that God would have all men saved, and that that narrow-mindedness which would exclude heathen from his kingdom is displeasing to him and alien from his design. "For thou hast mercy upon all; for thou canst do all things, and winkest at the sins of men in order that they should repent. For thou lovest all the things that are, and abhorrest nothing that thou hast made; for never wouldst thou have made anything if thou hadst hated it But thou sparest all; for they are thine, O Lord, thou Lover of souls" (Wisd. 11:23, etc.).

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