Jonah 4:11

The Ninevite little ones effectually, though unwittingly, interceded with God for the preservation of Nineveh. And are not little children still unconscious intercessors with God?

1. By their innocence. They have not sinned after the similitude of Adam's transgression.

2. By their dependence. Their dependence on God makes them the dearer to God; their dependence on their parents makes their parents the dearer to him.

5. By their undeveloped moral possibilities. What a work in the earth they may do for God! "I heard the voice of the Lord, saying, Whom shall I send, and who will go for us? Then said" - Ninevite babe and suckling - "spare me, teach me," and then in the future "send me." - G.T.C.

And should not I spare Nineveh, that great city.
Jonah's disquietude had arisen from a strange cause; it was from the exercise of God's mercy in sparing the lives and the city of a mighty people. Jonah could not bear that his message should seem not to take effect. He regarded the sparing of the city as a dishonour done to him.

1. The great thought which these words suggest to our minds is' God s great compassion for the helpless and ignorant.

2. A comparison between the view which God takes of great masses of human beings, and that with which we sometimes, in carelessness or pride, are disposed to look upon them. We live, in fact, on the outside of our fellow-creatures; we exercise little sympathy with them. Jonah's fault was his heartless selfishness. How could a man that knew anything of the soul's value express himself as Jonah did but under this fatal influence?

3. What are our thoughts and feelings and views in similar circumstances? What do we feel when contemplating great masses of human beings in helpless innocence, or in degraded ignorance? There is nothing more impressive than a great city. If we are true brethren of the God-man, if the manhood of Christ is more than a name to us, if it is a word of real sympathy, then it must unlock the chambers of our hearts to our brethren. Then every man we deal with, every servant, every neighbour will be an object of interest to us. The watchword of the whole creation now is the name of Jesus Christ.

(C. E. Kennaway, M. A.)

Had we met. with the Book of Jonah in the Apocrypha, we should have been tempted to overlook the profound teachings contained in it, and we should have regarded it as a traditional story, wrought up into its present shape by some writer of a later time, whose spirit was, by contact with better forms of heathenism, liberated and delivered from Jewish prejudices. What is the special contribution which is made by it to the body of revelation?

1. The first and broadest teaching regards the character of God as the God of nations.

2. Another aspect of the book is its bearing upon the popular mind at the time it was written, its teachings as to the character of God as the God of Israel.

3. It was a direct and very powerful protest against mere priestism and ceremonialism. Jonah had nothing to do but preach repentance. And God spared Nineveh simply on their turning from their wickedness and confessing their sins.

4. What can be said of "God's repenting Him of the evil"? The proclamation to Nineveh carried an implied condition. It meant that the same God who pronounced the sentence was ready to recall it on the repentance of the people. The unconditional form of the proclamation is merely the tribute which is paid to the justice of God, which is absolute, which can never be changed as justice, which is honoured even in the remission of punishment, and which must be proclaimed as the foundation on which all true repentance is made to rest. But the prophet's appearance was an invitation to repentance and salvation. God morally regards us at any moment just as we are. Of course He has considered our future and provided for it all. What we are now God regards us as being, and treats us accordingly.

(R. A. Redford, M. A.)

1. The warning furnished by this history, to beware of allowing expected results to interfere with present and pressing obligations.

2. Another reflection respects the spheres of greatest usefulness for the servants of God, and admonishes them to watch for the leadings of providence, rather than give way to their own desires and inclinations. Men are not always the best judges of the department of service by which they can do most to glorify God, any more than of the particular stations they can most successfully occupy.

3. The benefit which may be derived, both for direction in duty and for the profitable study of His Word and ways, from a connected and orderly view of His dispensations.

4. Whenever and wherever God is pleased to manifest of His grace and goodness, it is our part to acknowledge and rejoice in the manifestation.

(Patrick Fairbairn.)

According to tradition, Jonah was the son of the widow of Zarephath, whom Elijah raised to life again; and the sturdy youth who stood at the prophet's side throughout that long and terrible day on Mount Carmel He was further identified with a young man whom Elisha sent to anoint Jehu to be king over Israel. Certainly he belonged to that stern order of men, and had a great "zeal for God, but not according to knowledge." He greatly needed enlargement of mind and soul; and in the end, I think, received it. And the story of this book, so far as it relates to Jonah, is a study of a typical zealot or religionist in contact with the larger purposes of the Divine loving-kindness not sympathising with them, or even understanding them; yet learning at last, perhaps after much Divine discipline, in some small measure to share them.

1. He is first of all shown in association with the rough heathen Phoenician sailors, and their humanity is seen in gracious contrast with his own temper. For he is now endeavouring to put the whole Mediterranean sea between himself and his duty, which, if faithfully performed, may save a vast city from its doom, and it is because he foresees this as a likely result that, instead of going to Nineveh, he is trying to flee into Spain. But these poor sailors will save this foreigner, bird of ill passage though he is, if they can. But Jonah emerged from the dread experience that followed, when he "went down to the bottom of the mountains. and the earth with her bars was about him for ever," unsoftened in feeling. He is as austere and pitiless as before, and thinks himself more righteous than God. It is infinitely strange that men can come forth from dark seas of peril and judgment, and, after deliverance, deny one morsel of compassion to their fellow sinners!

2. But Jonah, unreconciled to the thought of God's clemency to others, goes on his sulky way to Nineveh, "that great city, great unto God," wherein were "six score thousand persons that cannot discern between their right hand and their left hand" — little children, and, as it is humanely added, "also much cattle." He cries aloud in the broad thoroughfares and beside the massive temples his message of doom, "Yet forty days." It is said that four years before the siege of Jerusalem an unknown man traversed the city continually crying, "A voice from the east, a voice from the west, a voice from the four winds, a voice against Jerusalem and the Holy Place, a voice against the bridegroom and the bride! Woe, woe to Jerusalem!" But this voice was more immediate, "Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be destroyed." Now, it says a great deal for the tolerance of the people that they suffered a foreigner thus to denounce them. People do not always care to be told of their sins, and the judgment to come. "Am I therefore become your enemy," says Paul," because I tell you the truth? "Ah, there is often no surer way! But these heathen not only permitted the message to be spoken in their midst; they allowed it to resound in their consciences. They repented, after a godly sort, "they turned from their evil way." And so theirs was a repentance unto life, not to be repented of. How salutary is this grace — this turning of the mind from sin, this honest regret and resolve!

3. "But it displeased Jonah exceedingly, and he was very angry." It is the littleness of man, which everywhere in this book is confronted by the majesty and the magnanimity and the philanthropy of God. The prayer of Jonah that follows is the most remarkable prayer on record. Here is this narrow, parochial, inadequate man presuming to speak to the Almighty as if on level terms with Him — nay, as if he spoke from a superior eminence of wisdom and virtue! "I pray Thee was not this my saying," he cries, "when I was yet in my country?" It has all turned out, he declares, as he knew it would. But when his prayer returns into his own bosom, Jonah now becomes a spectacle unto angels and unto men. He went out of the city, and built himself a booth and waited to see what would become of the city. Perhaps the clock had not struck; perhaps there was something wrong with his chronology; perhaps the people would lapse again into sin, and the doom fall after all. Ah, how different from the spirit of Him who, when He beheld Jerusalem in its sins and foresaw its coming ruin, wept over it!

4. But Jonah did not weep over the city: He wept over himself. In his mortification and mental and physical exhaustion he thought that he wanted to die; though, when death was very near him in the deep seas, he was of another mind. But just as when his great predecessor, Elijah, in the wilderness, "requested for himself that he might die," God took no notice of the request, but inquired about his duty once and again: "What doest thou here, Elijah?" So God took no notice of Jonah's request, but inquired once and again about his temper: "Doest thou well to be angry?" And, as God taught Elijah by a nature parable, the whirlwind, the earthquake, the fire, and the still, small voice, so He taught Jonah by the parable of the gourd. "Thou hast had pity on the gourd," said God. It was a form of self-pity, no doubt; but, then, how much of our sympathy starts from a selfish root! It is a great thing when feeling splits away from a purely personal reference, and puts forth an altruistic branchlet. Time and grace may make much of a sentiment not so pure and lofty in its beginning as one would wish. Think, Jonah, think! "Thou hast had pity on the gourd." You did not make it; it was not yours; yet its short-lived glory touched you with some regret. I have made both plants and men. Ought I not to have pity on men failing and passing? Think! till you, too, pity them with Me.

5. Did Jonah learn the lesson of charity, and take a larger and a gentler mould? There is some reason to think that he did, for as the story leaves him he is still under the hand of God, and God is still speaking. The inference is that he receives the Divine admonition. He has no answer to make, and God is still with him, and not failing nor forsaking this cross-grained servant of His. We love the amiable. What a mercy it is that God loves the unamiable also, and the awkward and ignorant and dim-sighted, and is kind to the unthankful and the evil. But there is perhaps another reason for hoping that God's teaching was not in vain. In 2 Kings 14:25 we learn that Jonah prophesied with reference to the re-conquest of Moab under Jeroboam II., who "restored the coast of Israel from the entering of Hamath to the Sea of the Plain." Now, in the oracles contained in Isaiah there is one concerning Moab, not by Isaiah, but spoken, it is said, " in time past" (R.V.). By a number of eminent critics this is supposed to be the substance of Jonah's prophecy during the reign of Jeroboam

II. If we can take this view we may well consider how different the tone of this prophecy is from that which we should expect from the accuser of Nineveh. It is full of tender feeling and humane regret. "I will weep with the weeping of Jazer for the vine of Sibmah: I will water thee with my tears, O Heshbon and Elealeh: for upon thy summer fruits and upon thy harvest the battle shout is fallen...Wherefore my bowels sound like an harp for Moab, and mine inward parts for Kirheres" (Isaiah 16:9 and Isaiah 16:11). We cannot recognise in these words the voice of the Jonah who went to Nineveh; and, indeed, it may be the voice of another Jonah, whom God's gentleness had made great. And, whether Jonah learned his lesson or not, the story remains — a poem, in which man is humiliated and God only exalted. "For My ways are not your ways, nor your thoughts My thoughts, saith the Lord: for as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways, and My thoughts higher than your thoughts."

(A. H. Vine.)

(with Luke 19:41): — These texts from Jonah and the Gospel by Luke are selected that their light may fall upon the subject of the attitude of God toward the cities of to-day. I have not often found myself in agreement with Bismarck, but with his views of cities I perfectly agree: "Great cities are great sores on the body politic." The crowding of populations into great cities is never conducive to the development of individualism, nor does it make for the ideal socialism. The Divine attitude toward the city has never been that of aloofness from failure and sin, but rather that of keen interest, profound pity, ceaseless activity. Nineveh was a city outside the covenant of the chosen people, a city steeped in heathen customs and wrong-doing. Yet God sent Jonah, and proves in the language of the text this love and care. Jerusalem was the city of privilege and blessing, which killed the prophets and stoned the messengers. The city which Jesus wept over. The Divine attitude toward great cities is one of com passionate interest and love. Every city is known to God. Every part of it is known to Him, the rich and the poor parts. In this city "all things are naked and open to the eye of Him with whom we have to do." But beyond the infinite knowledge is this other thought, He cares. There is no sorrow that God does not feel. He has abandoned no part of what He Himself created. All the physical disability has His sympathy — the dwellings of the poor, the workshops of our men and women; all the mental sufferings, the misery of mystery and the mystery of the misery; all the spiritual death — "the cursed mountain of sorrow lies heaviest on the Divine heart." God has not forsaken the city: He is still sending His prophets, His messengers, His Son. Moreover, He is, by His Holy Spirit, the actual and ever-present force for the relieving of every condition of evil and sorrow. No problem is too complex for His wisdom, no opposing force too mighty for His power, no darkness too dense for His light, no trifle too trivial for His notice. He is working for its regeneration. What, then, is the responsibility of the city? What does the Church of Christ exist for? For the select few who to-day worship within the buildings called by His name? Then in God's name close the doors! Such churches have no mission, and should cease to exist. The Church of Christ exists to reveal God and to act in concert with Him. Would that I could startle you into Christian activity! The sorrow of the city awaits your sympathy, and the saving force and grace of Jesus Christ. How is the city to know that it is not God-forsaken? Through the Church. We have here no continuing city; we seek one to come, whose builder and maker is God. The centres of the Christian life and the civic life are diametrically opposite. The first principle of the Christian life is self-death; that of the civic life is selfishness. The second element of the one is sacrifice; of the other, self seeking. The third law of the one is, "I believe in the salvation of the unfit"; that of the civic life is the survival of the fittest. We seek a city which hath foundations. Many are trying to find it by star-gazing. They thank God for their comfortable lot in life, and wait. Seek the city that is to be here. We must take part in the government of the city. Whether the factory is to be occupied so long and so closely that life and comfort are neglected is not the question of the manufacturer's profit, but of the worker's health. If you do not care you are not a Christian. You cannot live near to Christ and be indifferent. We must press forward all the time in our distinctive work of setting men and women into personal contact with Christ. The law of adaptation is one law of progress. There can be no failure in God; if there be any, it is in us. I call every Christian man and woman to attention. Concerning the Divine attitude there is no question. You believe that God loves the city. A boy asked his Sunday-school teacher, Do you think God loves wicked boys?" "Certainly not," was her reply. Oh, the blasphemy of such an answer! Of course, God loves wicked boys. If He had never loved sinners there would have been no saints. Concerning our relation to God's attitude toward the city there is room for much heart-searching. We must know the city. Contrast, in conclusion, our texts. Jonah was angry because God forgives. Jesus wept over the sins of the city. I am in sympathy with Jesus rather than with Jonah. Christian am I if I am Christ-like; Christ-like am I if, like Christ, I weep over the city and give myself for it even unto death.

(G. C. Morgan, D. D.)

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