Jonah 4


Jonah, dreading to be thought a false prophet, repines at God's

mercy in sparing the Ninevites, whose destruction he seems to

have expected, from his retiring to a place without the city

about the close of the forty days. But how does he glorify that

mercy which he intends to blame! And what an amiable posture

does he give of the compassion of God! 1-5.

This attribute of the Deity is still farther illustrated by his

tenderness and condescension to the prophet himself, who, with

all his prophetic gifts, had much of human infirmity, 6-11.


Verse 1. But it displeased Jonah exceedingly] This hasty, and

indeed inconsiderate prophet, was vexed because his prediction was

not fulfiled. He had more respect to his high sense of his own

honour than he had to the goodness and mercy of God. He appeared

to care little whether six hundred and twenty thousand persons

were destroyed or not, so he might not pass for a deceiver, or one

that denounced a falsity.

And he was very angry.] Because the prediction was not

literally fulfilled; for he totally lost sight of the condition.

Verse 2. I know that thou art a gracious God]

See Clarke on Ex 34:6.

Verse 3. Take, I beseech thee, my life from me]

kach na eth naphshi, "Take, I beseech thee, even my soul." Do

not let me survive this disgrace. Thou hast spared this city. I

thought thou wouldst do so, because thou art merciful and

gracious, and it was on this account that I refused to go at

first, as I knew that thou mightest change thy purpose, though

thou hadst commanded me to make an absolute denunciation of

judgment. God has left this example on record to show that an

inconsiderate man is not fit to be employed in his work; and he

chose this one example that it might serve as an endless warning

to his Church to employ no man in the work of the ministry that is

not scripturally acquainted with God's justice and mercy.

Verse 4. Doest thou well to be angry?] haheitib

harah lac, "Is anger good for thee?" No, anger is good for no man;

but an angry preacher, minister, bishop, or prophet, is an

abominable man. He who, in denouncing the word of God against

sinners, joins his own passions with the Divine threatenings, is a

cruel and bad man, and should not be an overseer in God's house. A

surly bishop, a peevish, passionate preacher, will bring neither

glory to God, nor good to man. Dr. Taylor renders the clause, "Art

thou very much grieved?" A man may be very much grieved that a

sinner is lost; but who but he who is of a fiendish nature will be

grieved because God's mercy triumphs over judgment?

Verse 5. So Jonah went out of the city] I believe this refers to

what had already passed; and I therefore agree with Bp. Newcome,

who translates, "Now Jonah HAD gone out of the city, and HAD sat,"

&c.; for there are many instances where verbs in the preterite

form have this force, the vau here turning the future into the

preterite. And the passage is here to be understood thus: When he

had delivered his message he left the city, and went and made

himself a tent, or got under some shelter on the east side of the

city, and there he was determined to remain till he should see

what would become of the city. But when the forty days had

expired, and he saw no evidence of the Divine wrath, he became

angry, and expostulated with God as above. The fifth verse should

be read in a parenthesis, or be considered as beginning the


Verse 6. And the Lord God prepared a gourd] I believe this

should be rendered in the preterpluperfect tense. The Lord HAD

prepared-this plant, kikayon. It had in the course of God's

providence been planted and grown up in that place, though perhaps

not yet in full leaf; and Jonah made that his tent. And its thick

branches and large leaves made it an ample shelter for him, and

because it was such, he rejoiced greatly on the account. But what

was the kikayon? The best judges say the ricinus or palma Christi,

from which we get what is vulgarly called castor oil, is meant. It

is a tree as large as the olive, has leaves which are like those

of the vine, and is also quick of growth. This in all probability

was the plant in question, which had been already planted, though

it had not attained its proper growth, and was not then in full

leaf. Celsus, in his Hierobot., says it grows to the height of an

olive tree; the trunk and branches are hollow like a kex, and the

leaves sometimes as broad as the rim of a hat. It must be of a

soft or spongy substance, for it is said to grow surprisingly

fast. See Taylor under the root , 1670. But it is evident there

was something supernatural in the growth of this plant, for it is

stated to have come up in a night; though the Chaldee understands

the passage thus: "It was here last night, and it withered this

night." In one night it might have blown and expanded its leaves

considerably, though the plant had existed before, but not in full

bloom till the time that Jonah required it for a shelter.

Verse 7. But God prepared a worm] By being eaten through the

root, the plant, losing its nourishment, would soon wither; and

this was the case in the present instance.

Verse 8. A vehement east wind] Which was of itself of a

parching, withering nature; and the sun, in addition, made it

intolerable. These winds are both scorching and suffocating in the

East, for deserts of burning sand lay to the east or south-east;

and the easterly winds often brought such a multitude of minute

particles of sand on their wings, as to add greatly to the

mischief. I believe these, and the sands they carry, are the cause

of the ophthalmia which prevails so much both in Egypt and India.

Verse 9. I do well to be angry, even unto death.] Many persons

suppose that the gifts of prophecy and working miracles are the

highest that can be conferred on man; but they are widely

mistaken, for the gifts change not the heart. Jonah had the gift

of prophecy, but had not received that grace which destroys the

old man and creates the soul anew in Christ Jesus. This is the

love of which St. Paul speaks, which if a man have not, though

he had the gift of prophecy, and could miraculously remove

mountains, yet in the sight of God, and for any good himself might

reap from it, it would be as sounding brass and a tinkling cymbal.

Jonah was a prophet, and yet had all his old bad tempers about

him, in a shameful predominancy. Balaam was of the same kind. So

we find that God gave the gift of prophecy even to graceless men.

But many of the prophets were sanctified in their nature before

their call to the prophetic office, and were the most excellent of


Verse 10. Which came up in a night] St. Jerome, speaking of this

plant, the kikayon, assigns to it an extraordinary rapidity of

growth. It delights in a sandy soil, and in a few days what was a

plant grows into a large shrub. But he does not appear to have

meant the ricinus; this however is the most likely. The

expressions coming up in a night and perishing in a night are only

metaphorical to express speedy growth and speedy decay; and so, as

we have seen, the Chaldee interprets it,

"which existed this night

but in the next night perished;" and this I am satisfied is the

true import of the Hebrew phrase.

Verse 11. And should not I spare Nineveh] In Jon 4:10 it is

said, thou hast had pity on the gourd, attah CHASTA; and

here the Lord uses the same word, veani lo ACHUS,

"And shall not I have pity upon Nineveh?" How much is the city

better than the shrub? But besides this there are in it one

hundred and twenty thousand persons! And shall I destroy them,

rather than thy shade should be withered or thy word apparently

fail? And besides, these persons are young, and have not offended,

(for they knew not the difference between their right hand and

their left,) and should not I feel more pity for those innocents

than thou dost for the fine flowering plant which is withered in a

night, being itself exceedingly short-lived? Add to all this, they

have now turned from those sins which induced me to denounce

judgment against them. And should I destroy them who are now

fasting and afflicting their souls; and, covered with sackcloth,

are lying in the dust before me, bewailing their offenses and

supplicating for mercy? Learn, then, from this, that it is the

incorrigibly wicked on whom my judgments must fall, and against

whom they are threatened. And know, that to that man will I look

who is of a broken and contrite spirit, and who trembles at my

word. Even the dumb beasts are objects of my compassion; I will

spare them for the sake of their penitent owners; and remember

with the rest, That the Lord careth for oxen.

The great number of cattle to which reference is here made were

for the support of the inhabitants; and probably at this time the

Ninevites gathered in their cattle from the champaign pasture,

expecting that some foe coming to besiege them might seize upon

them for their forage, while they within might suffer the lack of

all things.

No doubt that ancient Nineveh was like ancient Babylon, of which

Quintus Curtius says the buildings were not close to the walls,

there being the space of an acre left between them; and in several

parts there were within the walls portions of cultivated land,

that, if besieged, they might have provisions to sustain the


And I suppose this to be true of all large ancient cities. They

were rather cantons or districts than cities such as now are, only

all the different inhabitants had joined together to wall in the

districts for the sake of mutual defence.

This last expostulation of God, it is to be hoped, produced its

proper effect on the mind of this irritable prophet; and that he

was fully convinced that in this, as in all other cases, God had

done all things well.

FROM this short prophecy many useful lessons may be derived. The

Ninevites were on the verge of destruction, but on their

repentance were respited. They did not, however, continue under

the influence of good resolutions. They relapsed, and about one

hundred and fifty years afterwards, the Prophet Nahum was sent to

predict the miraculous discomfiture of the Assyrian king under

Sennacherib, an event which took place about 710 B.C., and also

the total destruction of Nineveh by Cyaxares and his allies which

happened about 606 B.C. Several of the ancients, by allegorizing

this book, have made Jonah declare the divinity, humanity, death,

and resurrection of Christ. These points may be found in the

Gospel history, their true repository; but fancy can find them any

where it pleases to seek them; but he who seeks not for them will

never find them here. Jonah was a type of the resurrection of

Christ; nothing farther seems revealed in this prophet relative to

the mysteries of Christianity.

In conclusion: while I have done the best I could to illustrate

the very difficult prophet through whose work the reader has just

passed, I do not pretend to say I have removed every difficulty. I

am satisfied only of one thing, that I have conscientiously

endeavoured to do it, and believe that I have generally succeeded;

but am still fearful that several are left behind, which, though

they may be accounted for from the briefness of the narrative of a

great transaction, in which so many surprising particulars are

included, yet, for general apprehension, might appear to have

required a more distinct and circumstantial statement. I have only

to add, that as several of the facts are evidently miraculous, and

by the prophet stated as such, others may be probably of the same

kind. On this ground all difficulty is removed; for God can do

what he pleases. As his power is unlimited, it can meet with no

impossibilities. He who gave the commission to Jonah to go and

preach to the Ninevites, and prepared the great fish to swallow

the disobedient prophet, could maintain his life for three days

and three nights in the belly of this marine monster; and cause it

to eject him at the termination of the appointed time, on any

sea-coast he might choose; and afterwards the Divine power could

carry the deeply contrite and now faithful prophet over the

intervening distance between that and Nineveh, be that distance

greater or less. Whatever, therefore, cannot be accounted for on

mere natural principles in this book, may be referred to this

supernatural agency; and this, on the ostensible principle of

the prophecy itself, is at once a mode of interpretation as easy

as it is rational. God gave the commission; he raised the storm,

he prepared the fish which swallowed the prophet; he caused it to

cast him forth on the dry land; he gave him a fresh commission,

carried him to the place of his destination, and miraculously

produced the sheltering gourd, that came to perfection in a night

and withered in a night. This God therefore performed the other

facts for which we cannot naturally account, as he did those

already specified. This concession, for the admission of which

both common sense and reason plead, at once solves all the real or

seeming difficulties to be found in the Book of the Prophet Jonah.

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