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This chapter gives us an account of Jonah’s displeasure at the repentance of the Ninevites, and at the Lord’s showing mercy unto them, ( Jonah 4:1); the angry prayer of Jonah upon it, ( Jonah 4:2,3); the Lord’s gentle reproof of him for it, ( Jonah 4:4); his conduct upon that, ( Jonah 4:5); the gourd prepared for him; its rise, usefulness, and destruction, which raised different passions in Jonah, ( Jonah 4:6-8); the improvement the Lord made of this to rebuke Jonah, for his displicency at the mercy he showed to the Ninevites, and to convict him of his folly, ( Jonah 4:9-11).
Ver. 1 . But it displeased Jonah exceedingly, and he was very angry .] Jonah was “mirabilis homo”, as one calls him, an “amazing man”; the strangest, oddest, and most out of the way man, for a good man and a prophet, as one shall ever hear or read of. Displeased he was at that, which one would have thought he would have exceedingly rejoiced at, the success of his ministry, as all good men, prophets, and ministers of the word, do; nothing grieves them more than the hardness of men’s hearts, and the failure of their labours; and nothing more rejoices them than the conversion of sinners by them; but Jonah is displeased at the repentance of the Ninevites through his preaching, and at the mercy of God showed unto them: displeased at that, on account of which there is joy in heaven among the divine Persons, Father, Son, and Spirit, and among the holy angels, even over one repenting sinner; and much more over many thousands, as in this case: displeased at that which is the grudge, the envy, and spite of devils, and which they do all they can to hinder: and the more strange it is that Jonah should act such a part at this time, when he himself had just received mercy of the Lord in so extraordinary a manner as to be delivered out of the fish’s belly, even out of the belly of hell; which one would think would have warmed his heart with love, not only to God, but to the souls of men, and caused him to have rejoiced that others were sharers with him in the same grace and mercy, reasons of this strange conduct, if they may be called reasons, are supposed to be these: one reason was, his own honour, which he thought lay at stake, and that he should be reckoned a false prophet if Nineveh was not destroyed at the time he had fixed; but the proviso implied, though not expressed, “except ye repent,” secured his character; which was the sense of the divine Being, and so the Ninevites understood it, or at least hoped this was the case, and therefore repented, and which the mercy shown them confirmed: nor had Jonah any reason to fear they would have reproached him with such an imputation to his character; but, on the contrary, would have caressed him as the most welcome person that ever came to their city, and had been the instrument of showing them their sin and danger, and of bringing them to repentance, and so of saving them from threatened ruin; and they did him honour by believing at once what he said, and by repenting at his preaching; and which is testified by Christ, and stands recorded to his honour, and will be transmitted to the latest posterity: another reason was his prejudice to the Gentiles, which was unreasonable for, though this was the foible of the Jewish nation, begrudging that any favours should be bestowed upon the Gentiles, or prophesied of them; (see Romans 10:19,20); yet a prophet should have divested himself of such prejudices, as Isaiah and others did; and, especially when he found his ministry was so blessed among them, he should have been silent, and glorified God for his mercy, and said, as the converted Jews did in Peter’s time, “then God hath granted unto the Gentiles repentance unto life”, ( Acts 11:18); to do otherwise, and as Jonah did, was to act like the unbelieving Jews, who “forbid” the apostles to “preach to the Gentiles, that they might be saved”, ( 1 Thessalonians 2:16). A third reason supposed is the honour of his own countrymen, which he thought would be reflected on, and might issue in their ruin, they not returning from their evil ways, when the Heathens did: a poor weak reason this! with what advantage might he have returned to his own country? with what force of argument might he have accosted them, and upbraided them with their impenitence and unbelief; that Gentiles at one sermon should repent in sackcloth and ashes, when they had the prophets one after another sent them, and without effect? and who knows what might have been the issue of this? lastly, the glory of God might be pretended; that he would be reckoned a liar, and his word a falsehood, and be derided as such by atheists and unbelievers; but here was no danger of this from these penitent ones; and, besides, the proviso before mentioned secured the truth and veracity of God; and who was honoured by these persons, by their immediate faith in him, and repentance towards him; and his grace and mercy were as much glorified in the salvation of them as his justice would have been in their destruction.
Ver. 2. And he prayed unto the Lord , etc.] 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 34:6,7); 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 33:18,19); 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 Numbers 14:18): 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.
Ver. 3 . Therefore now, O Lord, take, I beseech thee, my life from me , etc.] Or, “my soul” f70 . This, as Drusius remarks, may be observed against those that think the soul is not immortal; for by this it appears that it my be taken from the body, and that it exists separate from it, and does not die with it; and since the body dies upon its removal, for “the body without the spirit is dead”, as James says; death is expressed by this phrase, ( Job 27:8 Acts 8:33); here Jonah allows that God is the God of life, the author and giver of it, and is the sole disposer of it; it is in his own power to take it away, and not man’s: so far Jonah was right, that he did not in his passion attempt to take away his own life; only desires the Lord to do it, though in that he is not to be justified; for though it may be lawful for good men to desire to die, with submission to the will of God; that they might be free from sin, and serve him without it, and be with Christ, and in the enjoyment of the divine Presence, as the Apostle Paul and others did, ( Corinthians 5:6,8 Philippians 1:21,23); but not through discontent, as Elijah, ( 1 Kings 19:4); or merely to be rid of troubles, and to be free from pain and afflictions, as Job, ( Job 6:1-3,8,9); and much less in a pet and passion, as Jonah here, giving this reason for it, for [it is] better for me to die than to live ; not being able to bear the reproach of being a false prophet, which he imagined would be cast upon him; or, as Aben Ezra and Kimchi, that he might not see the evil come upon Israel, which he feared the repentance of the Ninevites would be the occasion of, Jonah was in a very poor frame of spirit to die in; this would not have been dying in faith and hope in God; which graces cannot be thought to be in lively exercise in him when he was quarrelling with God; neither in love to God, with whom he was angry; nor in love to men, at whose repentance, and finding mercy with the Lord, he was displeased.
Ver. 4. Then said the Lord, dost thou well to be angry ?] A mild and gentle reproof this; which shows him to be a God gracious and merciful, and slow to anger; he might have answered Jonah’s passionate wish, and struck him dead at once, as Ananias and Sapphira were; but he only puts this question, and leaves it with him to consider of. Some render it, “is doing good displeasing to thee?” art thou angry at that, because I do good to whom I will? so R. Japhet, as Aben Ezra observes, though he disapproves of it: according to this the sense is, is doing good to the Ninevites, showing mercy to them upon their repentance, such an eyesore to thee? is thine eye evil, because mine is good? so the Scribes and Pharisees indeed were displeased with Christ for conversing with publicans and sinners, which was for the good of their souls; and the elder brother was angry with his father for receiving the prodigal; and of the same cast Jonah seems to be, at least at this time, being under the power of his corruptions. There seems to be an emphasis upon the word “thou”; dost “thou” well to be angry? what, “thou”, a creature, be angry with his Creator; a worm, a potsherd of the earth, with the God of heaven and earth? what, “thou”, that hast received mercy thyself in such an extraordinary manner, and so lately, and be angry at mercy shown to others? what, “thou”, a prophet of the Lord, that should have at heart the good of immortal souls, and be displeased that thy ministry has been the means of the conversion and repentance of so many thousands? is there any just cause for all this anger? no, it is a causeless one; and this is put to the conscience of Jonah; he himself is made judge in his own cause; and it looks as if, upon self-reflection and reconsideration, when his passions cooled and subsided, that he was self-convicted and selfcondemned, since no answer is returned. The Targum is, “art thou exceeding angry?” and so other interpreters, Jewish and Christian f72 , understand it of the vehemency of his anger.
Ver. 5. So Jonah went out of the city , etc.] Had not the inhabitants of it repented, he had done right to go out of it, and shake the dust of his feet against it; or, in such a case, had he gone out of it, as Lot out of Sodom, when just going to be overthrown; but Jonah went out in a sullen fit, because it was to be spared; though some render the words, “now Jonah had gone out of the city” f73 ; that is, before all this passed, recorded in the preceding verses; and so Aben Ezra observes, that the Scripture returns here to make mention of the affairs of Jonah, and what happened before the accomplishment of the forty days: and sat on the east side of the city ; where he might have very probably a good sight of it; and which lay the reverse of the road to his own country; that, if the inhabitants should pursue him, they would miss of him; which some suppose he might be in fear of, should their city be destroyed: and there made him a booth ; of the boughs of trees, which he erected, not to continue in, but for a short time, expecting in a few days the issue of his prediction: and sat under it in the shadow ; to shelter him from the heat of the sun: till he might see what would become of the city ; or, “what would be done in” it, or “with” it f74 ; if this was after he knew that the Lord had repented of the evil he threatened, and was disposed to show mercy to the city; and which, as Kimchi thinks, was revealed to him by the spirit of prophecy; then he sat here, expecting the repentance of the Ninevites would be a short lived one; be like the goodness of Ephraim and Judah, as the morning cloud, and early dew that passes away; and that then God would change his dispensations towards them again, as he had done; or however he might expect, that though the city was not totally overthrown, yet that there would be something done; some lesser judgment fall upon them, as a token of the divine displeasure, and which might save his credit as a prophet Ver. 6 . And the Lord God prepared a gourd , etc.] So the Septuagint render the word; but some say that a worm will not touch that; Jerom renders it an ivy; but neither the gourd nor that rise upwards without some props to support them. The Hebrew word is “kikaion”, the same with the “kiki”, or “cici”, of Herodotus f75 , Dioscorides f76 , Strabo f77 , and Pliny f78 ; a plant frequent in Egypt, of which the Egyptians made an oil; hence the Talmudists make mention of the oil of “kik”, which Reshlakish says is the “kikaion” of Jonah; and which is the same that the Arabians call “alcheroa” or “alcherva”, according to Samuel ben Hophni f80 , Maimonides f81 , Bartenora f82 , and Jerom f83 ; and which is well known to be the “ricinus”, or “palma Christi”; and which, by the description of it, according to all the above writers, bids fairest to be here intended; it rising up to the height of a tree, an olive tree, having very large broad leaves, like those of vines, or of plantain; and springing up suddenly, as Pliny says it does in Spain; and Clusius affirms he saw at the straits of Gibraltar a ricinus of the thickness of a man, and of the height of three men; and Bellonius, who travelled through Syria and Palestine, saw one in Crete of the size of a tree; and Dietericus f85 , who relates the above, says he saw himself, in a garden at Leyden, well furnished and enriched with exotic plants, an American ricinus, the stalk of which was hollow, weak, and soft, and the leaves almost a foot and a half; and which Adolphus Vorstius, he adds, took to be the same which Jonah had for a shade; with which agrees what Dioscorides says, that there is a sort of it which grows large like a tree, and as high as a fig tree; the leaves of it are like those of a palm tree, though broader, smoother, and blacker; the branches and trunk of it are hollow like a reed: and what may seem more to confirm this is, that a certain number of grains of the seed of the ricinus very much provoke vomiting; which, if true, as Marinus observes, the word here used may be derived from awq , which signifies to vomit; from whence is the word ayq , vomiting; and the first radical being here doubled may increase the signification, and show it to be a great emetic; and the like virtue of the ricinus is observed by others f88 . Jerom allegorizes it of the ceremonial law, under the shadow of which Israel dwelt for a while; and then was abrogated by Christ, who says he was a worm, and no man: but it is better to apply it to outward mercies and earthly enjoyments, which like this plant spring out of the earth, and have their root in it, and are of the nature of it, and therefore minded by earthly and carnal men above all others; they are thin, slight, and slender things; there is no solidity and substance in them, like the kiki, whose stalk is hollow as a reed, as Dioscorides says; they are light and empty things, vanity and vexation of spirit; spring up suddenly sometimes, and are gone as soon; some men come to riches and honour at once, and rise up to a very great pitch of both, and quickly fall into poverty and disgrace again; for these are very uncertain perishing things, like this herb or plant, or even as grass, which soon withers away. They are indeed of God, who is the Father of mercies, and are the gifts of his providence, and not the merit of men; they are disposed of according to his will, and “prepared” by him in his purposes, and given forth according to them, and in his covenant to his own special people, and are to them blessings indeed: and made [it] to come up over Jonah ; over his head, as follows; and it may be over the booth he had built, which was become in a manner useless; the leaves of the boughs of which it was made being withered with the heat of the sun; it came over him so as to cover him all over; which may denote both the necessity of outward mercies, as food and raiment, which the Lord knows his people have need of; and the sufficiency of them he grants, with which they should be content: that it might be a shadow over his head, to deliver him from his grief ; either from the vexation of mind at the repentance of the Ninevites, and the mercy shown them; this being a refreshment unto him, and which he might take as a new token of the Lord’s favourable regard to him, after the offence he had given him, and gentle reproof for it; or from the headache, with which he was thought to have been afflicted, through his vexation; or by the heat of the sun; or rather it was to shelter him from the heat of the sun, and the distress that gave him: so outward mercies, like a reviving and refreshing shadow, exhilarate the spirits, and are a defence against the injuries and insults of men, and a preservative from the grief and distress which poverty brings with it: so Jonah was exceeding glad of the gourd ; or, “rejoiced with a great joy” f89 ; he was excessively and above measure glad of it, because of its usefulness to him: outward mercies are what we should be thankful for; and it is good for men to rejoice in their labours, and enjoy the good of them; to eat their bread with a merry heart and cheerfulness; but should not be elevated with them beyond measure, lifted up with pride, and boast and glory of them, and rejoice in such boastings, which is evil; or rejoice in them as their portion, placing their happiness therein, which is to rejoice in a thing of naught; or to overrate mercies, and show more affection for them than for God himself, the giver of them, who only should be our “exceeding joy”; and, when this is the case, it is much if they are not quickly taken away, as Jonah’s gourd was, as follows:
Ver. 7. But God prepared a worm when the morning rose the next day , etc.] That God that prepared this plant to rise so suddenly, almost as soon prepared a worm to destroy it; for it rose up one night, continued one whole day, to the great delight of Jonah; and by the morning of the following day this worm or grub was prepared in, it, or sent to it, to the root of it: this shows that God is the Creator of the least as well as the largest of creatures, of worms as well as whales, contrary to the notion of Valentinus, Marcion, and Apelles; who, as Jerom says, introduce another creator of ants, worms, fleas, locusts, etc. and another of the heavens, earth, sea, and angels: but it is much that. Arnobius f91 , an orthodox ancient Christian father, should deny such creatures to be the work of God, and profess his ignorance of the Maker of them. His words are, “should we deny flies, beetles, worms, mice, weasels, and moths, to be the work of the King Omnipotent, it does not follow that it should be required of us to say who made and formed them; for we may without blame be ignorant who gave them their original;” whereas, in the miracle of the lice, the magicians of Egypt themselves owned that the finger of God was there, and were out of their power to effect; and to the Prophet Amos the great God was represented in a vision as making locusts or grasshoppers, ( Amos 7:1); and indeed the smallest insect or reptile is a display of the wisdom and power of God, and not at all below his dignity and greatness to produce; and for which there are wise reasons in nature and providence, as here for the production of this worm: the same God that prepared a great fish to swallow Jonah, and a gourd to shadow him, and an east wind to blow upon him, prepared this worm to destroy his shade, and try his patience: and it smote the gourd, that it withered ; it bit its root, and its moisture dried up, and it withered away at once, and became useless: that same hand that gives mercies can take them away, and that very suddenly, in a trice, in a few hours, as in the case of Job; and sometimes very secretly and invisibly, that men are not aware of; their substance wastes, and they fall to decay, and they can scarcely tell the reason of it; there is a worm at the root of their enjoyments, which kills them; God is as a moth and rottenness unto them; and he does this sometimes by small means, by little instruments, as he plagued Pharaoh and the Egyptians with lice and flies.
Ver. 8. And it came to pass when the sun did arise , etc.] After that the gourd was smitten and withered; when it was not only risen, but shone out with great force and heat: that God prepared a vehement east wind ; or, “a deafening east wind” f92 ; which blew so strong, and so loud, as R. Marinus in Aben Ezra and Kimchi say, made people deaf that heard it: or, “a silencing east wind”; which when it blew, all other winds were silent, as Jarchi: or it made men silent, not being to be heard for it: or, “a silent” f93 , that is, a still quiet wind, as the Targum; which blew so gently and slowly, that it increased the heat, instead of lessening it: or rather “a ploughing east wind” f94 ; such as are frequent in the eastern countries, which plough up the dry land, cause the sand to arise and cover men and camels, and bury them in it. Of these winds Monsieur Thevenot speaks more than once; in sandy deserts, between Cairo and Suez, he says, “it blew so furiously, that I thought all the tents would have been carried away with the wind; which drove before it such clouds of sand, that we were almost buried under it; for seeing nobody could stay outside, without having mouth and eyes immediately filled with sand, we lay under the tents, where the wind drove in the sand above a foot deep round about us;” and in another place he observes f97 “from Suez to Cairo, for a day’s time or more, we had so hot a wind, that we were forced to turn our backs to it, to take a little breath, and so soon as we opened our mouths they were full of sand;” such an one was here raised, which blew the sand and dust into the face of Jonah, and almost suffocated him; which, with the heat of the sun, was very afflictive to him: and the sun beat upon the head of Jonah, that he fainted ; the boughs of trees, of which the booth was made, being withered, and his gourd, or whatever plant it was, also, he had nothing to shelter him from the heat of the sun; but the beams of it darted directly upon him, so that he was not able to sustain them; they quite overwhelmed him, and caused him to faint, and just ready to die away: and wished in himself to die ; or, “desired his soul might die” f98 ; not his rational soul, which was immortal; by this animal or sensitive soul, which he had in common with animals; he wished his animal life might be taken from him, because the distress through the wind and sun was intolerable to him: and said, [it is] better for me to die than to live ; in so much pain and misery; (see Jon 4:3).
Ver. 9. And God said to Jonah, dost thou well to be angry for the gourd ? etc.] Or, “art thou very angry for it?” as the Targum: no mention is made of the blustering wind and scorching sun, because the gourd or plant raised up over him would have protected him from the injuries of both, had it continued; and it was for the loss of that that Jonah was so displeased, and in such a passion. This question is put in order to draw out the following answer, and so give an opportunity of improving this affair to the end for which it was designed: and he said, I do well to be angry, [even] unto death ; or, “I am very angry unto death”, as the Targum; I am so very angry that I cannot live under it for fretting and vexing; and it is right for me to be so, though I die with the passion of it: how ungovernable are the passions of men, and to what insolence do they rise when under the power of them!
Ver. 10. Then said the Lord, thou hast had pity on the gourd , etc.] Or, “hast spared it” f99 ; that is, would have spared it, had it lain in his power, though but a weeds and worthless thing: for the which thou hast not laboured ; in digging the ground, and by sowing or planting it; it being raised up at once by the Lord himself, and not by any, human art and industry; nor by any of his: neither madest it grow ; by dunging the earth about it, or by watering and pruning it: which came up in a night, and perished in a night ; not in the same night; for it sprung up one night, continued a whole any, and then perished the next night. The Targum is more explicit, “which was in this (or one) night, and perished in another night;” by all which the Lord suggests to Jonah the vast difference between the gourd he would have spared, and for the loss of which he was so angry, and the city of Nineveh the Lord spared, which so highly displeased him; the one was but an herb, a plant, the other a great city; that a single plant, but the city consisted of thousands of persons; the plant was not the effect of his toil and labour, but the inhabitants of this city were the works of God’s hands. In the building of this city, according to historians a million and a half of men were employed eight years together; the plant was liken mushroom, it sprung up in a night, and perished in one; whereas this was a very ancient city, that had stood ever since the days of Nimrod.
Ver. 11. And should not I spare Nineveh, that great city ? etc.] (see Jon 1:2 3:3); what is such a gourd or plant to that? wherein are more than sixscore thousand persons ; or twelve myriads; that is, twelve times ten thousand, or a hundred and twenty thousand; meaning not all the inhabitants of Nineveh; for then it would not have appeared to be so great a city; but infants only, as next described: that cannot discern between their right hand and their left hand ; do not know one from another; cannot distinguish between good and evil, right and wrong; are not come to years of maturity and discretion; and therefore there were room and reason for pity and sparing mercy; especially since they had not been guilty of actual transgressions, at least not very manifest; and yet must have perished with their parents had Nineveh been overthrown. The number of infants in this city is a proof of the greatness of it, though not so as to render the account incredible; for, admitting these to be a fifth part of its inhabitants, as they usually are of any place, as Bochart observes, it makes the number of its inhabitants to be but six or seven hundred thousand; and as many there were in Seleucia and Thebes, as Pliny relates of the one, and Tacitus of the other: and [also] much cattle ; and these more valuable than goods, as animals are preferable to, and more useful than, vegetables; and yet these must have perished in the common calamity. Jarchi understands by these grown up persons, whose knowledge is like the beasts that know not their Creator.
No answer being returned, it may be reasonably supposed Jonah, was convinced of his sin and folly; and, to show his repentance for it, penned this, narrative, which records his infirmities and weaknesses, for the good of the church, and the instruction of saints in succeeding ages.