Jonah, chapter 4
by Jonathan Spurlock
(Holts Summit, MO)
Jon 4:1, KJV: But it displeased Jonah exceedingly, and he was very angry.
This is amazing: an entire city delivered from destruction and God’s wrath, and the very prophet who brought that message is angry. Was he angry with God, for sparing the city? Was he angry with the people of Nineveh, who repented? Or was he angry with himself, wondering why he came all the way from Israel to Assyria just to see his then-enemies spared from certain death?
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.
Compare this prayer of Jonah with his first prayer, when he was apparently inside the fish’s belly (see chapter 2). Jonah also knew several things about God: He was gracious, slow to anger, merciful, and had great kindness. Even so, he still was not happy that God had not destroyed the Assyrians.
3 Therefore now, O LORD, take, I beseech thee, my life from me; for (it is) better for me to die than to live.
Incredibly, Jonah had either already died or had come close to death (see chapter 2). At the very least he had an impression of the afterlife. Previously he had promised to fulfill his vows; here, he seems to be expressing regret that he had done so.
Also, compare his wish for death with others. Samson had prayed to “die with the Philistines (Judges 16:30); Saul wanted his armor bearer to kill him so that he would not be captured (tortured?) by the Philistines but he killed himself instead (1 Samuel 31:1-6); Elijah had prayed for God to take his life, after he had run many miles—Mt. Carmel to Beersheba, and then a day’s journey further—to escape Jezebel (1 Kings 19:1-4). There may be others besides these three who thought death was better than life.
4 Then said the LORD, Doest thou well to be angry?
Note that the LORD does not really answer Jonah’s request. He simply asked a thought-provoking question. Had Jonah died at Nineveh, he couldn’t have been used by God anywhere else.
Interestingly, we are not given God’s response to Jonah’s prayer of chapter 2, except that God allowed Jonah to live and ordered the fish to spit him on dry land.
5 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.
Apparently Jonah was still inside Nineveh before this time. Oddly, the Tigris River was on the west side of Nineveh so Jonah was perhaps several miles away from the principal water supply. How was he going to survive, a foreigner in a foreign land, with no apparent means of support and a desire to die?
It is also a question as to how Jonah knew how make the booth. Israel had been commanded to make, and dwell in, booths for seven days (Lev. 23:39-43) but apparently this was seldom if ever observed before the days of Nehemiah (Neh. 8:13-17). We are not given any dimensions for the booth itself, nor how long he stayed in the booth. Did he stay in the booth for the entire 40 days he had prophesied for Nineveh’s destruction?
6 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.
Preparation is one of the themes in this book. Jonah prepared for a journey to the end of the known world (Tarshish) but found that God had prepared a storm and a great fish. Now Jonah had prepared for his journey (mission?) to Nineveh, perhaps expecting God to destroy the city, but God had prepared the hearts of the Ninevites to hear and believe the message of judgment. They repented—all of them!—and even Jesus took notice of this then reminded the Jews of His day about this sign.
So Jonah prepares a booth and waits—maybe for the balance of the 40 days—and tried to find shade while he was dwelling east of Nineveh. Here, God prepares a gourd that seems to have grown quickly and provided relief for Jonah. We don’t know how when God prepared the gourd (it grew over one night, see verse 10), but Jonah was certainly grateful for it!
Note that once again, God provides something better for us than we can make for ourselves:
Jonah tried to find shade in his booth, but God provided something even better.7 But God prepared a worm when the morning rose the next day, and it smote the gourd that it withered.
This is another thing which God prepared. It only takes a little thing, like a worm, to ruin the produce of the ground. In the Song of Solomon, either the Shulamite maiden (the bride) or her beloved warns about the “little foxes” that “spoil the vines (Song 2:15)”. Worms also ruined the manna, if the Israelites tried to save some for “leftovers” (Ex. 16:16-20).
Perhaps there are many lessons to learn from this. First, God is the One Who prepares events and people in order to fulfill His Will. Jonah could not possibly have prepared a gourd, or the worm. Second, God not only prepares things, He may and does remove things to illustrate His Purposes. The gourd and the worm both came from God; Jonah had no control over either. What other lessons might we learn? 8 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.
Jonah repeats his prayer from verse 3 but he may not have been prepared for the strong (“vehement”) east wind which God had prepared. Jonah fainted, whether from heat, lack of shade or lack of water, we are not told. Even so, his soul had “fainted” while he was in the fish’s belly (2:7); did this bring back that particular memory? Was he near death at this point?9 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.
Here is God’s response to Jonah, in the form of a question, but the question is about the gourd! Strangely enough, Jonah seems almost defiant in his reply to God. Had Jonah forgotten all of God’s gracious dealings with him, bringing him back to life from certain death, perhaps twice? 10 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:
Now God replies to Jonah. God reminded him that he had nothing to do with the growth or death of the gourd; it grew in one night (perhaps a miracle in itself) and died in one night when the worm “smote” the gourd (verse 7).11 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?
The Book of Jonah is one of the few that ends in a question. God speaks directly to Jonah, here, perhaps chiding him over his concern for a gourd which was destroyed in one night, and his lack of concern over one of the largest cities in the world of that time. God tells him (did Jonah ever consider?) about 120,000 who don’t know their left hands from their right, perhaps a reference to the children below the “age of accountability”, not to mention the multitudes of people who heard and repented, even the king himself.
One can only wonder what might have happened, had Jonah stayed and taught these Ninevites more about the True God. History might have been different. In one of the great ironies of the Bible, about 150 years after this, Assyria conquered the Northern Kingdom—the 10 tribes—and carried many of them to Assyria and scattered others here and there throughout the Empire. Later, the Assyrian king brought other ethno-racial peoples into the cities of “Samaria”, a term for the northern kingdom. God sent lions to afflict some of the new arrivals, so they sent representatives to the king. When he was told that the new people did not know the “manner of the God of (that) land, the king told them to take back one of the priests already taken captive! (2 Kings 17:23-28).” In time, these people intermarried and became known as the Samaritans.
The main lesson from Jonah, then, is that first, God loves people; second, God hates sin; third, He wants and commands believers to bring to sinners the message HE wants them to receive; finally. God will accomplish His purpose through one means or another. May we ever serve God with a pure heart, never wishing for destruction of our enemies, but bringing the message of salvation to all the people we can.
Scripture quotations taken from the King James Version of the Bible (KJV)