The Agora
Bible Commentary

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Jonah 4

Jon 4:1

JONAH WAS GREATLY DISPLEASED AND BECAME ANGRY: Do we work for the repentance of "Nineveh", or do we only hope and wait for its destruction?

This is the first clue since Jonah repented and went to Nineveh that his heart was still not completely right with God. One can do the will of God without doing it with the right attitude, and that is the focus of the remainder of the book. The repentance and good deeds of the Ninevites pleased God, but they displeased His representative. They made God happy, but they made Jonah angry.

"Jonah finds that the time-fuse does not work on the prophetic bomb he planted in Nineveh" (Allen). If Jonah was aware of Hosea and Amos' prophecies, he would have known that Assyria would eventually invade and defeat Israel (Hos 11:5; Amos 5:27) -- and for this reason alone would want to see the Assyrians punished or even destroyed before this could happen!

Jon 4:2

O LORD, IS THIS NOT WHAT I SAID WHEN I WAS STILL AT HOME? THAT IS WHY I WAS SO QUICK TO FLEE TO TARSHISH. I KNEW THAT YOU ARE A GRACIOUS AND COMPASSIONATE GOD, SLOW TO ANGER AND ABOUNDING IN LOVE, A GOD WHO RELENTS FROM SENDING CALAMITY: To his credit Jonah told God why he was angry (cf Jon 2:1). (Many believers try to hide their true feelings from God when they think God will not approve of those feelings.) Even though the prophet had been rebellious, he had a deep and intimate relationship with God.

Jonah's motive in fleeing to Tarshish now becomes known. He was afraid that the Ninevites would repent and that God would be merciful to this ancient enemy of God's people. By opposing the Israelites her enemies were also opposing Yahweh. This is why a godly man such as Jonah hated the Assyrians so much, and why the psalmists spoke so strongly against Israel's enemies.

Jonah's description of God goes back to Exo 34:6,7, a very ancient expression of God's character (cf Num 14:18; Neh 9:17; Psa 86:15; 103:8; 145:8; Joel 2:13).

TARSHISH: Cp Jon 1:3. See Lesson, Tarshish.

Jon 4:3

NOW, O LORD, TAKE AWAY MY LIFE, FOR IT IS BETTER FOR ME TO DIE THAN TO LIVE: Jonah felt so angry that he asked God to take his life (cf Jon 1:12; 4:8,9). Elijah had previously made the same request (1Ki 19:4), but we must be careful not to read Elijah's reasons into Jonah's request. Both prophets obviously became extremely discouraged. Both evidently felt that what God had done through their ministries was different from what they wanted to see happen. Elijah had wanted to see a complete national revival, but Jonah had wanted to see judgment on Israel's enemies. The sinfulness of people discouraged Elijah -- whereas the goodness of God depressed Jonah. How could Jonah return to Israel and announce that God was not going to judge the nation that had been such an enemy of the godly for so long? God had to teach Elijah to view things from His perspective, and He proceeded to teach Jonah the same thing.

Jon 4:5

JONAH WENT OUT AND SAT DOWN AT A PLACE EAST OF THE CITY. THERE HE MADE HIMSELF A SHELTER, SAT IN ITS SHADE AND WAITED TO SEE WHAT WOULD HAPPEN TO THE CITY: "In high dudgeon he went out of the city (on its east side because there was high ground, and on the west Calah abutted on the wide fast-flowing Tigris). There he built himself a booth, of the sort he had made in early days at Jerusalem at the Feast of Tabernacles; and there he would discipline his impatient soul with patience. Perhaps, after all, his remonstration to the angel would bring thunderbolts from heaven, something comparable to Sodom's grim fate and would 'turn Nineveh to ashes, condemning it with an overthrow.' What a satisfaction it would be to himself and to his countrymen to see a politically-inflated Nineveh wiped out!" (WJon).

Jonah chose his "ringside" seat and waited, hopefully, for the heaven-sent destruction of the great city. But... nothing happened! Do we -- sometimes -- wait eagerly for what will NOT happen... because we misunderstand the character of God, or His prophetic timetable?

Jon 4:6

THE LORD GOD PROVIDED A VINE AND MADE IT GROW UP OVER JONAH TO GIVE SHADE FOR HIS HEAD TO EASE HIS DISCOMFORT, AND JONAH WAS VERY HAPPY ABOUT THE VINE: God continued to manifest compassion for Jonah by providing him with a shading plant that relieved the discomfort of the blistering Mesopotamian sun. This is the only time that we read that Jonah was happy, and it was because he was physically comfortable.

"And as he sat there, waiting and expectant, and feeling the growing heat of the day more and more, he noted that already the stem of a fast-growing gourd plant, rather like a vine but with more foliage, was climbing up and over his booth. He marked with amazement the rapidity of its development. What a blessing this added shelter was to save him from the exhausting heat of a fierce mid-day sun.

"All that day and all that night Jonah camped out there, comfortable and expectant. But still nothing happened" (WJon).

Jon 4:7

AT DAWN THE NEXT DAY GOD PROVIDED A WORM, WHICH CHEWED THE VINE SO THAT IT WITHERED: God had previously provided the greatest of all creatures -- the great fish -- to teach Jonah a lesson; now He provided the smallest of creatures -- a lowly worm!

"Next day, the angel of the Lord went into action. A plague of caterpillars appeared on the gourd, as if from nowhere. These greedily devastated all that rich vegetation. Then, as the day wore on, a hot, hot wind blew up from the desert with vehement intensity. There was no escaping the fierce heat of scorching sun and blasting wind combined. It was worse than being in an oven.

"And Jonah groaned aloud in his misery. Now he had an added reason for wishing himself dead" (WJon).

Jon 4:8

A SCORCHING EAST WIND: "During the period of a sirocco the temperature rises steeply, sometimes even climbing during the night, and it remains high, about 16-22 degrees Fahrenheit above the average... at times every scrap of moisture seems to have been extracted from the air, so that one has the curious feeling that one's skin has been drawn much tighter than usual. Sirocco days are peculiarly trying to the temper and tend to make even the mildest people irritable and fretful and to snap at one another for apparently no reason at all" (Baly).

HE WANTED TO DIE...: Why did he not seek shelter back in the city? Probably because he still held out hope that God would yet send fire from heaven and consume all of Nineveh, and it wouldn't do to be there when that divine judgment came!

Jon 4:9

Jonah: an example of misplaced mercy.

"Even if feeling is aroused, we are aware of the feeling and its tendencies. We can choose whether we encourage the feeling or thrust it from the mind by something more worthy. Sometimes men say with Jonah, 'I do well to be angry', when they are aware that they are not doing well at all. Often they exaggerate a grievance knowing that they are exaggerating. They can control such matters if they will" (PrPr).

"Human nature has not changed. These examples were written for our learning that we through patience and comfort of the scriptures might have hope. When we find that we disagree with someone and we feel anger welling up within us, it should tell us to stop and examine ourselves. Do we do well to be angry? We usually can convince ourselves like Jonah did that 'we do well to be angry' but we might be surprised to find that we are wrong to be so angry. If we are in the right, there is no need to be angry. Instead of being angry, we should feel pity and compassion for our opponent who is wrong. Since we are in the right and they are wrong, they need our help, not our anger. If it should turn out that we are in the wrong, how foolish to have been both angry and wrong!" (BL).

Jon 4:10

YOU HAVE BEEN CONCERNED ABOUT THIS VINE...: God had invested much work in Nineveh and had been responsible for its growth. This is why it was legitimate at the most elementary level for God to feel compassion for its people. Jonah's compassion extended only to a plant but not to people. God's compassion extended not only to plants and animals but also to people. The 120,000 people that God cited (v 11) as the special objects of His compassion included those who for various reasons could not care for themselves (babies, the mentally incompetent, etc).

Jon 4:11

God has no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather than the wicked turn and repent: Eze 18:23,32. God is no respecter of persons: Act 10:34.

"Indeed, there is more to it than that, Jonah. Why don't you learn from the parable of your own gourd? Just as it sheltered you, so the strength of Nineveh sheltered your people by holding in check the perennial threat from Syria. But your gourd withered away and became useless to you. Learn also from this part of the parable. This repentance is only a flash in the pan. It won't last. Very soon, they will forget Jehovah and the judgment He can bring, and they will turn back to their violence and wickedness and to their false gods. And THEN both Israel and Judah will feel the blast of Assyrian heat. There will come an ambitious brutal monarch called Sennacherib who will resent the respect his forefathers were constrained to show to the God of Israel. He will challenge Jehovah with the might of his national god Ashur, and will bring against the tribes of Jacob the worst ferocity Assyria can muster. You have seen, Jonah, what Heaven's compassion has done for Nineveh in your time. But live to the end of this century, and you will see that God is not mocked" (WJon).
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