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Bible Commentaries
Jonah 4

Barnes' Notes on the Whole BibleBarnes' Notes

Verse 1

And Jonah was displeased exceedingly - It was an untempered zeal. The prophet himself records it as such, and how he was reproved for it. He would, like many of us, govern God’s world better than God Himself. Short-sighted and presumptuous! Yet not more short-sighted than those who, in fact, quarrel with God’s Providence, the existence of evil, the baffling of good, “the prison walls of obstacles and trials,” in what we would do for God’s glory. What is all discontent, but anger with God? The marvel is that the rebel was a prophet ! “What he desired was not unjust in itself, that the Ninevites should be punished for their past sins, and that the sentence of God pronounced against them should not be recalled, although they repented. For so the judge hangs the robber for theft, however he repent.” He sinned, in that he disputed with God. Let him cast the first stone, who never rejoiced at any overthrow of the enemies of his country, nor was glad, in a common warfare, that they lost as many soldiers as we. As if God had not instruments enough at His will! Or as if He needed the Assyrians to punish Israel, or the one nation, whose armies are the terror of Europe, to punish us, so that if they should perish, Israel should therefore have escaped, though it persevered in sin, or we!

And he was very angry - , or, may be, “very grieved.” The word expresses also the emotion of burning grief, as when Samuel was grieved at the rejection of Saul, or David at “the breach upon Uzzah” 2Sa 6:8; 1 Chronicles 13:11. Either way, he was displeased with what God did. Yet so Samuel and David took God’s doings to heart; but Samuel and David were grieved at God’s judgments; Jonah, at what to the Ninevites was mercy, only in regard to his own people it seemed to involve judgment. Scripture says that he was displeased, because the Ninevites were spared; but not, why this displeased him. It has been thought, that it was jealousy for God’s glory among the pagan, as though the Ninevites would think that God in whose Name he spake had no certain knowledge of things to come; and so that his fault was mistrust in God’s wisdom or power to vindicate His own honor. But it seems more likely, that it was a mistaken patriotism, which idolized the well being of his own and God’s people, and desired that its enemy, the appointed instrument of its chastisement, should be itself destroyed. Scripture being silent about it, we cannot know certainly. Jonah, under God’s inspiration, relates that God pronounced him wrong. Having incurred God’s reproof, he was careless about men’s judgment, and left his own character open to the harsh judgments of people; teaching us a holy indifference to man’s opinion, and, in our ignorance, carefulness not to judge unkindly.

Verse 2

And he prayed unto the Lord - Jonah, at least, did not murmur or complain of God. He complained to God of Himself. He expostulates with Him. Shortsighted indeed and too wedded to his own will! Yet his will was the well-being of the people whose prophet God had made him. He tells God, that this it was, which he had all along dreaded. He softens it, as well as he can, by his word, “I pray Thee,” which expresses deprecation anti-submissiveness. Still he does not hesitate to tell God that this was the cause of his first rebellion! Perilous to the soul, to speak without penitence of former sin; yet it is to God that he speaks and so God, in His wonderful condescension, makes him teach himself.

I knew that Thou art a gracious God - He repeats to God to the letter His own words by Joel Joel 2:13. God had so revealed Himself anew to Judah. He had, doubtless, on some repentance which Judah had shown, turned away the evil from them. And now by sending him as a preacher of repentance, He implied that He would do the same to the enemies of his country. God confirms this by the whole sequel. Thenceforth then Israel knew, that to the pagan also God was intensely, infinitely full of gracious and yearning love nay (as the form rather implies. ) mastered (so to speak) by the might and intensity of His gracious love, “slow to anger” and delaying it, “great in loving tenderness,” and abounding in it; and that toward them also, when the evil is about to be inflicted, or has been partially or wholly inflicted, He will repent of it and replace it with good, on the first turning of the soul or the nation to God.

Verse 3

Therefore now, O Lord, take I beseech Thee my life from me - He had rather die, than see the evil which was to come upon his country. Impatient though he was, he still cast himself upon God. By asking of God to end his life, he, at least, committed himself to the sovereign disposal of God . “Seeing that the Gentiles are, in a manner, entering in, and that those words are being fulfilled, Deuteronomy 32:21. “They have moved Me to jealousy with” that which is “not God, and I will move them to jealousy with” those which are “not a people, I will provoke them to anger with a foolish nation,” he despairs of the salvation of Israel, and is convulsed with great sorrow, which bursts out into words and sets forth the causes of grief, saying in a manner, ‘Am I alone chosen out of so many prophets, to announce destruction to my people through the salvation of others?’ He grieved not, as some think, that the multitude of nations is saved, but that Israel perishes. Whence our Lord also wept over Jerusalem. The Apostles first preached to Israel. Paul wishes to become an anathema for his Romans 9:3-5. brethren who are Israelites, whose is the adoption and the glory and the covenant, and the giving of the law and the service of God, and the promises, whose are the fathers, and of whom, as concerning the flesh, Christ came.” Jonah had discharged his office faithfully now. He had done what God commanded; God had done by him what He willed. Now, then, he prayed to be discharged. So Augustine in his last illness prayed that he might die, before the Vandals brought suffering and devastation on his country .

Verse 4

And the Lord said, Doest thou well to be angry? - o God, being appealed to, answers the appeal. So does He often in prayer, by some secret voice, answer the inquirer. There is right anger against the sin. Moses’ anger was right, when he broke the tables. Exodus 32:19. God secretly suggests to Jonah that his anger was not right, as our Lord instructed Luke 9:55. James and John that “theirs” was not. The question relates to the quality, not to the greatness of his anger. It was not the vehemence of his passionate desire for Israel, which God reproves, but that it was turned against the Ninevites . “What the Lord says to Jonah, he says to all, who in their office of the cure of souls are angry. They must, as to this same anger, be recalled into themselves, to regard the cause or object of their anger, and weigh warily and attentively whether they “do well to be angry.” For if they are angry, not with men but with the sins of men, if they hate and persecute, not men, but the vices of men, they are rightly angry, their zeal is good. But if they are angry, not with sins but with men, if they hate, not vices but men, they are angered amiss, their zeal is bad. This then which was said to one, is to be watchfully looked to and decided by all, ‘Doest thou well to be angry? ‘“

Verse 5

So Jonah went out of the city - o, The form of the words implies (as in the English Version), that this took place after Jonah was convinced that God would spare Nineveh; and since there is no intimation that he knew it by revelation, then it was probably after the 40 days . “The days being now past, after which it was time that the things foretold should be accomplished, and His anger as yet taking no effect, Jonah understood that God had pity on Nineveh. Still he does not give up all hope, and thinks that a respite of the evil has been granted them on their willingness to repent, but that some effect of His displeasure would come, since the pains of their repentance bad not equalled their offences. So thinking in himself apparently, he departs from the city, and waits to see what will become of them.” “He expected” apparently “that it would either fall by an earthquake, or be burned with fire, like Sodom” . “Jonah, in that he built him a tabernale and sat over against Nineveh, awaiting what should happen to it, wore a different, foresignifying character. For he prefigured the carnal people of Israel. For these too were sad at the salvation of the Ninevites, i. e., the redemption and deliverance of the Gentiles. Whence Christ came to call, not the righteous but sinners to repentance. But the over-shadowing gourd over his head was the promises of the Old Testament or those offices in which, as the apostle says, there was a shadow of good things to come, protecting them in the land of promise from temporal evils; all which are now emptied and faded. And now that people, having lost the temple at Jerusalem and the priesthood and sacrifice (all which was a shadow of that which was to come) in its captive dispersion, is scorched by a vehement heat of tribulation, as Jonah by the heat of the sun, and grieves greatly; and yet the salvation of the pagan and the penitent is accounted of more moment than its grief, and the shadow which it loved.”

Verse 6

And the Lord God prepared a gourd - , (a palm-christ, English margin, rightly.) . “God again commanded the gourd, as he did the whale, willing only that this should be. Forthwith it springs up beautiful and full of flower, and straightway was a roof to the whole booth, and anoints him so to speak with joy, with its deep shade. The prophet rejoices at it exceedingly, as being a great and thankworthy thing. See now herein too the simplicity of his mind. For he was grieved exceedingly, because what he had prophesied came not to pass; he rejoiced exceedingly for a plant. A blameless mind is lightly moved to gladness or sorrow. You will see this in children. For as people who are not strong, easily fall, if someone gives them no very strong push, but touches them as it were with a lighter hand, so too the guileless mind is easily carried away by anything which delights or grieves it.” Little as the shelter of the palm-christ was in itself, Jonah must have looked upon its sudden growth, as a fruit of God’s goodness toward him, (as it was) and then perhaps went on to think (as people do) that this favor of God showed that He meant, in the end, to grant him what his heart was set upon. Those of impulsive temperaments are ever interpreting the acts of God’s Providence, as bearing on what they strongly desire. Or again, they argue, ‘God throws this or that in our way; therefore He means us not to relinquish it for His sake, but to have it.’ By this sudden miraculous shelter against the burning Assyrian sun, which God provided for Jonah, He favored his waiting on there. So Jonah may have thought, interpreting rightly that God willed him to stay; wrongly, why He so willed. Jonah was to wait, not to see what he desired, but to receive, and be the channel of the instruction which God meant to convey to him and through him.

Verse 7

When the morning rose - , i. e., in the earliest dawn, before the actual sunrise. For one day Jonah enjoyed the refreshment of the palm-christ. In early dawn, it still promised the shadow; just ere it was most needed, at God’s command, it withered.

Verse 8

God prepared a vehement - o (The English margin following the Chaldee, “silent,” i. e., “sultry”).

East wind - The winds in the East, blowing over the sand-deserts, intensely increase the distress of the heat. A sojourner describes on two occasions an Assyrian summer . “The change to summer had been as rapid as that which ushered in the spring. The verdure of the plain had perished almost in a day. Hot winds, coming from the desert, had burned up and carried away the shrubs. The heat was now almost intolerable. Violent whirl-winds occasionally swept over the face of the country.” “The spring was now fast passing away; the heat became daily greater; the grain was cut; and the plains and hills put on their summer clothing of dull parched yellow. “The pasture is withered, the herbage faileth; the green grass is not.” It was the season too of the Sherghis, or burning winds from the south, which occasionally swept over the face of the country, driving in their short-lived fury everything before them.

We all went below (ground) soon after the sun had risen, and remained there (in the tunnels) without again seeking the open air until it was far down in the Western horizon.” The “Sherghi” must be rather the East wind, Sherki, whence Sirocco. At Sulimania in Kurdistan (about 2 12 degrees east of Nineveh, and 34 of a degree south) “the so much dreaded Sherki seems to blow from any quarter, from east to northeast. It is greatly feared for its violence and relaxing qualities,” “hot, stormy and singularly relaxing and dispiriting.” Suffocating heat is a characteristic of these vehement winds. Morier relates at Bushire ; He continues, “Again from the 23rd to the 25th, the wind blew violently from the southeast accompanied by a most suffocating heat, and continued to blow with the same strength until the next day at noon, when it suddenly veered round to the northwest with a violence equal to what it had blown from the opposite point.” And again (p. 97) “When there was a perfect calm, partial and strong currents of air would arise and form whirlwinds which produced high columns of sand all over the plain. They are looked upon as the sign of great heat. Their strength was very various. Frequently they threw down our tents.”

Burckhardt, when professedly lessening the general impression as to these winds says, “The worst effect (of the Semoum “a violent southest wind”) is that it dries up the water in the skins, and so far endangers the traveler’s safety. In one morning 13 of the contents of a full water skin was evaporated. I always observed the whole atmosphere appear as it in a state of combustion; the dust and sand are carried high into the air, which assumes a reddish or blueish or yellowish tint, according to the nature and color of the ground from which the dust arises. The Semoum is not always accompanied by whirlwinds: in its less violent degree it will blow for hours with little force, although with oppressive heat; when the whirlwind raises the dust, it then increases several degrees in heat. In the Semoum at Esne, the thermometer mounted to 121 degrees in the shade, but the air seldom remains longer than a quarter of an hour in that state or longer than the whirlwind lasts.

The most disagreeable effect of the Semoum upon man is, that it stops perspiration, dries up the palate, and produces great restlessness.” Travels in Nubia, pp. 204-205.) “A gale of wind blew from the Southward and Eastward with such violence, that three of our largest tents were leveled with the ground. The wind brought with it such hot currents of air, that we thought it might be the precursor of the “Samoun” described by Chardin, but upon inquiry, we found that the autumn was generally the season for that wind. The “Sam” wind commits great ravages in this district. It blows at night from about midnight to sunrise, comes in a hot blast, and is afterward succeeded by a cold one. About 6 years ago, there was a “sam” during the summer months which so totally burned up all the grain, then near its maturity, that no animal would eat a blade of it, nor touch any of its grain.”

The sun beat upon the head of Jonah - o. “Few European travelers can brave the perpendicular rays of an Assyrian sun. Even the well-seasoned Arab seeks the shade during the day, and journeys by night, unless driven forth at noontide by necessity, or the love of war.”

He wished in himself to die - (literally he asked as to his soul, to die). He prayed for death. It was still the same dependence upon God, even in his self-will. He did not complain, but prayed God to end his life here. When men are already vexed in soul by deep inward griefs, a little thing often oversets patience. Jonah’s hopes had been revived by the mercy of the palm-christ; they perished with it. Perhaps he had before him the thought of his great predecessor, Elijah, how he too wished to die, when it seemed that his mission was fruitless. They differed in love. Elijah’s preaching, miracles, toil, sufferings, seemed to him, not only to be in vain, but (as they must, if in vain), to add to the guilt of his people. God corrected him too, by showing him his own short-sightedness, that he knew not of “the seven thousand who had not bowed their knees unto Baal,” who were, in part, doubtless, “the travail of his soul.” Jonah’s mission to his people seemed also to be fruitless; his hopes for their well-being were at an end; the temporal mercies of which he had been the prophet, were exhausted; Nineveh was spared; his last hope was gone; the future scourge of his people was maintained in might. The soul shrinks into itself at the sight of the impending visitation of its country. But Elijah’s zeal was “for” his people only and the glory of God in it, and so it was pure love. Jonah’s was directed “against” the Ninevites, and so had to be purified.

Verse 9

Doest thou well to be angry? - o “See again how Almighty God, out of His boundless lovingkindness, with the yearning tenderness of a father, almost disporteth with the guileless souls of the saints! The palm-christ shades him: the prophet rejoices in it exceedingly. Then, in God’s Providence, the caterpillar attacks it, the burning East wind smites it, showing at the same time how very necessary the relief of its shade, that the prophet might be the more grieved, when deprived of such a good. He asketh him skillfully, was he very grieved? and that for a shrub? He confesseth, and this becometh the defense for God, the Lover of mankind.”

I do well to be angry, unto death - o “Vehement anger leadeth men to long and love to die, especially if thwarted and unable to remove the hindrance which angers them. For then vehement anger begetteth vehement sorrow, grief, despondency.” We have each, his own palm-christ; and our palm-christ has its own worm . “In Jonah, who mourned when he had discharged his office, we see those who, in what they seem to do for God, either do not seek the glory of God, but some end of their own, or at least, think that glory to lie where it does not. For he who seeketh the glory of God, and not his own Philippians 2:21. things, but those of Jesus Christ, ought to will what God hath willed and done. If he wills aught else, he declares plainly that he sought himself, not God, or himself more than God. Jonah sought the glory of God wherein it was not, in the fulfillment of a prophecy of woe. And choosing to be led by his own judgment, not by God’s, whereas he ought to have joyed exceedingly, that so many thousands, being “dead, were alive again,” being “lost, were found,” he, when “there was joy in heaven among the angels of God over” so many repenting sinners, was “afflicted with a great affliction” and was angry.

This ever befalls those who wish “that” to take place, not what is best and most pleasing to God, but what they think most useful to themselves. Whence we see our very great and common error, who think our peace and tranquility to lie in the fulfillment of our own will, whereas this will and judgment of our own is the cause of all our trouble. So then Jonah prays and tacitly blames God, and would not so much excuse as approve that, his former flight, to “Him Whose eyes are too pure to behold iniquity.” And since all inordinate affection is a punishment to itself, and he who departeth from the order of God hath no stability, he is in such anguish, because what he wills, will not be, that he longs to die. For it cannot but be that “his” life, who measures everything by his own will and mind, and who followeth not God as his Guide but rather willeth to be the guide of the Divine Will, should be from time to time troubled with great sorrow.

But since “the merciful and gracious Lord” hath pity on our infirmity and gently admonisheth us within, when He sees us at variance with Him, He forsakes not Jonah in that hot grief, but lovingly blames him. How restless such men are, we see from Jonah. The “palm-christ” grows over his head, and “he was exceeding glad of the palm-christ.” Any labor or discomfort they bear very ill, and being accustomed to endure nothing and follow their own will, they are tormented and cannot bear it, as Jonah did not the sun. If anything, however slight, happen to lighten their grief, they are immoderately glad. Soon gladdened, soon grieved, like children. They have not learned to bear anything moderately. What marvel then that their joy is soon turned into sorrow? They are joyed over a palm-christ, which soon greeneth, soon drieth, quickly falls to the ground and is trampled upon. Such are the things of this world, which, while possessed, seem great and lasting; when suddenly lost, men see how vain and passing they are, and that hope is to be placed, not in them but in their Creator, who is Unchangeable. It is then a great dispensation of God toward us, when those things in which we took special pleasure are taken away. Nothing can man have so pleasing, green, and, in appearance, so lasting, which has not its own worm prepared by God, whereby, in the dawn, it may be smitten and die. The change of human will or envy disturbs court favor; manifold accidents, wealth; the varying opinion of the people or of the great, honors; disease, danger, poverty, infamy, pleasure. Jonah’s palm-christ had one worm; our’s have many; if others were lacking, there is the restlessness of man’s own thoughts, whose food is restlessness.”

Verse 10

Thou hadst pity on the palm-christ - In the feeling of our common mortality, the soul cannot but yearn over decay. Even a drooping flower is sad to look on, so beautiful, so frail. It belongs to this passing world, where nothing lovely abides, all things beautiful hasten to cease to be. The natural God-implanted feeling is the germ of the spiritual.

Verse 11

Should I not spare? - literally “have pity” and so “spare.” God waives for the time the fact of the repentance of Nineveh, and speaks of those on whom man must have pity, those who never had any share in its guilt, the 120,000 children of Nineveh, “I who, in the weakness of infancy, knew not which hand, “the right” or “the left,” is the stronger and fitter for every use.” He who would have spared Sodom “for ten’s sake,” might well be thought to spare Nineveh for the 120,000’s sake, in whom the inborn corruption had not developed into the malice of willful sin. If these 120,000 were the children under three years old, they were 15 (as is calculated) of the whole population of Nineveh. If of the 600,000 of Nineveh all were guilty, who by reason of age could be, above 15 were innocent of actual sin.

To Jonah, whose eye was evil to Nineveh for his people’s sake, God says, as it were , “Let the “spirit” which “is willing” say to the “flesh” which “is weak,” Thou grievest for the palm-christ, that is, thine own kindred, the Jewish people; and shall not I spare Nineveh that great city, shall not I provide for the salvation of the Gentiles in the whole world, who are in ignorance and error? For there are many thousands among the Gentiles, who go after 1 Corinthians 12:2. mute idols even as they are led: not out of malice but out of ignorance, who would without doubt correct their ways, if they had the knowledge of the truth, if they were shewn the difference “between their right hand and their left,” i. e., between the truth of God and the lie of men.” But, beyond the immediate teaching to Jonah, God lays down a principle of His dealings at all times, that, in His visitations of nations, He Psalms 68:5, “the Father of the fatherless and judge of the widows,” takes special account of those who are of no account in man’s sight, and defers the impending judgment, not for the sake of the wisdom of the wise or the courage of the brave, but for the helpless, weak, and, as yet, innocent as to actual sin. How much more may we think that He regards those with pity who have on them not only the recent uneffaced traces of their Maker’s Hands, but have been reborn in the Image of Christ His Only Begotten Son! The infants clothed with Christ Galatians 3:27 must be a special treasure of the Church in the Eyes of God.

“How much greater the mercy of God than that even of a holy man; how far better to flee to the judgment-seat of God than to the tribunal of man. Had Jonah been judge in the cause of the Ninevites, he would have passed on them all, although penitent, the sentence of death for their past guilt, because God had passed it before their repentance. So David said to God 2 Samuel 24:14; “Let us fall now into the hand of the Lord, for His mercies are great; and let me not fall into the hand of man.” Whence the Church professes to God, that mercy is the characteristic of His power ; ‘O God, who shewest Thy Almighty power most chiefly in shewing mercy and pity, mercifully grant unto us such a measure of Thy grace, that we, running the way of Thy commandments, may obtain Thy gracious promises, and be made partakers of Thy heavenly treasure. ‘“

“Again, God here teaches Jonah and us all to conform ourselves in all things to the Divine Will, that, when He commandeth any work, we should immediately begin and continue it with alacrity and courage; when He bids us cease from it, or deprives it of its fruit and effect, we should immediately tranquilly cease, and patiently allow our work and toil to lack its end and fruit. For what is our aim, save to do the will of God, and in all things to confirm ourselves to it? But now the will of God is, that thou shouldest resign, yea destroy, the work thou hast begun. Acquiesce then in it. Else thou servest not the will of God, but thine own fancy and cupidity. And herein consists the perfection of the holy soul, that, in all acts and events, adverse or prosperous, it should with full resignation resign itself most humbly and entirely to God, and acquiesce, happen what will, yea, and rejoice that the will of God is fulfilled in this thing, and say with holy Job, “The Lord gave, The Lord hath taken away; blessed be the Name of the Lord” Ignatius had so transferred his own will into the will of God, that the said, ‘If perchance the society, which I have begun and furthered with such toil, should be dissolved or perish, after passing half an hour in prayer, I should, by God’s help, have no trouble from this thing, than which none sadder could befall me.’ The saints let themselves be turned this way and that, round and round, by the will of God, as a horse by its rider.”

Bibliographical Information
Barnes, Albert. "Commentary on Jonah 4". "Barnes' Notes on the Whole Bible". https://studylight.org/commentaries/eng/bnb/jonah-4.html. 1870.
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