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Sunday, December 10th, 2023
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Bible Commentaries
Jonah 4

Sutcliffe's Commentary on the Old and New TestamentsSutcliffe's Commentary

Verses 1-11

Jonah 4:6 . A gourd. Plants of this genera exceed all others in the rapidity of their growth.

Jonah 4:11 . Six score thousand infants. By consequence, the elder children and adults, must have swelled the population to far more than half a million of people.


We here find Jonah in the temple, paying vows to the Lord; we also find the same Word of the Lord renewing his commission to cry against Nineveh. Let us follow the well-instructed prophet, with an attentive eye and a feeling heart. Having been taught to fear the Lord, he now ceased from the fear of man. Let us follow him through the whole land of Mesopotamia, with a mind crowded with ideas of justice, terror, and mercy, the mercy of a long-suffering God, whose forbearance he thought was just expired.

He saw at length the beautiful city, whose walls, towers, and temples were gilded with a smiling sun. He saw a host of angels hovering round to attest the battle of a prophet’s arm, and the final decisions of a God. On a nearer approach he found a guilty people, sporting in all their wonted courses of pleasure and crimes. He found the bloody, the proud, the superstitious Nineveh, saying, like Babylon, “I AM. I sit a queen, and shall see no sorrow.” He found the people confident in gods which could neither see nor hear, gods in equal danger with the people. All their sorcerers and pythonesses deluded, and blind as their idols; a brilliant city covered with the shadow of death.

Jonah, with his staff and scrip, for he would neither eat bread nor drink water in that unclean place; Jonah arrayed in the rough garb of his profession, and his soul animated with the true Promethian fire, enkindled from the heavenly altar, raised his cry on passing the gate, YET FORTY DAYS AND NINEVEH SHALL BE DESTROYED yet forty days and Nineveh shall be destroyed. His slow pace, his piercing eyes, his strong voice, his terrible denunciations struck, amazed, and arrested the populace. These short words, as is usual with the brevity of the holy scriptures, were but as texts to short addresses, in which he recited the catalogue of their crimes, and with a voice more than human, cried, Yet forty days and Nineveh shall be destroyed.

Look now how all ranks follow him in the streets. See the pale and serious countenance of each. Mark the silence of the astonished multitude. Each is anxious to hear and learn something more before he utters the numerous enquiries which arise in his breast. See the prophet proceed till some square or forum opens to his view. Being now obstructed by the crowd which pressed upon him from every avenue and street, see him ascend the first elevation that offered, where his voice could command the countless auditory.

It being the multitude of hearers which elevate the soul of the speaker, Jonah now beheld a myriad of serious faces, to whom he declared his mission, as a prophet of the Hebrews, being probably known by face to some of the crowd. He declared his divine call, so tragic to himself, and now tragic to them. Hear him raise his voice against all their carnal grovellings and intemperate habits, degrading themselves below the brutes. Hear how he thunders against all the insults they had offered to marriage, the first and purest bond of society; the arts and violence of their seductions, the cruelty to their captives, their slaves, and their concubines. Hear how he accuses them of apostasy from the pure religion of the holy patriarchs, and their total loss of all moral principle. Hear how he sets their gods at defiance, and satirizes the blindness and weakness of their superstition. In a word, hear how he commands them to dismiss their harlots with rewards, to liberate their captives, burn their idols, and reform their habits to meet an avenging God with contrite hearts, closing all with the rending words Yet forty days and Nineveh shall be destroyed. A single hint of mercy would only have hardened them in their sins.

But did not the ministers of superstition declare the prophet to be insane! This they dared not do, a guilty conscience having deprived them of speech. Did not some of the magistrates arrest the daring stranger. The fact was, Jonah had arrested all his hearers; their consciences had made responses to the prophet’s words. The priests were covered with shame; the civil power had lost its arm. All men thought of nothing but escaping danger, or of preparing to meet it. Report was made to the king of Nineveh, who wisely threw himself and his people at the foot of the eternal throne, by reformation of manners, and by the severest fast that nature could bear. Jonah’s God was the only God adored. They said, Who can tell, if God will repent, and turn away from his fierce anger, that we perish not. And when the destroying angel came to overthrow this proud and wicked city, it was now the contrite Nineveh, having, at least for the time, fruits meet for repentance. His commission was therefore superseded. Oh what grace, what mercy, to a guilty city! The paternal arm of God became weak; he could not strike.

But Jonah, exhausted Jonah, not daring to lodge in Nineveh, retired to distant rocks or gardens, to see whether fire, or pestilence, or earthquake, should execute the vengeance he had denounced. The forty days expired, and Nineveh still flourished. Here all the anguish of a deceived and misguided prophet harrowed up his soul. By the law of Moses, a false prophet was to be punished with death. In his grief, the Word, the glorious Word of the Lord, came to him in his hypostasis or person, and reasoned with him on the impropriety of his impassioned wishes for death; that if he had pity on his withered gourd, God had more abundant reason, yea a hundred and twenty thousand reasons, to pity the penitent Nineveh. No, Jonah, thou wilt not go home degraded, but loaded with all the glory that can cover an inspired character. Had Nineveh been destroyed, after her profound repentance, what hope had remained for other sinners. Be content, Jonah; leave thy judgment with the Lord, and thy work with thy God.

Bibliographical Information
Sutcliffe, Joseph. "Commentary on Jonah 4". Sutcliffe's Commentary on the Old and New Testaments. https://studylight.org/commentaries/eng/jsc/jonah-4.html. 1835.
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