Lectionary Calendar
Sunday, December 10th, 2023
the Second Week of Advent
Tired of seeing ads while studying? Now you can enjoy an "Ads Free" version of the site for as little as 10¢ a day and support a great cause!
Click here to learn more!

Bible Commentaries
Jonah 4

Preacher's Complete Homiletical CommentaryPreacher's Homiletical

Verses 1-10

CRITICAL NOTES.] Angry] Lit. hot with anger; to burn inwardly: the verb usually restricted to anger, but (Jonah 4:4; Jonah 4:9) rendered to grieve. Jonah’s vexation grew to anger. Nineveh’s destruction would have been a warning to Israel, but God had preserved it, and he appeared to have no hope for the reformation of his country.

Jonah 4:2. Word] Saying or cogitation. i.e. Did I not say to myself? Land] Palestine. Fled] I prevented to flee, i.e. I endeavoured by flight to prevent. Gracious] (cf. Exodus 34:6; Exodus 32:14; Joel 2:13).

Jonah 4:3. Take] cf. Elijah’s prayer (1 Kings 19:4). Better] than live under the imputation of being a false prophet.

Jonah 4:4. Well] The Heb. adverbial, “Is thine anger justly kindled?” Art thou greatly or much angry? [LXX. and Fairbairn].

Jonah 4:5. Went out] Some time before the forty days expire. East side] Definiteness in the picture. See] Watch what would happen, expecting Nineveh to fall by earthquake, or be burned like Sodom [Pusey].

Jonah 4:6. Gourd] The “ricinus” or “palma Christi;” the word sig. an artificial covert, as a tent or booth; sometimes a shelter, in the preparation of which no art is used (Jeremiah 25:38; Job 38:40). Exceeding] Lit. glad with great gladness.

Jonah 4:7. Worm] Taken collectively for worms in Deuteronomy 28:39; Isaiah 14:11 : may be here. The palma Christi in a short time produces caterpillars, and where these abound they strip the tree of its leaves in one night, and take away the shade.

Jonah 4:8. This not sufficient discipline. Vehement] Silent, i.e. deadly sultry east wind. Wished] Lit. he asked, as to his soul, to die.

Jonah 4:9. Doest thou?] This question comprises the meaning of Jonah 4:9-11. I do] To the bottom of my soul, to weariness of life (cf. Matthew 26:38). “I am very much grieved even to death” [Fairbairn].

Jonah 4:10. Jonah’s attention is directed to the contradiction in which he has fallen, by feeling compassion for the withering of the miraculous tree, and at the same time murmuring because God has had compassion upon Nineveh with its many thousands of living beings [Keil]. The shrub was the son of a night, and perished in a night: if he pitied this which he neither planted nor cultured, has God not greater right to pity creatures whom he has made? &c. Pity] Spared the gourd.



God’s servants should rejoice in the increase of his people and the success of their labours. Nineveh had repented, was saved and filled with rejoicing, but one individual was differently affected by the display of Divine mercy towards a guilty city. Sin lurks in those that have suffered most, that have undergone the severest discipline to wean them from it. A fretful man is—

1. At discord with the joy of his fellow-creatures.
2. Opposed to the benevolent designs of God. Notice Jonah’s strange displeasure. “It displeased Jonah exceedingly, and he was very angry.”

I. He sets the welfare of his own country above the interests of humanity. “He is an Israelite and a patriot. He loved his own people better than the Ninevites, and had no idea of God chosing more than one nation. He thought Nineveh the chief enemy which threatened his country. Behold it is spared, and likely to prosper! What will become of his brethren now? His Jewish pride rebelled, and he was angry.” Professing Christians often cherish the same spirit, idolize their sect and creed. The sin of Jonah is a common sin. It is seen in the world’s patriotism and the Church’s bigotry; in all sectarianism and narrow-mindedness; in reluctance to missionary effort, and envy at the success of others. We cry, “Charity begins at home;” refuse to do God’s work ourselves, and do not like it done by others. The disciples glorified God on Peter’s report. “Then hath God also to the Gentiles granted repentance unto life.”

II. He frets at the mercy of God to others. He would rather have his own will. God’s dealings with Nineveh did not please him. When self is exalted, and God’s Providence thwarts our wishes, we are displeased. God does not gratify our whims, hence we fret and complain; we get peevish and angry with everything about us. “The times are out of joint.” This temper darkens sunshine, corrodes enjoyment, scorns gratitude, and banishes happiness from every place. Is God’s will not right, and are his ways not perfect? “Should it be according to thy mind?”

III. He attempts to justify his past conduct. “Was not this my saying?” &c. We have here the reason for his flight to Tarshish which he is ready to excuse. He hastened, tried to be beforehand with God, to circumvent and defeat his designs. What folly and impiety to justify this! Why should we be ashamed to acknowledge error, and forsake a wrong when detected in it? The true penitent will sink self, think more of God’s truth than his credit; be ready to confess all and excuse nothing. But for the belief that he would have mercy upon Nineveh, Jonah tells God that he would have obeyed the first commission. When men insist that they have done right, and call up sins which should have been forgotten, and for which they have been chastised, they display ignorance, pride, and self-conceit.

1. They make themselves disagreeable. Everybody dislikes a man that always claims to be right, that can never be taught nor corrected.

2. They are a curse to society. Their example and influence are pernicious. They are never satisfied with the ways of Providence. God’s plans are always wrong, and his mercy upon others thrown away. How abominable is self-assertion, self-justification, and self-will. “I knew beforehand what would happen, therefore I shall please myself now!”

IV. He becomes impatient of life itself. “Take, I pray thee, my life from me,” &c. This is the impatient wish of petulance and discontent, not the pious desire of Paul and God’s people (Luke 2:29; 1 Corinthians 5:1-3; Philippians 1:18-23). But in this rash petition the Prophet stands not alone. Failure in business, disappointment in love, treachery of friends, and perplexing providences, cover the sky with clouds, and oppress the spirit with gloom. Moses and Elijah, Job and Jeremiah, prove that temptations to such desires are powerful in the best of men. Men pray for death when not prepared to die. If life is not appreciated, death is not desirable. This desire chills our best affections, and cherishes our meanest interests. It indicated—

1. Lack of faith in God. God’s plans were better than Jonah’s. He should have believed in the wisdom of God.

2. Ingratitude for his own forgiveness. God’s mercy towards himself should have made him tender-hearted to others, and glad to see their repentance.

“Anger is a short fit of madness” [Tillotson].


Jonah seems to think that God was more merciful than just. But the justice of God is a proof and an exhibition of his love. Mercy and truth blend together like rays from the sun, to give life and light to men. This character of God is described in law, prophets, and psalms. It is a memorial and manifestation of God to all generations.

I. God is gracious in essence. “Thou art a gracious God.” God has the disposition to goodness. He is gratuitously benevolent. This sheds lustre upon his nature and light upon a fallen world. He seeks to subdue the enmity of man, and allure wanderers back. He needs nothing to excite his love. His very nature is gracious. “God is love.” Moses wondered how God could show mercy and do justly; desired some greater insight into the Eternal Mind, and longed to do his duty to a disobedient people (Exodus 33:17-19). But Jonah made the revealed character of God a ground for upbraiding men and neglecting duty. How sublime the contrast between God’s mercy and man’s ways. “My ways are not as your ways,” &c.

II. God is gracious in acts. As the fountain, so the streams. The acts of God partake of the character of God. Benevolent in nature, he is benevolent in act and design. He wills not that any should perish. We are apt to measure him by our own feelings, and picture him as malevolent and vindictive.

1. He is merciful. Merciful to the miserable and undeserving. Ever disposed to relieve the suffering, pardon the guilty, and dispense happiness.

2. He is slow to anger. He is not passionate and easily provoked. He restrains his wrath, and many a time turns away his anger. He deals not with men according to their iniquity, nor rewards them according to their sins. He is reluctant to execute sentence, and spares offenders.

3. He is of great kindness. Having long patience and forbearance; allows time for repentance, and seeks to pardon and save. Great kindness is seen in great patience in provocation; in great gifts upon the unworthy, and innumerable blessings upon the just and unjust. “His mercy endureth for ever.”

4. He repents of the evil. Though he threatens, he does not often strike. When the evil has been wholly or partially inflicted, he will repent of it and replace it with good if the sinner returns to him. Thus all patience and long-suffering, all mercy and forgiveness, are traced up to God. He finds reason in himself alone for sparing the guilty and saving the penitent. “Not for your sakes do I this, be it known unto you, O house of Israel, but for mine own name’s sake.”


Jonah 4:1. Displeased. Displeasure indicates—

1. Lack of self-government. It was a proverbial saying of the pious Mede that “he who cannot hold his tongue, can hold nothing.”

2. Lack of reverence towards God. We should consider what God requires from us, and not what he wants to do with us. Do we honour God in feeling and action? We have known him, but not practised what we have known.

3. Lack of love to men. Jonah might not be grieved to see that mercy displayed to others, of which he shared so greatly himself—might not with the ungodly pine away because God was honoured in the repentance of Nineveh; but he was not in harmony with the interests of his fellow-creatures. God pardoned the city, “but it displeased Jonah.”

Jonah’s sin—

1. Sin against the brightest illumination. He “knew,” but sinned against the light of nature, the voice of conscience, and the revealed will of God.

2. Sin against the greatest mercies. His life was crowned with loving-kindness and tender mercies. The pre-eminent mercies of God fail to persuade men to forsake sin and serve God.

3. Sin against the greatest judgments. Judgments had blended with mercy, but corrections had not conquered his corruptions. How hard to overcome pride and petulance within us! But to this day men, like Pharaoh, harden themselves against God. “Who is the Lord, that I should obey him?”

Jonah 4:2. Jonah’s prayer. I. Its spirit. Petulant and unsubmissive; most ungrateful and selfish. It is a miserable temper, painful to one’s self, and disagreeable to others. The greatest debtors should be the most thankful men. II. Its purpose. “Take away my life.” What for? Is it of no more service? Let God judge of that. He bestows it; give it to him in return. There is grace enough for us and others. When we work in a good cause, and save great cities, life is noble, and should be dignified and preserved. Those who wish to leave life because they cannot have their own way are not fit to meet God. Here is Jonah’s integrity and Jonah’s safety.

1. Integrity. He is no enemy, but a friend and child of God, notwithstanding his perplexity. He cannot rest in distance from God. Sick at heart, he pours out complaint to him. In every prayer of God’s children there is a mixture of sin. The mixture here is conspicuous and alarming. There is, however, an element of grace, a secret seed of faith and submission in making God the counsellor and referee.

2. Safety. But for this he would mentally and spiritually have fled again from God as before. Now he flees to God. He does not seek a refuge; he makes God his refuge; tells him the grounds of alarm; expostulates and seeks to make his case clear before God. Though there is excess, violence, and inexcusable haste and passion, yet God condescends to his prayer, stained as it is by grievous infirmity [H. Martin]. He prayed in a tumult, as if reproving God. We must necessarily recognise a certain amount of piety in this prayer of Jonah, and at the same time many faults. There was so far piety in it, that he directed his complaints to God; for hypocrites, even when they address God, are nevertheless hostile to him. But Jonah, when he complains, although he does not keep within proper bounds, but is carried away by a blind and vicious impulse, is nevertheless prepared to submit himself to God [Calvin].

Jonah 4:3. It is better to die, &c. Death as a remedy for the ills of life, in weariness, impatience, disappointments, and perplexing providences.

1. It is only an imaginary remedy.

2. It would only increase the evil. It would not relieve distress, nor bring extinction. The grave cannot calm the soul, and hush its sorrows. “Hence death,” says one, “would only have led Jonah from the shadow of his trouble to its very centre, where its sad meaning would have been known to him.” Paul had “great heaviness and continual sorrow,” desired to be with Christ, which was better than remaining here; but he did not pray for death in all his labours and persecutions, for his life seemed needful to the Church on earth.

“He sins against this life who slights the next.” [Young.]

Here is at least no craven love of life! no clinging to meat and drink, and mere foothold on the ground. This wounded spirit, realising its mortality amid change and adversity, rises disdainfully above the mortal pathway, and asks to be liberated for the last flight to immortality and heaven. Hezekiah “wept sore” when the message came to him, “Thou shalt die and not live.” Jonah here prays, “Let me die—of life I have had enough. Life is nothing to me without its uses.” The Prophet’s attitude is nobler than the king’s [Raleigh].

“What is’t to die?

To leave all disappointment, cares, and sorrow,
To leave all falsehood, treachery, and unkindness,
All ignominy, suffering, and despair,
And be at rest for ever” [Longfellow].



Jonah had ground for joy and not for grief. God expostulates with him and leads him to reflection. The interrogative form proves the condescension and wisdom of God.

I. The condescension of God. God did not upbraid the prophet for ingratitude and self-will. But he sought to relieve an overburdened spirit, rouse a dormant conscience, and melt an impenitent heart. When we retire from duty in fretfulness, God reasons with us. “What doest thou here, Elijah?” When we indulge in envious thoughts of Providence, and hatch imaginary ills, a voice speaks, “Doest thou well to be angry?” God cares for his servants, and seeks to relieve them. “The Lord thinketh on me.”

II. The wisdom of God. Jehovah did not give the verdict, but called upon Jonah to assign a cause for anger, or by silence condemn himself. On earth men are left to judge themselves, to pass sentence on their own conduct. They are completely in the power of God, and he need not condemn now. He requires voluntary obedience. To secure this, and prepare us for the day of account, he enlightens the mind, quickens the conscience, and continually appeals to each—“Doest thou well?”

THE FOLLY OF A FRETFUL MIND.—Jonah 4:4; Jonah 4:9

There is here no condemnation of lawful anger. As a natural emotion, anger is legitimate and useful. “Be ye angry and sin not.” The blame is against the cause of it. It was the zeal of false patriotism; passionate grief excited by an act of Divine mercy.

I. Doest thou well to be angry without any real cause for thine anger? The ground is imaginary. Thy grief is unnecessary and unreasonable, unjust and wicked. One half of trouble rises from groundless causes. We picture the worst, and our jealousy is needless. Our reason for displeasure is future, of our own portending, such as events may negative and disappoint Think seriously whether you do right in being angry. Control indignation in principle, purpose, and degree. “The wrath of man worketh not the righteousness of God.”

II. Doest thou well to be angry when the dealings of God with thee teach thee to be thankful? Jonah’s temper was at variance with his mercies and position as God’s servant. We might have expected gratitude from one so highly favoured. But thankfulness seldom keeps pace with mercies. Those who receive most do not always make the best return. God’s grace should dilute or remove the acid in our temper, teach us to bear with those who are reformed, and make us conscious how rough and sinful we ourselves are in the sight of God.

III. Doest thou well to be angry when the consequences before God and man are most serious?

1. It excites the anger of God. It is presumption and self-assertion, disobedience to his will, and impatience under his rule. The ungrateful can have no enjoyment of God’s favours. They provoke him to take away what they have, and to give less in the future. Their fretfulness cannot improve their circumstances. God’s will is supreme, and must be done. “Is thine eye evil because I am good?”

2. It is never beneficial to man. If anger is not good and just toward God, what can it profit man? It proves a man to be of narrow views and weak morals. (a) Never beneficial to one who indulges in it. An ill-temper is an affliction to its possessor, spoils his peace, prayers, and business. It distracts from his strength and beauty, and disqualifies for Christian blessing and work. (b) Never beneficial to others. It seems to be owing to temper that Ed. Burke quarrelled with Wilberforce and Fox, and gained the title of “the inconsistent and incomprehensible Burke.’ Exhibitions of passion delight the enemy and wound the friends, dishonour Christ and give false impressions of his religion. It leads us to imitate, repeat, and perpetuate wrong. It should be checked, for it is both mischievous to oneself and to others. “Doest thou well to be angry?”

“When anger rushes unrestrained to action
Like a hot steed, it stumbles in its way” [Savage].


As soon as Jonah had delivered his message he left the city, remained outside on the east side, and built himself a temporary shelter. The report of the city’s repentance reached him; dissatisfied with himself, and displeased with God’s dealings, he had neither comfort in duty nor retirement.

I. The place of retirement. “The east side of the city, and there made him a booth.” He was not unmindful of personal ease, takes time and bestows trouble to build a hut. We are often more concerned for our own comfort than for the interests of men. Selfishness is graven in the heart, drives men to grasp at shadows and not substance. It leads them to resign duty, quit the field of labour, and expect more than they get. Adam parted with his holy robe, lost the presence of his God, and tried to make up for the loss with his own device. Selfish ends and worldly devices are nothing more than booths in which men can never rest and find shelter. The path of obedience alone is the path of happiness.

II. The spirit of retirement. Here we have a noble man, a servant of God, blind to the interests of men and the claims of duty through pride and personal feeling! Disappointed in labour, he wished to resign it; tired of life, he prayed to leave it. There he sat, in silence and disgust. Heaven smiles on the city, joy and gladness fills its streets, but Jonah walks into solitude with a sullen temper. He is at variance with God, regardless of man, and shut up in selfish aims. “Oh what a blessed thing it is to lose one’s will,” said Dr. Payson; “since I have lost my will I have found happiness. There can be no such thing as disappointment to me, for I have no desire but that God’s will may be accomplished.”

III. The purpose of retirement. “Till he might see what would become of their city.” Perhaps he did not wish its entire destruction, but he watched to see what would be done—if its repentance would last, and if after all God would fulfil the threat. Abraham interceded for Sodom, Christ wept over Jerusalem, and we should resemble these eminent patterns of compassion. But if our views of sin and God are clouded, if we value not the soul, and limit the mercy of God, we shall be indifferent to the moral condition of men. If, Nero-like, we do not play while the city burns, thousands may perish without a sigh or a prayer for their escape. We should have pity upon offenders, and haste to reclaim them. “Pulling them out of the fire.”


God teaches not as man teaches. In God’s school the lessons are mercifully given, and wonderfully adapted to our mind and circumstances. Here we have the Divine rebuke of Jonah’s petulant temper.

I. God corrects by refreshing the physical nature. The gourd was prepared “to be a shadow over his head.” The first lesson and cure of despondency is to remove fatigue and bodily weariness from over-work. Elijah’s despondency was pardy physical, and the angel brought him refreshment. Food and rest are required, and God seeks to quiet the mind by cooling the body. There is an intimate connection between both, and we often get at one through the other. Regard for the body is urged from the lofty nature and the important use of the soul. They are helpmates in God’s service now, and will be in his kingdom above. Fretfulness, petulance, and irritability oftener spring from physical weakness than moral unloveliness. If God in providence deals mercifully we should not be harsh with such feelings.

II. God corrects by influencing the moral nature. The method taken is worthy of special attention. Sensible signs teach spiritual truths. A parable worked into the form of facts is given and interpreted by God himself.

1. God speaks by symbol. “The Lord prepared a gourd,” for all the steps in the discipline of a good man are divinely ordered. Words merely might not have been sufficient. The lesson is brought home by means of symbol. Man has sympathy with nature, and God often touches this sympathy. Spring and autumn, summer and winter, beget kindred feelings in our hearts. When flowers bloom and trees shelter us, we rejoice; when beauty decays and plants perish, we grieve. God prepared a worm which devoured the gourd, exposed Jonah to the burning sun and the vehement wind, then there was a change of feeling. He fainted, complained to God, defended excessive grief, and enforced his preference of death to life. “I do well to be angry, even unto death.” Jonah is now prepared, his moral nature is truly touched and displayed, and if he cannot rejoice in Nineveh’s joy he must understand that God does.

2. God speaks by verbal communications. God now speaks to the Prophet, argues with him, and reasons from the less to the greater. Anything to break sullen silence is a blessing. The song of a bird, the voice of a child, and the ripple of a stream are often music to the soul; raise our thoughts from self to God. God holds up Jonah’s feeling, makes his pity, not the life of the plant, the symbol of his love. Pity on a gourd for which he did not labour, the son of a night, and the existence of a day! because it pleased his fancy and served his wish! Did he want to spare this short-lived little shrub? shall not God, then, spare immortal souls, the work of his hands, and rejoice over the humbled, penitent city? Our sympathies with the beautiful and good may be right, while our moral nature is wrong. God trains this instinctive feeling of the mind, sanctions its validity, and exercises and makes it the type of his own procedure. “If ye, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children, how much more shall your Heavenly Father give good things to them that ask him?”


Man is capable of joy. True joys are only found in God. The worm of destruction gnaws the root of our best and most loved earthly joy. Every creature has its enemy, and death smites every gourd of life. Joys which specially decay may be noticed.

I. Joys which are sinful in their basis. If we regard our own ease and comfort, disregard the interests of men, and disapprove of God’s ways, our joy is selfish and will soon decay. If we depend for happiness on anything beneath the soul we shall come to grief.

II. Joys which are gained without labour. Jonah neither planted nor watered the tree which gave him shelter. Men often seize that which is cheap, and trust to that which costs them nothing. God is constantly teaching that nothing valuable is obtained without labour. The acquisition of lasting joy is not easy. It results, not from sulky labour and melancholy feeling, but from earnest duty and a peaceful heart.

“Heaven sells pleasure; effort is the price;
The joys of conquest are the joys of man” [Young].

III. Joys which are deceitful in their results. Jonah’s joy sprang from bodily ease and sensual feeling. The comforts which removed his troubles were carnal and dying comforts. Our joys are often shadows of our sorrows. Whatever be their effect upon us, if they exclude God, and submission to him, all creation is ready to destroy them. It is not chance, but God in justice and love, who smites the gourd to free the heart. Wealth, friendships, and honours seem to quicken our joy and cause it to bloom in beauty and vigour; but they bring decay and vexation. When we expect shelter and rest, lo, a worm at the root I

“Of joys departed

Not to return, how painful the remembrance” [Robt. Blair].


Jonah 4:6. “Exceedingly glad,” and “exceedingly grieved.” Extremes in human feelings—their causes and consequences. It is a law of the mind, verified in ourselves and others, to be susceptible of sudden transitions, elevated to-day and depressed to-morrow.

Jonah 4:7. Destruction is “prepared” by God as well as life; trouble as well as joy. And both are Divinely ruled with a view to the education and purification of human souls. Here are emblems of the closely-linked, joy and sorrow of this mortal life. The fine plant, leafy green, types so well our comforts, successes, joys. The single day of shade it furnished to the heated Prophet speaks touchingly of the transciency of our pleasures. The worm reminds us that a small and mean creature may be a formidable enemy. The place of its operation, probably under the soil, shows us how powers and agents, invisible and unknown to us, can touch and smite in secret the springs of outward prosperity. The time when decay began—at the rising of the morning—makes us think mournfully how human helps and comforts often wither at the very season when they are most needed. How often when “the morning” of family life is “rising” are comforts swept away! Ah! how often is there removal of sheltering fatherhood, or nourishing motherhood, or both! The utter loss of what had given such intense enjoyment warns us not to set our affections passionately upon anything which can be utterly lost, but to lift our supreme affections to things above the sphere of the “worm” and the “moth,” beyond the reach of the “rust” and the “thief” [Raleigh].

The worm teaches—

1. That things which destroy our gourds are often little things.

2. That things which destroy our gourds are often invisible things.

3. That things which destroy our gourds are always prepared by God. Under his control the meanest and most invisible creatures can accomplish the most wonderful purposes. They destroy the largest armies, and demolish the strongest fortresses; they overturn thrones, and lay waste empires.

Earthly joys. It is kind in God to remove them, when he sees that his gifts are occupying our affections to the exclusion of the Giver. It is lawful for him to take them at any time. It will be just to do so, if we abuse and pervert them. Let us receive them with thankful acknowledgments of their Author, hold them with a readiness to relinquish them any moment, use them with carefulness and moderation to his glory, and seek that, whatever they are in kind and number, our affections may be set on things above [Sibthorp].

Jonah 4:8. In this verse we have exemplified the conduct of some good people under affliction. We find that the afflictions which come upon men are Divinely commissioned—that they are often very severe. “A vehement east wind.” They are often complicated. Not only the “wind,” but “the sun,” beating upon Jonah’s head. They often happen at the most inopportune time, and have often a most exhaustive effect upon those to whom they come. “He fainted.” These afflictions often occasion a complaining spirit. It is better for me to die than to live [Exell].

Jonah 4:9. Doest thou well? I. The question put.

1. To reprove Jonah

2. To convince him of his error; and 3 To bring him to a humble and obedient spirit. II. The answer given. Jonah had not dared to speak before Jonah 4:4, now he answers and defends his wicked spirit and conduct. We see the old spirit and pride with more actual sin and provocation. “I do well,” &c. A fearful outburst! Resist passion at the first rising, else who knows whither it may transport us? “Passions,” saith Fuller, “like heavy bodies down steep hills, once in motion, move themselves, and know no ground but the bottom.”

“We oft by lightning read in darkest nights;
And by your passions I read all your natures,
Tho’ you at other times can keep them dark.” [John Crowne.]


Jonah 4:1. Displeased. Anger begins with folly and ends with repentance [Maunder]. Anger and haste hinder good counsel [Fielding]. Be on your guard against your temper. It will frustrate all your designs if you listen to it. It will make you lose the most important opportunities, and will inspire you with the inclinations and aversions of a child, to the prejudice of your greatest interests [Fenelon].

Jonah 4:2-3. Life. Live virtuously, my lord, and you cannot die too soon, nor live too long [Lady Rachel Russel].

“So weak is man,

So ignorant and blind, that did not God
Sometimes withhold in mercy what we ask
We should be ruined at our own request.” [H. More.]

Jonah 4:4-5. Dost thou well? It would check our angry complainings under the afflictive hand of God, and turn them into praises for the very moderate measure of trial with which he visits us, to review our own vileness and desert of wrath, and the great grace shown towards us (Ezra 9:13; Psalms 103:10; Job 11:6) [Sibthorp]. The Divine Being does not always like to use extreme penalties, but the more gentle, that men may not only be disciplined by pain, but also by moral conviction. Hence God frequently comes to the human soul in the language of this verse, and says, “Dost thou well to be angry?” And this quiet method of correction is frequently effective, awaking in the soul thoughts that end in a return to reason and purity [Exell].

Jonah 4:7-9. The Lord’s servants are under a continual course of instruction. Every circumstance of every day and hour has its proper lesson for them, which it is their duty, wisdom, and privilege to learn. The end of their instruction is entire sanctification and meetness for glory through conformity to the image of God. When they are refractory, as Jonah now was, God takes commonly some special method to recall them to duty, and pursue his object of their growth in grace [Sibthorp].

Jonah 4:9-11. The teachings of Nature, which unbelievers vaunt as all-sufficient, have never led mankind to a correct knowledge of God, nor produced holy feeling; and they never can. But they may prepare for the Word, and be used to convey it, illustrate it, and fix it in the memory. God schooling Jonah in patient, tender love, and through him preparing instruction for Israel and for us, uses Nature to prepare the way for the lessons of the Word. As when he sent Nathan to David with a parable, to make David condemn himself out of his own mouth, so to Jonah he sends the gourd and the worm, the wind and the sunshine, to prepare the way for making his better feelings condemn his worse. He will make his pity for the plant explain God’s pity for Nineveh, and condemn Jonah’s want of pity for that multitude of souls [Mitchel].

This wonderful book of Jonah has given us a picture of the human heart, not in its lowest degradation, but taught by revelation, restrained by conscience, influenced more or less by piety, but stripped of its disguises and company dress. God takes us behind the scenes to show us how in Nature his hand and purpose are working by storm and sunshine, fish and worm, and so puts a window for us in the heart of man. Jonah speaks out to God, and acts out before us, and writes down for us to read, without suppression, palliation, or extenuation, the sinful thoughts which other men have, but do not make known. We have at once a picture of God’s character, and a mirror in which to behold our own [Ibid]. In the book of Jonah we have thus a panorama of historical facts, pregnant with the most important instruction. Its lessons constitute the staple of the teaching of the later prophets, and contain the leading thoughts which were developed in their writings, imbedded in the mind of Israel, and expounded by Christ and his apostles.

Verse 11


Jonah 4:11. Spare] Pity; Lit. to be affected by the sight of a thing; then to be concerned; take pity or compassion upon one. Nineveh contained an immense population, a great number of children; and “if this did not produce a suitable impression upon the mind of the prophet, the number even of irrational animals is adverted to, the latter being far superior in point of mechanism and utility to the shrub for which he was so much concerned” [Elzaz]. “What could Jonah say to this? He was obliged to keep silence, defeated, as it were, by his own sentence” [Luther]. The history breaks off abruptly, but an insight of God’s compassion for all nations is gained. Mercy is the last note sounded. Let us attend to the sign of the prophet, and love him who said, “Behold, a greater than Jonas is here!”



The mention of children and cattle in the description of the city indicates more than its greatness, proves the tender mercy of God, and affords no ground for the defence of his innocent shrub. God estimates cities, not according to wealth and splendour, but the character of its population. “Here,” says one, “was a reason for sparing the city, and for bringing the adults to repentance in order to save it.”

I. Children have a distinct rank assigned to them. They are distinguished from matter, and raised higher than brutes. Hence they must not be looked upon as cumber or hindrance to the welfare of humanity. Many regard them in the mass, and give them no distinct rank in the scale of being. Christianity differs in sublime distinction from ancient Polytheism and modern materialism in its loving aspect towards little children—teaches that they are not to be regarded as incipient organisms in human form, but as immortal beings, and of celestial beauty. “For of such is the kingdom of heaven.”

II. Children have special claims upon us. Men talk of them as “little children,” so many incarnate trifles or common-places of humanity. Such treatment is neither justified by religion nor reason. Life in its lowest forms involves mystery; but if we recognize infants as manifesting a Divine purpose, and taking a definite rank in creation, we shall feel that certain reverence is due to them. Their innocency is pleasing, and their influence powerful. Upon their character and training depend the happiness of society and the destiny of nations. Few parents are base enough to injure their children, but parental neglect and sinful apathy prevail in every home. Children’s claims are forgotten or ignored, and we are still under the moral implication of Christ—“Take heed that ye despise not one of these little ones.”

III. God’s mercy to children is an example to us. Priority and prominence are given to the children, and God appeals strongly to Jonah’s human sympathy. That heart must be desperately hard that cannot feel for the injury and death of infants. Herod’s outrage brands him with infamy in every age. But God does not play merely upon Jonah’s feelings. He shows his regard for children, and reveals his true character as a gracious God. Christ displayed Divine love by taking them into his arms and blessing them. God’s providence over children should urge us to care for them. His pity for them in pain and danger should be a model for parental conduct, and an encouragement to cultivate true disposition of heart. Christ recommended true virtues; set a child in the midst of his disciples, and taught that Christian life was a life of childhood. “Except ye be converted, and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven.”


In addition to children there were also “much cattle,” of infinitely more value than Jonah’s gourd, and perfectly innocent of the crimes of which the Ninevites were guilty.

I. Here we have an argument for mercy to beasts. The city must be spared for the sake of the cattle even. Little children and dumb creatures intercede for man and must be pitied. “Doth God take care for oxen?” Yes, to teach us to be merciful to them (1 Corinthians 9:9; Deuteronomy 25:4). How unlike God are those who neglect them and inflict needless sufferings upon them. Men whom God preserves daily from the punishment of sin wreak their rage upon their beasts, starve and torture them for selfish ends, or kill them in sport and cruelty. “A righteous man regardeth the life of his beast; but the tender mercies of the wicked are cruel.”

II. Here we have an argument for mercy to men. God’s care for cattle suggests his greater mercy to men. It is a perversion of sympathy when persons bestow upon brutes an extravagance of kindness which they refuse to children and men Stables and kennels are often more comfortable than cottages; animals are petted while the poor starve. “God would have us love and pity not merely our own gourds, but all his creatures—men, women, children, and even cattle—according to their respective worth in his sight.” The selfish man shrinks up in envy and cold indifference, but “blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy.”


Here we have a picture of the weak protecting the strong, infants shielding the parents. Ungodly families are often spared for the sake of the little ones in them. Justice calls for the punishment of the wicked, but mercy delays lest the innocent should suffer with the guilty.
Many great and fruitful truths lie couchant here. It is manifest, for example, that infants are regarded by God as personally innocent. They inherit many of the consequences, but do not share the guilt of Adam’s sin. God here seems to say: “What have they done?” They have had no part in the guilt of the city. Would you bring a storm of judgment upon them? It is manifest, also, that unconscious beings may have, really have, a great moral power and place in the universe. When men or women all through the city were “crying mightily to God,” there was a cry mightier, although inarticulate, going up from six-score thousand unconscious suppliants. The infants of Nineveh did what all her armed men could not do—they helped to turn away the wrath of God, and to draw down his mercy. This reference to the infants tells us that life is good. It is implied that it is in itself a blessing—a thing to be desired to make one wise. The Prophet had said, “It is better for me to die than to live.” In an indirect manner God says, “It is better to live than to die,” better even for infants to live, although they might die without tasting the bitterness of death. Better to live, even in a place like Nineveh, where the wickedness is only arrested for a little, and not extinguished, than not to live at all [Raleigh].

The whole chapter is a wonderful exhibition of Divine mercy. I. Mercy is displayed. Displayed to Jew and Gentile, young and old. Mercy towards a guilty city, and an ungrateful servant. II. Mercy is vindicated.

1. Against the ignorance of man.

2. Against the selfishness of man. We substitute justice for love. It is true that God hates sin; but he is merciful, and prefers pity to punishment. As we do not see the world in the blackness of a thunder-storm, so we do not know God in the outpouring of his wrath. “Fear never made the childish nature good. March winds never made the buds blossom—only April showers; it is not the father’s severity, but the mother’s love, that makes the child repent.”

The mercy of God concerns us infinitely. We are personally interested in this argument and in this demonstration, as much as Jonah, as much as the Ninevites. Is there anything else in which we have half the interest that we all have in this? This is the very foundation of our hope; it is the bright charter of our salvation. We enter only by this door. Without the mercy of God we are clean gone for ever. By this mercy we are spared. By this mercy, in its forms of forbearance, and forgiveness, and renewal, we hope one day to reach complete redemption [Raleigh].


Jonah 4:9-11. The teachings of Nature, which unbelievers vaunt as all-sufficient, have never led mankind to a correct knowledge of God, nor produced holy feeling; and they never can. But they may prepare for the Word, and be used to convey it, illustrate it, and fix it in the memory. God schooling Jonah in patient, tender love, and through him preparing instruction for Israel and for us, uses Nature to prepare the way for the lessons of the Word. As when he sent Nathan to David with a parable, to make David condemn himself out of his own mouth, so to Jonah he sends the gourd and the worm, the wind and the sunshine, to prepare the way for making his better feelings condemn his worse. He will make his pity for the plant explain God’s pity for Nineveh, and condemn Jonah’s want of pity for that multitude of souls [Mitchel].

This wonderful book of Jonah has given us a picture of the human heart, not in its lowest degradation, but taught by revelation, restrained by conscience, influenced more or less by piety, but stripped of its disguises and company dress. God takes us behind the scenes to show us how in Nature his hand and purpose are working by storm and sunshine, fish and worm, and so puts a window for us in the heart of man. Jonah speaks out to God, and acts out before us, and writes down for us to read, without suppression, palliation, or extenuation, the sinful thoughts which other men have, but do not make known. We have at once a picture of God’s character, and a mirror in which to behold our own [Ibid]. In the book of Jonah we have thus a panorama of historical facts, pregnant with the most important instruction. Its lessons constitute the staple of the teaching of the later prophets, and contain the leading thoughts which were developed in their writings, imbedded in the mind of Israel, and expounded by Christ and his apostles.

Bibliographical Information
Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on Jonah 4". Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary. https://studylight.org/commentaries/eng/phc/jonah-4.html. Funk & Wagnalls Company, 1892.
adsFree icon
Ads FreeProfile