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Sunday, December 10th, 2023
the Second Week of Advent
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Bible Commentaries
Jonah 4

Sermon Bible CommentarySermon Bible Commentary

Verses 1-11

Jonah 1-4

Jonah buried and risen a type of Christ.

I. More than once in the course of our Lord's ministry, among different persons and for different objects, He makes use of the similitude of the prophet's burial and resurrection. When the Jews asked for a sign He refused it, (i) because it was presumptuous to ask it; (ii) because they were blind to actual signs already given and constantly existing before their eyes; (iii) because the very demand was a proof of deep ungodliness, and the concession of it would have been a premium on religious disloyalty and impiety. No sign should be given them except the sign of the prophet Jonah, the very opposite to what they sought. They asked it from above. It should be from below. They asked that it might be glorious. It should be, according to the carnal judgment, ignominious. It should be from a dark sea of trouble, not from a firmament of brightness. It should be tempest, sorrow, death, burial; not sunshine, victory, enthronement.

II. Such we understand to be the meaning of our Lord's language in the comparison between Himself and Jonah. It is a comparison resting chiefly on the resemblance in humiliation that of Jonah and that of Jesus. The general resemblance is apparent to anyone. Jonah was in the heart of the sea; Jesus was in the heart of the earth. Jonah was in the "belly of hell," or the grave, or Hades; Jesus was actually traversing, living, in the invisible world, and acquiring thus His right to hold the keys. Jonah was there in punishment of his sin; Jesus (Himself sinless) was slain and consigned to the darksome grave by the sins of the world, which He bore and expiated on the Cross. Jonah was three days and three nights in his living grave; Jesus was the same time dead and buried. Jonah was restored to light and life; Jesus was "declared to be the Son of God, with power, by the resurrection from the dead."

A. Raleigh, The Story of Jonah, p. 169.

Verse 4

John 4:4

(with Ephesians 4:20 )

The former text implies that there is an anger which is sinful; and the latter text implies that there is an anger which is not sinful. The difference lies not so much in the character, or even in the degree, of the emotion; but rather in the motive which rouses it and the object towards which it is directed.

I. There is a feeling to which we give the name of moral indignation; by way of distinguishing it from other kinds of anger, more or less selfish and self-asserting; moral indignation is characterized chiefly by this that it is quite unselfish. It is the feeling which rises in the breast of a man when he reads of or looks upon the ill-treatment of an animal, or the deception of a child, or the insulting of a woman. To stand by and see these things without remonstrance or without interference, is not forbearance; it is a cowardice, it is an unmanliness, it is a sin.

II. There is place, again, and room for anger, not only in the contemplation of wrong, but in the personal experience of temptation. There is an indignation, there is even a resentment, there is even a rage and fury, which may be employed, without offence to the Gospel, in repelling such an assault. Nor is that anger necessarily misplaced, because the lips of friendship or love are those which play the seducer. The tempter, like the bully, is a coward; the very eye undimmed by sinning will scare him off, like the rising sun of the Psalmist, to lay him down in his den.

III. Be angry with yourself, and sin not; let the time of this ignorance and folly and fatuity go at last and bury itself; awake to righteousness, and sin not; see if a moral indignation, powerful against others, may not beneficially be tried against yourself.

C. J. Vaughan, Temple Sermons, 463.

Verse 5

John 4:5

I. Jonah sat in his booth, dark and moody plunged into deep distress by the very things which brought relief and hope to the great city. The reasons for his displeasure were manifold. He was jealous, with a needless jealousy, for the honour of God. His own reputation as a prophet was touched. His country was in danger from the Assyrian power, which he had hoped was now to be utterly humbled and smitten. The course of Providence had seemed right to him, although dark, while justice had held the awful scales and looked at the glittering sword. But now when mercy fairer form than justice had sheathed the sword, and thrown vast forgiveness into the scale to outweigh all terrors and penalties, he sees, with jaundiced eye, the whole course of Providence running in a wrong direction. "The times are out of joint." Sorrows wait for him and his. Surely the Lord is not taking the best plan.

II. Then came the prayer. This verse shows us that his "displeasure" and "grief" were just such as come to men amid the reverses and thwartings of life. It was the sighing and fretting of a wounded spirit amid "things," but not the personal and conscious revolt of the soul against the living God. He prays that he may die. (i) There is a certain wild majesty in this desire from which we can hardly withhold the tribute of our admiration. He wanted to die there and then. This wounded spirit, realizing its immortality the more amid change and adversity, rises disdainfully above the mortal pathway, above the whole round of earthly toil and care, ambition and its reverses, honour and its shadows, joy and its close attendant grief, beats its wings in the higher air, and asks to be liberated for the last flight, up into immortality and heaven. (ii) This prayer shows weakness as well as strength. There is in it, after all, something of a child's waywardness. "Things have gone all awry, and nothing can ever be right again. Let me get away from such a disjointed world."

III. We can hardly doubt that Jonah thought of Elijah in offering the selfsame prayer, and that, in his own mind, he justified the presentation of it by the force of so great an example. Thus "the evil that men do," even in their prayers, "lives after them." Great men, when they err, are great tempters. A prophet can beguile a prophet.

A. Raleigh, The Story of Jonah, p. 252.

Reference: John 4:5-11 . W. G. Blaikie, Homiletic Magazine, vol. vi., p. 358.

Verses 6-11

John 4:6-11

I. Jonah's gourd was all but certainly the palm-Christ, so-called because it is a five-leaved plant, one leaf of which outspread resembles a man's hand. It was thought to represent the hand of Christ. This plant is indigenous in nearly all the Eastern countries. It grows to the height of eight, ten, twelve feet. It has but one leaf for a branch, but the branches are numerous, and the leaves are broad. Branch rising above branch, nothing could be better adapted for making a screen and casting a relieving shadow. It was a quickly growing plant, which sprang up during the forty days, and was ready with its shade for the prophet's time of need. By a poetic figure it is called, in the tenth verse, "the son of the night."

II. Why was Jonah so exceeding glad of the gourd? (i) Partly, no doubt, for the simplest and most obvious reason because it was an immense physical relief and protection. (ii) The gourd was a gift from God to the prophet, and accepted by him as such. He sat there under its shadow with great delight. (iii) He would probably take it as a Divine indication that he had done right in waiting to see what would become of the city.

III. It is impossible to help "moralizing," as some would call it, on the worm and the gourd. They are felt universally to be emblems too faithful of the swift-coursing, closely-linked joy and sorrow of this mortal life. (i) The fine plant, leafy green, types so well our comforts, successes, joys. (ii) The single day of shade it furnished the heated prophet speaks touchingly of the transiency of our pleasures. (iii) The worm reminds us that a small and mean creature may be a very formidable enemy. (iv) The place of. its operation, 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. (v) 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. (vi) 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 affection to things above the sphere of the "worm," and the "moth," beyond the reach of the "rust," and the "thief." (vii) The Divine "preparation" of the destroying insect to feed upon the plant which had been as divinely prepared, sheds some light amid the darkest mysteries of life, and brings a strong relief and assuagement to us amid the natural fears and doubts of our experience. 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.

A. Raleigh, The Story of Jonah, p. 271.

Verse 9

John 4:9

I. The first thing which strikes us in this portion of sacred history is Jonah's selfishness.

II. Another thing which strikes us unpleasantly in the history of Jonah is his ingratitude.

III. The withering of Jonah's gourd should remind us how shortlived our earthly comforts are.

IV. Very trifling causes blast our happiness, and rob us of our peace.

V. We are reminded, in Jonah's history, of God's abounding mercy.

J. N. Norton, Golden Truths, p. 158.

Reference: John 4:9 . Spurgeon, Morning by Morning, p. 195.

Verses 9-11

John 4:9-11


I. The sinfulness of absorbing passion. Its sinfulness is illustrated: (1) By Jonah's contempt of life. Nineveh was not to be destroyed as he had prophesied, and his pride was wounded, and he says: "Therefore now, O Lord, take, I beseech Thee, my life from me; for it is better for me to die than to live." A man's worth may be measured by the reverence he has for his life. It is well for Christians to be aware of the real impiety that lurks under a longing for death, and weariness of the life which, day by day, God is bestowing on us here. (2) The sinfulness of absorbing passion is seen again in that it works insincerity. Even after Jonah has recognised that God is sparing the city, he still affects to believe that it will be overthrown. (3) The selfishness of an absorbing passion is illustrated in Jonah's contempt of the men of Nineveh. He will not share in their repentance; he will not encourage their hope that God may yet turn away His fierce anger, nor join them in their gratitude that God has spared them. He shuts himself up alone to brood over his anger. All passion tends to arrogance. Self-absorption means scorn of our fellows. A single passion may arrogate to itself the whole sphere of life, constitute itself the be-all and end-all of existence.

II. God's cure for absorbing passion. God seeks to restore the prophet by awakening love in his heart; awakening his interest, and making him tender over the gourd. There is something wonderful in life, even though it be the life of a common weed. Such things speak to us, however faintly we may understand them, of an awful power that forms and an ever-watchful care that tends them; they are "fearfully and wonderfully made." The tenderness that was in Jonah, poor as it was, mingled with selfishness as it was, was yet, in its dim and partial way, an emblem of the tenderness of God for every creature He has made.

A. Mackennal, Christ's Healing Touch, p. 89.

Verses 10-11

John 4:10-11

The Divine argument for mercy in these last verses is, if we may say so without irreverence, a masterpiece of Divine skill and simplicity. There are many single texts of the New Testament which express quite as strongly the unfailing readiness of the mercy of God to sinful men. But the beautiful peculiarity of this passage is, that it is an actual instance of the exercise of that mercy.

I. See how simply the argument begins. As a lily was text enough for our Lord for a sermon on providence, so a gourd serves this occasion for a proclamation to all the world of mercy. "Thou hast had pity on the gourd."

II. It is not the life of the plant, but the feeling of the man about it, that constitutes the true symbol of the Divine love. "Thou hast had pity on the gourd." May not I have pity, too? It is much to have, thus, direct sanction given to the validity, Tightness, of our instinctive feelings. Our natural pity, our sensibility, our sympathy with all life, these are right and good. We are wrong as to our moral condition, but these are right.

III. It is an argument from the less to the greater. "How much more" seems to sound in these two last verses, and all through them. In every point there is contrast, clear and strong. (1) You had pity on a gourd. What is a plant to a human being? (2) The gourd was but one. Would you spare the one, and must I slay the many? (3) The contrast touches the quality of relative performance. (4) Jonah had not laboured for the, gourd. God had waited for the coming of each soul, and laboured with all the energies and harmonies of His providence, that each might come in his own "fulness of time." (5) Another touch of God's thoughtful tenderness is the mention of the children. Many great and fruitful truths lie couchant here. It is manifest: ( a ) that infants are regarded by God as personally innocent; ( b ) that unconscious beings may have really have a great moral power and place in the universe; ( c ) that life is good. Better to live even in such a place as Nineveh, where alas! the wickedness is only arrested for a little, and not extinguished, than not to live at all. (6) And also much cattle. The condescending God, stooping down to the children, sees, reaches far below them. But the cattle are far above the gourd. They, too, in their dumb, dull way, are suppliants. He who makes them feeds them, recognizes their right to be fed. He who owns "the cattle upon a thousand hills," has the thousand hills for the cattle as well as for the service of man.

A. Raleigh, The Story of Jonah, p. 297.

References: John 4:10 , John 4:11 . E. W. Shalders, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xv., p. 168. John 4:11 . J. Baldwin Brown, Ibid., vol. xv., pp. 369, 394.

Bibliographical Information
Nicoll, William R. "Commentary on Jonah 4". "Sermon Bible Commentary". https://studylight.org/commentaries/eng/sbc/jonah-4.html.
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