There is here set before us a remarkable proof of God’s grace, — that he was pleased to bestow on Jonah his former dignity and honor. He was indeed unworthy of the common light, but God not only restored him to life, but favored him again with the office and honor of a prophet. This, as I have said, Jonah obtained through the wonderful and singular favor of God. As he had previously fled, and by disobedience deprived himself in a manner of all God’s favor, the recovery of his prophetic office was certainly not obtained through his own merit.
It must, in the first place, be observed, that this phrase, The word of Jehovah came the second time, ought to be noticed; for the word of God comes to men in different ways. God indeed addresses each of us individually; but he spoke to his Prophets in a special manner; for he designed them to be witnesses and heralds of his will. Hence, whenever God sets a man in some peculiar office, his word is said to come to him: as the word of God is addressed to magistrates because they are commanded to exercise the power committed to them; so also the word of God ever came to the Prophets, because it was not lawful for them to thrust in themselves without being called.
The second time. He is forgiven and restored to his office, and the commission formerly given is renewed. Commentators have supposed that he went up to Jerusalem to pay his vows, and that the word of the Lord came unto him there. But all unnecessary details are omitted from the account, and we know nothing about this matter. The beginning of the next verse, “arise,” seems to imply that he was then in some settled home, perhaps at Gath-hepher.
The command now follows, Arise, go to Nineveh, to that great city, and preach there the preaching which I command thee. God again repeats what we have observed at the be ginning, — that Nineveh was a great city, that Jonah might provide himself with an invincible courage of mind, and come there well prepared: for it often happens, that many boldly undertake an office, but soon fail, because difficulties had not been sufficiently foreseen by them. Hence, when men find more hardships than they thought of at the beginning, they nearly faint, at least they despond. The Lord, therefore, expressly foretold Jonah how difficult would be his employment; as though he said, “I send thee, a man unknown, and of no rank, and a stranger, to denounce ruin on men, not a few in number, but on a vast multitude, and to carry on a contest with the noblest city, and so populous, that it may seem to be a region of itself.”
We now then understand why this character of the city was added; it was, that Jonah might gird up himself for the contest, that he might not afterwards fail in the middle of his course. This fear indeed frightened him at the beginning, so that he shunned the call of God; but he is not now moved in any degree by the greatness of the city, but resolutely follows where the Lord leads. We hence see, that faith, when once it gains the ascendancy in our hearts, surmounts all obstacles and despises all the greatness of the world; for it is immediately added —
Arise, go to Nineveh that great city, and preach (or cry) unto it – God says to Jonah the self-same words which He had said before; only perhaps He gives him an intimation of His purpose of mercy, in that he says no more, “cry against her,” but “cry unto her.” He might “cry against” one doomed to destruction; to “cry unto her,” seems to imply that she had some interest in, and so some hope from, this cry. “The preaching that I bid thee.” This is the only notice which Jonah relates that God took of his disobedience, in that He charged him to obey exactly what He commanded . “He does not say to him, why didst thou not what I commanded?” He had rebuked him in deed; He amended him and upbraided him not . “The rebuke of that shipwreck and the swallowing by the fish sufficed, so that he who had not felt the Lord commanding, might understand Him, delivering.”
Jonah might have seemed unworthy to be again inspired by God. But “whom the Lord loveth, He chasteneth;” whom He chasteneth, He loveth . “The hard discipline, the severity and length of the scourge, were the earnests of a great trust and a high destination.” He knew him to be changed into another man, and, by one of His most special favors, gives him that same trust which he had before deserted . “As Christ, when risen, commended His sheep to Peter, wiser now and more fervent, so to Jonah risen He commends the conversion of Nineveh. For so did Christ risen bring about the conversion of the pagan, by sending His Apostles, each into large provinces, as Jonah was sent alone to a large city” . “He bids him declare not only the sentence of God, but in the same words; not to consider his own estimation or the ears of his hearers, nor to mingle soothing with severe words, and convey the message ingeniously, but with all freedom and severity to declare openly what was commanded him. This plainness, though, may be less acceptable to people or princes, is ofttimes more useful, always more approved by God. Nothing should be more sacred to the preacher of God’s word, than truth and simplicity and inviolable sanctity in delivering it. Now alas, all this is changed into vain show at the will of the multitude and the breath of popular favor.”
Jonah, by saying that he went to Nineveh according to God’s command, proves in the first place, as I have said, how great was the power and energy of his faith; for though Jonah had considered the greatness and pride of the city, he seems to have forgotten that he was an obscure man, alone, and unarmed; but he had laid hold on weapons capable of destroying all the power of the world, for he knew that he was sent from above. His conviction was, that God was on his side; and he knew that God had called him. Hence then it was, that with a high and intrepid mind he looked down on all the splendor of the city Nineveh. Hence John does not without reason say, that the victory, by which we overcome the world, proceeds from faith, (1Jo_5:4.) Jonah also proves, at the same time, how much he had improved under God’s scourges. He had been severely chastised; but we know that most of the unbelieving grow hardened under the rod, and vomit forth their rage against God; Jonah, on the contrary, shows here that chastisement had been useful to him for he was subdued and led to obey God.
He went, then, according to the command of Jehovah; that is, nothing else did he regard but to render obedience to God, and to suffer himself to be wholly ruled by him. We hence learn how well God provides for us and for our salvation, when he corrects our perverseness; though sharp may be our chastisements, yet as this benefit follows we know that nothing is better for us than to be humbled under God’s hand, as David says in Psa_119:1. This change then, he went, is to us a remarkable example; and this is what the Lord has ever in view whenever he roughly handles us; for he cannot otherwise subdue either the haughtiness or the rebellion, or the slowness and indolence of our flesh. We must now also take notice how Jonah attained so much strength; it was, because he had found by experience in the bowels of the fish, that even amidst thousand deaths there is enough in God’s protection to secure our safety. As then he had by experience known that the issues of death are at the will and in the hand of God, he is not now touched with fear so as to shun God’s command, even were the whole world to rise up against him. Hence the more any one has found the kindness of God, the more courageously he ought to proceed in the discharge of his office, and confidently to commit to God his life and his safety, and resolutely to surmount all the perils of the world.
He then says, that Nineveh was a great city even a journey of three days. Some toil much in untying a knot, which at last is no knot at all; for it seems to them strange that one city should be in compass about thirty leagues according to our measure. When they conceive this as being impossible, then they invent some means to avoid the difficulty, — that no one could visit the whole city so as to go through all the alleys, all the streets, and all the public places, except in three days; nay, they add, that this is not to be understood as though one ran or quickly passed through the city, but as though he walked leisurely and made a stay in public places: but these are mere puerilities. And if we believe profane writers, Nineveh must have been a great city, as Jonah declares here: for they say that its area was about four hundred stadia; and we know what space four hundred stadia include. Astadium is one hundred and twenty-five paces; hence eight stadia make a mile. Now if any one will count he will find that there are twelve miles in a hundred stadia; there will then be in four hundred stadia forty-eight miles. This account well agrees with the testimony of Jonah. And then Diodorus and Herodotus say that there were 1500 towers around the city. Since it was so, it could not certainly be a smaller city than what it is represented here by Jonah. Though these things may seem to exceed what is commonly believed, writers have not yet reported them without some foundation: for however false are found to be many things in Diodorus and Herodotus, yet as to Babylon and Nineveh they could not have dared to say what was untrue; for the first was then standing and known to many; and the ruins of the other were still existing, though it had been for some time destroyed. We shall farther see about the end of the book that this city was large, and so populous, that there were there 120,000 children. If any one receives not this testimony, let him feed on the lies of the devil. But since there were so many children there, what else can we say but that the circumference of the city was very great?
But this seems inconsistent with what immediately follows; for Jonah says, that when he entered the city, he performed a journey in the city for one day and preached. The answer is this, — that as soon as he entered the city, and began to proclaim the command of God, some conversions immediately followed: so Jonah does not mean that he went through the city in one day. He then in the first day converted a part of the city; he afterwards continued to exhort each one to repentance: thus the conversion of the whole city followed; but not in the second or the third day, as it may be easily gathered. Let us now proceed to what remains —
Arose, and went. He was now as prompt to obey as formerly to flee. Was; i.e. when Jonah visited it. Nothing can be argued from the past tense here as to the date of the composition of the book. It is a mere historical detail, and cannot be forced into a proof that Jonah wrote after the destruction of Nineveh. An exceeding great city; literally, a city great to God; πόλις μεγάλη τῷ Θεῷ; great before God—in his estimation, as though even God must acknowledge it. So Nimrod is called (Gen_10:9) “a mighty hunter before the Lord;” and Moses, in Act_7:20, is said to have been” beautiful to God.” The expression may also mean that God (Elohim, God as Governor of the world) regarded this city with interest, as intended in the Divine counsels to perform an important part. For he is not the God of the Jews only, but also of the Gentiles (Rom_3:29). Of three days’ journey; i.e. in circumference—about sixty miles (see note on Jon_1:2). Or the writer may mean that it took Jonah three days to visit the various quarters of this huge place. The area of the vast quadrangle containing the remains of the four cities comprised under the name Nineveh is estimated by Professor Rawlinson at two hundred and sixteen square miles. We ought, however, to omit Khorsabad from this computation, as it was not founded till Sargon’s time, B.C. 710.
And Jonah arose and went unto Nineveh – , ready to obey, as before to disobey. Before, when God said those same words, “he arose and fled;” now, “he arose and went.” True conversion shows the same energy in serving God, as the unconverted had before shown in serving self or error. Saul’s spirit of fire, which persecuted Christ, gleamed in Paul like lightning through the world, to win souls to Him.
Nineveh was an exceeding great city – literally “great to God,” i. e., what would not only appear great to man who admires things of no account, but what, being really great, is so in the judgment of God who cannot be deceived. God did account it great, Who says to Jonah, “Should not I spare Nineveh that great city, which hath more than six score thousand that cannot discern between their right hand and their left?” It is a different idiom from that, when Scripture speaks of “the mountains of God, the cedars of God.” For of these it speaks, as having their firmness or their beauty from God as their Author.
Of three days’ journey – , i. e., 60 miles in circumference. It was a great city. Jonah speaks of its greatness, under a name which he would only have used of real greatness. Varied accounts agree in ascribing this size to Nineveh . An Eastern city enclosing often, as did Babylon, ground under tillage, the only marvel is, that such a space was enclosed by walls. Yet this too is no marvel, when we know from inscriptions, what masses of human strength the great empires of old had at their command, or of the more than threescore pyramids of Egypt . In population it was far inferior to our metropolis, of which, as of the suburbs of Rome of old , “one would hesitate to say, where the city ended, where it began. The suburban parts are so joined on to the city itself and give the spectator the idea of boundless length.”
An Eastern would the more naturally think of the circumference of a city, because of the broad places, similar to the boulevards of Paris, which encircles it, so that people could walk around it, within it . “The buildings,” it is related of Babylon, “are not brought close to the walls, but are at about the distance of an acre from them. And not even the whole city did they occupy with houses; 80 furlongs are inhabited, and not even all these continuously, I suppose because it seemed safer to live scattered in several places. The rest they sow and till, that, if any foreign force threaten them, the besieged may be supplied with food from the soil of the city itself.” Not Babylon alone was spoken of, of old, as “having the circumference of a nation rather than of a city.”
Jonah here relates what had briefly been said before, — that he went to Nineveh according to the command of God. He shows then how faithfully he executed the duty enjoined on him, and thus obeyed the word of God. Hence Jonah came and began to enter the city and to preach on the first day. This promptness proves clearly how tractable Jonah had become, and how much he endeavored to obey God in discharging his office: for had there been still a timidity in his heart, he would have inspected the city, as careful and timid men are wont to do, who inquire what is the condition of the place, what are the dispositions of the people, and which is the easiest access to them, and what is the best way, and where is the least danger. If Jonah then had been still entangled by carnal thoughts he would have waited two or three days, and then have began to exercise his office as a Prophet. This he did not, but entered the city and I cried. We now then see how prompt he was in his obedience, who had before attempted to pass over the sea: he now takes hardly a moment to breathe, but he begins at the very entrance to testify that he had come in obedience to God.
We hence see with what emphasis these words ought to be read. The narrative is indeed very simple; Jonah uses here no rhetorical ornaments, nor does he set forth his entrance with any fine display of words. Jonah, he says, entered into the city He who is not well versed in Scripture might say that this is frigid: but when we weigh the circumstances, we see that this simple way of speaking possesses more force and power than all the displays of orators.
He entered then the city a day’s journey, and cried and said, etc. By saying that he cried, he again proves the courage of his soul; for he did not creep in privately, as men are wont to do, advancing cautiously when dangers are apprehended. He says that he cried: then this freedom shows that Jonah was divested of all fear, and endued with such boldness of spirit, that he raised himself up above all the hindrances of the world. And we ought, in the meantime, to remember how disliked must have been his message: for he did not gently lead the Ninevites to God, but threatened them with destruction, and seemed to have given them no hope of pardon. Jonah might have thought that his voice, as one says, would have to return to his own throat, “Can I denounce ruin on this populous city, without being instantly crushed? Will not the first man that meets me stone me to death?” Thus might Jonah have thought within himself. No fear was, however, able to prevent him from doing his duty as a faithful servant, for he had been evidently strengthened by the Lord. But it will be better to join the following verse —
And Jonah began to enter the city a day’s journey – Perhaps the day’s journey enabled him to traverse the city from end to end, with his one brief, deep cry of woe; “Yet forty days and Nineveh overthrown.” He prophesied an utter overthrow, a turning it upside down. He does not speak of it as to happen at a time beyond those days. The close of the forty days and the destruction were to be one. He does not say strictly, “Yet forty days and Nineveh shall be overthrown,” but, “Yet forty days and Nineveh overthrown.” The last of those forty days was, ere its sun was set, to see Nineveh as a “thing overthrown.” Jonah knew from the first God’s purpose of mercy to Nineveh; he had a further hint of it in the altered commission which he had received. It is perhaps hinted in the word “Yet” . “If God had meant unconditionally to overthrow them, He would have overthrown them without notice. ‘Yet,’ always denotes some long-suffering of God.” But, taught by that severe discipline, he discharges his office strictly.
He cries, what God had commanded him to cry out, without reserve or exception. The sentence, as are all God’s threatenings until the last, was conditional. But God does not say this. That sentence was now within forty days of its completion; yet even thus it was remitted. Wonderful encouragement, when one Lent sufficed to save some 600,000 souls from perishing! Yet the first visitation of the cholera was checked in its progress in England, upon one day’s national fast and humiliation; and we have seen how general prayer has often-times at once opened or closed the heavens as we needed. “A few years ago,” relates Augustine, “when Arcadias was Emperor at Constantinople (what I say, some have heard, some of our people were present there,) did not God, willing to terrify the city, and, by terrifying, to amend, convert, cleanse, change it, reveal to a faithful servant of His (a soldier, it is said), that the city should perish by fire from heaven, and warned him to tell the Bishop! It was told. The Bishop despised it not, but addressed the people. The city turned to the mourning of penitence, as that Nineveh of old. Yet lest men should think that he who said this, deceived or was deceived, the day which God had threatened, came. When all were intently expecting the issue with great fears, at the beginning of night as the world was being darkened, a fiery cloud was seen from the East, small at first then, as it approached the city, gradually enlarging, until it hung terribly over the whole city.
All fled to the Church; the place did not hold the people. But after that great tribulation, when God had accredited His word, the cloud began to diminish and at last disappeared. The people, freed from fear for a while, again heard that they must migrate, because the whole city should be destroyed on the next sabbath. The whole people left the city with the Emperor; no one remained in his house. That multitude, having one some miles, when gathered in one spot to pour forth prayer to God, suddenly saw a great smoke, and sent forth a loud cry to God.” The city was saved. “What shall we say?” adds Augustine. “Was this the anger of God, or rather His mercy? Who doubts that the most merciful Father willed by terrifying to convert, not to punish by destroying? As the hand is lifted up to strike, and is recalled in pity, when he who was to be struck is terrified, so was it done to that city.” Will any of God’s warnings “now” move our great Babylon to repentance, that it be not ruined?
Keil & Delitzsch
The word of the Lord came to Jonah the second time, to go to Nineveh and proclaim to that city what Jehovah would say to him. קְרִיאָה: that which is called out, the proclamation, τὸ κήρυγμα (lxx). Jonah now obeyed the word of Jehovah.
But Nineveh was a great city to God (lē’lōhı̄m), i.e., it was regarded by God as a great city. This remark points to the motive for sparing it (cf. Jon_4:11), in case its inhabitants hearkened to the word of God. Its greatness amounted to “a three days’ walk.” This is usually supposed to refer to the circumference of the city, by which the size of a city is generally determined. But the statement in Jon_3:4, that “Jonah began to enter into the city the walk of a day,” i.e., a day’s journey, is apparently at variance with this. Hence Hitzig has come to the conclusion that the diameter or length of the city is intended, and that, as the walk of a day in Jon_3:4 evidently points to the walk of three days in Jon_3:3, the latter must also be understood as referring to the length of Nineveh. But according to Diod. ii. 3 the length of the city was 150 stadia, and Herodotus (v. 53) gives just this number of stadia as a day’s journey. Hence Jonah would not have commenced his preaching till he had reached the opposite end of the city. This line of argument, the intention of which is to prove the absurdity of the narrative, is based upon the perfectly arbitrary assumption that Jonah went through the entire length of the city in a straight line, which is neither probable in itself, nor implied in בּוֹא בָעִיר. This simply means to enter, or go into the city, and says nothing about the direction of the course he took within the city. But in a city, the diameter of which was 150 stadia, and the circumference 480 stadia, one might easily walk for a whole day without reaching the other end, by winding about from one street into another. And Jonah would have to do this to find a suitable place for his preaching, since we are not warranted in assuming that it lay exactly in the geographical centre, or at the end of the street which led from the gate into the city. But if Jonah wandered about in different directions, as Theodoret says, “not going straight through the city, but strolling through market-places, streets, etc.,” the distance of a day’s journey over which he travelled must not be understood as relating to the diameter or length of the city; so that the objection to the general opinion, that the three days’ journey given as the size of the city refers to the circumference, entirely falls to the ground. Moreover, Hitzig has quite overlooked the word וַיָּחֶל in his argument. The text does not affirm that Jonah went a day’s journey into the city, but that he “began to go into the city a day’s journey, and cried out.” These words do not affirm that he did not begin to preach till after he had gone a whole day’s journey, but simply that he had commenced his day’s journey in the city when he found a suitable place and a fitting opportunity for his proclamation. They leave the distance that he had really gone, when he began his preaching, quite indefinite; and by no means necessitate the assumption that he only began to preach in the evening, after his day’s journey was ended. All that they distinctly affirm is, that he did not preach directly he entered the city, but only after he had commenced a day’s journey, that is to say, had gone some distance into the city. And this is in perfect harmony with all that we know about the size of Nineveh at that time. The circumference of the great city Nineveh, or the length of the boundaries of the city of Nineveh in the broadest sense, was, as Niebuhr says (p. 277), “nearly ninety English miles, not reckoning the smaller windings of the boundary; and this would be just three days’ travelling for a good walker on a long journey.” “Jonah,” he continues, “begins to go a day’s journey into the city, then preaches, and the preaching reaches the ears of the king (cf. Jon_3:6). He therefore came very near to the citadel as he went along on his first day’s journey. At that time the citadel was probably in Nimrud (Calah). Jonah, who would hardly have travelled through the desert, went by what is now the ordinary caravan road past Amida, and therefore entered the city at Nineveh. And it was on the road from Nineveh to Calah, not far off the city, possibly in the city itself, that he preached. Now the distance between Calah and Nineveh (not reckoning either city), measured in a straight line upon the map, is 18 1/2 English miles.”
If, then, we add to this,
(1) that the road from Nineveh to Calah or Nimrud hardly ran in a perfectly straight line, and therefore would be really longer than the exact distance between the two parts of the city according to the map, and
(2) that Jonah had first of all to go through Nineveh, and possibly into Calah, he may very well have walked twenty English miles, or a short day’s journey, before he preached. The main point of his preaching is all that is given, viz., the threat that Nineveh would be destroyed, which was the point of chief importance, so far as the object of the book was concerned, and which Jonah of course explained by denouncing the sins and vices of the city. The threat ran thus: “Yet forty days, and Nineveh will be destroyed.” נֶהְפָּךְ, lit., overturned, i.e., destroyed from the very foundations, is the word applied to the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah. The respite granted is fixed at forty days, according to the number which, even as early as the flood, was taken as the measure for determining the delaying of visitations of God.
(Note: The lxx, however, τρεῖς ἡμέρας, probably from a peculiar and arbitrary combination, and not merely from an early error of the pen. The other Greek translators (Aquil., Symm., and Theodot.) had, according to Theodoret, the number forty; and so also had the Syriac.)
One thing, escaped me in the third verse: Jonah said that Nineveh was a city great to God. This form of speech is common in Scripture: for the Hebrews call that Divine, whatever it be, that is superior or excellent: so they say, the cedars of God, the mountains of God, the fields of God, when they are superior in height or in any other respect. Hence a city is called the city of God, when it is beyond others renowned. I wished briefly to allude to this subject, because some, with too much refinement and even puerility says that it was called the city of God, because it was the object of God’s care, and in which he intended to exhibit a remarkable instance of conversion. But, as I have said, this is to be taken as the usual mode of speaking in similar cases.
I now return to the text: Jonah says, that the citizens of Nineveh believed God. We hence gather that the preaching of Jonah was not so concise but that he introduced his discourse by declaring that he was God’s Prophet, and that he did not proclaim these commands without authority; and we also gather that Jonah so denounced ruin, that at the same time he showed God to be the avenger of sins that he reproved the Ninevites, and, as it were, summoned them to God’s tribunal, making known to them their guilt; for had he spoken only of punishment, it could not certainly have been otherwise, but that the Ninevites must have rebelled furiously against God; but by showing to them their guilt, he led them to acknowledge that the threatened punishment was just, and thus he prepared them for humility and penitence. Both these things may be collected from this expression of Jonah, that the Ninevites believed God; for were they not persuaded that the command came from heaven, what was their faith? Let us then know, that Jonah had so spoken of his vocation, that the Ninevites felt assured that he was a celestial herald: hence was their faith: and further, the Ninevites would never have so believed as to put on sackcloth, had they not been reminded of their sins. There is, therefore, no doubt but that Jonah, while crying against Nineveh, at the same time made known how wickedly the men lived, and how grievous were their offenses against God. Hence then it was that they put on sackcloth, and suppliantly fled to God’s mercy: they understood that they were deservedly summoned to judgment on account of their wicked lives.
But it may be asked, how came the Ninevites to believe God, as no hope of salvation was given them? for there can be no faith without an acquaintance with the paternal kindness of God; whosoever regards God as angry with him must necessarily despair. Since then Jonah gave them no knowledge of God’s mercy, he must have greatly terrified the Ninevites, and not have called them to faith. The answer is, that the expression is to be taken as including a part for the whole; for there is no perfect faith when men, being called to repentance, do suppliantly humble themselves before God; but yet it is a part of faith; for the Apostle says, in Heb_11:7, that Noah through faith feared; he deduces the fear which Noah entertained on account of the oracular word he received, from faith, showing thereby that it was faith in part, and pointing out the source from which it proceeded. At the same time, the mind of the holy Patriarch must have been moved by other things besides threatening, when he built an ark for himself, as the means of safety. We may thus, by taking a part for the whole, explain this, place, — that the Ninevites believed God; for as they knew that God required the deserved punishment, they submitted to him, and, at the same time, solicited pardon: but the Ninevites, no doubt, derived from the words of Jonah something more than mere terror: for had they only apprehended this — that they were guilty before God, and were justly summoned to punishment, they would have been confounded and stunned with dread, and could never have been encouraged to seek forgiveness. Inasmuch then as they suppliantly prostrated themselves before God, they must certainly have conceived some hope of grace. They were not, therefore, so touched with penitence and the fear of God, but that they had some knowledge of divine grace: thus they believed God; for though they were aware that they were most worthy of death, they yet despaired not, but retook themselves to prayer. Since then we see that the Ninevites sought this, remedy, we must feel assured that they derived more advantage from the preaching of Jonah than the mere knowledge that they were guilty before God: this ought certainly to be understood. But we shall speak more on the subject in our next lecture.
Believed God; believed in God, which implies trust and hope; Vulgate, crediderunt in Deum. They recognized Jonah as God’s messenger; they recognized God’s power as able to execute the threat, and they had confidence in his mercy if they repented. This great result has seemed to some incredible, and has occasioned doubts to be east upon the history. But, as we have seen in the Introduction, Jonah’s mission occurred probably at a time of national depression, when men’s minds were disposed to expect calamity, and anxious to avert it by any means. Other considerations led to the same result. They had heard much of the God of the Hebrews, much of the doings of his great prophets Elijah and Elisha; and now they had in their midst one of these holy men, who, as they were informed, had been miraculously preserved from death in order to carry his message to them; for that it was thus that Jonah was “a sign unto the Ninevites” (Luk_11:30) seems most certain. They saw the Divine inspiration beaming in his look, dictating his utterance, animating his bearing, filling him with courage, confidence, and faith. The credulity with which they received the announcements of their own seers, their national predilection for presages and omens, encouraged them to open their ears to this stranger, and to regard his mission with grave attention. Their own conscience, too, was on the prophet’s side, and assisted his words with its powerful pleading. So they believed in God, and proclaimed a fast. Spontaneously, without any special order from the authorities. Before the final fall of Nineveh, the inscriptions mention, the then king ordered a fast of one hundred days and nights to the gods in order to avert the threatened danger. Put on sackcloth (comp. Gen_37:34; 1Ki_21:27; Joe_1:13). The custom of changing the dress in token of mourning was not confined to the Hebrews (comp. Eze_26:16).
Jonah now says, that the Ninevites obtained pardon through their repentance: and this is an example worthy of being observed; for we hence learn for what purpose God daily urges us to repentance, and that is, because he desires to be reconciled to us, and that we should be reconciled to him. The reason then why so many reproofs and threatening resound in our ears, whenever we come to hear the word of God, is this, — that as God seeks to recover us from destruction he speaks sharply to us: in short, whatever the Scripture contains on repentance and the judgment of God ought to be wholly applied for this purpose — to induce us to return into favor with him; for he is ready to be reconciled, and is ever prepared to embrace those who without dissimulation turn to him. We then understand by this example that God has no other object in view, whenever he sharply constrains us, than that he may be reconciled to us, provided only we be our own judges, and thus anticipate his wrath by genuine sorrow of heart, provided we solicit the pardon of our guilt and sin, and loathe ourselves, and confess that we are worthy of perdition.
But Jonah seems to ascribe their deliverance to their repentance, and also to their works: for he says that the Ninevites obtained pardon, because God looked on their works.
We must first see what works he means, that no one may snatch at a single word, as hypocrites are wont to do; and this, as we have said, is very commonly the case under the Papacy. God had respect to their works — what works? not sackcloth, not ashes, not fasting; for Jonah does not now mention these; but he had respect to their works — because they turned from their evil way. We hence see that God was not pacified by outward rites only, by the external profession of repentance, but that he rather looked on the true and important change which had taken place in the Ninevites, for they had become renewed. These then were their works, even the fruits of repentance. And such a change of life could not have taken place, had not the Ninevites been really moved by a sense of God’s wrath. The fear of God then had preceded; and this fear could not have been without faith. We hence see that he chiefly speaks here not of external works, but of the renovation of men.
But if any one objects and says that still this view does not prevent us from thinking that good works reconcile us to God, and that they thus procure our salvation: to this I answer — that the question here is not about the procuring cause of forgiveness. It is certain that God was freely pacified towards the Ninevites, as he freely restores his favor daily to us. Jonah then did not mean that satisfactions availed before God, as though the Ninevites made compensations for their former sins. The words mean no such thing; but he shows it as a fact which followed, that God was pacified, because the Ninevites repented. But we are to learn from other parts of Scripture how God becomes gracious to us, and how we obtain pardon with him, and whether this comes to us for our merits and repentance or whether God himself forgives us freely. Since the whole Scripture testifies that pardon is gratuitously given us, and that God cannot be otherwise propitious to us than by not imputing sins, there is no need, with regard to the present passage, anxiously to inquire why God looked on the works of the Ninevites, so as not to destroy them: for this is said merely as a consequence. Jonah then does not here point out the cause, but only declares that God was pacified towards the Ninevites, as soon as they repented. But we shall speak more on this subject.
And God saw their works – o “He did not then first see them; He did not then first see their sackcloth when they covered themselves with it. He had seen them long before He sent the prophet there, while Israel was slaying the prophets who announced to them the captivity which hung over them. He knew certainly, that if He were to send the prophets far off to the Gentiles with such an announcement, they would hear and repent.” God saw them, looked upon them, approved them, accepted the Ninevites not for time only, but, as many as persevered, for eternity. It was no common repentance. It was the penitence, which our Lord sets forth as the pattern of true repentance before His coming Mat_12:41. “The men of Nineveh shall rise in judgment with this generation and shall condemn it, because they repented at the preaching of Jonah, and behold a greater than Jonah is here.”
They believed in the one God, before unknown to them; they humbled themselves; they were not ashamed to repent publicly; they used great strictness with themselves; but, what Scripture chiefly dwells upon, their repentance was not only in profession, in belief, in outward act, but in the fruit of genuine works of repentance, a changed life out of a changed heart. “God saw their works, that they turned from their evil way.” Their whole way and course of life was evil; they broke off, not the one or other sin only, but all “their” whole “evil way” . “The Ninevites, when about to perish, appoint them a first; in their bodies they chasten their souls with the scourge of humility; they put on hair-cloth for raiment, for ointment they sprinkle themselves with ashes; and, prostrate on the ground, they lick the dust. They publish their guilt with groans and lay open their secret misdeeds. Every age and sex alike applies itself to offices of mourning; all ornament was laid aside; food was refused to the suckling, and the age, as yet unstained by sins of its own, bare the weight of those of others; the mute animals lacked their own food. One cry of unlike natures was heard along the city walls; along all the houses echoed the piteous lament of the mourners; the earth bore the groans of the penitents; heaven itself echoed with their voice. That was fulfilled (Ecclesiasticus 35:17); The prayer of the humble pierceth the clouds.” “The Ninevites were converted to the fear of God, and laying aside the evil of their former life, betook themselves through repentance to virtue and righteousness, with a course of penitence so faithful, that they changed the sentence already pronounced on them by God.” “As soon as prayer took possession of them, it both made them righteous, and immediately corrected the city which had been habituated to live with profligacy and wickedness and lawlessness. More powerful was prayer than the long usage of sin. It filled that city with heavenly laws, and brought along with it temperance, lovingkindness, gentleness and care of the poor. For without these it cannot abide to dwell in the soul. Had any then entered Nineveh, who knew it well before, he would not have known the city; so suddenly had it sprung back from life most foul to godliness.”
And God repented of the evil – This was no real change in God; rather, the object of His threatening was, that He might not do what He threatened. God’s threatenings are conditional, “unless they repent,” as are His promises, “if they endure to the end” Mat_10:22. God said afterward by Jeremiah, Jer_18:7-8. At what “instant I shall speak concerning a nation and concern ing a kingdom, to pluck up and to pull down and to destroy it, if that nation, against whom I had pronounced, turn from their evil, I will repent of the evil that I thought to do unto them.”
“As God is unchangeable in nature, so is He unchangeable in will. For no one can turn back His thoughts. For though some seem to have turned back His thoughts by their deprecations, yet this was His inward thought, that they should be able by their deprecations to turn back His sentence, and that they should receive from Him whereby to avail with Him. When then outwardly His sentence seemeth to be changed, inwardly His counsel is unchanged, because He inwardly ordereth each thing unchangeably, whatsoever is done outwardly with change.” “It is said that He repented, because He changed that which He seemed about to do, to destroy them. In God all things are disposed and fixed, nor doth He anything out of any sudden counsel, which He knew not in all eternity that He should do; but, amid the movements of His creature in time, which He governeth marvelously, He, not moved in time, as by a sudden will, is said to do what He disposed by well-ordered causes in the immutability of His most secret counsel whereby things which come to knowledge, each in its time, He both doth when they are present, and already did when they were future.” “God is subject to no dolor of repentance, nor is He deceived in anything, so as to wish to correct wherein He erred. But as man, when he repenteth willeth to change what he has done, so when thou hearest that God repenteth, look for the change. God, although He calleth it ‘repenting,’ doth it otherwise than thou. Thou doest it, because thou hast erred; He, because He avengeth or freeth. He changed the kingdom of Saul when He “repented.”
And in the very place, where Scripture saith, “He repenteth,” it is said a little after, “He is not a man that He should repent.” When then He changes His works through His unchangeable counsels, He is said to repent, on account of the change, not of the counsel, but of the act.” Augustine thinks that God, by using this language of Himself, which all would feel to be inadequate to His Majesty, meant to teach us that all language is inadequate to His Excellences. “We say these things of God, because we do not find anything better to say. I say, ‘God is just,’ because in man’s words I find nothing’ better, for He is beyond justice. It is said in Scripture, “God is just and loveth justice.” But in Scripture it is said, that “God repenteth,” ‘God is ignorant.’ Who would not start back at this? Yet to that end Scripture condescendeth healthfully to those words from which thou shrinkest, that thou shouldest not think that what thou deemest great is said worthily of Him. If thou ask, ‘what then is said worthily of God? one may perhaps answer, that ‘He is just.’ Another more gifted would say, that this word too is surpassed by His Excellence, and that this too is said, not worthily of Him, although suitably according to man’s capacity: so that, when he would prove out of Scripture that it is written, “God is just,” he may be answered rightly, that the same Scriptures say that “God repenteth;” so, that, as he does not take that in its ordinary meaning, as men are accustomed to repent, so also when He is said to be just, this does not correspond to His supereminence, although Scripture said this also well, that, through these words such as they are, we may be brought to that which is unutterable.” “Why predictest Thou,” asks Chrysostom, “the terrible things which Thou art about to do? That I may not do what I predict. Wherefore also He threatened hell, that He may not bring to hell. Let words terrify you that ye may be freed from the auguish of deeds.” “Men threaten punishment and inflict it. Not so God; but contrariwise, He both predicts and delays, and terrifies with words, and leaves nothing undone, that He may not bring what He threatens. So He did with the Ninevites. He bends His bow, and brandishes His sword, and prepares His spear, and inflicts not the blow. Were not the prophet’s words bow and spear and sharp sword, when he said, “yet forty days and Nineveh shall be destroyed?” But He discharged not the shaft, for it was prepared, not to be shot, but to be laid up.”
“When we read in the Scriptures or hear in Churches the word of God, what do we hear but Christ? “And behold a greater than Jonas is here.” If they repented at the cry of one unknown servant, of what punishment shall not we be worthy, if, when the Lord preacheth, whom we have known through so many benefits heaped upon us, we repent not? To them one day sufficed; to us shall so many months and years not suffice? To them the overthrow of the city was preached, and 40 days were granted for repentance: to us eternal torments are threatened, and we have not half an hour’s life certain.”
And He did it not – God willed rather that His prophecy should seem to fail, than that repentance should fail of its fruit. But it did not indeed fail, for the condition lay expressed in the threat. “Prophecy,” says Aquinas in reference to these cases, “cannot contain anything untrue.” For “prophecy is a certain knowledge impressed on the understanding of the prophets by revelation of God, by means of certain teaching. But truth of knowledge is the same in the Teacher and the taught, because the knowledge of the learner is a likeness of the knowledge of the Teacher. And in this way, Jerome saith that ‘prophecy is a sort of sign of divine foreknowledge.’ The truth then of the prophetic knowledge and utterance must be the same as that of the divine knowledge, in which there can be no error. But although in the Divine Intellect, the two-fold knowledge (of things as they are in themselves, and as they are in their causes,) is always united, it is not always united in the prophetic revelation, because the impression made by the Agent is not always adequate to His power. Whence, sometimes, the prophetic revelation is a sort of impressed likeness of the Divine Foreknowledge, as it beholds the future contingent things in themselves, and these always take place as they are prophesied: as, “Behold, a virgin shall conceive.”
But sometimes the prophetic revelation is an impressed likeness of Divine Foreknowledge, as it knows the order of causes to effects; and then at times the event is other than is foretold, and yet there is nothing untrue in the prophecy. For the meaning of the prophecy is, that the disposition of the inferior causes, whether in nature or in human acts, is such, that such an effect would follow” (as in regard to Hezekiah and Nineveh), “which order of the cause to the effect is sometimes hindered by other things supervening. “The will of God,” he says again, “being the first, universal Cause, does not exclude intermediate causes, by virtue of which certain effects are produced. And since all intermediate causes are not adequate to the power of the First Cause, there are many things in the power, knowledge, and will of God, which are not contained in the order of the inferior causes, as the resurrection of Lazarus. Whence one, looking to the inferior causes, might say, ‘Lazarus will not rise again:’ whereas, looking to the First Divine Cause, he could say, ‘Lazarus will rise again.’ And each of these God willeth, namely, that a thing should take place according to the inferior cause: which shall not take place, according to the superior cause, and conversely. So that God sometimes pronounces that a thing shall be, as far as it is contained in the order of inferior causes (as according to the disposition of nature or deserts), which yet doth not take place, because it is otherwise in the superior Divine Cause. As when He foretold Hezekiah Isa_38:1, “Set thy house in order, for thou, shalt die and not live;” which yet did not take place, because from eternity it was otherwise in the knowledge and will of God which is unchangeable. Whence Gregory saith , ‘though God changeth the thing, His counsel He doth not change.’ When then He saith, “I will repent,” Jer_18:8. it is understood as said metaphorically, for men, when they fulfill not what they threatened, seem to repent.”
Jerome commends this grief of Jonah, and compares it to the holy zeal of Paul when he wished himself to be an anathema for his brethren, (Rom_9:3 🙂 for he denies that he grieved because God had showed mercy to so illustrious a city; but because the conversion of the Gentiles was a certain presage of the destruction of the chosen people. As then Jonah perceived as in a mirror the near ruin of Israel, he on this account grieved, if we believe Jerome: but this notion is extremely frivolous; for, immediately after, God reproved Jonah. What then will the foolish and puerile apology of Jerome avail the Prophet, since God has declared that he acted perversely in grieving? Nay, the dullness of Jerome is thus become evident; (thus indeed do I speak of a man, who, though learned and laborious, has yet deprived himself of that praise, which otherwise he might have justly earned.) His wayward disposition everywhere betrayed itself; and he is evidently disproved in this very context, where Jonah shows clearly that the cause of his grief was another, even this, — that he was unwilling to be deemed a false or a lying prophet: hence was his great grief and his bitterness. And this we see, had God not expressed his mind, was unjust and inconsistent with every reason.
We may then conclude that Jonah was influenced by false zeal when he could not with resignation bear that the city of Nineveh should have been delivered from destruction: and he also himself amplifies the greatness of his sin. He might have said, in one word, that it displeased Jonah; but not satisfied with this simple form, he adds, that he felt great displeasure or grief; and he afterwards adds, that he was very angry. Though the beginning may not have been wrong, yet excess was sinful. But he confesses that there was excess, and want of moderation in his grief: since then he accuses himself in plain words what good is it, by false and invented pretenses, to cover what we clearly see cannot be excused? But that it may be more evident why the deliverance of the city of Nineveh displeased Jonah, let us go on with the context —
It displeased Jonah exceedingly; literally, it was evil to Jonah, a great evil. It was more than mere displeasure which he felt; he was vexed and irritated. The reference is to what is said in the last verse of the preceding chapter, viz. that the predicted destruction was not inflicted. How the knowledge of this reprieve was conveyed to the prophet we am not informed. It probably was made known to him before the expiration of the forty days by Divine communication, in accordance with the saying in Amo_3:7, “Surely the Lord will do nothing, but he revealeth his secret unto his servants the prophets” (see Amo_3:5). Various reasons have been assigned for this displeasure.
(1) Personal pique, lest, his prediction having failed, he should be liable to the charge of being a false prophet.
(2) Zeal for the honour of God, whose knowledge of the future might be discredited among the heathen, when they saw his own servant’s words unfulfilled.
(3) Because he saw in this conversion of Gentiles a token of the ruin of his own people, who remained always hardened and impenitent.
(4) A mistaken patriotism, which could not endure to find mercy extended to a heathen nation which had already proved hostile to Israel and was destined to oppress it still further. This last seem to have been the real ground of his annoyance. So deep was this, that he would gladly have seen the sentence executed even after the city had repented (comp. Amo_3:11, “Should not I spare Nineveh,” i.e. which thou wouldst have me even now destroy?) He was very angry; Septuagint, συνεχύθη, “was confounded.” His vexation increased unto anger.
Jamieson, Fausset, & Brown
Jon_4:1-11. Jonah frets at God’s mercy to Nineveh: Is reproved by the type of a gourd.
angry — literally, “hot,” probably, with grief or vexation, rather than anger [Fairbairn]. How sad the contrast between God’s feeling on the repentance of Nineveh towards Him, and Jonah’s feeling on the repentance of God towards Nineveh. Strange in one who was himself a monument of mercy on his repentance! We all, like him, need the lesson taught in the parable of the unforgiving, though forgiven, debtor (Mat_18:23-35). Jonah was grieved because Nineveh’s preservation, after his denunciation, made him seem a false prophet [Calvin]. But it would make Jonah a demon, not a man, to have preferred the destruction of six hundred thousand men rather than that his prophecy should be set aside through God’s mercy triumphing over judgment. And God in that case would have severely chastised, whereas he only expostulates mildly with him, and by a mode of dealing, at once gentle and condescending, tries to show him his error. Moreover, Jonah himself, in apologizing for his vexation, does not mention the failure of his prediction as the cause: but solely the thought of God’s slowness to anger. This was what led him to flee to Tarshish at his first commission; not the likelihood then of his prediction being falsified; for in fact his commission then was not to foretell Nineveh’s downfall, but simply to “cry against” Nineveh’s “wickedness” as having “come up before God.” Jonah could hardly have been so vexed for the letter of his prediction failing, when the end of his commission had virtually been gained in leading Nineveh to repentance. This then cannot have been regarded by Jonah as the ultimate end of his commission. If Nineveh had been the prominent object with him, he would have rejoiced at the result of his mission. But Israel was the prominent aim of Jonah, as a prophet of the elect people. Probably then he regarded the destruction of Nineveh as fitted to be an example of God’s judgment at last suspending His long forbearance so as to startle Israel from its desperate degeneracy, heightened by its new prosperity under Jeroboam II at that very time, in a way that all other means had failed to do. Jonah, despairing of anything effectual being done for God in Israel, unless there were first given a striking example of severity, thought when he proclaimed the downfall of Nineveh in forty days, that now at last God is about to give such an example; so when this means of awakening Israel was set aside by God’s mercy on Nineveh’s repentance, he was bitterly disappointed, not from pride or mercilessness, but from hopelessness as to anything being possible for the reformation of Israel, now that his cherished hope is baffled. But God’s plan was to teach Israel, by the example of Nineveh, how inexcusable is their own impenitence, and how inevitable their ruin if they persevere. Repenting Nineveh has proved herself more worthy of God’s favor than apostate Israel; the children of the covenant have not only fallen down to, but actually below, the level of a heathen people; Israel, therefore, must go down, and the heathen rise above her. Jonah did not know the important lessons of hope to the penitent, and condemnation to those amidst outward privileges impenitent, which Nineveh’s preservation on repentance was to have for aftertimes, and to all ages. He could not foresee that Messiah Himself was thus to apply that history. A lesson to us that if we could in any particular alter the plan of Providence, it would not be for the better, but for the worse [Fairbairn].
It seems by no means befitting that Jonah should have said here that he prayed; for prayer ought to be calm; but he confesses that his mind was in a state of excitement. As then anger was burning within the Prophet, how could he come before God and utter a suitable prayer? And further, what is the end of praying, but to confess that whatever good is to be obtained resides in God, and is to be sought humbly from him? But Jonah here, on the contrary, expostulates and clamors against God; for he seems in a manner to be contending that he had a just reason for his flight, and also that God ought not to have pardoned the Ninevites. He then accuses God, that he might free himself from every blame. But all this is foreign and remote from what is required in prayer. How then must we understand this passage, in which he says that he prayed? My answer is — that the faithful often in a disturbed state of mind approach God with a desire to pray, and that their prayers are not wholly rejected, though they are not altogether approved and accepted. And hence also it appears more evident how the works of the godly are regarded by God, though they are sprinkled with many stains. Whenever the Papists read that any work has pleased God, they imagine that all was perfection and cleanness: but there is no work which is not infected with some pollution, unless it be purified by a free pardon. This I say is evident to us in this prayer, which was not so rejected by God, as though it retained not the character of prayer: and yet it is certain that Jonah was by no means rightly influenced when he prayed so clamorously, finding fault, as it were, with God, and retaining still some portion of his own obstinacy; for he boasted of his flight. But this flight, as we have stated, was a proof of manifest rebellion, since, by shaking off the yoke, he despised the call of God.
We must therefore acknowledge that there was some piety in this prayer of Jonah, as well as many faults. It was an act of piety that he addressed his complaints to God. For though hypocrites may pray to God, they yet are wholly averse to him, and freely give vent to their bitterness against God: but Jonah, while he here complains, and observes no moderation, but is carried away by a blind and perverse impulse, is yet prepared to submit to God, as we shall hereafter see. This is the reason why he says that he prayed: for he would not have been ashamed to confess any grievous sin of which he might have been conscious. He did not then extenuate his fault by using the word prayer as hypocrites are wont to do, who ever set up some pretenses or veils when they seek to cover their own baseness: such was not the object of Jonah. When therefore he says that he prayed, he declares generally that he did not so speak against God, but that he still retained some seed of piety and obedience in his heart. Jonah then prayed. Hence it follows, as I have before stated, that many of the prayers of the saints are sinful, (vitiosas — faulty) which, when tried by the right rule, deserve to be rejected. But the Lord, according to his own mercy, pardons their defects so that these confused and turbulent prayers yet retain their title and honor.
Now he says, I pray thee, Jehovah is not this what I said? Here Jonah openly declares why he bore so ill the deliverance of Nineveh from destruction, because he was thus found to have been false and lying. But it may seem strange that the Prophet had more regard for his own reputation than for the glory of God; for in this especially shines forth the glory of God, that he is reconcilable as soon as men return to the right way, and that he offers himself to them as a father. Ought then Jonah to have preferred his own honor to the glory of God? I answer, — that the Prophet was not so devoted to himself, but that a concern for the glory of God held the first place in his soul; this is certain. For he connected, and justly so, his own ministry with the glory of God; as it proceeded from his authority. When Jonah entered Nineveh, he cried not as a private man, but avowed that he was sent by God. Now if the preaching of Jonah is found to be false, reproach will recoil on the author of his call, even on God. Jonah then no doubt could not bear that the name of God should be exposed to the reproaches of the Gentiles, as though he had spoken dissemblingly, now opening hell, then heaven: and there is nothing so contrary to the glory of God as such a dissimulation. We hence see why Jonah was seized with so much grief; he did not regard himself; but as he saw that an occasion would be given to ungodly blasphemers, if God changed his purpose, or if he did not appear consistent with his word, he felt much grieved.
But however specious this reason may be, we yet learn of how much avail are good intentions with God. Whatever good intention can be imagined, it was certainly a good intention in Jonah, worthy of some praise, that he preferred dying a hundred times rather than to hear these reproachful blasphemies — that the word of God was a mere sport, that his threatening were no better than fables, that God made this and that pretense, and transformed himself into various characters. This was certainly the very best intention, if it be estimated by our judgment. But we shall presently see that it was condemned by the mouth of God himself. Let us hence learn not to arrogate to ourselves judgment in matters which exceed our capacities, but to subject our minds to God, and to seek of him the spirit of wisdom. For whence was it that Jonah so fretted against God, except that he burned with a desire for his glory? But his zeal was inconsiderate, for he would be himself the judge and arbitrator, while, on the contrary, he ought to have subjected himself altogether to God. And the same rule ought to be observed also by us. When we see many things happening through a Divine interposition, that is, through the secret providence of God, and things which expose his name to the blasphemies of the ungodly, we ought indeed to feel grief; but in the meantime let us ask of the Lord to turn at length these shameful reproaches to his own glory; and let us by no means raise an uproar, as many do, who immediately begin to contend with God, when things are otherwise ordered than what they wish or think to be useful. Let us learn by the example of Jonah not to measure God’s judgments by our own wisdom, but to wait until he turns darkness into light. And at the same time let us learn to obey his commands, to follow his call without any disputing: though heaven and earth oppose us, though many things occur which may tend to avert us from the right course, let us yet continue in this resolution, — that nothing is better for us than to obey God, and to go on in the way which he points out to us.
But by saying that he hastened to go to Tarshish, he does not altogether excuse his flight; but he now more clearly explains, that he did not shun trouble or labor, that he did not run away from a contest or danger, but that he only avoided his call, because he felt a concern for the glory of God. The import, then, of Jonah’s words is, — that he makes God here, as it were, his witness and judge, that he did not withdraw himself from obedience to God through fear of danger, or through idleness, or through a rebellious spirit, or through any other evil motive, but only because he was unwilling that his holy name should be profaned, and would not of his own accord be the minister of that preaching, which would be the occasion of opening the mouth of ungodly and profane men, and of making them to laugh at God himself. Since then I cannot hope, he says, for any other issue to my preaching than to make the Gentiles to deride God, yea, and to revile his holy name, as though he were false and deceitful, I chose rather to flee to Tarshish. Then Jonah does not here altogether clear himself; for otherwise that chastisement, by which he ought to have been thoroughly subdued, must have failed in its effect. He had been lately restored from the deep, and shall we say that he now so extols himself against God, that he wishes to appear wholly free from every blame? This certainly would be very strange: but, as I have said, he declares to God, that he fled at the beginning for no other reason, but because he did not expect any good fruit from his preaching, but, on the contrary, feared what now seemed to take place, — that God’s name would be ridiculed.
For he immediately adds,For I know that thou art a God full of grace, and merciful, slow to wrath, etc. It is a wonder that Jonah withdrew from his lawful call; for he knew that God was merciful, and there is no stronger stimulant than this to stir us on, when God is pleased to use our labor: and we know that no one can with alacrity render service to God except he be allured by his paternal kindness. Hence no one will be a willing Prophet or Teacher, except he is persuaded that God is merciful. Jonah then seems here to reason very absurdly when he says, that he withdrew himself from his office, because he knew that God was merciful. But how did he know this? By the law of God; for the passage is taken from Exo_33:1, where is described that remarkable and memorable vision, in which God offered to Moses a view of himself: and there was then exhibited to the holy Prophet, as it were, a living representation of God, and there is no passage in the law which expresses God’s nature more to the life; for God was then pleased to make himself known in a familiar way to his servant.
As then Jonah had been instructed in the doctrine of the law, how could he discharge the office of a Prophet among his own people? And why did not this knowledge discourage his mind, when he was called to the office of a Teacher? It is then certain that this ought to be confined to the sort of preaching, such as we have before explained. Jonah would not have shrunk from God’s command, had he been sent to the Ninevites to teach what he had been ordered to do among the chosen people. Had then a message been committed to Jonah, to set forth a gracious and merciful God to the Ninevites, he would not have hesitated a moment to offer his service. But as this express threatening, Nineveh shall be destroyed, was given him in charge, he became confounded, and sought at length to flee away rather than to execute such a command. Why so? Because he thus reasoned with himself, “I am to denounce a near ruin on the Ninevites; why does God command me to do this, except to invite these wretched men to repentance? Now if they repent, will not God be instantly ready to forgive them? He would otherwise deny his own nature: God cannot be unlike himself, he cannot put off that disposition of which he has once testified to Moses. Since God, then, is reconcilable, if the Ninevites will return to the right way and flee to him, he will instantly embrace them: thus I shall be found to be false in my preaching.”
We now then perceive how this passage of Jonah is to be understood, when he says that he fled beyond the sea, at least that he attempted to do so, because he knew that God was gracious; for he would not have deprived God of his service, had not this contrariety disturbed and discouraged his mind, “What! I shall go there as God’s ambassador, in a short time I shall be discovered to be a liar: will not this reproach be cast on the name of God himself? It is therefore better for me to be silent, than that God, the founder of my call, should be ridiculed.” We see that Jonah had a distinct regard to that sort of preaching which we have already referred to. And it hence appears that Jonah gave to the Ninevites more than he thought; for he supposed that he was sent by God, only that the Ninevites might know that they were to be destroyed: but he brought deliverance to them; and this indeed he partly suspected or knew before; for he retained this truth — that God cannot divest himself of his mercy, for he remains ever the same. But when he went forth to execute the duty enjoined on him he certainly had nothing to expect but the entire ruin of the city Nineveh. God in the meantime employed his ministry for a better end and purpose. There is indeed no doubt but that he exhorted the Ninevites to repentance; but his own heart was as it were closed up, so that he could not allow them the mercy of God. We hence see that Jonah was seized with perplexities, so that he could not offer deliverance to the Ninevites, and it was yet offered them by God through his instrumentality.
We now then understand how God often works by his servants; for he leads them as the blind by his own hand where they think not. Thus, when he stirs up any one of us, we are sometimes ὀλιγόπίστοι — very weak in faith; we think that our labor will be useless and without any fruit, or at least attended with small success. But the Lord will let us see what we could not have expected. Such was the case with Jonah; for when he came to Nineveh, he had no other object but to testify respecting the destruction of the city; but the Lord was pleased to make him the minister of salvation. God then honored with remarkable success the teaching of Jonah, while he was unworthy of so great an honor; for, as we have already said, he closed up in a manner every access to the blessing of God. We now then apprehend the meaning of this passage, in which Jonah says that he fled from the call of God, because he knew that God was ready to be gracious and merciful.
I come now to the great things which are said of God. חנון, chenun, properly means a disposition to show favor, as though it was said that God is gratuitously benevolent; we express the same in our language by the terms, benin, gratieux, debonnaire. God then assumes to himself this character; and then he says,merciful; and he adds this that we may know that he is always ready to receive us, if indeed we come to him as to the fountain of goodness and mercy. But the words which follow express more clearly his mercy, and show how God is merciful, — even because he is abundant in compassion and slow to wrath. God then is inclined to kindness; and though men on whom he looks are unworthy, he is yet merciful; and this he expresses by the word רחום, rechum
It is at the same time necessary to add these two sentences that he is abundant in compassion and slow to wrath, — why so? For we ever seek in ourselves some cause for God’s favor; when we desire God to be kind to us, we inquire in ourselves why he ought to favor us: and when we find nothing, all the faith we before had respecting God’s grace at once vanishes. The Lord therefore does here recall us to himself, and testifies that he is kind and merciful, inasmuch as he is abundant in compassion; as though he said, “I have in myself a sufficient reason, why I should be accessible to you, and why I should receive you and show you favor.” Hence the goodness of God alone ought to be regarded by us, when we desire his mercy, and when we have need of pardon. It is as though he had said, that he is not influenced by any regard for our worthiness, and that it is not for merits that he is disposed to mercy when we have sinned, and that he receives us into favor; but that he does all this because his goodness is infinite and inexhaustible. And it is also added, that he is slow to wrath This slowness to wrath proves that God provides for the salvation of mankind, even when he is provoked by their sins. Though miserable men provoke God daily against themselves, he yet continues to have a regard for their salvation. He is therefore slow to wrath, which means, that the Lord does not immediately execute such punishment as they deserve who thus provoke him. We now then see what is the import of these words.
Let us now return to this — that Jonah thrust himself from his office, because he knew that God was slow to wrath, and merciful, and full of grace: he even had recourse to this reasoning, “Either God will change his nature, or spare the Ninevites if they repent: and it may be that they will repent; and then my preaching will be found to be false; for God will not deny himself, but will afford an example of his goodness and mercy in forgiving this people.” We may again remark, that we act perversely, when we follow without discrimination our own zeal: it is indeed a blind fervor which then hurries us on. Though then a thousand inconsistencies meet us when God commands any thing, our eyes ought to be closed to them, and we ought ever to follow the course of our calling; for he will so regulate all events, that all things shall redound to his glory. It is not for us in such a case to be over-wise; but the best way is, to leave in God’s hand the issue of things. It becomes us indeed to fear and to feel concerned; but our anxiety ought, at the same time, to be in submission to God, so that it is enough for us to pray. This is the import of the whole.
Now as to what he says that God repents of the evil, we have already explained this: it means, that though God has already raised his hand, he will yet withdraw it, as soon as he sees any repentance in men; for evil here is to be taken for punishment. The Lord then, though he might justly inflict extreme punishment on men, yet suspends his judgment, and when they come to him in true penitence he is instantly pacified. This is God’s repentance; he is said to repent when he freely forgives whatever punishment or evil men have deserved whenever they loathe themselves. It now follows —
We here see how angry Jonah was in his zeal: for this prayer cannot certainly be ascribed to his faith, as some think, who say that Jonah took a flight as it were in his soul to heaven, when he made this prayer, as though he dreaded not death, but having been divested of all fear, being free and disengaged, he presented himself to God. I do not think that the mind of Jonah was so heroic. There is indeed no doubt, as I have already said, but that he still retained some seed of piety; and this, I said, is sufficiently proved by the word prayer; for if Jonah had burst out in the strain of one in despair, it would not have been a prayer. Since then he prayed by thus speaking, it follows that it was not the cry of despair, but of too much displeasure, which Jonah did not restrain. In short, this prayer proceeded from a pious and holy zeal; but Jonah sinned as to its measure or excess; for he had in a manner forgotten himself, when he preferred death to life
Thou Jehovah, he says, take me away. He was first not free from blame in hastily wishing to die; for it is not in our power to quit this world; but we ought with submissive minds to continue in it as long as God keeps us in the station in which we are placed. whosoever, then, hastens to death with so great an ardor no doubt offends God. Paul knew that death was desirable in his case, (Phi_1:22;) but when he understood that his labor would be useful to the Church, he was contented with his lot, and preferred the will of God to his own will; and thus he was prepared both to live and to die, as it seemed good to God. It was otherwise with Jonah, “Now,” he says, “take away my life.” This was one fault; but the other was, — that he wished to die, because God spared the Ninevites. Though he was touched with some grief, he ought not yet to have gone so far as this, or rather to rush on, so as to desire death on account of the weariness of his life.
But we hence learn to what extremes men are carried, when once they give loose reins to inconsiderate zeal. The holy Prophet Jonah, who had been lately tamed and subdued by so heavy a chastisements is now seized and carried away by a desire to die, — and why? because he thought that it was hard that he denounced destruction on the Ninevites, and that still their city remained safe. This example ought to check us, that we express not too boldly our opinion respecting the doings of God, but, on the contrary, hold our thoughts captive, lest any presumption of this kind be manifested by us; for there is none of us who does not condemn Jonah, as also he condemned himself; for he does not here narrate his own praise, but means to show how foolishly he had judged of God’s work. Jonah then confesses his own folly; and therefore his experience is to us an evidence that there is nothing more preposterous than for us to settle this or that according to our own wisdom, since this is alone true wisdom, to submit ourselves wholly to the will of God.
Now if any one raises a question here, — whether it is lawful to desire death; the answer may be briefly this, — that death is not to be desired on account of the weariness of life; this is one thing: and by the weariness of life I understand that state of mind, when either poverty, or want, or disgrace, or any such thing, renders life hateful to us: but if any, through weariness on account of his sins and hatred to them, regrets his delay on earth, and can adopt the language of Paul,
“Miserable am I, who will free me from the body of this death!” (Rom_7:24,)
— he entertains a holy and pious wish, provided the submission, to which I have referred, be added so that this feeling may not break forth in opposition to the will of God; but that he who has such a desire may still suffer himself to be detained by his hand as long as he pleases. And further, when any one wishes to die, because he fears for himself as to the future, or dreads to undergo any evil, he also struggles against God; and such was the fault of Jonah; for he says that death was better to him than life, — and why? because the Lord had spared the Ninevites. We hence see how he was blinded, yea, carried away by a mad impulse to desire death.
Let us then learn so to love this life as to be prepared to lay it down whenever the Lord pleases: let us also learn to desire death, but so as to live to the Lord, and to proceed in the race set before use until he himself lead us to its end. Now follows the reproof of God —
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, Deu_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 Rom_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 .
There is no doubt but that God by thus reproving Jonah condemns his intemperate warmth. But since God alone is a fit judge of man’s conduct, there is no reason for us to boast that we are influenced by good intentions; for there is nothing more fallacious than our own balances. When therefore we weigh facts, deeds, and thoughts by our own judgment, we deceive ourselves. Were any disposed rhetorically to defend the conduct of Jonah, he might certainly muster up many specious pretenses; and were any one inclined to adduce excuses for Jonah, he might be made to appear to us altogether innocent: but though the whole world absolved him, what would it avail, since he was condemned by the mouth of God himself, who alone, as I have already stated, is the judge? We ought then to feel assured, that Jonah had done foolishly, even if no reason was apparent to us; for the authority of the Supreme Judge ought to be more than sufficient.
Now God expressly condemns his wrath. Had Jonah modestly expostulated, and unburdened his griefs into the bosom of God, it would have been excusable; though his ardor would not have been free from blame, it might yet have been borne with. But now, when he is angry, it is past endurance; for wrath, as one says, is but short madness; and then it blinds the perceptions of men, it disturbs all the faculties of the soul. God then does not here in a slight manner condemn Jonah, but he shows how grievously he had fallen by allowing himself to become thus angry. We must at the same time remember, that Jonah had sinned not only by giving way to anger; he might have sinned, as we have said, without being angry. But God by this circumstance — that he thus became turbulent, enhances his sin. And it is certainly a most unseemly thing, when a mean creature rises up against God, and in a boisterous spirit contends with him: this is monstrous; and Jonah was in this state of mind.
We hence see why an express mention is made of his anger, — God thus intended to bring conviction home to Jonah, that he might no more seek evasions. Had he simply said, “Why! how is it that thou dost not leave to me the supreme right of judging? If such is my will, why dost not thou submissively acknowledge that what I do is rightly done? Is it thy privilege to be so wise, as to dictate laws to me, or to correct my decisions?” — had the Lord thus spoken, there might have remained still some excuse; Jonah might have said, “Lord, I cannot restrain my grief, when I see thy name so profaned by unseemly reproaches; can I witness this with a calm mind?” He might thus have still sought some coverings for his grief; but when the Lord brought forward his anger, he must have been necessarily silenced; for what could be found to excuse Jonah, when he thus perversely rebelled, as I have said, against God, his Judge and Maker? We now then understand why God expressly declares that Jonah did not do well in being thus angry.
But I wonder how it came into Jerome’s mind to say that Jonah is not here reproved by the Lord, but that something of an indifferent kind is mentioned. He was indeed a person who was by nature a sophister, (cavillator — a caviler;) and thus he wantonly trifled with the work of falsifying Scripture; he made no conscience of perverting passages of holy writ. As, for instance, when he writes about marriage, he says that they do not ill who marry, and yet that they do not well. What a sophistry is this, and how vapid! So also on this place, “God,” he says, “does not condemn Jonah, neither did he intend to reprove his sin; but, on the contrary, Jonah brings before us here the person of Christ, who sought death that the whole world might be saved; for when alive he could not do good to his own nation, he could not save his own kindred; he therefore preferred to devote himself and his life for the redemption of the world.” These are mere puerilities; and thus the whole meaning of this passage, as we clearly see, is distorted. But the question is more emphatical than if God had simply said, “Thou hast sinned by being thus angry;” for an affirmative sentence has not so much force as that which is in the form of a question.
God then not only declares as a Judge that Jonah had not done well, but he also draws from him his own confession, as though he said, “Though thou art a judge in thine own cause, thou can’t not yet make a cover for thy passion, for thou art beyond measure angry.” For when he says לך, la k, with, or, in thyself, he reminds Jonah to examine his own heart, as though he said, “Look on thyself as in a mirror: thou wilt see what a boisterous sea is thy soul, being seized as thou art by so mad a rage.” We now then perceive not only the plain sense of the passage, but also the emphasis, which is contained in the questions which Jerome has turned to a meaning wholly contrary. I will not proceed farther; for what remains will be sufficient for to-morrow’s lecture.
Then said the Lord, dost thou well to be angry? A mild and gentle reproof this; which shows him to be a God gracious and merciful, and slow to anger; he might have answered Jonah’s passionate wish, and struck him dead at once, as Ananias and Sapphira were; but he only puts this question, and leaves it with him to consider of. Some render it, “is doing good displeasing to thee?” art thou angry at that, because I do good to whom I will? so R. Japhet, as Aben Ezra observes, though he disapproves of it: according to this the sense is, is doing good to the Ninevites, showing mercy to them upon their repentance, such an eyesore to thee? is thine eye evil, because mine is good? so the Scribes and Pharisees indeed were displeased with Christ for conversing with publicans and sinners, which was for the good of their souls; and the elder brother was angry with his father for receiving the prodigal; and of the same cast Jonah seems to be, at least at this time, being under the power of his corruptions. There seems to be an emphasis upon the word “thou”; dost “thou” well to be angry? what, “thou”, a creature, be angry with his Creator; a worm, a potsherd of the earth, with the God of heaven and earth? what, “thou”, that hast received mercy thyself in such an extraordinary manner, and so lately, and be angry at mercy shown to others? what, “thou”, a prophet of the Lord, that should have at heart the good of immortal souls, and be displeased that thy ministry has been the means of the conversion and repentance of so many thousands? is there any just cause for all this anger? no, it is a causeless one; and this is put to the conscience of Jonah; he himself is made judge in his own cause; and it looks as if, upon self-reflection and reconsideration, when his passions cooled and subsided, that he was self-convicted and self-condemned, since no answer is returned. The Targum is, “art thou exceeding angry?” and so other interpreters, Jewish and Christian, understand it of the vehemency of his anger.
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. Exo_32:19. God secretly suggests to Jonah that his anger was not right, as our Lord instructed Luk_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? ‘“
It may be here doubted whether Jonah had waited till the forty days had passed, and whether that time had arrived; for if we say that he went out of the city before the fortieth day, another question arises, how could he have known what would be? for we have not yet found that he had been informed by any oracular communication. But the words which we have noticed intimate that it was then known by the event itself, that God had spared the city from destruction; for in the last lecture it was said, that God had repented of the evil he had declared and had not done it. It hence appears that Jonah had not gone out of the city until the forty days had passed. But there comes again another question, what need had he to sit near the city, for it was evident enough that the purpose of God had changed, or at least that the sentence Jonah had pronounced was changed? he ought not then to have seated himself near the city as though he was doubtful.
But I am inclined to adopt the conjecture, that Jonah went out after the fortieth day, for the words seem to countenance it. With regard to the question, why he yet doubted the event, when time seemed to have proved it, the answer may be readily given: though indeed the forty days had passed, yet Jonah stood as it were perplexed, because he could not as yet feel assured that what he had before proclaimed according to God’s command would be without its effect. I therefore doubt not but that Jonah was held perplexed by this thought, “Thou hast declared nothing rashly; how can it then be, that what God wished to be proclaimed by his own command and in his own name, should be now in vain, with no corresponding effect?” Since then Jonah had respect to God’s command, he could not immediately extricate himself from his doubts. This then was the cause why he sat waiting: it was, because he thought that though God’s vengeance was suspended, his preaching would not yet be in vain, but that the ruin of the city was at hand. This therefore was the reason why he still waited after the prefixed time, as though the event was still doubtful.
Now that this may be more evident, let us bear in mind that the purpose of God was hidden, so that Jonah understood not all the parts of his vocation. God, then, when he threatened ruin to the Ninevites, designed to speak conditionally: for what could have been the benefit of the word, unless this condition was added, — that the Ninevites, if they repented, should be saved? There would otherwise have been no need of a Prophet; the Lord might have executed the judgment which the Ninevites deserved, had he not intended to regard their salvation. If any one objects by saying that a preacher was sent to render them inexcusable, — this would have been unusual; for God had executed all his other judgments without any previous denunciation, I mean, with regard to heathen nations: it was the peculiar privilege of the Church that the Prophets ever denounced the punishments which were at hand; but to other nations God made it known that he was their Judge, though he did not send Prophets to warn them. There was then included a condition, with regard to God’s purpose, when he commanded the Ninevites to be terrified by so express a declaration. But Jonah was, so to speak, too literal a teacher; for he did not include what he ought to have done, — that there was room for repentance, and that the city would be saved, if the Ninevites repented of their wickedness. Since then Jonah had learned only one half of his office, it is no wonder that his mind was still in doubt, and could not feel assured as to the issue; for he had nothing but the event, God had not yet made known to him what he would do. Let us now proceed —
Keil & Delitzsch
Jonah, provoked at the sparing of Nineveh, prayed in his displeasure to Jehovah to take his soul from him, as his proclamation had not been fulfilled (Jon_4:1-3). וַיֵּרַע אֶל י, it was evil for Jonah, i.e., it vexed, irritated him, not merely it displeased him, for which יֵרַע בְּעֵינָיו is generally used. The construction with אֶל resembles that with לְ in Neh_2:10; Neh_13:8. רָעָה גְדוֹלָה, “a great evil,” serves simply to strengthen the idea of יֵרַע. The great vexation grew even to anger (יִחַר לוֹ; cf. Gen_30:2, etc.). The fact that the predicted destruction of Nineveh had not taken place excited his discontent and wrath. And he tried to quarrel with God, by praying to Jehovah.
(Note: Calvin observes upon this: “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, as we shall presently see. This is the reason why he is said to have prayed.”)
“Alas (אָנָּא as in Jon_1:14), Jehovah, was not this my word (i.e., did I not say so to myself) when I was still in my land (in Palestine)?” What his word or his thought then was, he does not say; but it is evident from what follows: viz., that Jehovah would not destroy Nineveh, if its inhabitants repented. ‛Al-kēn, therefore, sc. because this was my saying. קִדַּמְתִּי, προέφθασα, I prevented to flee to Tarshish, i.e., I endeavoured, by a flight to Tarshish, to prevent, sc. what has now taken place, namely, that Thou dost not fulfil Thy word concerning Nineveh, because I know that thou art a God gracious and merciful, etc. (compare Exo_34:6 and Exo_32:14, as in Joe_2:13).
The prayer which follows, “Take my life from me,” calls to mind the similar prayer of Elijah in 1Ki_19:4; but the motive assigned is a different one. Whilst Elijah adds, “for I am not better than my fathers,” Jonah adds, “for death is better to me than life.” This difference must be distinctly noticed, as it brings out the difference in the state of mind of the two prophets. In the inward conflict that had come upon Elijah he wished for death, because he did not see the expected result of his zeal for the Lord of Sabaoth; in other words, it was from spiritual despair, caused by the apparent failure of his labours. Jonah, on the other hand, did not wish to live any longer, because God had not carried out His threat against Nineveh. His weariness of life arose, not like Elijah’s from stormy zeal for the honour of God and His kingdom, but from vexation at the non-fulfilment of his prophecy. This vexation was not occasioned, however, by offended dignity, or by anxiety or fear lest men should regard him as a liar or babbler (ψευδοεπής τε καὶ βωμολόχος, Cyr. Al.; ψεύστης, Theodoret; vanus et mendax, Calvin and others); nor was he angry, as Calvin supposes, because he associated his office with the honour of God, and was unwilling that the name of God should be exposed to the scoffing of the heathen, quasi de nihilo terreret, or “because he saw that it would furnish material for impious blasphemies if God changed His purpose, or if He did not abide by His word;” but, as Luther observes (in his remarks on Jonah’s flight), “he was hostile to the city of Nineveh, and still held a Jewish and carnal view of God” (for the further development of this view, see the remarks above, at p. 265). That this was really Jonah’s view, is proved by Luther from the fact that God reproves his displeasure and anger in these words, “Should I not spare Nineveh?” etc. (Jon_4:11). “He hereby implies that Jonah was displeased at the fact that God had spared the city, and was angry because He had not destroyed it as he had preached, and would gladly have seen.” Offended vanity or unintelligent zeal for the honour of God would have been reproved by God in different terms from those in which Jonah was actually reproved, according to the next verse (Jon_4:4), where Jehovah asks the prophet, “Is thine anger justly kindled?” הֵיטֵב is adverbial, as in Deu_9:21; Deu_13:15, etc., bene, probe, recte, δικαίως (Symm.).
Then Jonah went out of Nineveh, sat down on the east of the city, where Nineveh was bounded by the mountains, from which he could overlook the city, made himself a hut there, and sat under it in the shade, till he saw what would become of the city, i.e., what fate would befal it (Jon_4:5). This verse is regarded by many commentators as a supplementary remark, וַיֵּצֵא, with the verbs which follow, being rendered in the pluperfect: “Jonah had gone out of the city,” etc. We grant that this is grammatically admissible, but it cannot be shown to be necessary, and is indeed highly improbable. If, for instance, Jonah went out of Nineveh before the expiration of the forty days, to wait for the fulfilment of his prophecy, in a hut to the east of the city, he could not have been angry at its non-fulfilment before the time arrived, nor could God have reproved him for his anger before that time. The divine correction of the dissatisfied prophet, which is related in Jon_4:6-11, cannot have taken place till the forty days had expired. But this correction is so closely connected with Jonah’s departure from the city and settlement to the east of it, to wait for the final decision as to its fate (Jon_4:5), that we cannot possibly separate it, so as to take the verbs in Jon_4:5 as pluperfects, or those in Jon_4:6-11 as historical imperfects. There is no valid ground for so forced an assumption as this. As the expression וַיֵּרַע אֶל יוֹנָה in Jon_4:1, which is appended to וְלֹא עָשָׁה in Jon_3:10, shows that Jonah did not become irritated and angry till after God had failed to carry out His threat concerning Nineveh, and that it was then that he poured out his discontent in a reproachful prayer to God (Jon_4:2), there is nothing whatever to force us to the assumption that Jonah had left Nineveh before the fortieth day.
(Note: There is no hold in the narrative for Marck’s conjecture, that God had already communicated to him His resolution not to destroy Nineveh, because of the repentance of the people, and that this was the reason for his anger.)
Jonah had no reason to be afraid of perishing with the city. If he had faith, which we cannot deny, he could rely upon it that God would not order him, His own servant, to perish with the ungodly, but when the proper time arrived, would direct him to leave the city. But when forty days elapsed, and nothing occurred to indicate the immediate or speedy fall of the city, and he was reproved by God for his anger on that account in these words, “Art thou rightly or justly angry?” the answer from God determined him to leave the city and wait outside, in front of it, to see what fate would befal it. For since this answer still left it open, as a possible thing, that the judgment might burst upon the city, Jonah interpreted it in harmony with his own inclination, as signifying that the judgment was only postponed, not removed, and therefore resolved to wait in a hut outside the city, and watch for the issue of the whole affair.
(Note: Theod. Mops. correctly observes, that “when he reflected upon the greatness of the threat, he imagined that something might possibly occur after all.” And Calvin better still, that “although forty days had passed, Jonah stood as if fastened to the spot, because he could not yet believe that what he had proclaimed according to the command of God would fail to be effected …. This was the cause, therefore, of his still remaining, viz., because he thought, that although the punishment from God had been suspended, yet his preaching had surely not been in vain, but the destruction of the city would take place. This was the reason for his waiting on after the time fixed, as though the result were still doubtful.”)
But his hope was disappointed, and his remaining there became, quite contrary to his intention, an occasion for completing his correction.
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.”
Before I proceed to treat on the contents of these verses, I will say a few things on the word קיקיון, kikiun; for there were formerly some disputes respecting this word. Some render it, a gourd; (eucurbitam) others think it to have been a cucumber. Free conjectures are commonly made respecting obscure and unknown things. However, the first rendering has been the received one: and Augustine says, that a tumult arose in some church, when the Bishop rend the new interpretation of Jerome, who said that it was the ivy. Those men were certainly thoughtless and foolish who were so offended for a matter so trifling; for they ought to have more carefully inquired which version was the best and most correct. And Augustine did not act so very wisely in this affair; for superstition so possessed him, that he was unwilling that the received version of the Old Testament should be changed. He indeed willingly allowed Jerome to translate the New Testament from the Greek original; but he would not have the Old Testament to be touched; for he entertained a suspicion of the Jews, — that as they were the most inveterate enemies of the faith, they would have tried to falsify the Law and the Prophets. As then Augustine had this suspicion, he preferred retaining the common version. And Jerome relates that he was traduced at Rome, because he had rendered it ivy instead of gourd; but he answered Augustine in a very severe and almost an angry manner; and he inveighed in high displeasure against some Cornelius and another by the name of Asinius Polio, who had accused him at Rome as one guilty of sacrilege, because he had changed this word. I cannot allege in excuse, that they peevishly rejected what was probable. But as to the thing itself, I would rather retain in this place the word gourd, or cucumber, than to cause any disturbance by a thing of no moment. Jerome himself confesses, that it was not ivy; for he says, that it was a kind of a shrub, and that it grows everywhere in Syria; he says that it was a shrub supported by its own stem, which is not the case with ivy; for the ivy, except it cleaves to a wall or to a tree, creeps on the ground. It could not then have been the ivy; and he ought not to have so translated it. He excuses himself and says, that if he had put down the Hebrew word, many would have dreamt it to have been a beast or a serpent. He therefore wished to put down something that was known. But he might also have caused many doubts: “Why! ivy is said to have ascended over the head of Jonah, and to have afforded him a shade; how could this have been?” Now I wonder why Jerome says in one place that the shrub was called in his time Cicion in the Syrian language; and he says in another place in his Commentaries, that it was called in the same language Elkeroa; which we see to be wholly different from the word קיקיון, kikiun. Now when he answered Augustine I doubt not but that he dissembled; for he knew that Augustine did not understand Hebrew: he therefore trifled with him as with a child, because he was ignorant. It seems to have been a new gloss, I know not what, invented at the time for his own convenience: I doubt not but that he at the moment formed the word, as there is some affinity between קיקיון, kikiun, and cicion. However it may have been, whether it was a gourd or a shrub, it is not necessary to dispute much how it could have grown so soon into so great a size. Jerome says, that it was a shrub with many leaves, and that it grew to the size of a vine. Be it so; but this shrub grows not in one day, nor in two, nor in three days.
It must have therefore been something extraordinary. Neither the ivy, nor the gourd, nor any shrub, nor any tree, could have grown so quickly as to afford a cover to the head of Jonah: nor did this shrub alone give shelter to Jonah’s head; for it is more probable, that it was derived also from the booth which he had made for himself. Jonah then not only sheltered himself under the shrub, but had the booth as an additional cover, when he was not sufficiently defended from the heat of the sun. Hence God added this shrub to the shade afforded by the booth: for in those regions, as we know, the sun is very hot; and further, it was, as we shall see, an extraordinary heat.
I wished to say thus much of the word ivy; and I have spoken more than I intended; but as there have been contentions formerly on the subject, I wished to notice what may be satisfactory even to curious readers. I come now to what is contained in this passage.
Jonah tells us that a gourds or a cucumber, or an ivy, was prepared by the Lord. There is no doubt but that this shrub grew in a manner unusual, that it might be a cover to the booth of Jonah. So I view the passage. But God, we know, approaches nature, whenever he does anything beyond what nature is: this is not indeed always the case; but we generally find that God so works, as that he exceeds the course of nature, and yet from nature he does not wholly depart. For when in the desert he intended to collect together a great quantity of quails, that he might give meat to the people, he raised wind from the east, (Num_11:31.) How often the winds blew without bringing such an abundance of birds? It was therefore a miracle: but yet God did not wholly cast aside the assistance of nature; hence he made use of the wind; and yet the wind could not of itself bring these birds. So also in this place, God had chosen, I have no doubt, a herb, which soon ascended to a great height, and yet far surpassed the usual course of nature. In this sense, then, it is that God is said to have prepared the קיקיון, kikiun, and to have made it to ascend over Jonah’s head, that it might be for a shade to his head and free him from his distress.
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.
But it is said afterwards that a worm was prepared. We see here also, that what seemed to happen by chance was yet directed by the hidden providence of God. Should any one say, that what is here narrated does not commonly happen, but what once happened; to this I answer, — that though God then designed to exhibit a wonderful example, worthy of being remembered, it is yet ever true that the gnawing even of worms are directed by the counsel of God, so that neither a herb nor a tree withers independently of his purpose. The same truth is declared by Christ when he says, that without the Father’s appointment the sparrows fall not on the ground, (Mat_10:29.) Thus much as to the worm.
Prepared (see note on Jon_4:6). A worm. Either a single worm which punctured the stem and caused the plant to wither, or the word is used collectively, as in Deu_28:39, for “worms.” A single warm night, with a moist atmosphere, will suffice to produce a host of caterpillars, which in an incredibly short time strip a plant of all its leaves. When the morning rose. At the very earliest dawn, before the actual rising of the sun (comp. Jdg_9:33). Jonah seems to have enjoyed the shelter of the gourd one whole day. The withering of the plant came about in a natural way, but was ordered by God at a certain time in order to give Jonah the intended lesson.
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.
It is now added, that when the sun arose the day following, a wind was prepared. We here learn the same thing, — that winds do not of themselves rise, or by chance, but are stirred up by a Divine power. There may indeed be found causes in nature why now the air is tranquil, and then it is disturbed by winds; but God’s purpose regulates all these intermediate causes; so that this is ever true — that nature is not some blind impulse, but a law settled by the will of God. God then ever regulates by his own counsel and hand whatever happens. The only difference is, that his works which flow in the usual course have the name of nature; and they are miracles and retain not the name of nature, when God changes their wonted course; but yet they all proceed from God as their author. Therefore with regard to this wind, we must understand that it was not usual or common; and yet that winds are daily no less stirred up by God’s providence than this wind of which Jonah speaks. But God wrought then, so to speak, beyond the usual course of nature, though he daily preserves the regular order of nature itself.
Let us now see why this whole narrative has been set down. Jonah confesses that he rejoiced with great joy, when he was sheltered from the extreme heat of the sun: but when the shrub withered, he was touched with so much grief that he wished to die. There is nothing superfluous here; for Jonah shows, with regard to his joy and his grief, how tender he was and how susceptible of both. Jonah here confesses his own sensibility, first by saying that he greatly rejoiced, and then by saying that he was so much grieved for the withered shrub, that through weariness of life he instantly desired death. There is then here an ingenuous confession of weakness; for Jonah in a very simple manner has mentioned both his joy and his grief. But he has distinctly expressed the vehemence of both feelings, that we might know that he was led away by his strong emotions, so that in the least things he was either inflamed with anger, or elated with joy beyond any bounds. This then was the case with him in his grief as well as in his joy. But he does not say that he prayed as before; but he adopts the word שאל, shal, which signifies to desire or wish. He desired, it is said,for his soul that he might die. It is hence probable that Jonah was so overwhelmed with grief that he did not lift up his heart to God; and yet we see that he was not neglected by God: for it immediately follows —
A vehement east wind; Septuagint, πνεύματι καύσωνι (Jas_1:11) συγκαίοντι “a scorching, burning wind;” Vulgate, vento calido et urenti (Hos_13:15). The word translated “vehement” is also rendered “silent,” i.e. sultry. Pusey and Hitzig rather incline to think it may mean the autumn or harvest wind. Either interpretation is suitable, as, according to Dr. Thomson, there are two kinds of sirocco, equally destructive and annoying—the violent wind, which fills the air with dust and sand; and the quiet one, when scarcely any air is stirring, but the heat is most overpowering. Beat upon the head. The same word for the effect of the rays of the sun as in Psa_121:6 and elsewhere. Trochon quotes Ovid, ‘Metam,’ 7.804—
“Sole fere radiis feriente cacumiua primis.”
“The sun with earliest rays Scarce smiting highest peaks.”
Rich, ‘Koordistan,’ 1.125, “Just as the moon rose, about ten, an intolerable puff of wind came from the northeast. All were immediately silent, as if they had felt an earthquake, and then exclaimed, in a dismal tone, ‘The sherki is come.’ This was indeed the so much-dreaded sherki, and it has continued blowing ever since with great violence from the east and northeast, the wind being heated like our Bagdad sauna, but I think softer and more relaxing. This wind is the terror of these parts.” “Few European travellers,” says Layard, “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 by necessity or the love of war” (quoted by Dr. Pusey, in loc). He fainted (see note on Amo_8:13, where the fame word is used of the effects of thirst: comp. Jon_2:7). His position on the east of the city (Psa_121:5) exposed him to the full force of the scorching sun and wind. Wished in himself to die; literally, asked for his soul to die; Septuagint, ἀπελέγετο τὴν ψυχὴν αὐτοῦ, “despaired of his life” (1Ki_19:4). The expression implies that he asked God to grant him his life to do with it what he liked. In his self-will and impatience he still shows his dependence upon God. He may have had in his mind the precedent of his great master Elijah, though his spirit is very different (see note on Psa_121:3 above). Better for me to die. His wish for death arose from his now assured conviction that God’s mercy was extended to the heathen. He argued from the sudden withering of the gourd that he was not to stay there and see the accomplishment of his wishes, and, in his impatience and intolerance, he would rather die than behold Nineveh converted and saved.
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.
We see here that God had concealed himself for a time, but did not yet forsake his servant. He often looks on us from behind; that is, though we think that he has forgotten us, he yet observes how we go on, that he may in due time afford help: and hence it is that he recovers and raises up the falling, before we perceive that he is near. This was his manner with Jonah, when he began to address him: for, as we have said, grief had so oppressed the mind of the holy Prophets that it could no longer be raised up to God. Hence he desired to die; and still God did not forsake him. This was no common example of the invaluable mercy of God, with which he favors his own people, even when they precipitate themselves into ruin: such was the case with Jonah, who rushed headlong into a state of despair, and cared not for any remedy. God then did not wait until he was sought, but anticipated miserable Jonah, who was now seeking destruction to himself.
He says, Doest thou well that thou art thus angry for the gourd? As though he had said, that he was too violently disturbed for a matter so trifling. And we must ever bear that in mind, of which we spoke more fully yesterday, — that God did not merely reprove his servant, because he did not patiently bear the withering of the gourd — what then? but because he became angry; for in anger there is ever an excess. Since then Jonah was thus grieved beyond measure, and without any restraint, it was justly condemned by God as a fault. I will now not repeat what I said yesterday respecting the enhancing of the crime, inasmuch as Jonah not only murmured on account of the withering of the shrub, but also disregarded himself, and boiled over with displeasure beyond all due limits.
And the answer of Jonah confirms this,I do well, he says,in being angry even to death. We here see how obstinately the holy Prophet repelled the admonition of God, by which he ought to have been restored to a right mind. He was not ignorant that God spoke. Why then was he not smitten with shame? Why was he not moved by the authority of the speaker, so as immediately to repress the fierceness of his mind? But thus it commonly happens, when the minds of men are once blinded by some wrong feeling; though the Lord may thunder and fulminate from heaven, they will not hear, at least they will not cease violently to resist, as Jonah does here. Since then we find such an example of perverseness in this holy man, how much more ought every one of us to fear? Let us hence learn to repress in time our feelings, and instantly at the beginning to bridle them, lest if they should burst forth to a greater extent, we become at last altogether obstinate. I do well, he says, in being angry even to death. God charged his servant Jonah with the vice of anger; Jonah now indulges himself in his own madness, so that he says that desperation is not a vice: I do not sin, he says, though I am despairing; though I abandon myself to death as with mad fury, I do not yet sin.
Who could have thought that the holy Prophet could have been brought into this state of mind? But let us be reminded, as I have already said, by this remarkable example, how furious and unreasonable are the passions of our flesh. There is, therefore, nothing better than to restrain them, before they gather more strength than they ought; for when any one feeds his vices, this obstinacy and hardness always follow. But to be angry, or to be in a fume even to death, is to feel such a weariness of life, as to give ourselves up of our own accord to death. It was not indeed the design of Jonah to lay violent hands on himself; but though he abstained from violence, he yet, as to the purpose of his mind, procured death to himself; for he submitted not to God, but was carried away by a blind impulse, so that he wished to throw away his life. It now follows —
God said. Keil and others have noted the variety in the use of the names of God in this passage (Jon_4:6-9). The production of the gourd is attributed to Jehovah-Elohim (Jon_4:6), a composite name, which serves to mark the transition from Jehovah in Jon_4:4 to Elohim in Jon_4:7 and Jon_4:8. Jehovah, who replies to the prophet’s complaint (Jon_4:4), prepares the plant as Elohim the Creator, and the worm as ha-Elohim the personal God. Elohim, the Ruler of nature, sends the east wind to correct the prophet’s impatience; and in Jon_4:10 Jehovah sums up the history and teaches the lesson to be learned from it. Doest thou well to be angry? The same tender expostulation as in Jon_4:4. I do well to be angry, even unto death. I am right to be angry, so that my anger almost kills me. Deprived of the shelter of the gourd, Jonah is immediately depressed, and in his unreasoning anger defends himself against the reproaches of God’s voice within him. Septuagint, Σφόδρα λελύπημαι ἐγὼ ἑως θανάτου “I am greatly grieved even unto death,” which reminds one of our Lord’s words in the garden (Mar_14:34).
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 Phi_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.”
Here God explains the design he had in suddenly raising up the gourd, and then in causing it to perish or wither through the gnawing of a worm; it was to teach Jonah that misconduct towards the Ninevites was very inhuman. Though we find that the holy Prophet had become a prey to dreadful feelings, yet God, by this exhibition, does in a manner remind him of his folly; for, under the representation of a gourd, he shows how unkindly he desired the destruction of so populous a city as Nineveh.
Yet this comparison may appear ill suited for the purpose. Jonah felt sorry for the gourd, but he only regarded himself: hence he was displeased, because the relief with which he was pleased was taken away from him. As then this inconvenience had driven Jonah to anger, the similitude may not seem appropriate when God thus reasons, Thou wouldest spare the gourd, should I not spare this great city? Nay, but he was not concerned for the gourd itself: if all the gourds of the world withered, he would not have been touched with any grief; but as he felt the greatest danger being scorched by the extreme heat of the sun, it was on this account that he was angry. To this I answer, — that though Jonah consulted his own advantage, yet this similitude is most suitable: for God preserves men for the purpose for which he has designed them. Jonah grieved for the withering of the gourd, because he was deprived of its shade: and God does not create men in vain; it is then no wonder that he wishes them to be saved. We hence see that Jonah was not unsuitably taught by this representation, how inhumanely he conducted himself towards the Ninevites. He was certainly but one individual; since then he made such an account of himself and the gourd only, how was it that he cast aside all care for so great and so populous a city? Ought not this to have come to his mind, that it was no wonder that God, the Creator and Father, had a care for so many thousands of men? Though indeed the Ninevites were alienated from God, yet as they were men, God, as he is the Father of the whole human race, acknowledged them as his own, at least to such an extent as to give them the common light of day, and other blessings of earthly life. We now then understand the import of this comparison: “Thou wouldest spare,” he says, “the gourd, and should I not spare this great city?”
It hence appears how frivolous is the gloss of Jerome, — that Jonah was not angry on account of the deliverance of the city, but because he saw that his own nation would, through its means, be destroyed: for God repeats again that Jonah’s feeling was quite different, — that he bore with indignity the deliverance of the city from ruin. And less to be endured it is still, that Jerome excuses Jonah by saying that he nobly and courageously answered God, that he had not sinned in being angry even to death. That man dared, without any shame or discernment, to invent a pretense that he might excuse so disgraceful an obstinacy. But it is enough for us to understand the real meaning of the Prophet. Here then he shows, according to God’s representation, that his cruelty was justly condemned for having anxiously desired the destruction of a populous city.
But we ought to notice all the parts of the similitudes when he says, Thou wouldest have spared, etc. There is an emphasis in the pronoun אתה, ate, for God compares himself with Jonah; “Who art thou? Doubtless a mortal man is not so inclined to mercy as I am. But thou takest to thyself this right — to desire to spare the gourd, even thou who art made of clay. Now this gourd is not thy work, thou hast not labored for it, it has not proceeded from thy culture or toil; and further, thou hast not raised it up, and further still, it was the daughter of a night, and in one night it perished; it was an evanescent shrub or herb. If then thou regardest the nature of the gourd, if thou regardest thyself, and joinest together all the other circumstances, thou wilt find no reason for thy hot displeasure. But should not I, who am God, in whose hand are all things, whose prerogative and whose constant practice it is mercifully to bear with men — should not I spare them, though they were worthy of destruction? and should not I spare a great city? The matter here is not concerning a little plant, but a large number of people. And, in the last place, it is a city,in which there are a hundred and twenty thousand men who know not how to distinguish between their right hand and the left.”
We now then see how emphatical are all the parts of this comparison. And though God’s design was to reprove the foolish and sinful grief of Jonah, we may yet further collect a general instruction by reasoning in this manner, “We feel for one another, and so nature inclines us, and yet we are wicked and cruel. If then men are inclined to mercy through some hidden impulse of nature, what may not be hoped from the inconceivable goodness of God, who is the Creator of the whole world, and the Father of us all? and will not he, who is the fountain of all goodness and mercy spare us?”
Now as to the number, Jonah mentions here twelve times ten thousand men, and that is as we have said, one hundred and twenty thousand. God shows here how paternally he cares for mankind. Every one of us is cherished by him with singular care: but yet he records here a large number, that it might be more manifest that he so much regards mankind that he will not inconsiderately fulminate against any one nation. And what he adds, that they could not distinguish between the right hand and the left, is to be referred, I have no doubt, to their age; and this opinion has been almost universally received. Some one, however has expressed a fear lest the city should be made too large by allowing such a number of men: he has, therefore, promiscuously included the old, as well as those of middle age and infants. He says that these could not distinguish between the right hand and the left, because they had not been taught in the school of God, nor understood the difference between right and wrong; for the unbelieving, as we know, went astray in their errors. But this view is too strained; and besides, there is no reason for this comment; for that city, we know, was not only like some great cities, many of which are at this day in Europe, but it surpassed most of the principal cities at this day. We know that in Paris there are more than four hundred thousand souls: the same is the case with other cities. I therefore reject this comment, as though Jonah was here speaking of all the Ninevites. But God, on the contrary, intended to show, that though there was the justest reason for destroying entirely the whole city, there were yet other reasons which justified the suspension of so dreadful a vengeance; for many infants were there who had not, by their own transgressions, deserved such a destruction.
God then shows here to Jonah that he had been carried away by his own merciless zeal. Though his zeal, as it has been said, arose from a good principle, yet Jonah was influenced by a feeling far too vehement. This God proved, by sparing so many infants hitherto innocent. And to infants he adds the brute animals. Oxen were certainly superior to shrubs. If Jonah justly grieved for one withering shrub, it was far more deplorable and cruel for so many innocent animals to perish. We hence see how apposite are all the parts of this similitude, to make Jonah to loathe his folly, and to be ashamed of it; for he had attempted to frustrate the secret purpose of God, and in a manner to overrule it by his own will, so that the Ninevites might not be spared, who yet labored by true repentance to anticipate the divine judgment.
Keil & Delitzsch
On the rising of the dawn of the very next day, God appointed a worm, which punctured the miraculous tree so that it withered away; and when the sun arose He also appointed a sultry east wind, and the sun smote upon Jonah’s head, so that he fainted away. Chărı̄shıth, from chârash, to be silent or quiet, is to be taken when used of the wind in the sense of sultry, as in the Chaldee (lxx συγκαίων). The meaning ventus, qualis flat tempore arandi, derived from chârish, the ploughing (Abulw.), or autumnal east wind (Hitzig), is far less suitable. When Jonah fainted away in consequence of the sun-stroke (for hith‛allēph, see at Amo_8:13), he wished himself dead, since death was better for him than life (see Jon_4:3). יִשְׁאַל אֶת־נַפְשׁוֹ לָמוּת, as in 1Ki_19:4, “he wished that his soul might die,” a kind of accusative with the infinitive (cf. Ewald, §336, b). But God answered, as in Jon_4:4, by asking whether he was justly angry. Instead of Jehovah (Jon_4:4) we have Elohim mentioned here, and Jehovah is not introduced as speaking till Jon_4:9. We have here an intimation, that just as Jonah’s wish to die was simply an expression of the feelings of his mind, so the admonitory word of God was simply a divine voice within him setting itself against his murmuring. It was not till he had persisted in his ill-will, even after this divine admonition within, that Jehovah pointed out to him how wrong his murmuring was. Jehovah’s speaking in Jon_4:9 is a manifestation of the divine will by supernatural inspiration. Jehovah directs Jonah’s attention to the contradiction into 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, and has spared the city for the sake of these souls, many of whom have no idea whatever of right or wrong. Chastâ: “Thou hast pitied the Qiqayon, at which thou hast not laboured, and which thou hast not caused to grow; for (שֶׁבִּן = אֲשֶׁר בִּן) son of a night” – i.e., in a night, or over night – “has it grown, and over night perished, and I should not pity Nineveh?” וַאֲנִי is a question; but this is only indicated by the tone. If Jonah feels pity for the withering of a small shrub, which he neither planted nor tended, nor caused to grow, shall God not have pity with much greater right upon the creatures whom He has created and has hitherto sustained, and spare the great city Nineveh, in which more than 120,000 are living, who cannot distinguish their right hand from the left, and also much cattle? Not to be able to distinguish between the right hand and the left is a sign of mental infancy. This is not to be restricted, however, to the very earliest years, say the first three, but must be extended to the age of seven years, in which children first learn to distinguish with certainty between right and left, since, according to M. v. Niebuhr (p. 278), “the end of the seventh year is a very common division of age (it is met with, for example, even among the Persians), and we may regard it as certain that it would be adopted by the Hebrews, on account of the importance they attached to the number seven.” A hundred and twenty thousand children under seven years of age would give a population of six hundred thousand, since, according to Niebuhr, the number of children of the age mentioned is one-fifth the whole population, and there is no ground for assuming that the proportion in the East would be essentially different. This population is quite in accordance with the size of the city.
(Note: “Nineveh, in the broader sense,” says M. v. Niebuhr, “covers an area of about 400 English square miles. Hence there were about 40,000 persons to the square mile. Jones (in a paper on Nineveh) estimates the population of the chief city, according to the area, at 174,000 souls. So that we may reckon the population of the four larger walled cities at 350,000. There remain, therefore, for the smaller places and the level ground, 300,000 men on about sixteen square miles; that is to say, nearly 20,000 men upon the square mile.” He then shows, from the agricultural conditions in the district of Elberfeld and the province of Naples, how thoroughly this population suits such a district. In the district of Elberfeld there are, in round numbers, 22,000 persons to the square mile, or, apart from the two large towns, 10,000. And if we take into account the difference in fertility, this is about the same density of population as that of Nineveh. The province of Naples bears a very great resemblance to Nineveh, not only in the kind of cultivation, but also in the fertility of the soil. And there, in round numbers, 46,000 are found to the square mile, or, exclusive of the capital, 22,000 souls.)
Children who cannot distinguish between right and left, cannot distinguish good from evil, and are not yet accountable. The allusion to the multitude of unaccountable children contains a fresh reason for sparing the city: God would have been obliged to destroy so many thousand innocent ones along with the guilty. Besides this, there was “much cattle” in the city. “Oxen were certainly superior to shrubs. If Jonah was right in grieving over one withered shrub, it would surely be a harder and more cruel thing for so many innocent animals to perish” (Calvin). “What could Jonah say to this? He was obliged to keep silence, defeated, as it were, by his own sentence” (Luther). The history, therefore, breaks off with these words of God, to which Jonah could make no reply, because the object of the book was now attained, – namely, to give the Israelites an insight into the true nature of the compassion of the Lord, which embracers all nations with equal love. Let us, however, give heed to the sign of the prophet Jonah, and hold fast to the confession of Him who could say of Himself, “Behold, a greater than Jonah is here!”
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 1Co_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 Psa_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 Gal_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 2Sa_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.”