The Story of Jonah

Chapter 4

Jonah repining at God's mercy, 1-3, is reproved by the type of a gourd, 4-11.

1 But it displeased Jonah exceedingly and he was very angry. 2 And he prayed to the LORD and said, "I pray you, O LORD, was this not my saying when I was yet in my country? Therefore, I fled before to Tarshish. For I knew that you are a gracious God, merciful, slow to anger, of great kindness, and repenting of the evil. 3 Now therefore, O LORD, take, I implore you, my life from me, for it is better for me to die than to live." 4 Then the LORD said, "Do you do well to be angry?"

5 So Jonah went out of the city, sat on the east side of the city, made himself a booth there, and sat under it in the shade until he might see what would become of the city. 6 And the LORD God prepared a gourd and made it to come up over Jonah so that it might be a shade over his head to deliver him from his grief. Thus Jonah was exceedingly glad of the gourd. 7 But God prepared a worm when the morning rose the next day, and it smote the gourd so that it withered. 8 And it came to pass, when the sun rose, that God prepared a vehement east wind. And the sun beat upon the head of Jonah so that he fainted and wished in himself to die, and said, "It is better for me to die than to live."

9 And God said to Jonah, "Do you do well to be angry because of the gourd?" And he said, "I do well to be angry, even to death." 10 Then the LORD said, "You have had pity on the gourd, for which you have not labored, neither made it grow, which came up in a night and perished in a night. 11 And should I not spare Nineveh, that great city, in which are more than one hundred and twenty thousand persons who cannot discern between their right hand and their left hand—and also many cattle?"


Matthew Henry Commentary - Jonah, Chapter 4


John Gill's Chapter Summary:

This chapter gives us an account of Jonah's displeasure at the repentance of the Ninevites, and at the Lord's showing mercy to them (verse 1); the angry prayer of Jonah upon it (verses 2-3); the Lord's gentle reproof of him for it (verse 4); his conduct upon that (verse 5); the gourd prepared for him; its rise, usefulness, and destruction, which raised different passions in Jonah (verses 6-8); the improvement the Lord made of this to rebuke Jonah, for his dissatisfaction at the mercy he showed to the Ninevites, and to convict him of his folly (verses 9-11).

[v.1-3] - John Calvin gives an interesting explanation for Jonah's anger. He posited that Jonah was angry because God seemingly acted contrary to the message he gave to Jonah to preach to the Ninevites. The message Jonah was to preach was the destruction of Nineveh, that it would be overthrown (Jonah 3:4). However, the Ninevites actually repented and God was merciful to them (Jonah 3:10). So, Jonah said God would destroy Nineveh, but instead he caused the Ninevites to repent, and therefore, they were spared the destruction. Jonah is angry because he feels as if he would be viewed as a false prophet because the destruction he said would come did not. He fears what the Ninevites would think of him, and how that would reflect upon the character of God. Concerning this, John Calvin said, "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... 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... 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 anything, 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."

[v.2] - "you are a gracious God, merciful, slow to anger, of great kindness" - Reference, Exodus 33:19.

[v.4] - "Do you do well to be angry?" - In other words, "Are you greatly angry?", or, "Is anger good for you?" To put it another way, it is as if God is telling Jonah, "You have sinned by being angry like this."

John Calvin's Prayer for Verses 1-4:

Grant, Almighty God, that as you see us implicated in so many errors, that we often fall through lack of thought, and as you also see that the violent emotions of our flesh wholly blind whatever reason and judgment there is in us,— O grant, that we may learn to give up ourselves altogether to obey you, and so honor your wisdom as never to contend with you, though all things may happen contrary to our wishes, but patiently to wait for such an issue as it may please you to grant; and may we never be disturbed by any of the hindrances which Satan may throw in our way, but ever go on toward the mark which you have set before us, and never turn aside from you, until, having gone through all dangers and overcome all impediments, we shall at length reach that blessed rest, which has been obtained for us by the blood of your Son. Amen.

[v.6-7] - "Let me dread a godliness as rapid in growth and as wanting in endurance as Jonah's gourd." —Charles Spurgeon

[v.6a] - "gourd" - It is not certain what this gourd really is. The Hebrew word, kikayon (kee-kaw-yone'), is commonly translated as either gourd, plant, or vine. There is a surprising variety of explanations of this gourd, each with their own view as to what it is. I think Matthew Poole has the best comment to be made here concerning the gourd. He said, "nor is it very material we should search further into the nature of this [Hebrew word] in the text, it was some wild plant with long and broad leaves, which suddenly grew, spread itself, and made a good shade." John Owen gave a more concise, but equally direct, explanation when he said, "God prepared it, and prepared it to shelter Jonah."

[v.6b] - "exceeding glad" - Literally, "rejoiced with great joy."

[v.7] - "smote" - The word, smite, comes from the Hebrew נכה, nakah (naw-kaw'), which usually means to strike, hit, beat, wound, or kill. In this case, it refers to the gnawing or boring of the worm into the plant, which would make it wither and die.

[v.9a] - From John Calvin's Commentary: "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... Let us be reminded, 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 anyone feeds his vices, this obstinacy and hardness always follow."

[v.9b] - "I do well to be angry" - In other words, "I am greatly angry."

[v.10] - From John Calvin's Commentary: "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: 'You would spare,' he says, 'the gourd, and should I not spare this great city?'"

[v.11] - "one hundred and twenty thousand persons who cannot discern between their right hand and their left hand" - John Calvin posits that this passage is referring to infants, who are so young as to not know their left hand from their right. He said, "I reject the 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."

John Calvin's Prayer for Verses 5-11:

Grant, Almighty God, that as you have, in various ways, testified, and daily continue to testify, how dear and precious to you are mankind, and as we enjoy daily so many and so remarkable proofs of your goodness and favor,— O grant, that we may learn to rely wholly on your goodness, many examples of which you set before us, and which you would have us continually to experience, that we may not only pass through our earthly course, but also confidently aspire to the hope of that blessed and celestial life which is laid up for us in heaven, through Christ our Lord. Amen.