Richard E. Young
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4:1 But it displeased5 Jonah very much3,5 and he became angry82.
4:2 So he prayed to Yahweh, "Please, Yahweh, isn't this what I said when I was still on my own soil83? Therefore, anticipating84 this I hurried away8 to Tarshish since I knew27 that you were a gracious and merciful God17, slow to anger81, abounding in loving-kindness64, and relenting79 concerning the destruction5 [of Nineveh].
An Inverse Imitation
In these two versus we see Jonah contrasted to God in three areas. First, as God's displeasure and anger subsided Jonah's displeasure and anger rose and surged. It literally says that he "blazed." Second, merely God speaking was enough to cause the fish to swallow Jonah and vomit him up again. Jonah referred to himself as saying "isn't this what I said." It seems Jonah thought that his speaking forth had the same weight as God's own words. And third, God anticipated Jonah's actions from eternity and appointed all of the circumstances to bring about the repentance of Nineveh. Here Jonah told how he anticipated God's intent and actions and thought he knew better than God.
In Jonah's description of God's character in the latter part of 4:2 he appears to paraphrase God's words spoken to Moses on Mt. Sinai at the giving of the Law:
6 Then the Lord passed by in front of [Moses] and proclaimed, the Lord, the Lord God, compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in lovingkindness and truth; 7 who keeps lovingkindness for thousands, who forgives iniquity, transgression and sin (Exodus 34:6-7a).
Jonah did not appear to speak these words with delight. In fact, he was altogether quite perturbed about God's grace being extended to Nineveh.
Jonah had become an inverse imitation of God in his displeasure, his anger, his arrogant attitude towards the authority of his own words, in his anticipating and second guessing God, and in his contempt for God's sovereign grace. Overall Jonah had become an absurdity. And yet God still graciously dealt with him.
Jonah as Jealous Israel
In Paul's letter to the Romans, Paul quoted Deuteronomy concerning Israel, "I will make you jealous by that which is not a nation, by a nation without understanding will I anger you" (Romans 10:19). If we understand Jonah as a type for Israel we now see the jealousy of the Jews towards the Gentiles due to the Gentiles having been brought into God's family apart from Israel. In the parable of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15:11-32) the older brother who stayed with his father typifies Israel, whereas the son who left his father and squandered his inheritance with loose living represents the Gentiles. Jonah, as a type of Israel, conforms to the attitude of the older brother who was jealous and angry over the fuss his father made over his reprobate brother. Along this line, Paul wrote, "but by [Israel's] transgression salvation has come to the Gentiles, to make [Israel] jealous" (Romans 11:11). Since the Gentiles first responded to the Gospel as recorded in the book of Acts we saw jealousy among the Jews over the Gentiles' salvation (Acts 13:45 and 17:5) and anger that the Gentiles would even be considered for salvation (Acts 22:21-23). This jealousy was prefigured in the Genesis story of Joseph and his brothers. Joseph's brothers' jealousy over Joseph made them so enraged that they plotted to kill Joseph (Genesis 37:11,18). Since Joseph's brothers were quite literally the "children of Israel" we can confidently take them as a type for their descendents, the Jews. Their jealousy was directed to Joseph, who is a type for Christ. Further, since Jesus closely identifies Himself with His representatives (Matthew 25:40,45; Acts 5:3,4), the jealousy directed towards the Church is in reality directed to Christ. This is a difficult thing to accept. Paul explained it as "a partial hardening has happened to Israel until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in" (Romans 11:25b). Nevertheless, Jonah seems to foreshadow this stage of Israel that Paul spoke of. And as God did not abandon Jonah but still dealt with him, so does God not abandon the Jews but still deals with them.
If God had chosen any other nation besides Israel to give His Law to and make His covenant with, the results for that nation would have been the same as it had been for Israel. The point is that any nation, not just Israel, would have rebelled against the Lord and ultimately rejected their Messiah. It is a factor of human nature and not nationality. If the Egyptians or the Mongolians or any other people had been the chosen of God, they too would have failed as Israel had. So it is not a matter of finding fault with Israel in particular. Paul explained that a temporary flip-flop had occurred in God's dealings with Israel and the Gentiles:
30 "For just as you [Gentiles] once were disobedient to God, but now have been shown mercy because of their [Israel's] disobedience, 31 so these also now have been disobedient, that because of the mercy shown to you they also may now be shown mercy. 32 For God has shut up all in disobedience so that He may show mercy to all" (Romans 11:30-32).
His mercy expresses itself in two permutations throughout history. In the end, God shows mercy to Jews and Gentiles alike.
4:3 "And now, Yahweh, please take away my soul35 from me! for it is better for me to die than for me to live57."
4:4 But Yahweh answered, "Is it appropriate85 for you to be angry82?"
Death Better than Life
Once again we note Jonah's apparent suicidal tendency. We first saw this when Jonah suggested to the sailors that they throw him into the sea. And here, as before, Jonah did not commit suicide but looked to others to end his life for him. He wanted the sailors or God to act as a Dr. Kevorkian, the assisted suicide doctor, and put him out of his misery. But God failed to fulfil Jonah's death wish and only asked him "is it appropriate for you to be angry?" In upcoming events God would provide some object lessons to assist Jonah in answering this question.
4:5 So Jonah went out of the city and sat on the east side of the city. He made30 a crude shelter86 for himself and sat beneath it in its shade87 until he could see what would become of the city.
4:6 Then Yahweh God17 appointed39 a plant to rise up6 over Jonah so that it would become a shade87 for his head53 and deliver88 him from his displeasure5. And Jonah was extremely3 happy89 because of the plant.
4:7 Then God17 appointed39 a worm89 at the rise6 of the dawn91 on the next day and it struck92 the plant so that it withered93.
4:8 And it came about that when the sun rose94 God17 appointed39 a harsh-hot95 east wind13 and the sun struck92 on Jonah's head53 so that he became faint96 and sought97 in his soul35 to die, saying, "It is better for me to die than for me to live57."
4:9 But God17 said to Jonah, "Is it appropriate85 for you to be angry82 with the plant?" And he said, "It's appropriate85 for me to be angry82 - even unto death."
4:10 Then Yahweh said, "You had compassion98 upon the plant for which you did not toil99 nor did you cause it to grow100 - it came up in a night and it perished25 in a night.
4:11 "But shouldn't I have compassion98 upon Nineveh, the great3 city, where there are within it more than 120,000 people who don't know27 their right hand from their left hand and also many animals?"
Jonah did what God had asked him, but his attitude towards the Ninevites remained unchanged since the beginning. He sat on the edge of the city waiting - hoping that God would not accept their repentance and would destroy them. How dissimilar Jonah was from the father of faith, Abraham. When Abraham was faced with the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah he bargained with the Lord - "If you find fifty righteous will you spare the city? Forty-five? Forty?... If you find only ten will you spare the city?" (Genesis 18:23-32). Abraham asked God if at least a community of righteous, a quorum, remained in the city to spare the whole horribly wicked city. God tested Abraham to reveal whether he had the heart of God in him or not, and Abraham passed the test. Jonah failed the same test.
Jonah was not alone in this desire to see destruction of the wicked. When a Samaritan village rejected Jesus, James and John wanted to call down fire from heaven to destroy them. But Jesus rebuked them (Luke 9:51-56). And here God rebuked Jonah in the form of a set of object lessons.
Shades of Elijah
This segment of the narrative evokes the story of Elijah's run from Jezebel (I Kings 19:1-18). While Elijah was in the wilderness he, like Jonah, sat under the shade of a plant and also asked the Lord to take away his life (I Kings 19:4). As God dealt gently with Elijah, nourishing and comforting him, so did God likewise deal with Jonah. Additionally, the Lord repeated a simple question to both Elijah and Jonah (compare I Kings 19:9,13 with Jonah 4:4,9). The writer deliberately makes a connection between Elijah and Jonah. But what relationship do they have?
The connection is not of similarity but of contrast. The contrasts that the writer made between Jonah and both God and Abraham he also makes with Elijah. Before Elijah ran from Jezebel he hoped for a great revival to occur in Israel; he was profoundly disappointed when it failed to materialize. Jonah, on the other hand, hoped for destruction; he was profoundly disappointed when revival came. As we saw, Jonah became a caricature of God and Abraham in the sense of being such a poor imitation that he became an absurdity. In the same way he here became a caricature of Elijah, the archetype prophet. The point is made in three allusions to ensure recognition: Jonah's attitude and actions were not God-like nor were they representative of God's emissaries. Yet God did not cast Jonah aside. He still dealt with him.
The Hebrew word tsel means "shade" or "shadow." We first observe that Jonah provided his own shade by building a make-shift shelter (4:5). God then provided better shade for Jonah (4:6). A contrast can be drawn between the shelter that Jonah made for himself and the shade that God provided. This contrast parallels several previous events in the book where humans attempted their own solution, only to have it fail, with God coming through with the only solution. The first contrast was the ship that Jonah provided for himself to escape, and the fish that God provided to bring Jonah back. The second was the attempt of the men to save themselves from the storm by tossing things overboard, and God calming the storm after they tossed Jonah overboard. The third was the effort of the sailors to reach dry ground by their own efforts by rowing, and them reaching the dry ground after they threw Jonah overboard. In each case God provided the only workable solution. Only these solutions work because God, in His sovereignty, will not allow any other to work. Jonah's shelter proved inadequate; but God came through and provided good protection for Jonah's head, making Jonah extremely happy (4:6). But unlike the previous parallel event, God here took his workable solution away. The plant and its shade were removed so that the sun and the hot east wind afflicted Jonah (4:7-8). In this little scenario God taught Jonah an object lesson about everything he had experienced since God first spoke to him in the beginning of the book. And, as we shall see, it is a difficult lesson to receive.
Since the plant produced the shade, we need to understand the meaning of the plant in order to understand the significance of the shade. The key to understanding the significance of the plant is the word gadal, translated as "grow" in 4:10. Gadal means "to make big" or "grow." It is related to gadol, which means "great." We have seen gadol used throughout the book of Jonah to describe a myriad of things (see entry 3 in the Hebrew glossary). Now a related word, gadal, describes the plant. Through the use of gadal the plant becomes metaphorically linked to all those items described by gadol. In particular, since Nineveh has repeatedly been described as "the great (gadol) city," this suggests that the plant primarily represents Nineveh.
This brings us to the primary theme bound up in the word tsel. Tsel, as a shade, can figuratively mean "protection." Hence, if the plant represented Nineveh and the shade represented protection, this has a curious implication. As the plant provided shade for Jonah then Nineveh provided protection to Israel. Paul discussed the administration of God's authority through human governments in his letter to the Romans:
1 Every person is to be in subjection to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those which exist are established by God. 2 Therefore whoever resists authority has opposed the ordinance of God; and they who have opposed will receive condemnation upon themselves. 3 For rulers are not a cause of fear for good behavior, but for evil. Do you want to have no fear of authority? Do what is good and you will have praise from the same; 4 for it is a minister of God to you for good. But if you do what is evil, be afraid; for it does not bear the sword for nothing; for it is a minister of God, an avenger who brings wrath on the one who practices evil. 5 Therefore it is necessary to be in subjection, not only because of wrath, but also for conscience' sake. (Romans 13:1-5).
Peter spoke in a similar manner in I Peter 2:13-3:7. If God is sovereign then necessarily all human authorities are appointed by and subject to God's will just like the sea, the lots, the fish, the plant, and the worm. In the beginning Jonah thought that he could find a place where God did not reign. But he discovered, through this lesson, that the Lord is sovereign over everyone and everything - including evil, violent men like the Ninevites. This is easy to say when we live under a good government that we personally benefit from through prosperity and safety. But when a government is unjust, oppressive, wasteful, and foolish what do we say? Some rulers use government as a cover for murders and robberies. So is the idea that God appoints such rulers a hopeless Pollyanna naivete? Paul had suffered many times under Jewish and Roman rulers and yet he wrote what he did.
There is a type of anarchistic Christian that sees all human governments as utterly corrupt and godless. One way or another they are ready to abandon the world to its own devices. In the play "A Man for All Seasons" Will Roper tells Thomas More that he would cut down every law to get at the Devil. But More replies that after Roper destroyed all of man's laws that the Devil would turn around on him and he'd have no place to hide. Joseph, Daniel, Nehemiah, and Esther all served and ruled in idolatrous heathen administrations and yet served God faithfully. Obadiah, the servant of king Ahab, is yet another example. He ruled in the household of the notoriously wicked king Ahab, yet the Scriptures describe him as one who "feared the Lord greatly" (I Kings 18:3b).
Does this then mean that we should have a Byzantine view of our governmental authorities and see their will as indistinguishable from God's? When the apostles were told by the Sanhedrin to no longer teach in the name of Jesus they replied, "we must obey God rather than men" (Acts 5:29). Likewise, Daniel's companions defied Nebuchadnezzar's proclamation to worship the image of gold (Daniel 3). No one can evade their personal responsibility to obey God by deferring to those authorities that God has placed over them when they require a direct violation of God's will. Jesus succinctly stated this idea when He said, "render to Caesar the things that are Caesar's; and to God the things that are God's" (Matthew 22:21b).
How can God use godless people and yet not violate their free will? We have had two examples of this earlier in Jonah. The first was the captain of the sailors who told Jonah to "Get up!" (qum) and "Call!" (qara), echoing God's exact words to Jonah in the beginning (compare 1:2 and 1:6). God used the captain to remind Jonah of his obligation, though the captain thought of himself as acting only according to his own will. The second was when the men threw Jonah into the sea. In Jonah's prayer he stated that it was God that had thrown him into the sea (2:3). So Jonah acknowledged that the sailors had really acted according to God's direction. God knows the nature of individuals and groups and channels them to accomplish what He wills. Just as we harness the attributes of nature to accomplish what we desire without violating the laws of physics so does God direct people and events without violating people's free will.
We can extract yet another theme embedded in tsel, which link the secondary representation of the plant to all of the items described by gadol. As a shadow, tsel symbolizes the transience of life. James said, "You are just a vapor that appears for a little while and then vanishes away " (James 4:14b). God struck the plant with a worm so that the plant died. The plant was there one night and gone the next. As the plant came and went, like a passing shadow, so do individuals, kings, and kingdoms. Shelley's 1817 poem, Ozymandias, depicts this transience of power in the world:
I met a traveller from an antique
Who said: Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert. Near them, on the sand,
Half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown,
And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them, and the heart that fed;
And on the pedestal these words appear:
"My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:
Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!"
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away.
God has authority over the rising up and tearing down of all things, including little plants and great cities. All the great things of the world - including a great city like Nineveh - are transitory. Nineveh fell in 612 BC. Nahum preached a message of repentance to Nineveh, and then when they failed to repent he prophesied of Nineveh's destruction. Nahum spoke of Nineveh's fall involving a flood (Nahum 1:8; 2:7,9). Although some feel that Nahum only spoke figuratively, archeological evidence indicates that at least some of the city was overcome by floodwaters around the time of its fall. The allusions to the Flood of Noah in Jonah have their ultimate fulfillment in 612 BC. So, like the pre-Deluvian world, Nineveh was totally destroyed (Nahum 3:19).
This transience is starkly contrasted to Yahweh. He is eternal and greater than anything we esteem as lasting or great in this world.
Delivered from Evil
The purpose of the shade was to deliver Jonah from his displeasure (4:6). Ra, the word translated as "displeasure" in that verse also has the meaning of "evil." Hence, one could translate 4:6 to read that the shade was provided to deliver Jonah from his evil. God is in the business of delivering us from evil. Nineveh was delivered from its evil through the warning of their impending destruction. And God sought to deliver Jonah from his evil also. God designed lessons for Jonah through the plant, worm, sun, and hot east wind to rescue him from his ungodly disposition and show him that all things come under God's jurisdiction. The shade was the beginning of this lesson. Furthermore, if we understand Jonah as a type for Israel and the plant as a symbol for Nineveh, we can say that God raised up Nineveh as the dominant world power to be an affliction to Israel for the purpose of delivering them from their evil. The Lord sent them prophet after prophet to warn them of the consequences of forsaking the Lord. God used the captivities of Assyria and Babylon to deliver future generations of Jews from the path of total destruction that would have otherwise been theirs.
Just as we saw that the events of chapter one prefigured the events of chapter three (i.e., the sailors salvation prefigured the Ninveites salvation) we can do the same thing for chapters two and four. Jonah's affliction in chapter two parallels his affliction in chapter four. At the end of chapter two Jonah was delivered from the fish. So here too, at the end of chapter four, we can assume that Jonah learned his lesson. But it is not a blind assumption because we have this account of Jonah's thoughts and dealings with God in chapter four. Jonah must have returned to Israel where he related this story to others for it to be recorded. Therefore we can say with some confidence that Jonah was ultimately delivered from his evil.
The East Wind
When Jonah was in the guts of the fish his head was afflicted with sea plants (2:5). Conversely, in this section, a land plant protected his head. But with the removal of the plant the affliction to his head was renewed with the hot east wind and the blazing sun. The image of the hot sun beating down on Jonah's head is rather obvious. But the east wind is a somewhat obscure image and requires some elucidation.
The east wind has a connotation of adversity associated with it. In Joseph's interpretation of the Pharaoh's dream, the seven ears of corn were scorched by the east wind (Gen 41:6,23,27). The plague of locusts that came upon Egypt before the Exodus was brought by the east wind (Exodus 10:13). The Psalmist tells us that the Lord broke the ships of Tarshish with the east wind (Psalm 48:7). There are some exceptions to this image. On occasions the east wind conveyed an image of emptiness. Eliphaz used it in this way when he told Job, "Should a wise man answer with windy knowledge and fill himself with the east wind? Should he argue with useless talk, or with words which are not profitable?" (Job 15:2-3). During the Exodus the strong east wind that parted the Red Sea (Exodus 14:21) represented God's sovereignty and power. But as the east wind is used here, the context strongly implies the connotation of adversity because of its association with Jonah's affliction. Particularly because of Jonah's link as a type for Israel, the most suitable image of the east wind appears as a metaphor of God's judgement upon Israel. Hosea spoke along this line concerning Israel, saying,
15 Though he [Israel] flourishes among the reeds, an east wind will come, the wind of the Lord coming up from the wilderness; and his fountain will become dry and his spring will be dried up; it will plunder his treasury of every precious article. 16 Samaria will be held guilty, for she has rebelled against her God. They will fall by the sword, their little ones will be dashed in pieces, and their pregnant women will be ripped open (Hosea 13:15-16).
Ezekiel also used the east wind as a metaphor for the judgement and affliction of Israel,
12 But it [Israel] was plucked up in fury; it was cast down to the ground; and the east wind dried up its fruit. Its strong branch was torn off so that it withered; the fire consumed it.13 And now it is planted in the wilderness, in a dry and thirsty land (Ezekeil 19:12-13).
And similarly Jeremiah said,
11 In that time it will be said to this people [Israel] and to Jerusalem, "A scorching wind from the bare heights in the wilderness in the direction of the daughter of My people - not to winnow and not to cleanse,12 a wind too strong for this - will come at My command; now I will also pronounce judgments against them" (Jeremiah 4:11-12).
Israel, like Jonah, suffered under the hot east wind. Jonah's head was no longer protected and sheltered just as the Jews who lived among the Gentiles were afflicted and exposed to the harshness that God had allowed to come into their lives.
One must be careful in assigning causes for suffering though. During the Barbarian invasions into the western Roman Empire of the late fourth and fifth centuries A.D. many Christians asked themselves why God would allow them to be slaughtered by brutal heathen. After the Jewish Holocaust of World War II many Jews asked themselves why God would allow such horrors to occur to their people. Typically in such instances the devout that have suffered react in one of two ways. Some feel that they had kept their end of the bargain with God but God reneged and abandoned them. These become embittered and abandon their faith. Others feel that because God could do no wrong, any wrong must have been on their side. They reason then that God must have sent them a message to repent. Although these are very common reactions to affliction one cannot always be so absolute about the cause of suffering. Sometimes we suffer because of our own actions. Sometimes we suffer because of the actions of others. And sometimes we suffer for no apparent reason, like Job who was unaware of the events in Heaven that affected him (see Job 1-2). In the end one must examine one's own heart. Job did this and could not discover anything in his life that justified a warning from God to repent. Sometimes only God knows why we suffer.
Jonah's regard for the things God had brought into his life depended solely upon whether he personally benefited from them or not. Jonah was happy when God provided the plant to give him shade but angry when God removed the plant and let him become stricken by the sun and east wind. But aren't we all like Jonah who only appreciates the things God brings us in life because of personal benefit and are ready to give up when the benefits are removed? When God removes some protection that we have enjoyed and exposes us to the oppressive hot east wind do we say, like Jonah, "it's appropriate for me to be angry - even unto death" [h] or do we react like Job and say, "shall we indeed accept good from God and not accept adversity?" (Job 2:10).
Accountability to God
God pours His love out on the righteous and the wicked alike just as the sun and the rain come as a blessing to both (Matthew 5:43-48). God cares for all of His creation. The Lord depicted the people of Nineveh as those who "don't know their right hand from their left." On one level this refers to the small children on Nineveh. But on another it refers to those who did not know right from wrong as well as the Israelites did with their benefit of the revealed Law of God. When Hezekiah, the king of Judah in the seventh century B.C., revived and celebrated the Passover feast there were many who, through ignorance of the Law, were not ceremonially clean. But Hezekiah prayed that the Lord would accept the people because they violated the ceremonial Law in ignorance. God heard his prayer and accepted the people's celebration as valid worship (see II Chronicles 30:17-20). This is contrasted to an event such as David's improper attempt to bring the Ark of the Covenant into Jerusalem (II Samuel 6:1-11). There Uzzah died unnecessarily because David, who was responsible for knowing the correct way to move the Ark (see Deuteronomy 17:18-20), placed him in danger. This is a principle that Jesus discussed in the parable of the talents (Luke 12:35-48):
"And that slave who knew his master's will and did not get ready or act in accord with his will, will receive many lashes, but the one who did not know it, and committed deeds worthy of a flogging, will receive but few. From everyone who has been given much, much will be required; and to whom they entrusted much, of him they will ask all the more" (Luke 12:47-48).
God has pity on those who sin through ignorance. But one can't just remain ignorant with the purpose of avoiding harsher judgement. It is rather what we could and should have known that we will be held accountable for. Those who had opportunity to know God's will better and neglected it have much more to answer to God for than those who lacked similar opportunities. In view of that, this is why Jesus told the scribes and Pharisees that, "The men of Nineveh will stand up with this generation at the judgment, and will condemn it because they repented at the preaching of Jonah" (Matthew 12:41). The scribes and Pharisees knew the Law with all of its details and nuances, and yet rejected the heart of the Law - Jesus. If they had truly sought to understand the Law then they would have readily jumped at the opportunity to learn from the Lord Himself when He was with them, "For if you believed Moses, you would believe Me, for he wrote about Me" (John 5:46). They had the five books of Moses and did not repent, yet these pagan Ninevites repented at the preaching of five mere words.
The dialogue between Jonah and God in chapter four has an order that, even in the Hebrew, is not evident. The dialogue consists of:
39 words spoken by Jonah (4:2-3),
3 words spoken by God (4:4)
3 words spoken by Jonah (4:8)
5 words spoken by God (4:9)
5 words spoken by Jonah (4:9)
39 words spoken by God (4:10-11).
God had the last word. But beyond that, God was the first to speak in the book (1:2) and now He is the last to speak. This inconspicuous feature augments some themes we've observed running throughout the book of Jonah. One theme is God's sovereignty. He has the first and last word in everything; nothing exists or happens without authorization by His word: "So will My word be which goes forth from My mouth; it will not return to Me empty, without accomplishing what I desire, and without succeeding in the matter for which I sent it" (Isaiah 55:11). Another theme is that God is eternal. He is the Alpha and Omega, who is and who was and who is to come; though all of the great things of this world will pass away, the Lord is everlasting.
Footnotes for Chapter 4
[h] The expression "even unto death" is an emphatic idiom meaning something like "you bet" or "darn right" in English. But, as elsewhere in Jonah, the idioms have a very literal underlying meaning also.
Contents | Introduction| Chapter 1 | Chapter 2 | Chapter 3 | Chapter 4 | Chapter 5 | Glossary | Translation