Jonah 4:1. But it displeased Jonah exceedingly, and he was very angry.
A nice prophet this! Jonah was a man of a somewhat ugly disposition, yet I think he has been misunderstood. He was the true child of Elijah, the prophet of fire. Elijah was a rough, stern servant of the Lord, who felt that the indignities which had been done to Jehovah deserved instant and terrible punishment; and he seemed almost to wish to see that punishment inflicted, as he accused the people unto God, saying, “the children of Israel have forsaken thy covenant, thrown down thine altars, and slain thy prophets with the sword; and I, even I only, am left; and they seek my life, to take it away.” He was bravely stern for God, and Jonah was cast in a similar mould. He seemed to feel, “I have been sent of God to tell these people that they will be destroyed for their sin. Now, if they are not destroyed, it will be thought that I have not preached the truth, and, what is far more serious, it will be thought that God does not keep his word.” His whole thought was taken up with the honour of God, and his own honour as involved in that of the Lord. There are many people, nowadays, who seem to think everything of man, and very little of God; and, consequently, they fall into grievous errors. Jonah, on the contrary, thought everything of God, and very little of men. He fell into an error by so doing, and there was a want of balance of judgment, yet is Jonah’s error so very seldom committed that I am half inclined to admire it in contrast with the error on the other side. He felt that it would be better for Nineveh to be destroyed than for God’s truthfulness to be jeopardized even for a single moment. God would not have us push even concern for his honour too far; but we are such poor creatures that, very often, when we are within an inch of the right course, we fall into a snare of the enemy. It was so with Jonah, when he was exceedingly displeased and very angry at what God had clone in sparing the repentant people of Nineveh.
Jonah 4:2. And he prayed unto the LORD, and said, I pray thee, O LORD, was not this my saying, when I was yet in my country? Therefore I fled before unto Tarshish : for I knew that thou art a gracious God, and merciful, slow to anger, and of great kindness, and repentest thee of the evil.
This was as much as if he had said to the Lord, “I went and did thy bidding, and told the Ninevites that they would be destroyed; but I knew in my heart that, if they repented, thou wouldst not carry out thy threat, and now thou art too gracious, too kind, to these wicked people.” It is a strange thing, is it not, that Jonah was angry because his message was blessed to his hearers? As a good commentator says, “When Christ sees of the travail of his soul, he is satisfied; but when Jonah saw of the travail of his soul, he was dissatisfied.” There are some men who leave off preaching because they do not succeed; but here was one who was ready to give up because he did succeed. It is strange that such a good man as Jonah was should fall into such a foolish state of mind; but God still has a great many unwise children. You can find one if you look in the right place; I mean, in a looking-glass. We are all foolish at times; and it should be remembered that, although Jonah was foolish, and wrong in certain respects, there is this redeeming trait in his character, — we might never have known the story of his folly if he had not written it himself. It shows what a true-hearted man the prophet was, that he just unveiled his real character in this Rook. Biographies of men are seldom truthful, because the writers cannot read the hearts of those whom they describe; and if they could read them, they would not like to print what they would see there. But here is a man, inspired of God to write his own biography, and he tells us of this sad piece of folly, and does not attempt in the least degree to mitigate the evil of it. Now turn to a very different portion of Scripture, Romans 5
You know all about Jonah’s refusal to go upon the Lord’s errand, and how he was held to it, and carried to his work in a great fish as he would not go by himself. Somehow or other, God will make his servants do his will; and the more speedily they do it, the better it is for them. You know also how the Ninevites repented at the preaching of Jonah, and how the Lord had mercy upon them.
Jonah 4:1-3. But it displeased Jonah exceedingly, and he was very angry. And he prayed unto the Lord, and said, I pray thee, O LORD, was not this my saying, when I was yet in my country? Therefore I fled before unto Tarshish: for I knew that thou art a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger, and of great kindness, and repentest thee of the evil. Therefore now, O Lord, take, I beseech thee, my life from me; for it is better for me to die than to live.
“For, if I live, the Ninevites will say, ‘This man scared us needlessly. He is a prophet of evil, and he is a liar, too, for our great city is not destroyed. He frightened us into a kind of repentance for which there was no necessity, for his God does not carry out his threatenings,’” and so forth. And poor Jonah could not face such talk as that. But, brother, if you preach God’s Word as he gives it to you, you have nothing to do with the consequences that come of it. God will justify his own truth; and even if it should seem that the worst rather than the best consequences ensue, it is for you still to go on in the name of him who sent you. Whenever you and I begin to try to manage God’s kingdom for him, we find the divine sceptre too heavy for our little hands to hold; our case would be like that of Phaeton trying to drive the horses in the chariot of the sun. We cannot hold the reins of the universe. And poor Jonah, wanting to manage everything for God, makes a dreadful mess of it, and in his anger makes a very foolish request: “O Lord, take, I beseech thee, my life from me.”
Jonah 4:4. Then said the LORD, Doest thou well to be angry?
How kind of God to speak thus gently to his rebellious servant. Are any of you given to anger? Might not the Lord say to you, “Doest thou well to be angry, so soon, — so often, — so long, — about such little things?”
Jonah 4:5. So Jonah went out of the city, —
When, no doubt, everybody would have been willing to entertain him, for all, even to the king, must have felt a deep respect for the messenger who had brought them to their knees before the Lord: “Jonah went out of the city,” —
Jonah 4:5. And sat on the east side of the city, and there made him a booth, and sat under it in the shadow, till he might see what would become of the city.
To see those forty days out; half hoping, perhaps, that there would come an earthquake, to shake the city down; and then, under his little booth of boughs, he would not be hurt by the failing edifices. In as sulky and surly a spirit as he could be, he put himself to great inconveniences. The damp of the night fell on him, and the heat of the sun would soon wither up the branches. If, dear friends, like Jonah, you want to complain, you will soon have something to complain of. People who are resolved to fret, generally make for themselves causes for fretfulness.
Jonah 4:6. And the LORD God prepared a gourd, and made it to come up over Jonah, that it might be a shadow over his head, to deliver him from his grief. So Jonah was exceeding glad of the gourd.
Those who are angry with God show the littleness of their minds. “Little things please little minds;” so a gourd made Jonah glad.
Jonah 4:7-8. But God prepared a worm when the morning rose the next day, and it smote the gourd that it withered. And it came to pass, when the sun did arise, that God prepared a vehement east wind; and the sun beat upon the head of Jonah, that he fainted, and wished in himself to die, —
Jonah was soon up, and soon down. Yesterday, he “was exceeding glad of the gourd;” today, he is fainting because of the heat of the sun. If we allow our mercies to become too sweet to us, they will soon become, by their withdrawal, too bitter for us. When we feel too much affection for the creature, we shall soon find a great deal of affliction from the creature. “The sun beat upon the head of Jonah, that he fainted, and wished in himself to die,” —
Jonah 4:8-9. And said, It is better for me to die than to live. And God said to Jonah, Doest thou well to be angry for the gourd? And he said, I do well to be angry, even unto death.
He had gotten into such a bad spirit that he could even brave it out with his God. Oh, that we might be preserved from such an evil temper! It is well for us that, “Like as a father pitieth his children, so the Lord pitieth them that fear him.” When a child is in a fever, and says a great many naughty things, his father puts it down to the sickness rather than to the child. So it was with God’s poor fainting servant Jonah.
Jonah 4:10-11. Then said the LORD, Thou hast had pity on the gourd, for the which thou hast not laboured, neither madest it grow; which came up in a night, and perished in a night: and should not I spare Nineveh, —
“Nineveh, for which I have laboured; Nineveh, which I made to grow; Nineveh, which has been many years in the building; Nineveh, which contains multitudes of immortal souls which will not perish in a night: ‘Should not I spare Nineveh,’” —
Jonah 4:11. That great city, wherein are more than six-score thousand persons that cannot discern between their right hand and their left hand; —
This is always supposed to mean infants, and I judge that the supposition is a correct one. So Nineveh had a population of over one hundred and twenty thousand who were under two years old, so it must have been an immense city. Who can tell the blessing that even infants bring to us? It may be that God spares London for the sake of the children in it. What a deal the Lord Jesus Christ made of children! He suffered the little children to come unto him, and forbade them not. Does God care for children? Ay, that he does; and so should his servants! They are the better part of the human race; there is more in them that is admirable than there is in us who are grown up. They are, in many respects, a blessing to the city, as these six-score thousand little ones were to Nineveh. But how singularly does God add —
Jonah 4:11. And also much cattle?
Does God care for cattle? He does; and how that fact should teach his servants to be kind to all brute creatures! There is some truth in those lines of Coleridge, —
“He prayeth best, who loveth best All things, both great and small,”
for everything that lives should be the object of our care for the sake of him who gave them life; and if he has given us to have dominion over all sheep and oxen, and the birds of the air, and so forth, let not our dominion be that of a tyrant, but that of a kind and gentle prince who seeks the good of that which is under his power. Here ends the story of Jonah which he tells himself; and he did not add anything to it because nothing needs to be added. The Lord’s question to him was altogether unanswerable, and Jonah felt it to be so. Let us hope that, during the rest of his life, he so lived as to rejoice in the sparing mercy of God. He had stood outside the door, like the elder brother who was angry, and would not go in, and who said to his father,” Lo, these many years do I serve thee, neither transgressed I at any time thy commandment: and yet thou never gavest me a kid, that I might make merry with my friends: but as soon as this thy son was come, which hath devoured thy living with harlots, thou hast killed for him the fatted calf.” But after his father had said to him, “Son, thou art ever with me, and all that I have is thine,” I hope that he went in, and I trust that Jonah also went in and lived with the penitent Ninevites, and that all were happy together in the love of the God who had been so gracious to them.