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.