Charles Simeon Commentary - Jonah 4:5 - 4:9

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Charles Simeon Commentary - Jonah 4:5 - 4:9

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Jon_4:5-9. So Jonah went out of the city, 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. 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. 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, 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.

WHETHER we look into the sacred volume or to the world around us, we are almost at a loss to say which is the greater, the depravity of man, or the tender mercy of our God — — — In the brief history which we have of the Prophet Jonah, they are both exhibited to our view in the most striking colours. Had Jonah been a professed heathen, we should have wondered less at his impiety: but being an Israelite, yea, a prophet too of the Most High God, and, we would fondly hope, a good man upon the whole, we are amazed at the very extraordinary wickedness which he manifested, and no less at the astonishing forbearance exercised by Almighty God towards him. In the former part of his history we have an account of his declining to execute the commission which God had given him to preach to the Ninevites, and, notwithstanding that rebellious conduct, his preservation in the belly of a fish. In the passage which we have now read, we see his perverseness carried to an extent that seems absolutely incredible, and God’s condescension to him keeping pace with his enormities. It relates his conduct in reference to a gourd which God had caused to spring up over him, and which withered within a few hours after it had comforted him with its refreshing shade. That we may place the matter in a clear point of view, we shall notice,

I.       His inordinate joy at the acquisition of the gourd—

He was at this time in a most deplorable state of mind—

[He had preached to the Ninevites, and his word had been attended with such power, that the whole city repented, and turned to the Lord with weeping and with mourning and with fasting. This, instead of exciting gratitude in the heart of Jonah, filled him only with rage; because he thought that God, in consideration of their penitence, would shew mercy to them, and that, in consequence of the judgments with which he had threatened them not being executed upon them, he himself should appear an impostor. It was of small importance that there were above a million of souls in the city: the destruction of them was of no moment in his eyes, in comparison of his own honour: he hoped therefore that God would at least inflict some signal judgment upon them, sufficient to attest the truth of his menaces, and to support his credit as a true prophet. With the hope of seeing his wishes realized, he made a booth on the outside of the city, and “sat there to see what would become of the city.”]

Then it was that God caused a gourd to spring up suddenly, and cover the booth—

[What amazing condescension! How much rather might we have expected that God would have sent a lion to destroy him, as he had before done to a disobedient prophet! But instead of visiting his iniquity as it deserved, God consulted only his comfort; yes, this very man, who was so “exceedingly displeased with God’s mercy to the Ninevites, that he could not endure his life, and begged of God to strike him dead; this very man, I say, was such an object of God’s attention, as to have a gourd raised up over his head “to deliver him from his grief.” It should seem as if there was a contest between God and him; he striving to exhaust the patience of Jehovah, and Jehovah striving to overcome by love the obstinacy and obduracy of his heart.]

In the acquisition of this gourd Jonah exceedingly rejoiced—

[Had we been told that he was exceedingly thankful to his God, we should have been ready to applaud his gratitude: but he saw not God’s hand in the mercy vouchsafed to him: it was his own comfort only that he cared about: and in the gift alone did he rejoice, forgetful of the Giver. The idea of a million of souls being saved from perishing in their sins gave him no pleasure: but the being more effectually screened from the heat of the sun himself, made him “exceeding glad.” Had his mind been at all in a right state, his own comfort and convenience would have been swallowed up in thankfulness, for the preservation of so many souls, and for having been made the honoured instrument of their deliverance: but love for ourselves, and indifference about others, always bear a proportion to each other in the mind of man: and their connexion with each other was never more strongly seen than on this occasion.]

His inordinate joy at the acquisition of the gourd was more than equalled by,

II.      His intemperate sorrow at the loss of it—

God, seeing the ingratitude of Jonah, withdrew the gift soon after it had been been bestowed—

[He prepared a worm, which smote the gourd, so that it withered as suddenly as it had grown up. And where is there any gourd without a worm at the root of it? Our comforts may continue for a longer season than Jonah’s; but there is in every creature-comfort a tendency to decay; and our most sanguine expectations are usually followed by the most bitter disappointments. Indeed God has wisely and graciously ordained, that abiding happiness shall not be found in any thing but Him alone: and the withdrawment of this comfort was in reality a greater blessing than its continuance would have been; since the gourd could only impart a transient comfort to his body; whereas the removal of it tended to humble and improve his soul.]

But the impatient spirit of Jonah only raged and complained the more—

[As soon as the heat became oppressive to him, Jonah renewed his former wish for death; and, when reproved by God for his impiety, he vindicated himself in the very presence of his God, and declared, that “he did well to be angry, even unto death.” Who would conceive that such impiety as this should exist in the heart of any man, but especially of one who had received such signal mercies as he, and been so honoured as an instrument of good to others? But hereby God did indeed shew, that the excellency of the power was of him alone, and that he can work by whomsoever he will. It seems strange too, that, when God appealed to his conscience, an enlightened man could possibly be so blinded by passion as to give judgment in his own favour in such a case. But man has neither reason nor conscience, when biassed by his own lusts: and his very appeals to God can be little more depended on than the testimony of a man who is deliberately deceitful. But this we may observe in general, that the more there is of unhallowed boldness in any man’s confidence, the more it is to be suspected; and the more ready he is to wish himself dead, the more unfit he is for death and judgment.]

Thus far our attention has been almost exclusively turned to Jonah: but. that we may bring the matter home more directly to our own business and bosoms. we would suggest a reflection or two. arising out of the subject:

1.       What selfishness is there in the heart of man!

[One would be ready to account this record a libel upon human nature. if we did not know assuredly that it is a true history. without any exaggeration or mistake. It appears incredible. that such inhumanity should exist in the heart of man. as that he should wish for the destruction of a million of souls. only that his own word might be verified; and that he should be so vexed by his disappointment. as to wish for death and pray to God to terminate his life. Nor would one conceive it possible that a temporary inconvenience. which had in fact originated solely in his own absurd and impious conduct. should so irritate and inflame his mind. as to make him insult. to his very face. his almighty and all-gracious Reprover. But we know little of ourselves. if we do not recognize much of our own character in that of Jonah. We have had reported to us. time after time. the calamities of others and have felt no more than if the most trifling occurrences had been related: or if we have felt at all. it has been only for a moment and the tale has soon become as if it had passed before the flood. But. on the other hand. if any thing has arisen to thwart our own interests or inclinations. though it has been of less consequence than Jonah’s gourd. we have laid it to heart and been so irritated or grieved by it. that our very sleep has gone from us. Particularly if any thing has occurred that was likely to lower our reputation in the world. how keenly have we felt it. so as almost to be weary even of life! Or if any thing wherein we promised ourselves much happiness have been withdrawn from us. as wife or child. how little have we been able to say. “The Lord gave and the Lord hath taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord!” Alas! we have more resembled Jonah. than Job: our every thought has been swallowed up in self: and neither God nor man have been regarded by us. any farther than they might subserve our selfish and carnal ends. Let us then in Jonah see our own character as in a glass and let this view of it humble us in the dust.]

2.       What mercy is there in the heart of God!—

[This is the improvement which God himself makes of the subject. Jonah had complained of God for exercising mercy towards the repentant Ninevites; and God vindicates himself against the accusations of Jonah. In doing this. he touches with exquisite tenderness the sin of Jonah; and represents him not as actuated by selfishness and impiety, but as merely “having pity on the gourd.” What a beautiful example does this afford us, who ought to extenuate, rather than to aggravate, the faults of our bitterest enemies! His argument on the occasion is this: ‘If you have had pity on a poor worthless gourd, for which you never laboured, and in which you have only a slight and transient interest, how much more am I justified in having pity on a million of the human race, (six-score thousand of whom have never done good or evil,) and on multitudes of cattle also, which must have been involved in any calamity inflicted on that large city!’ This argument is similar to one used in the Epistle to the Hebrews [Note: Chap. 9:13, 14.], and says in effect, ‘If you were right in pitying a thing of no value, how much more am I in sparing what is of more value than ten thousand worlds!’ This argument, especially as addressed to the self-justifying Jonah, was unanswerable: and the truth contained in it is consolatory to every child of man. God is a God of infinite mercy: he may, he will, spare all who truly repent. Whatever judgments he has denounced against sin and sinners, the execution of them depends solely on the sinners themselves: if they repent, sooner shall God cease to exist, than cease to exercise mercy towards them. Let this encourage transgressors of every class: let it encourage the abandoned to repent; and those who profess godliness to repent also: for all need this consoling truth, that “God willeth not the death of any sinner, but rather that he turn from his wickedness and live.” Know then, both from his dealings with the Ninevites, and his forbearance towards his perverse prophet, that He is abundant in goodness and truth, and that where sin has abounded, his grace shall much more abound.]