John Kitto Evening Bible Devotions: June 25

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John Kitto Evening Bible Devotions: June 25

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The Gourd

Jonah 4

That his preaching had been instrumental in saving a great city from destruction—that so many persons, men, women, and children, had been spared from death—this must, of course, have been highly gratifying to Jonah.

It was not. “It displeased him exceedingly.”

That the Lord had laid so much honor upon him, and had allowed mercy to prevail over judgment, must have been a matter of great joy to him, and of much thankfulness to God.

No. “He was very angry.”

Lord, what is man?

One cannot love this Jonah, or think well of him. We seem unable to recognize in him those signs of grace which one expects to see adorning the commissioned servants of God. The Lord, however, does not choose unfit instruments for his work; though he does often work by instruments that seem to man most unfit. It may be recollected that we do not know all Jonah’s character, but only some parts of it excited under rare and extraordinary influences. Yet it must be confessed there is such a pervading homogeneity in all the traits that appear in his history, as to suggest that we see in them his real and natural character—a character, no doubt, solidly good, and open to conviction, but habitually irascible and morose, and apt, under exciting circumstances, to view them in their worst and most gloomy aspects.

The present state of his mind is a fearful sight. There is no reason to doubt—indeed it is all but avowed—that he would much rather see this great city, with its people, perish, than that they should repent and be spared. There are two grounds for this state of feeling: first, his Jewish hatred against the Assyrians as idolaters and the oppressors of his country; and next, his fear that he should seem a false prophet, if his denunciation were not accomplished. Indeed, he declares that it was his knowledge that the Lord was “very merciful,” and would probably forgive them if they repented, that lay at the root of his original reluctance to undertake this office that had been forced upon him; and he declares that he would far prefer to yield up his own life than see his character as a prophet thus compromised. So morbid had his state of feeling become, that he would not bring himself to believe that the city could be spared, after he had, in the Lord’s name, pronounced its doom. He therefore posted himself on an advantageous station in the environs-near enough for observation, but distant enough for safety—and resolved to remain there till the time had elapsed within which he had declared the city should be destroyed.

Here the Lord, being merciful unto him, purposed to give him a lesson, salutary to him, and fitted to impress his willful but not hardened mind.

He had made a booth, and rested under its shade. “He sat in his booth for a while, enjoying as much comfort as a sullen and discontented man, who was dissatisfied with the Divine dispensations, and scarcely satisfied with himself, could be supposed to enjoy. But his comfort diminished as the foliage with which he had constructed this green booth began to wither; and in such a climate, where the fierce heat would soon extract the moisture and shrivel the leaves, it would soon become insufficient to afford him protection against the rays of the sun, and thus his external circumstances would become as uncomfortable as was his state of mind.” Note: Practical Exposition of the Book of Jonah. By the Rev. James Peddie D.D. Edinburgh. Oliphant and Sons, 1842. The book of Jonah seems a favorite object of study in Scotland. Our citations indicate three excellent books which have, within these few years, been published in Edinburgh thereon. The Lord then prepared “a gourd” to come up over Jonah, “that it might be a shadow over his head, to deliver him from his grief.” Of this relief the prophet was “exceedingly glad.” But God prepared a worm, which smote the gourd, so that it withered in a night. Then when the sun rose next day, the Lord prepared a vehement east wind, and the sun beat fiercely upon the prophet’s head until he fainted, and wished that he were dead. Then it was the Lord’s time to speak. “Doest thou well to be angry for the gourd?” The vehement and shockingly unbecoming answer was, “I do well to be angry, even unto death.” Then said the Lord, in amazing condescension to the weakness of his servant, “Thou wouldst have spared the gourd, for the which thou hast not labored, nor madest it grown; which came up in a night, and perished in a night: and should not I spare Nineveh, that great city, wherein there are more than six score thousand persons that cannot discern between their right hand and their left, and also much cattle?”

Thus ends the book of Jonah. We are not told how this remonstrance wrought upon the prophet. We may hope that he profited by it. We know that we may.

“The prophet trusted in his gourd. He rejoiced in it; but he forgot the God who sent it. The gift was, therefore, taken away; and where was Jonah then? Precisely where the sons of men are now, when their refuges of lies are swept away from around them. It was only for a single day that Jonah enjoyed the gourd, but that was enough to unveil the condition of his heart, when the thing in which he trusted withered before his eyes. It is in miniature, or in compend, the history of man. By nature we have all some gourd under which we sit—we all have something which we put in the place of God. His gifts are preferred to himself; for we all think it better to have a creature for a portion than God over all, blessed forever.

“But is it not a blessing when these gourds wither? Is it not mercy in God to sweep them utterly away, even though the heart should be half broken by the loss? There is one reposing, for example, on his goods laid up for many days, and regarding them just as Jonah did the goodly foliage of the sheltering plant. Is it not a mercy, in the high reckoning of eternity at least, to have these gifts of God withdrawn, that God himself may be our trust? Another is reposing under the shadow of some protecting friend. To him, and not to God, the eye of hope, or the heart of expectation turns. Now, is it not a mercy, according to the standard of the sanctuary at least, that that earthly friend should be withdrawn, that we may learn to lean upon the Lord alone? A third may be seeking all the heaven which he knows, in something which perishes in the using. Is it not well that the delusion should be swept away, that God may be sought, and eternity provided for? Many will bless God forever because their gourds were withered—just as the saints in glory praise the King of saints, ‘because they were stoned, they were sawn asunder, were tempted, were slain with the sword, they wandered about in sheep-skins and goat-skins, being destitute, afflicted, and tormented.’ Had the gourd not withered, the soul would not have been saved; and the withering of the gourd, therefore, makes the anthem of the saved the louder.” Note: Man by Nature and Grace; or, Lessons from the Book of Jonah. By the Rev. W.K. Tweedie. Edinburgh, 1850.

Another point entitled to remark, is the assertion of the Lord’s providence in the frequent intimation that the Lord prepared all the material and circumstantial agencies that wrought in the history of Jonah. In his first adventure, the Lord prepared the storm the Lord prepared the great fish; and, in the second, the Lord prepared the gourd, the Lord prepared the worm, the Lord prepared the east wind—all is of the Lord’s preparing. This also accounts for everything; and we are not bound, in the case of the gourd, for instance, to find a plant which, without the special ordinance of the Lord’s providence, should attain such growth in a night as to afford adequate shelter to the prophet’s head. The Lord, however, is in all his dispensations economical of prodigies; and we are to suppose that in this instance He did not create a new plant for the occasion, or choose one of naturally slow growth. It is more in the ordinary course of even his miraculous providence to suppose that a plant naturally of rapid growth was chosen, and that this natural quickness of growth was preternaturally stimulated and quickened for the occasion. The word employed in the original Hebrew is generally supposed to denote the castor-oil plant. It is of exceedingly rapid growth, and its broad palmatic leaves extend a grateful shade over the parched traveller. It is not unknown to our gardens; but it does not in them, though still a plant of most rapid growth, attain the size or grow with the quickness that it does in the region of the Tigris.