1 But it displeased Jonah exceedingly, and he was very angry.
This word “angry” means to burn and glow with white hot anger.
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.
Exodus 34:6-7: And the LORD passed by before him, and proclaimed, The LORD, The LORD God, merciful and gracious, longsuffering, and abundant in goodness and truth, Keeping mercy for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, and that will by no means clear the guilty; visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children, and upon the children's children, unto the third and to the fourth generation.
The whole reason Jonah ran was because down deep he knew they would repent when Jonah wanted them to pay for all the evil they had done to Israel.
3 Therefore now, O LORD, take, I beseech thee, my life from me; for it is better for me to die than to live.
Jonah was still an anti-Goyite (Gentile) Bigot, so much so he wanted to die.
Ibn Ezra and Radak tells us, “Jonah felt from the start that the Ninevites would repent, thus gaining God’s mercy – and thus reflecting bad upon Israel. Now he prayed that he would not live to see Israel’s destruction.”
To purge this bigotry out of Jonah he sets up an object lesson with a shady gourd as big as a small tree that lived and died in one day. Having his skin bleached by the fish, his skin was probably very sensitive and he for health and comfort he probably required shade.
4 Then said the LORD, Doest thou well to be angry?
“What good will it do you to be angry about the whole situation.”
5 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.
After begrudgingly fulfilling his duty Jonah skipped town, he didn’t even stay for an altar call. He climbed a nearby hill outside of town where the sun was behind him, and waited to see the fireworks of brimstone from the sky! He wanted to see a modern day Sodom and Gomorrah before his very eyes.
Gen. 19:24 Then the LORD rained upon Sodom and upon Gomorrah brimstone and fire from the LORD out of heaven;
When the pyrotechnic show didn’t happen Jonah was ticked! He knew it wouldn’t but nevertheless hoped God would change His mind.
Jonah had built himself a small Sukkah, a hut or booth so shade him. Being bleached by the great fish’s stomach caused Jonah’s skin to be very sensitive to the sun. He probably burned very easily.
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.
Some translations say it was a Castor plant. Rashi said this was a leafy shady plant. Legends of the Bible tell us that the plant was a Kikayon plant.
Wikipedia says, “The word kikayon is only referenced in the book of Jonah and there is some question as to what kind of plant it is. Some hypotheses include a gourd and a castor oil plant. The concurrent Hebrew usage of the word refers to the castor oil plant.”
Legends of the Bible goes on further to say that it had 275 leaves each a span long and was more than enough to shade and comfort Jonah.
7 But God prepared a worm when the morning rose the next day, and it smote the gourd that it withered.
Same word “prepared” as used with the fish. It is not known what worm it was, but obviously some species of plant eating worm.
8 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.
The east wind was “prepared” too, as if to bitterly remind him that the shading gourd was dead; all an elaborate plan of ADONAI to reveal Jonah’s selfishness and bigotry.
9 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.
I believe partial reason for Jonah’s anger is that he saw this Castor plant and a way to relieve and even heal his skin which was bleached and burnt by the acid in the fish’s stomach. It was and in well know that Castor oil can be produced from the Castor plant and such oil has amazing healing properties.
10 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: 11 And should not I spare Nineveh, that great city, wherein are more than sixscore thousand persons that cannot discern between their right hand and their left hand; and also much cattle?
Legends of the Bible says, “He began to weep and wish for death to release him from his troubles. But when God led him to the plant, and showed him what lesson he might derive from it – how, though he had not labored for the plant, he had pity on it – he realized his wrong in desiring God to be relentless toward Nineveh, the great city, with its many inhabitants, rather than have his reputation as a prophet suffer taint. He prostrated himself and said; “O God, guide the world according to Thy goodness.””
God loves the Ninevites just as He loves the Israelites. They are both His creation, both his children. He chose one to be caretakers of His Torah but does not love one above the other. Think in terms of a parent, just because Johnny punches and hurts Sally doesn’t mean we love Johnny any less or will punish Johnny the way Sally would like to see him punished. The Ninevites were all sons of Adam, sons of Noah, He created them too.
The Stones Tanak says, “God showed Jonah how wrong he had been by being apathetic to the horrible fate that could have befallen a great city with its huge population.”
The whole episode with the gourd showed just how selfish Jonah was, the shameful flaw of this prophet, more shameful than him being falsely accused of being a false prophet.
This verse tells us that God will remove anything and everything that stands in our way, like an idol, from performing His will.
Preconceived expectation, misplaced priorities, a humanistic flawed sense of justice, all came to a head and poured forth in an irrational way with a much exaggerated verbal display; like that of an unexpected volcanic eruption. A tantrum and irrational words you’d expect from a child gush forth from Jonah like an open flood gate; such a gamut of bi-polar type of emotions, from fearful faith and thanksgiving in chapter two, to blind rash rage and disappointed anger in chapter four.
Like what we call today an “intervention,” God, through miraculous circumstances forces Jonah against his will to fulfill His Divine will. Like forcing our child to take out the trash when their attitude, body language and voice protest, even if they sloppily do the job we don’t care, the point was not to let the child get away with saying, “No,” to us.
Jonah had one divine let down after another, extreme events orchestrated to play back like a video security tape in Jonah’s mind to show how ridiculously selfish and childish the prophet had conducted himself; to contrast his selfishness and his apathy toward others. If Jonah did write this “tell all” memoir, for him to pen this for all to see testifies to his change of heart, his repentance from his bondage of selfish bigotry and the development of the manly character of transparency.
Nelson’s Illustrated Bible Dictionary comments, “The natural tendency of human writers would be to obscure and hide such a character. But the Spirit of God presents valiant heroes along with petty people to illustrate truth, no matter how weak and unpleasant these characters may have been…”
11 And should not I spare Nineveh, that great city, wherein are more than sixscore thousand persons that cannot discern between their right hand and their left hand; and also much cattle?
And that is how the book ends, like a French film, what the heck kind of ending is that!?
But we are left with the silent point:
Jonah 4:11 And should not I spare Nineveh, that great city, wherein are more than sixscore thousand persons that cannot discern between their right hand and their left hand; and also much cattle?
“By not including Jonah’s response to God’s question in this verse, the book ends with an effective challenge to each reader to consider whether their priorities are in conflict with God’s priorities. Some would suggest that the phrase “discern between their right hand and their left hand” refers to the spiritual ignorance of the pagan inhabitance of Nineveh. Others say it refers to young children who were not old enough to make rational decisions…” – Key Word Study Bible
Like a “Feed the Children” commercial, this last stinging and echoing line of the LORD was meant to pluck at Jonah’s heart strings.
As mentioned at the very beginning of this book, Jonah is read during Yom Kippur because the book is all about repentance and atonement.
Basically, God is merciful, compassionate and just. He desires all mankind to repent, no matter who they are or what they have done. So too for us in the season of Yom Kippur, we are given that last chance to make things right with God and man.
Lev. 23:26 And the LORD spake unto Moses, saying, 27 Also on the tenth day of this seventh month there shall be a day of atonement: it shall be an holy convocation unto you; and ye shall afflict your souls, and offer an offering made by fire unto the LORD. 28 And ye shall do no work in that same day: for it is a day of atonement, to make an atonement for you before the LORD your God. 29 For whatsoever soul it be that shall not be afflicted in that same day, he shall be cut off from among his people. 30 And whatsoever soul it be that doeth any work in that same day, the same soul will I destroy from among his people. 31 Ye shall do no manner of work: it shall be a statute for ever throughout your generations in all your dwellings. 32 It shall be unto you a sabbath of rest, and ye shall afflict your souls: in the ninth day of the month at even, from even unto even, shall ye celebrate your sabbath.
Let our hearts break over our fallen and frail human condition. Let all pride, prejudice die within us, let all the filth and cankerous rank surface in our lives that we may face it, deal with it and that we may be purge of all sin and iniquity in our lives; so that we may be a people ready for God to use to change the world.
During the 10 days of Awe prior to Yom Kippur we are lodged, trapped in the corrosive belly of sin. This year and the years to come may we sincerely pray the prayer Jonah prayed:
Jonah 2:1 Then Jonah prayed unto the LORD his God out of the fish's belly, 2 And said, I cried by reason of mine affliction unto the LORD, and he heard me; out of the belly of hell cried I, and thou heardest my voice. 3 For thou hadst cast me into the deep, in the midst of the seas; and the floods compassed me about: all thy billows and thy waves passed over me. 4 Then I said, I am cast out of thy sight; yet I will look again toward thy holy temple. 5 The waters compassed me about, even to the soul: the depth closed me round about, the weeds were wrapped about my head. 6 I went down to the bottoms of the mountains; the earth with her bars was about me for ever: yet hast thou brought up my life from corruption, O LORD my God. 7 When my soul fainted within me I remembered the LORD: and my prayer came in unto thee, into thine holy temple. 8 They that observe lying vanities forsake their own mercy. 9But I will sacrifice unto thee with the voice of thanksgiving; I will pay that that I have vowed. Salvation is of the LORD.
Many liberal scholars and skeptics would say this story is no more than a moral fish tale, but we have already given scientific and historical backing for these events. Yeshua’s resurrection was not treated as an allegory by Messiah Himself as he likened his future and literal resurrection after three days in the tomb to Jonah’s literal three days in the belly of the great fish (Matt. 12:40). To view the Book of Jonah as just a “fish tale” would imply the Scriptures are fallible as well as our Messiah.
I pray you have enjoyed this commentary and have developed a greater understanding of the love of ADONAI for all mankind and His desire for all to come to Repentance.