Harry Whittaker

10) The Parable of the Gourd (ch. 4)

Ch.4 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.
Then said the Lord, Doest thou well to be angry?
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.
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, 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?

Jonah should surely have been mightily pleased with the outcome of his campaign of warning. Nineveh had taken notice. There was a dramatic and drastic change in their morality. So his God would certainly be pleased and would now show a marked approval of His prophet’s work.

But if God was pleased, Jonah wasn’t. In a record that is peppered with Hebrew intensives and hyperboles, the verse (4:1), which describes Jonah’s reaction, is one of the most vigorous.

The soliloquy, which follows probably, took place between himself and the angel of the Lord (there is one small hint in the text that this may have been so).

Jonah’s expostulation began with his quoting the words of the angel of the Lord to Moses at Sinai:

“Thou art a gracious God, merciful, slow to anger, of great kindness, and repentest thee of the evil” (cp. Ex. 34: 6,7).

He went on: ‘I knew it would work out like this. When I was first told to go lo Nineveh, did I not say then that this would be the outcome? And now that I have done my duty, as I was made to do, my life is in peril and is even now a present misery — and all this as a reward for obedience and hard dedication to a difficult duty, forty days of it! And when I chose to abandon Nineveh to its fate, that horrific destiny came on me instead. As a prophet of the God of Israel, I am between the upper and nether millstone. I just can’t win.’

So self-righteous, self-pitying Jonah was angry. He felt that he had every right to be.

But why should he be angry at the sight of a violent greedy power-drunk city of Nineveh all at once showing respect for Jehovah and trembling at His word? Ought not a prophet of the Lord to rejoice at such a reformation?

In high dudgeon he went out of the city (on its east side because there was high ground, and on the west Calah abutted on the wide fast-flowing Tigris). There he built himself a booth, of the sort he had made in early days at Jerusalem at the Feast of Tabernacles; and there he would discipline his impatient soul with patience. Perhaps, after all, his remonstration to the angel would bring thunderbolts from heaven, something comparable to Sodom’s grim fate and would “turn Nineveh to ashes, condemning it with an overthrow.” What a satisfaction it would be to himself and to his countrymen to see a politically-inflated Nineveh wiped out!

And as he sat there, waiting and expectant, and feeling the growing heat of the day more and more, he noted that already the stem of a fast-growing gourd plant, rather like a vine but with more foliage, was climbing up and over his booth. He marked with amazement the rapidity of its development. What a blessing this added shelter was to save him from the exhausting heat of a fierce mid-day sun.

All that day and all that night Jonah camped out there, comfortable and expectant. But still nothing happened.

Next day, the angel of the Lord went into action. A plague of caterpillars appeared on the gourd, as if from nowhere. These greedily devastated all that rich vegetation. Then, as the day wore on, a hot, hot wind blew up from the desert with vehement intensity. There was no escaping the fierce heat of scorching sun and blasting wind combined. It was worse than being in an oven.

And Jonah groaned aloud in his misery. Now he had an added reason for wishing himself dead.

Then, all at once, the angel of the Lord stood before him again, coolly rebuking his self-pity.

“Doest thou well to be angry, Jonah? Why feel so full of complaint at losing the cool shade of your gourd? Yet you are mighty indignant when that vast sprawling city, full of pathetic, ignorant, superstitious people, is saved from the fierce heat of Almighty wrath. Is that reasonable? When will you begin to allow that God, far wiser than you, knows what He is doing?”

Why did not Jonah want Nineveh to be saved? Why should he reckon his own life would be put in peril if his preaching were to save the city from destruction?

It had probably become a firm conviction in the northern tribes of Israel that, before long, the aggrandisement of Assyria would be sure to mean an irresistible threat to the survival of Israel. It were far better if Nineveh perish. On the other hand, a Nineveh converted to high respect for Jehovah would be sure to lead to friendship between Assyria and Judah, and thus Israel might find itself with strong enemies on both flanks. So, after preaching repentance in Nineveh, how could Jonah possibly show his face again in his own country? He was convinced that his dutiful obedience to the Lord’s behest had put him in an impossible position.

But think again, man! Your God does not enjoy destroying the creatures of His hand. And there in Nineveh are 120,000 people, and all of them spiritually no better than uninstructed children who cannot tell right hand from left. Indeed, are they any better than “much cattle”? Can’t you have pity, Jonah, as your God has pity?

Indeed, there is more to it than that, Jonah. Why don’t you learn from the parable of your own gourd? Just as it sheltered you, so the strength of Nineveh sheltered your people by holding in check the perennial threat from Syria. But your gourd withered away and became useless to you. Learn also from this part of the parable. This repentance is only a flash in the pan. It won’t last. Very soon, they will forget Jehovah and the judgment He can bring, and they will turn back to their violence and wickedness and to their false gods. And then both Israel and Judah will feel the blast of Assyrian heat. There will come an ambitious brutal monarch called Sennacherib who will resent the respect his forefathers were constrained to show to the God of Israel. He will challenge Jehovah with the might of his national god Ashur, and will bring against the tribes of Jacob the worst ferocity Assyria can muster. You have seen, Jonah, what Heaven’s compassion has done for Nineveh in your time. But live to the end of this century, and you will see that God is not mocked.

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