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
Therefore now, O Lord, take, I beseech thee,
my life from me, for it is better for me to die than to
Then said the Lord, Doest thou well to be
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
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
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
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
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:
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
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
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.