The Lessons of Jonah’s Gourd (2)
Rev.Angus Stewart, Pastor of Covenant PRC of Ballymena, N.Ireland
How did God restore His angry, huffing prophet in Jonah 4:10-11?
First, Jehovah did this in a way befitting Himself and His nature. As Jonah confessed, He is “a gracious God, and merciful, slow to anger, and of great kindness” (2). This was the way He related to Jonah both throughout the book and here in our text.
Second, Jehovah worked with Jonah as one who is a rational, moral creature. God reasoned with Jonah as a rational creature. He spoke to Jonah about moral, ethical, spiritual things as a moral creature. Jehovah came to Jonah by means of His Word and used that Word as a means of grace. This is what our heavenly Father does with us too.
Third, God dealt with Jonah in keeping with his situation, where he was at (so to speak). God decreed and ordered all of the circumstances in this scene (and, indeed, in absolutely all of Jonah’s life and ours too). He “prepared” the gourd (6), the worm (7) and the vehement, east wind (8), and He spoke to Jonah in his situation, just as Christ spoke to the Samaritan woman at the well in her situation—about Himself as the water of life, her sins against the seventh commandment, her Samaritan ideas of holy places and the Messiah (John 4:5-26). This is how the Triune God works with us too—in our circumstances and situation, where we are at.
Specifically, how did God work with Jonah in a way befitting His nature and Jonah’s nature (a rational, moral creature) and circumstances? Jehovah came with a question, a question that explained and convicted. In His question, God made a comparison and formed a contrast between Jonah and Himself: “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 4:10-11).
More particularly, the comparison and contrast is between Jonah and his pity for the gourd, on the one hand, and Jehovah and His pity for Nineveh, on the other hand: “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 [lit., have pity—the same Hebrew word as in v. 10] 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?” (10-11).
Though not all of the elements of the two sides of the comparison are explicitly stated, we can identify four different factors in the contrast between Jonah’s pity for the gourd and God’s pity for Nineveh.
First, there is the time factor. Regarding the gourd, it “came up in a night, and perished in a night” (10). This refers to two different nights, one after the other, so that the gourd lasted about 24 hours. On the other hand, its antiquity was a part of what made Nineveh a “great city” (11). It went way back to the days of Nimrod (Gen. 10:9-11), some 1,500 years before Jonah. You see the comparison here regarding time? God’s argument is: “If you have a right to have pity on a 24-hour gourd, Jonah, cannot I have pity on something that has lasted one and a half millennia?”
Second, there is the labour factor. Jonah did not dig a hole for the gourd, plant it as a seed, fertilise it, water it, stake it or protect it. As God said to Jonah, “Thou hast had pity on the gourd, for the which thou hast not laboured, neither madest it grow” (Jonah 4:10). However, in God’s wise providence, He had built Nineveh’s mighty walls, many houses and numerous streets, with all their families and people. The argument is simple: Jonah pitied something in which he had invested absolutely no labour whatsoever, but God pitied a city which He had wrought in His sovereign providence.
Third, there is what we may call the “worth” factor. The gourd was merely a plant, whereas Nineveh included livestock and people. Consider a car driver who runs over a man and a dog and someone’s lawn, before speeding off. One passerby ignores the moans of the man and the whimpers of the dog, hastening to the lawn to bemoan its indentation. Another passerby hurries to the dog, turning his back on the injured man. But surely the dog is more important than the lawn and the man is of greater value than the dog (cf. Matt. 10:31)! Well, Jonah is all upset about the gourd (a plant); he does not care about the people and livestock of Nineveh; he is even angry that they are not dead!
Fourth, there is the number factor. The gourd was one plant. In Nineveh, there were 120,000 infants as yet unable to distinguish between their left hand and their right hand (Jonah 4:11). What age is that, and what ratio is there between children that age and the rest of the population in those days, when life expectancy was much lower than in the twenty-first century Western world? Most guess the ratio at about 1:5. This would make the population of Nineveh, both inside and near its walls, to total about 720,000. The “much cattle” or livestock (11) would have consisted of cows, goats, sheep, oxen, horses, donkeys, camels, etc., numbering tens of thousands, if not more.
The tragedy is that Jonah is more concerned over the loss of one plant than the loss of about three quarters of a million people and tens of thousands of livestock. For him, one plant is more important than one million men, women, children and animals. In fact, Jonah is angry, very angry, that the one plant has died and the 720,000 people and all their livestock have not died! What about our love for our neighbour (Matt. 22:39) and desire for his or her salvation (Rom. 9:1-3; 10:1)?
- Volume: 15
- Issue: 11
Rev. Angust Stewart (Wife: Mary)
Ordained - 2001
Pastorates: Covenant Protestant Reformed Church of Ballymena, Northern Ireland - 2001Website: www.cprf.co.uk/
Address7 Lislunnan Road
State or ProvinceCo.Antrim
Zip CodeBT42 3NR
Telephone(01144) 28 25 891851