Daily Family Worship

Jonah 4: A Lesson From the Gourd Plant

by | Nov 25, 2023

jonah 4

In the last chapter, we saw how Jonah’s preaching had been instrumental in saving a whole metropolis from destruction. How many thousands – and probably millions – of men, women, and children had been spared from both physical and spiritual death! Surely this must have been highly pleasing to Jonah! But alas, it was not. In fact, “it displeased him exceedingly.” The Lord had laid so much honor upon him and had allowed mercy to prevail over judgment, and those things ought to have been a matter of great joy to him and of much thankfulness to God. But they were not. Rather, he “was very angry.”

There is no reason to doubt – indeed, it is all but plainly stated – that Jonah would have much rather seen Nineveh and all its people perish, rather than that they should repent and be spared. There were two grounds for this state of feeling. First, there was his natural Jewish hatred against the Assyrians as idolaters, as well as oppressors of his country; and second, he was probably afraid that his personal reputation would be tarnished, for it would seem apparent that he was a false prophet if his denunciations were not fulfilled. Indeed, he himself declares that it was his knowledge that the Lord was “very merciful,” and would probably forgive these heathens if they repented, that lay at the root of his original reluctance to undertake this trip in the first place. And he told the Lord that he would rather 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 pronounced its doom in the Lord’s name. Therefore, he posted himself in an advantageous position in the countryside outside the city – near enough for observation, but distant enough for safety. And he resolved to remain there until the 40 days had elapsed, when he had declared that the city would be destroyed.

Even here, however, the Lord, was merciful to the prophet. And He gave him a lesson that was greatly beneficial to him. Jonah had made a temporary shelter to give him rest and relief from the desert sun. There he sat for a while, enjoying as much comfort as a sullen and discontented man – who was dissatisfied with the Divine workings, and scarcely satisfied with himself – could be supposed to enjoy. But his comfort increased when the Lord prepared a gourd plant to grow upon the framework of the shelter, so that “it might be a shadow over his head, to deliver him from his grief” (verse 6). Of this relief, the prophet was “exceedingly glad.” However, God prepared a worm which devoured the gourd, so that it withered in one night. And then when the sun rose the next day, He sent a hot east wind; and without the shade of the gourd plant, the sun beat fiercely upon the prophet’s head until he fainted.  

In such a state, Jonah angrily wished that he were dead. But then the Lord spoke. “Doest thou well to be angry for the gourd?” He gently asked. And the vehement and shocking 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 grow; 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 sixscore thousand persons that cannot discern between their right hand and their left, and also much cattle?”

Thus the narrative of Jonah’s history is abruptly closed, and we know no more regarding him. Was he humbled and contrite again, as he had been before? Did the light of God’s countenance shine on Him once more, so that – like Job – he repented in dust and ashes? We do not know, although the unchanging love of God fully warrants the conclusion that Jonah was at last restored by grace. However, in this wondrous Book, we have met with very much which does not leave us in uncertainty. We have seen far into the heart of man; has that made us better acquainted with our own? We have witnessed the sad and stupefying effects of sin; has that taught us to shun it? Have we learned to lean habitually upon Him Who is the same yesterday, today, and forever? We have beheld his forbearance with Jonah, and His compassion to Nineveh; have we cast ourselves upon His compassion? If the answer to these questions is “yes,” then the study of this Book has been truly blessed to us; and instead of indulging that gloomy passion which often brooded over Jonah’s soul, we may walk in the sunshine of God’s countenance in the face of Jesus Christ!

Before we conclude our study of this Book, we cannot help noticing that Jonah’s case is a strong illustration of the effects which follow when we take only a part, and not the entirety, of God’s Word to guide us. If the prophet had kept in view all of the Lord’s purposes – His purpose to pardon the repentant, as well as to punish the guilty – then Jonah’s character might have been depicted in light, and not in gloom. Here, then, is the lesson: take a portion of the Word and distort it, and you will be wretched. But take the whole counsel of God, and remember that all Scripture is given by His inspiration and is profitable for our guidance – and then our path will be one of light, liberty, and joy! Take the Lord’s promises without His commands, and be a deluded antinomian. Take His commands without His promises, and be a self-righteous legalist. Take pardon without purity, and die in a manner that is unfit for heaven; but take the two together, and then our joy may be full indeed – for all the liberty of the sons and daughters of God is ours, through Jesus Christ!

Lord Jesus, we confess that we are naturally no better than the heathen Ninevites or the wayward prophet, but we thank You for Your amazing grace! Amen.

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