Scripture from the ESV
Jonah confirms himself in his bitterness. The final chapter of Jonah is both an inversion of the Gospel and an inversion of that picture of blessedness presented in Psalm 1:
Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners,nor sits in the seat of scoffers; but his delight is in the law of the LORD, and on his law he meditates day and night. He is like a tree planted by streams of water that yields its fruit in its season, and its leaf does not wither (Psalm 1:1-3).
and made a booth for himself there.
The Feast of Booths (also known as the Feast of Tabernacles or Sukkot) is a celebration of the abundant harvest which God provides. It is a figure of salvation, the harvest being those gathered in and saved by God.
Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest” (Matthew 9:37-38).
Rather than celebrate, Jonah protests this ‘harvest’ of the Ninevites.
Jonah prefers wilderness and solitude to this radical new holiness,* a holiness which prefigures the Gospel, but which Israel, as represented in Jonah, is yet unwilling and unable to embrace. It is a holiness which extends beyond the confines of the covenant and Law and into the infinite heart of the covenant and Law (cf. Gen 12, 22; Ex. 33; Psalm 87; Isaiah 19; etc.)
till he should see what would become of the city.
He perhaps hopes that God will discover the Ninevites to be tares (Matthew 13:24-30).
Now the Lord God appointed a plant
We have seen that he is Lord of the weather, the Ocean, and animals. He is the Lord of Jonah, the Ninevites, and indeed of all world and the fullness thereof. That he is the Lord of all is the very theme which here disturbs Jonah.
and made it come up over Jonah, that it might be a shade over his head, to save him from his discomfort.
For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust (Matthew 5:45).
So Jonah was exceedingly glad because of the plant.
Jonah was exceedingly displeased only a bit earlier (Jonah 4:1). Now he is glad. What is the difference? When God does Jonah’s will, Jonah is pleased; When God does otherwise, he is wrathful. Is not this the way with all little children?
We can understand the complexity of what angers Jonah by considering the status of Israel as God’s peculiar people. Moses prays in Exodus, “Is it not in your going with us, so that we are distinct, I and your people, from every other people on the face of the earth?” (Exodus 33:15-16). Finding favor with God and securing Israel’s status as a distinct people, Moses than requests to see God’s Glory. Remarkably, God’s response is “I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show mercy on whom I will show mercy” (Exodus 33:19). In affirming Israel’s distinction, God also affirms his right to be merciful and gracious to whomever He pleases!
It is the glory of God to share himself and his presence with whom He wills, a glory which Israel was not ready to fully see (2nd Corinthians 3). The Old Testament prophecies this fulfillment, but also shows why such a fulfillment was needed (i.e. Jonah, etc.). Such glory is the undoing of Israel. Who can behold His face and live? Woe is me, for I am undone. Such glory is the end of the old Israel and the beginning of a new and more inclusive body.
Why then does God choose for himself a peculiar people at all? Why not begin with universal salvation?
- In Adam, God institutes the unity of Man
- In the Fall man introduces division.
- Yet, God’s Law continues to be proclaimed in the hearts of all.
- To clarify and proclaim the Law, and more so to bring about a salvation which respects human dignity, God chooses a real people and communicates by human words to a particular people, not by magic to the whole world.
- In raising up this nation, He uses their history to reveal his character and our disposition toward God.
- By choosing a people, He displays his respect and love for his creation and its realities. He is not a Gnostic God, but a God of story.
- He allows human participation in salvation history by including human failure and success.
- He desires not simply knowledge or even obedience, but love which is lived out amid people and particularity.
- By using human history and familial institutions, God displays the importance of human relations and bonds, even while putting them in their proper place.
- Bound together in sin, we are bound together in hope in the body of Christ.
God appointed a worm that attacked the plant, so that it withered.
The worm, like bitterness, is destructive of much (Hebrews 12:15; Deuteronomy 29:19).
Jonah’s self-imposed exile is an image of the stumbling of Israel discussed in Romans 11. The stumbling of Israel occasions the inclusion of the Gentiles. Paul prophecies a mysterious grafting back of the Jews, but Jonah does not give us such a clear picture of this. The Book does, however, show God counseling Jonah.
The worm is reminiscent of that worm which dieth not (Mark 9:44). The bitterness which churns within Jonah would have no end or limit if not for God’s mercy.
When the sun rose, God appointed a scorching east wind, and the sun beat down on the head of Jonah so that he was faint.
The lord giveth and the lord taketh away (Job 1:21). He does so for his purposes which are always Life and Love.
“Do you do well to be angry for the plant?”
Whose plant is this? Whose world is this? Again, how is your anger working for you Jonah?
And he said, “Yes, I do well to be angry, angry enough to die.”
The hardened heart will defend itself into the depths of the sea; it will literally defend itself into the depths of Sheol. Resentments will poison or lives, but our justified resentments, those which seem so, will kill us.
And the Lord said, “You pity the plant,
Jonah has pity for a plant but not people?
God is generous in claiming Jonah pities it, when it seems he simply misses its shade.
for which you did not labor, nor did you make it grow,
By what right are you jealous for this plant? He is a jealous God and proves this by spending His very life in saving mankind.
The church is not a plant which primarily serves God (provides shade), but more wondrously is branch fed by the vine of Christ. He gives the church sap or life by the gift of his blood. We do not gives ourselves for God primarily, but he gives himself for us. What right hath God to be jealous for mankind? The right of a lover, one greater than the world has ever known.
which came into being in a night and perished in a night.
God shall never permit his vine to perish. The gates of hell will never prevail against it. The church, that plant of God, shall never wither, and He will continue as the good husbandman and nourish, prune and nurture her. God’s care is spent upon mankind, not as in a passing fit of interest, but in eternal commitment.
God wishes that Jonah might understand His love for all mankind. Perhaps, if Jonah is the writer of this book, he eventually comes to grasp this, but the end this book has the nature of a Lacuna, such as the original ending of Mark’s Gospel. Readers must fill in the ending.
And should not I pity Nineveh,
Just as I told Moses, I will show mercy to whom I will.
that great city,
You think I call it great for its power, cultural dignity, trade, and so forth, and yes, I do…
in which there are more than 120,000 persons
But it is this most of all which constitutes the greatness which moves me to compassion, that to destroy this city would be to loose so many…is not it pleasing to you to have saved so many?
who do not know their right hand from their left,
Should one not have pity for those who have not known the Law and covenant?
For you are a people holy* to the Lord your God. The Lord your God has chosen you to be a people for his treasured possession, out of all the peoples who are on the face of the earth. It was not because you were more in number than any other people that the Lord set his love on you and chose you, for you were the fewest of all peoples, but it is because the Lord loves you and is keeping the oath…(Deuteronomy 7:6-8).
and also much cattle?”
He saves man and beast for His own purposes, showing mercy upon whom He will show mercy.