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Jonah 4


  • Jonah observed the Ninevites repentance and was P.O.’d.
  • Joey prayed to God, “What the heck, man? Didn’t I say this would happen, back in my hometown when you first told me to come here? This is why I fled to the other end of the world. You’re a nice, and good, and kind, and forgving God, and… well now my enemies are prospering!”
  • Jonah was so mad he told God, “Take my life. Better to be dead than alive to see this!”
  • God’s all, “Jonah, I can see you’re angry. So, how’s that working for you? You feel like you’re on the right side of the debate on this?”
  • Jo-Jo stomped out of the city and sat on the east side of town where he could watch the Assyrian’s repentance fall apart and see God destroy them yet. Jones even set up a little tent of sticks, because he knew it would take some time.
  • God had a plant grow up and give Jonah shade. The prophet was stoked. Then God had a worm come and attack the plant. Jonah was bummed.
  • Then a scorching wind blew, and the sun beat down on Jonah and he was all sweaty and angry and said, “I want to die. I liked the plant. It was nice to have shade, but now I want to die so badly I want my very soul extinguished!”
  • Then God said, “Now you’re mad about the plant? Really?”
  • Jonah’s all, “Yep. 100% unhappy. I want to die.”
  • “The plant?” God says. “It sprang up without you doing anything to help it grow, and it died in a day’s time. That temporary shrub is what you want me to show mercy on? The plant is the thing I should spare. The plant?!!”
  • God goes on, “It’s a plant, Jonah! Look over there, at Ninevah, a giant city that’s been around for a thousand years, filled with thousands of innocent children, not to mention thousands of innocent animals. You would rather me spare the plant than all those people?”

Historical Context

13 Attributes of God’s Mercy

Jonah alludes to the Thirteen Attributes of Mercy taken from the Book of Exodus (Exodus 34:6-7) and, according to Judaism, how God governs the world.  These attributes are considered the method of God’s activity by which the divine governance appears to the human observer.9

  1. Compassion before a person sins
  2. Compassion after a person has sinned
  3. Mighty in compassion to give all creatures according to their need
  4. Merciful, that humankind may not be distressed
  5. Gracious if humankind is already in distress
  6. Slow to anger
  7. Plenteous in kindness
  8. Plenteous in truth
  9. Keeping kindness unto thousands
  10. Forgiving iniquity
  11. Forgiving transgression
  12. Forgiving sin
  13. Pardoning

The Names of God

In Jonah 4:4-9  there are several variations on the name of God used by the author.3

In Jonah 4:4 God is called “Jehovah” as he questions Jonah’s anger.

In Jonah 4:6, the creation of the miraculous tree to give shade to Jonah is ascribed to “Jehovah-Elohim.” This composite name occurs very rarely ( only elsewhere in Genesis 2 and 3), is chosen here to help the transition from the use of the name Jehovah to Elohim.3

In Jonah 4:7,8, “Elohim” is used to describe God as the divine creative power. He prepares the worm and brings the east wind. This is the designation of a deity ruling over nature.3


  • Before Jonah arrived in Nineveh, two plagues had erupted there (in 765 and 759 B.C.) and a total eclipse of the sun occurred on June 15, 763. These were considered signs of divine anger and may help explain why the Ninevites responded so readily to Jonah’s message.7
  • Jonah’s departure from the city and settlement to the east of it is him awaiting God’s final decision as to its fate. He is mistrustful of their repentance. He hopes that God sees that it is shallow and proceeds with his plan of destruction of the Jews’ enemies.3
  • Israel’s prosperity and salvation was the prominent aim of Jonah, as a prophet of God’s elect people. He would’ve regarded the destruction of Nineveh as a fitting example of God’s judgment against the Jews’ national enemies.4
  • All of Jonah’s hope of bringing his own nation to do the will of God perished, in the event of Nineveh’s conversion, which as it seemed to Jonah, would eclipse the honor of God, destroy the credit of his ministry, and harden the hearts of his countrymen.8
  • Much to Jonah’s displeasure, repenting Nineveh had proved herself more worthy of God’s favor than apostate Israel. The children of the covenant have not only fallen below the level of a heathen people.4
  • The prayer, “Take my life from me,” calls to mind the similar prayer of Elijah in 1 Kings 19:4; but the motive assigned is a different one.Whilst Elijah adds, “for I am not better than my fathers,” Jonah adds, “for death is better to me than life.”3
  • “It greatly displeased Jonah,” in the original Hebrew reads, “it was evil” to Jonah. The repentance of Nineveh was not only offensive, but contrary to what was right and just.6
  • “He was angry,” is literally translated “it burnt” to him.6
  • Jonah holds God’s mercy against God as a fault. Though he would’ve known the 13 attributes of God (see above), he did not believe them.8
  • The book of Psalms praises God for his lovingkindness, his grace, and his mercy (cf. Ps. 86:5, 15), but for Jonah this is grounds for protest rather than praise.7
  • The conversion of Nineveh was the doom of Jonah himself.8
  • “Do you have a good reason to be angry?” could also be rendered, “is doing good you any good to be displeased by this?” God asks Jonah a very practical question in the midst of the prophet’s theoretical hatred.1
  • The east side of the city was the opposite side to that by which he had entered, and where the high ground enabled him to overlook the town, without necessarily sharing in its destruction.4
  • Jonah prepared a structure to sit in, evidently expecting to stay a considerable time. He hoped for the eventual overthrow of Nineveh. Although Jonah had already decided that God would spare the city, he was not yet certain of it; and as long as there was hope of its destruction, he would wait.8
  • A booth, or a shelter, was a structure constructed of branches interlaced.4
  • Jonah still expected that some calamity would befall the Ninevites, perhaps with the idea that their repentance would prove so imperfect and temporary that God would punish them after all.4
  • The gourd, in Hebrew, is called “kikaion” after the Egyptian “kiki,” or the “ricinus,” a castor-oil plant, commonly called “palm-christ” (palma-christi). It grows from eight to ten feet high. Only one leaf grows on a branch, but that leaf being often more than a foot large, the collective leaves give good shelter from the heat. It grows rapidly, and fades as suddenly when injured.4
  • Jonah must have looked upon the plant’s sudden growth as a sign of God’s goodness toward him. Perhaps he saw this as an indication that God would grant his wish for the Assyrians to meet their doom.2
  • Jonah literally asked for his soul to die.5
  • Having prayed in chapter two that he might live, Jonah prays now that he might die.7
  • Children are the ones who cannot distinguish between right and left, or good from evil, and therefore are not yet accountable for the actions of their countrymen. A hundred and twenty thousand children under seven years of age would give a population of six hundred thousand, since it is commonly accepted that children account for one-fifth the whole population.3
  • Jonah in many ways is like the worm–one who finds fulfillment in the destruction of God’s creation.7
  • The prophetic record in Jonah comes to a dramatic, sudden, and startling conclusion with the issue still undecided, as to whether or not, Jonah will accept God’s will. The history concludes with Jonah still protesting that he would rather die than see the will of God accomplished for the Gentiles.8


  • What do you think Jonah was hoping to see as he sat outside Nineveh? Do you think he failed to believed their repentance was genuine? The Assyrians had oppressed the Jews for a long time, why do you think such a quick repentance for such a long list of sins, was acceptable to God? Why was it unacceptable to Jonah? Why do we believe punitive justice is better than grace?
  • What are you angry at God about? What injustice do you think has been done to you? What grace do you think was unfairly given to another? Is life fair or unfair in your opinion? Should life be fair? Will God ultimately bring fairness or mercy to the world? Can he bring both to the world? Does Jesus represent fairness/justice or mercy to you?
  • When God asks Jonah if he’s justified in his anger, he’s saying, “If I’m not angry, then do you have any right to be?” By implication, God is really asking Jonah to get in alignment with him. He wants the prophet to care about what he cares about, to love what he loves, to be angry when he is angry. How in alignment with God are you? Are you angry justly? Do you love whom he loves? Are you merciful to those he shows mercy to?
  • Jonah sat outside the city and pouted, and as a result was depressed, hot and irritated. All of this was his own doing. What instances have we made ourselves miserable because we were mad? Why do you think we punish ourselves like this? What do we hope to accomplish?
  • A lot of Jonah’s anger is based on a scarcity mindset–that is, not believing there are enough resources to go around. If God loves them, perhaps the Israelites will not be so special. If the Assyrian prosper, then that means attitude be if you saw only God’s abundance?


  1. Gil’s commentary
  2. Barnes’ commentary
  3. Kiel’s commentary
  4. Jamieson’s commentary
  5. Pulpit commentary
  6. Ellicott’s commentary
  7. Deffinbaugh’s commentary
  8. Coffman’s commentary
  9. Thirteen attributes of God

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