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Bible Commentaries

James Nisbet's Church Pulpit Commentary

Jonah 4



Verse 4


‘Doest thou well to be angry?’ ‘Be ye angry, and sin not.’

Jonah 4:4 (with Ephesians 4:26).

The former text implies that there is an anger which is sinful; and the latter text implies that there is an anger which is not sinful. The difference lies not so much in the character, or even in the degree of the emotion; but rather in the motive which rouses it, and the object towards which it is directed.

I. There is a feeling to which we give the name of moral indignation; by way of distinguishing it from other kinds of anger, more or less selfish and self-asserting; moral indignation is characterised chiefly by this—that it is quite unselfish. It is the feeling which rises in the breast of a man when he reads of or looks upon the ill-treatment of an animal, or the deception of a child, or the insulting of a woman. To stand by and see these things without remonstrance or without interference, is not forbearance; it is a cowardice, it is an unmanliness, it is a sin.

II. There is a place, again, and room for anger, not only in the contemplation of wrong, but in the personal experience of temptation.—There is an indignation, there is even a resentment, there is even a rage and fury, which may be employed, without offence to the Gospel, in repelling such an assault. Nor is that anger necessarily misplaced, because the lips of friendship or love are those which play the seducer. The tempter, like the bully, is a coward; the very eye undimmed by sinning will scare him off, like the rising sun of the Psalmist, to lay him down in his den.

III. Be angry with yourself, and sin not; let the time of this ignorance and folly and fatuity go at last and bury itself; awake to righteousness, and sin not; see if a moral indignation, powerful against others, may not beneficially be tried against yourself.

Dean Vaughan.


‘Jonah is so sullenly disappointed that he considers life not worth living. This extravagant and almost ridiculous situation of the prophet, chiding and disappointed in God for being too loving and patient, is designed by the writer to bring vividly before the Jewish people the absurdity of their limitation of God’s love to themselves alone. It was a lesson they had not learned in the time of our Lord’s life on earth, and one of their chief objections to Him was that His mercy transgressed their ceremonial laws, and His love was too gracious to sinners.’

Verses 6-8


‘The Lord God prepared.’

Jonah 4:6-8

There is often great looseness and want of precision in our thoughts about God and His actings.

And these always produce their natural effects—viz., a loss of power; so that we do not attain to what we might be, simply because we do not know what God is. This, then, being the case, all portions of Scripture which bring God before us very personally are precious. They give a precision to our thoughts; they draw us from theories to facts; they make us to feel that we have to do with the living Being—we, thinking beings, with One Who thinks—we, feeling beings, with One Who feels—we, acting beings, with One Who acts.

And thus, speaking reverently, we understand God more, by knowing that He and we have these things in common—the power of action, and feeling, and thought. But we must go further than believing that God has all these powers; we must believe that they are all in exercise—in a higher state of activity than we can possibly conceive; and more than that—that they are all brought to bear on us, and our interests, and our affairs.

Now, in this passage let us confine our thoughts to one branch of this subject—viz., The action, and that the precise personal action, of God in the discipline or teaching troubles of His people.

This is brought before us by the threefold mention of God, and the threefold statement of His direct movement in the troubles of Jonah. ‘The Lord “prepared” a gourd.’ ‘But God “prepared” a worm.’ ‘God “prepared” a vehement east wind.’ And we know what all this preparation was for. It was to teach by personal feeling a wayward, and selfish, and God-dishonouring servant of the Lord—one who had indeed learned something of the Most High in the terrors of the storm and the prison-house of the whale. But oh! how little of Him, really! for he grudged Him the highest manifestation of Himself in mercy.

I. First of all observe—the Lord’s teaching by grouping and combination.—We are so coarse and unskilled that we are generally for going direct at teaching. We do not understand delicate combinations. To us the gourd would be a gourd, the worm a worm, an east wind the east wind, and no more; to God they are parts of a whole, to be grouped and fitted together, and made to work in harmony, each observing a certain order in appearing on the scene, and fulfilling exactly its own proper part, and nothing more.

II. One teaching suggested to us by these combinations of God is the need of profound humility in judging any of His dealings while they are going on; and of unlimited faith in Him as the preparer and arranger of everything. For it is true that in no case do we know the whole of the matter. We are seeing but one part of it; and do not understand the relation of that one part to the whole.

‘God’s ways are in the great deep.’ ‘What I do thou knowest not now.’ These are the voices which come to us from the Word.

Jonah did not know what real relationship that gourd had to him. He probably knew nothing about the gourd at all. The east wind he looked on only as an enemy, even as, no doubt, he had looked upon the gourd as a friend; but friendly gourd, and fierce, unfriendly wind, and silent, gnawing worm, were all one whole, to school his heart for God.

III. We are thus taught that we must not quarrel with any one dealing of God.—We are very apt to pick out one event and another in the history of our lives, and say, ‘Oh! if such had not happened!’ Or we take a vexatious event out of the little history of the day, and say, ‘Such and such a catastrophe would not have occurred if so and so had not happened.’ When the east wind has blown, we blame the worm. But we must take a larger view of things. He who would understand the dealings of God must have a mind that can embrace great things like the vehement east wind, and little things like a gnawing worm; they are all links of the same chain, and combinations of the wisdom of God.

IV. Another teaching is this. We must not think there is failure, because one part of a dealing is to all appearance not doing its work.—Who saw the worm at its task? And when it had done, it had not cast down the gourd; it had only left it in a fit state for the east wind to work upon. And that was all that it had been prepared for. It was never intended to cut down the gourd; when it laid down the work another instrument was prepared to take it up. How full of teaching this is for us! It is as though God would say to us, ‘He who begins is not of necessity to finish My work.’

—Rev. P. B. Power.


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Bibliography Information
Nisbet, James. "Commentary on Jonah 4:4". Church Pulpit Commentary. 1876.

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