Jonah 4: An Unfinished History
We are foolish to presume that being honest with G-d is sinful, on the contrary, it is a lack of honesty that is evidence of sin.
An examination of Jonah chapter 4
Having prophesied destruction to Nineveh, Yonah/Jonah, knowing the L-RD’s heart for reconciliation and redemption, understands that the L-RD has turned away from destroying the great city because of the true contrition shown by its King and residents. There is nothing in the text of chapter three that indicates that the residents of Nineveh knew they had been forgiven, nor is there any indication that the 40 days of Yonah’s prophecy had come to completion, therefore Yonah’s subsequent waiting and watching of the city can be seen as a prophet’s observing what he hopes to be the fulfilling of his prophecy in spite of what he has understood of G-d’s decision to relent.
4:1 And it displeased Yonah exceedingly, and he was glowing red with anger.
P’shat (literal): Jonah is clearly displeased and angered by the fact that HaShem has relented from destroying Nineveh. It could be said that he is angry with G-d, however it is more accurate to say that he is angered by G-d’s decision. Perhaps he is also angry at himself. While the next verses make it clear that Jonah is upset that G-d has forgiven an enemy of Israel, it is not the only reason for his being angry. The prophets of Israel were well versed in the Torah, as testified to by Jonah’s recollection of Exodus 34:6-7 in the following verses: this meant that Jonah was familiar with the parameters for determining whether a prophet spoke of G-d or of himself.
“21You may say in your core being, ‘How will we know the word which the HaShem has not spoken?’ 22 When a prophet speaks in the name of HaShem (YHVH), if the thing does not come about or come true, that is the thing which HaShem has not spoken. The prophet has spoken it presumptuously; you shall not be afraid of him.’” –D’varim/Deuteronomy 18:21-22
From Jonah’s perspective within time he had been proven to be a false prophet: this must also be considered a building block for his anger and frustration. Of course in hindsight we have established that G-d did destroy Nineveh at a later date in approximately 612 BC. Therefore the 40 days become symbolic of a time period rather than a literal 40 days. Thus the prophet Jonah is proved to have spoken the word of HaShem, a true prophet of G-d. We also know that G-d knows the end from the beginning and that He always intended to relent from destroying the generation of Ninevites who He knew would repent.
However, the prophet of G-d is not a fortune teller who sees the future, rather he is a mouth piece who conveys the Word of the G-d (Who knows the end from the beginning), and therefore Jonah has every reason to believe he has been let down. Far from showing impudence, Jonah’s honest anger and frustration are proof of the faithful integrity of his personal relationship with HaShem. If we agree that G-d knows our every thought, why would we keep our anger a secret? Secret anger leads to self-destruction and holding anger in our hearts against G-d or His actions is no threat to G-d, rather it is an act of dishonesty directed at ourselves.
Perhaps the least considered and most poignant possibility for Jonah’s anger is that of jealousy. Perhaps Jonah is jealous of G-d’s redemption of Nineveh, of G-d’s love for the goyim? “What about Israel?” he thinks, “What about You’re treasured possession?” This promotes a wonderful correlation with the writings of Shaul/Paul the Apostle:
”I say then, Israel (ethnic) did not stumble so as to fall, did they? A curse on it! But by their transgression salvation has come to the nations, in order to make Israel (ethnic) jealous. 12 Now if their transgression is riches for the world and their failure is riches for the nations, how much more will their reconciliation be! 13 But I am speaking to you who are of the nations. Inasmuch then as I am an apostle to the nations, I magnify my ministry, 14 if somehow I might move to jealousy my Jewish brothers and sisters and save some of them.” –Romans 11:11-14
Jealousy is neither good or evil but it is an emotion that might be motivated by either the yetzer tov (good inclination) or the yetzer hara (evil inclination): therefore Jonah, if he is experiencing jealousy, is not necessarily sinning in his anger at this point. After all, “I the L-RD (YHVH) your Elohim (G-d) am a jealous G-d.” (Exodus 20:5) If Jonah is jealous for G-d’s love he is acting out the first commandment to, “Love the L-RD your G-d with all your core being, mind and strength.” (Deuteronomy 6:5) I am reminded of families I’ve observed where a birth child is jealous of a father’s treatment of his adopted brother.
Remez (Hint, Allegory): The 40 days are a hint at a timeframe for the destruction of Nineveh in a later generation (approx. 612 BC). The number forty is itself a symbolic number in the Scriptures that indicates the transition of a generation (a generation is measured over an 80 year period or approximated at a rounded figure of 100 years: therefore at 40 years the next generation is coming into maturity). In fact, given the approximate timeframe for the events of Jonah and the subsequent future destruction of Nineveh one generation later (by biblical measure), the symbolic use of the 40 days as representing 40 x 2 years is an accurate measure of the historical record. In this case the prophets words did come to pass.
D’rash (comparison): Jonah is an example of integrity to the follower of Messiah. He acted in authentic relationship toward G-d and did not pretend to be anyone other than himself. He was honest and forthright, in touch with his emotions and acting in full view of the creator (from his perspective). There is much we can learn from this righteous man.
If we agree that G-d knows our every thought, why would we keep our anger a secret? Secret anger leads to self-destruction. Holding anger in our hearts against G-d or His actions is no threat to G-d, rather it is an act of dishonesty directed at ourselves.
Sod (Mystery): We view this text as a straight forward description of an angry spoiled child, but
we’re mistaken. Mystery teaches us that our human eyes see only what is temporary but that the
lens of Yeshua is a prescription for clear eternal vision. We now see Jonah (dove), a man of integrity
and faith; a man who truly knows G-d because he is truly known by G-d.
4:2 And he spoke to HaShem (YHVH) and said, I plead with You HaShem (YHVH), wasn’t
this what I said when I was still in my country? Therefore I fled to Tarshish: for I knew
that You are a gracious G-d, and compassionate, slow to anger, and of great chesed (mercy)
kindness, and are grieved by evil.
P’shat (literal): Here Jonah explains part of the reason for his anger and frustration. He shows from
The Torah why he knew from the beginning, that G-d’s purpose was for the redemption of both
Israel and her enemies. It seems clear that he didn’t want Israel’s enemies to have the opportunity
“6 Then HaShem (YHVH) passed by in front of Moshe (Moses) and proclaimed, “HaShem (YHVH), the Adonai (YHVH:Merciful) G-d (Judge), compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in chesed (lovingkindness) and emet (truth); 7 Who keeps chesed (lovingkindness) for thousands, Who forgives iniquity, transgression and sin; yet He will by no means leave the guilty unpunished, visiting the iniquity of fathers on the children and on the grandchildren to the third and fourth generations.” –Shemot/Exodus 34:6-7
It seems likely that Jonah was weighing up Exodus 34:6-7 against the seemingly contradictory texts
Of Numbers 23:19 and 1 Samuel 15:29. Jonah was of two minds and G-d was taking another position
entirely, thus we have a familiar yeshivah debate scenario, two Jews, three opinions.
“G-d is not a man, that He should lie,
Nor a son of man, that He should repent;
Has He said, and will He not do it?
Or has He spoken, and will He not make it good?” –Bamidbar/Numbers 23:19
Remez (Hint, Allegory): We do well to remember that Yeshua (Jonah) Himself said, “It is not good to
take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs.” , And that the woman (Nineveh) replied, “Yes,
Adon (Lord); but even the dogs feed on the crumbs which fall from their masters’ table.” Then Yeshua
said to her, “Woman, your faith is great; it shall be done for you as you wish.”
D’rash (comparison): When we’re of two minds it is often because we’re wrestling with G-d. Like the
Struggles of Jacob, Moses, Jonah and yes, even Yeshua, our struggles denote relationship. We are
foolish to presume that being honest with G-d is sinful, on the contrary, it is a lack of honesty that is
evidence of sin.
Sod (Mystery): Even in anger (which is a neutral emotion until it is activated by either the good or
evil inclination) we’re able to have a truthful relational dialogue with G-d.
4:3 Therefore now, HaShem (YHVH), I beseech thee, receive my life from me; for it’s better
for me to die than to live.
P’shat (literal): Dramatic, yes, unique, no. Let’s recall the prophet Elijah:
“4 But he himself went a day’s journey into the wilderness, and came and sat down under a juniper
tree; and he requested for himself that he might die, and said, “It is enough; now, O Lord, take my
life, for I am not better than my fathers.” –1 Melachim/Kings 19:4
Both prophets are grieving their perceived failures to the point of death. Perhaps, like artists,
prophets are utterly consumed by their role, forsaking all else they are of one mind and when that
mind is left fruitless only death seems appropriate to them?
Remez (Hint, Allegory): Israel (Jonah) has seen her isolation and has watched her enemies receive
redemption in spite of their unworthiness. She mourns unto death, believing herself to be forsaken.
I’ve heard it many times, “You’re a Jew, you’re special, you’re one of G-d’s chosen people” and the
response, “I wish He’d chosen someone else.” This is the frustrated cry of the Jewish heart, “Eli, Eli,
why have you forsaken me?”
D’rash (comparison): We are consumed by what we perceive as being our life work, our goals, our
purpose, but what if we have misunderstood our relationship to these functions and objectives?
What if we’ve made objects out of subjects? What if our purpose is simply to be loved by the G-d of
love? What if we were to let go of our failures unto death and allow G-d to take hold of our person
‘Yeshua (Jesus) answered, “The work of G-d is this: to believe in the one He has sent.”’
Sod (Mystery): Jonah (Yeshua), “Into Your hands I commit my spirit”.
4:4 Then HaShem (YHVH) said, “Do you make well (tikkun olam-repair the world) by being angry?”
P’shat (literal): The standard translation says, “Is it right for you to be angry?” However, there is
room to examine the deeper meaning of the Hebrew text and read it more literally. This is why I
have followed a slightly different interpretation that essentially conveys the same meaning but
allows for a wider understanding of the possible intent of the question. We can also read, “Are you
sinning in your anger?”
Remez (Hint, Allegory): This question hints at the redemptive question related to Israel’s calling to
be a light to the nations.
D’rash (comparison): The rabbis teach, “tikkun olam” the obligation to repair the world. As
followers of Messiah we understand that the repairing of the world can only be done by G-d Himself
through the redemptive work of His Son Yeshua Who lives in us. Therefore we understand that our
right actions come from Messiah in us. When our actions oppose the work of Messiah in us, we
grieve His Holy Spirit, thus G-d asks, “Do you make well (tikkun olam-repair the world)?”
Sod (Mystery): How does Israel’s position in the continuing story of her purpose, mirror the life of
Jonah in our time? Is she still at the same point in her story?
4:5 So Jonah went out of the city, and sat on the east side of the city, and there he made a
Sukkah (booth), and sat under it in the shade, till he might see what would become of the city.
P’shat (literal): Jonah completes his journey across the city, taking another two days to reach the
outskirts, and then travels further east where he appears to be on high ground overlooking the city
of Nineveh. He builds a sukkah/booth, which, given the fact that a plant was later required for
shade, seems to have been constructed in a similar way to the sukkot of the festival of booths. That
is, with spaces in the roof for viewing the stars and remembering Israel’s desert wanderings. This
doesn’t mean that these events took place during Sukkot (An Aliyah festival that a prophet like Jonah
would have been in Jerusalem for), however it does mean that there is a comparison being drawn
between Jonah’s journey and Israel’s time in the desert. Note the 40 day symbolism: it’s likely that
Jonah intended to wait out the 40 days to see if G-d would relent from His relenting and destroy the
city according to a literal interpretation of Jonah’s prophecy.
It is also important to note that Jonah had travelled to the east of Nineveh, further away from
Jerusalem. One can’t help but wonder whether this was a stubborn act intended to show displeasure
regarding G-d’s decision, after all, the temple of Jerusalem stood to the West of Nineveh in the land
Remez (Hint, Allegory): Israel has constructed her own sukkah (rabbinical Judaism), a dwelling
reliant on her own efforts. Although we are saved for the purpose of keeping the instruction of G-d,
we’re not saved by the instruction. We are certainly not saved by additional rules that we have
created outside of the word of HaShem.
D’rash (comparison): If we as followers of Messiah stubbornly refuse to accept His mysterious
changing of direction and subsequently build our own sukkot, what will become of us?
Sod (Mystery): The nations have been given the length of a metaphorical generation to repent as
Nineveh did, but Just as the subsequent generation of Ninevites was destroyed, so too will
the nations who refuse HaShem’s mercy be destroyed at the conclusion of the time of the nations.
Israel watches on from a high position under a temporary and poorly built shelter, waiting to see
what G-d will do.
4:6 And HaShem (YHVH - Merciful) G-d (Elohim – Judge) prepared (Manah – to weigh out, appoint) a
plant (from the Hebrew root kayah—vomit), and made it to come up over Jonah’s head so that it
might be a shade over his head, to snatch away his grief. So Jonah was exceedingly simchah
(joyous) because of the plant.
P’shat (literal): It’s interesting to note that G-d is represented here by the proper noun YHVH,
denoting mercy and the generic term Elohim, denoting judgement: this in connection with the use of
the Hebrew Manah (to weigh out, appoint, prepare) conveys a sense of mercy that has been
appointed beforehand and the weighing out of heavenly justice. The Hebrew Manah (to weigh out,
appoint, prepare) is also used in verses 7 & 8 and in chapter 1:17 with regard to the fish provided,
not to save but to swallow Jonah. The plant itself, which gains its name from the Hebrew root
meaning to, “vomit or spew”, connects the plants growth to Jonah’s having been vomited out of the
mouth of the fish.
The literal rendering, “to snatch away his grief” illuminates the living metaphor of the plant and
likens Jonah’s grief with the grief of G-d. Additionally it is a show of G-d’s unrelenting chesed
(lovingkindness). As a result of the shade, Jonah rejoices (simchah), the Hebrew denotes great joy
We should also affirm that the sukkah seems to have been built in the fashion of the booth of Sukkot
with openings in the roof to view the stars, otherwise there would have been no need for G-d to
supply an additional form of shade by way of the plant.
Remez (Hint, Allegory): G-d is a merciful judge Who provides a kipparot (covering) for Israel. The
plant symbolizes the temporary covering of the sacrificial system, however, that system will not be
sufficient for the purposes of eternal covering, the complete removal of sin.
D’rash (comparison): There are times when our rejoicing is temporary and gives birth to sorrow, not
for sorrows sake but for the purpose of empathy.
Sod (Mystery): The plant (vomit) like the resurrection of Jonah (fish vomits him out)
is a sign of a greater covering and a greater resurrection, that of Messiah Yeshua.
4:7 But G-d prepared Manah (to weigh out, appoint, prepare) a crimson-worm and when the dawn
ascended the next day, it struck the plant (with its body) so that it withered (was ashamed).
P’shat (literal): This continues the literal historical event concerning the plant and its physical life.
The worm is symbolic of sin and its permeating of life. The Hebrew text denotes an embedding of
the worm into the plant, meaning that the worm itself is responsible for the damage done to the
plant. The Hebrew text also describes the worm as being crimson. The plant is damaged beyond
healing and withers and dies, or as the text literally says, “it withered and was ashamed.”
Remez (Hint, Allegory): The allegory is self-evident, the temporary sacrificial system which G-d had
appointed for Israel as a covering (the plant) from the harsh consequences of sin, is now eaten away
at by the relentless presence of sin in this world: hence the system is temporary, not intended for
the covering/permanent and eternal elimination of sin. The crimson colour of the worm (sin),
reminds us that our sin is as scarlet. (Isaiah 1:18)
D’rash (comparison): We are foolish to pretend that temporary shelter from the physical
consequences of sin will shield us from the eternal implications of that self-same sin. We must have
another covering, we must receive the provision of G-d’s everlasting covering through the sacrificial
death of Messiah.
Sod (Mystery): There is no balance in the universe. Even Satan (Adversary/enemy) the
worm/snake/dragon, is subject to the control of G-d. The enemy of humanity is only allowed to
function within the parameters set/appointed by HaShem. This assures us of our eternal security in
G-d: while much is beyond our control, nothing is beyond His control.
4:8 And it came to pass, when the sun did arise, that G-d prepared (appointed) a hot east
wind; and the sun beat upon the head of Jonah, so that he fainted, and wished in himself to
die, and said, “It’s better for me to die than to live.”
P’shat (literal): This verse describes the birth of the dawn, the hot east wind comes early in the day
at G-d’s command. It is relentless and overpowering, bringing Jonah to the point of death yet again
as his mouth goes powder dry, all moisture absorbed by the sand soiled air of the desert. He fainted
and awoke with the ensuing nausea of a dehydrated man. He again wishes death upon himself, a
release from the suffering of this life.
Remez (Hint, Allegory): Israel is now without her sacrificial system. The physical worm of Rome
literally ate it away and tore it apart leaving it in shamed disarray (70AD). Now where will her
covering come from? With a dry mouth and a dehydrated body Israel cried out from the gas
chambers of Auschwitz, “It’s better for me to die than live!” and yet, she lives. There is a better
covering to come.
D’rash (comparison): We have all suffered under the burden of temporary loss. Many of us have
wished to die in the face of great suffering. G-d is present and in control in the midst of the darkness,
but it seems that He is acting against us. He is not. He sees the end from the beginning, we see only
the fierce desert wind and the cloud it stirs up.
Sod (Mystery): Yeshua is in both our suffering and our healing, He is both the suffering and the
victorious Messiah. He is present in both our death and our resurrection.
4:9 And G-d said to Jonah, “Do you make well (tikkun olam-repair the world) to be angry for the
plant?” And he said, “I do make well (tikkun olam-repair the world) to be angry, even unto death.”
P’shat (literal): Again G-d challenges Jonah’s anger, this time Jonah is specifically questioned about
his anger due to the loss of the plant and his means of shade, however, he must by now be fuming
over the sequence of events that have unfolded, all of which seem contrary to him, perhaps even
unjust. Thus he answers, if somewhat self-righteously, “I am responding in the appropriate manner
to this situation!”
Remez (Hint, Allegory): G-d asks Israel, “Does your anger at the repentance of your enemies reflect
your obligation to be a light to the nations? Are you allowing me to work through you in order to
repair the world?” Some in Israel (ethnic) stubbornly respond, “I am!” But we are not.
D’rash (comparison): The same could be said of us as individual followers of Yeshua. The same
question is asked of us, the same response is given.
Sod (Mystery): Perhaps from our perspective we’re doing the right thing, perhaps we’ve convinced
ourselves that we are righteous in our anger. The mystery is this, our ways are not His ways, our
thoughts are not His thoughts, He is the unsolvable puzzle.
4:10 Then HaShem (YHVH) said, “You have had compassion (Khoos – pity, spare) on the plant for
which you have not laboured, neither did you cause it to grow (root = gadol—great); which came
up a son of the night (overnight/as a Hebrew idiom) and as a son of the night it wandered away
P’shat (literal): The comparison being made by G-d illuminates the practical, kinetic mashal/parable
of the living plant and its subsequent destruction. The plant was acting only to cover Jonah, the
covering G-d was proposing would cover all the people of Nineveh, perhaps as many as 700
thousand people. G-d provided the plant, Jonah did not labour to help it grow. The plant came up
overnight and died overnight, perhaps a miraculous event, although certain varieties of bamboo can
grow several feet overnight and there may well be other plants that boast similar growth rates,
regardless, the purpose of G-d was fulfilled in its brief existence. It seems that Jonah was concerned
about the plant for selfish reasons, whereas G-d was concerned for Nineveh for selfless reasons.
Remez (Hint, Allegory): Israel had temporarily lost sight of the bigger picture of G-d’s redemptive
plan, focusing on the temporary things of this world and even turning the practice of the sacrificial
system into a form of idolatry. This selfishness needed to be exposed and Israel needed to return to
her original calling.
D’rash (comparison): Our compassion for our own loses should never outweigh our compassion for
others, the latter is born of the former, if our loses are great our compassion will also be great.
Sod (Mystery): The plant is now used as a metaphor for the nations, “which came up a son of
the night (overnight/as a Hebrew idiom) and as a son of the night it wandered away (was
destroyed).” The sons of the night rise quickly and perish quickly and the same could be said of the
4:11 And shouldn’t I have compassion (Khoos – pity, spare) on Nineveh, that great (gadol--
great)city, in which there are more than 120 thousand persons (adam) that can’t discern between
their right hand and their left hand; and also many animals?
P’shat (literal): G-d states the facts as Jonah already understands them (See verse 2). G-d had been
compassionate toward Jonah and compassion begets compassion. The 120 thousand can be
understood as being children who are toddlers or younger. Note that the conversation ends
midstream. In fact the book of Jonah stands unfinished to this day. We are left with Jonah sitting on
a hill overlooking Nineveh wondering why G-d hasn’t wiped out this wicked city. He’s mid
conversation with HaShem and we have yet to hear his response if he has one. We are not told if or
how Jonah returned to Israel, nor do we hear from him again. Did he die on that hill over looking
Nineveh? Did he return to Israel to tell of G-d’s mercy toward her enemies?
Remez (Hint, Allegory): Israel (Jonah) still looks on, wondering when G-d will judge her enemies, and
the generation of nations who will repent, like the generation of Nineveh in Jonah’s day, is coming
to an end. Shaul/Paul the apostle explains that when the appointed number of people from the
nations have come in, that all of the remaining ethnic house of Israel will be saved (Romans 11:26).
D’rash (comparison): Deuteronomy 1:39 can teach us that the distinguishing between the right and
left hand is synonymous with the ability for a person to properly discern right from wrong.
In Judaism this is said to take place at the age of Bar mitzvah (12 years), at which time the
parents are no longer responsible for their children’s sin. The child, becoming a man in Israel also
takes on responsibility for the observing of the commandments and the abstaining from sin.
Sod (Mystery): Where are we in the history of the generation of the nations? How long will it be
until we see the end of the story of Jonah, when Yeshua will return to G-d’s holy mountain and Israel
will return to G-d through Him?
The book of Jonah begins with the Word of G-d and ends with the Word of G-d, He was and is and is
to come. We are living out the yet to be written chapters of this book, anticipating the final words of
© 2015 Yaakov Brown
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Founder of the Beth Melekh International Messiah Following Jewish Community,