The Gourd and The Gospel
In His dealings with men, how delightful is the work of the Spirit of God in the book of Jonah! We see heathen sailors turned from their idols to the true and living God (see Jonah 1: 16). We see the disobedient prophet himself turned from his journey to Tarshish, and made willing to go in the direction God would have him go (see Jonah 2). We see the king and the people of Nineveh turn from their wicked ways to seek the God who had sent Jonah to them (see Jonah 3: 5–10). If our hearts are at all in tune with the joys of heaven, what can we do but rejoice to see so many sinners repenting?
Of all those who are called to share this joy of heaven, we would think that none would have rejoiced like the prophet Jonah himself. Surely he would have been a happy man? And yet, though the Lord had honoured His servant by letting him be the means of turning the whole of a great city to the true and living God, “it displeased Jonah exceedingly, and he was angry” (Jonah 4: 1). What a condition for a prophet of Jehovah, one who had just been the instrument in God’s hand for such a mighty work! Why was he so displeased and grieved? It was because Jehovah had shown grace to repenting sinners, and had not destroyed the city of Nineveh.
“And Jonah went out of the city, and sat on the east side of the city, and there made him a booth, and sat under it in the shade, till he might see what would become of the city” (v5). I suppose just about the worst thing we can do after we have finished preaching is to go and settle ourselves down as comfortably as we can, doing nothing, while we wait to see what the results may be. Our proper place is to deliver God’s message, leave the results with him, and pass on to other service for the same blessed Master.
The grace of God followed the self–willed prophet: “And Jehovah Elohim prepared a gourd, and made it come up over Jonah, that it might be a shade over his head, to deliver him from his trouble” (v6). Jonah was “exceeding glad because of the gourd” (v6)—not just glad, but exceeding glad—just as he had been exceedingly displeased because of God’s mercy. How we delight in those temporal mercies that add to our ease and comfort! The luxuries of the present day are often to us what Jonah’s gourd was to him—the cause of exceeding gladness.
But, “God prepared a worm when the morning rose the next day, and it smote the gourd, that it withered” (v7). As we see those things which have added to our ease and pleasure, fading and dying, we do well to consider whether it is our own loving God who has prepared a worm to make them pass away. There are lessons in adversity—in scorching suns, and sultry east winds—that we never could have learned otherwise.
“And God said to Jonah, Doest thou well to be angry for the gourd? And he said, I do well to be angry, unto death” (v9). We marvel at the petulance of the prophet, but, as ever, God must have the last word: “And Jehovah said, Thou hast pity on the gourd, for which thou hast not laboured, neither madest it grow; which came up in a night, and perished in a night: and I, should not I have pity on Nineveh, the great city, wherein are more than a hundred and twenty thousand persons that cannot discern between their right hand and their left hand; and also much cattle?” (v11).
What a picture! Jonah, “exceeding glad” of the gourd because it added to his own comfort, but utterly oblivious of the joy in heaven over a whole city that had repented! Indeed, he was even displeased and angry because Nineveh had done so, and had thus been saved from destruction! Jonah was far more deeply concerned with the fate of the gourd than he was with many thousands of never–dying souls who had just turned to the living and true God. What a lesson for us today! How many of us are far more deeply concerned over our gourds—our houses and our businesses, our cars and our holidays, than we are with the millions of perishing souls all about us? How many of us are “exceeding glad” of something that adds a little more to our own comfort and ease, but are utterly unconscious and without a care or a thought as to whether there is joy in heaven over one sinner that repents? Not only that, we are “displeased” and “angry” if anything happens to disturb our comfort, and upsets the even tenor of our way. The heathen in their blindness may bow down to wood and stone for all we care, provided the worms do not get into our gourds, and the sultry east wind does not smite us! Such is the heart of man, such is your heart and mine! Self ever takes the first place, unless the Lord has taught us to lift up our eyes and look off unto Christ.
The Lord did not rebuke Jonah for having pity on the gourd. There was nothing wrong in that. The wrong lay in the fact that he gave more pity, more thought, more care, for a gourd that came up in a night and perished in a night, than for the teeming, perishing thousands of a great city. It is not by any accident that God used that word “perished”. Surely there would echo back in Jonah’s mind the frantic words of that shipmaster, as he roused Jonah from his sleep, “arise, call upon thy God; perhaps God will think upon us, that we perish not” (Jonah 1: 6, my emphasis). Or again, could he ever forget the fervent prayer of those sailors as they cast him into the sea: “Ah, Jehovah, we beseech thee, let us not perish for this man’s life, and lay not upon us innocent blood: for thou, Jehovah, hast done as it pleased thee” (v14, my emphasis). Indeed, the agonised words of the people of Nineveh must have still been ringing in his ears: “Who knoweth but that God will turn and repent, and will turn away from his fierce anger, that we perish not?” (Jonah 3: 9, my emphasis). God knew that all these souls were of more value than many gourds, and He found a way that they should not perish. He was willing that the gourd which came up in a night should perish in a night, in order to teach His servant the lesson he so greatly needed. Alas, how different was that servant! He would have been willing enough for all these men to perish if his gourd might have been saved!
“Thou hast had pity on the gourd, for which thou hast not laboured, neither madest it grow” (Jonah 4: 10, my emphasis). What does that tell us? It tells us of God's tender care, not for the gourd alone, but for the many thousands of Nineveh. Each individual life in that great city was precious in God’s sight. Each one was the work of God’s hand, for each one He had laboured, and it was God alone who had made each one to grow. This was true not only of the adults, but also of the little children, and even the cattle (whom God especially mentions—see v 11). What a lesson this is to us as we see the vast numbers of the unsaved, utterly without God in the world. For every one of these individuals, God has a tender care, on the grounds that He has laboured for them and made them to grow. It is truly His hand that provides them day by day with their daily bread, though they have never learned to acknowledge Him as ‘Father’. May the Lord help us to look on them with His own thoughts, and love them with a little of that wondrous love told out with such ringing eloquence in those words so familiar to all who love Him: “God so loved the world” (John 3: 16)!