4 Jonah and the Gourd

<< Jonah 4: Jonah and the Gourd >>

1 But Jonah was greatly displeased and became angry. 2 He prayed to the LORD, “O LORD, is this not what I said when I was still at home? That is why I was so quick to flee to Tarshish. I knew that you are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abounding in love, a God who relents from sending calamity. 3 Now, O LORD, take away my life, for it is better for me to die than to live.” 4 But the LORD replied, “Have you any right to be angry?” 5 Jonah went out and sat down at a place east of the city. There he made himself a shelter, sat in its shade and waited to see what would happen to the city. 6 Then the LORD God provided a vine and made it grow up over Jonah to give shade for his head to ease his discomfort, and Jonah was very happy about the vine. 7 But at dawn the next day God provided a worm, which chewed the vine so that it withered. 8 When the sun rose, God provided a scorching east wind, and the sun blazed on Jonah’s head so that he grew faint. He wanted to die, and said, “It would be better for me to die than to live.” 9 But God said to Jonah, “Do you have a right to be angry about the vine?” “I do,” he said. “I am angry enough to die.” 10 But the LORD said, “You have been concerned about this vine, though you did not tend it or make it grow. It sprang up overnight and died overnight. 11 But Nineveh has more than a hundred and twenty thousand people who cannot tell their right hand from their left, and many cattle as well. Should I not be concerned about that great city?” JONAH IV

DIVINE Mercy had warned and preserved the great city of NIneveh, but the narrow-hearted prophet Jonah was disappointed and angry. He would rather his consistency had been maintained, although a whole people had perished. He had gone to the outside of Nineveh. He made a small booth to shield him from the hot rays of the sun, and watched and waited to see what would be the fate of the city. The day was hot, and the prophet vexed, fretful, and weary. After one day thus spent, during the night there grew up a plant of the melon or calabash kind, with green wide-spreading leaves, and this gave an agreeable shelter to the prophet for another day. Another night came, and as it passed into morning the gourd, so grateful to the heat-harassed prophet, was seen to have lost its vigour; it was blighted by a worm, and no longer lent its pleasant shade. It was dead. Fainting beneath the breath of the hot wind, the prophet wished to die. He was disappointed and forlorn; he could see no use in his life. He was despairing, and sighed to quit his post. Like many a weary soul deficient in faith, he had not yet learned submission and confidence, and pined and prayed that his toil and his life might end, as if He who gives our life, and saves our future, did not best know the time, place, and way in which to draw it to a close.

God is said to have prepared the gourd, and prepared the worm, and also the vehement east wind which the prophet felt to be so distressing, because He intended to give Jonah a lesson, and through him to give a lesson to all who would narrow Divine mercies to their own little stand-point, and to teach that all mankind are His children, for whom He cares. Each community, each dispensation, each section of mankind, has its own work and its ministration to do, but not for itself only. It is part of that grand whole, that entire humanity, which the Eternal governs with equal wisdom, and regards with equal love. Jonah was the representative of the Jewish nation in its exclusiveness and intolerance towards others. He would have nothing to do with the nations around if he could help it. Such was the feeling of the Jewish Church. How unworthily this sectarian exclusiveness was, the Lord taught the prophet, by representing the church he loved as a gourd, a mere temporary plant, which speedily lives and speedily dies, not a grand enduring thing at all. It sprang up in a night, and it perished in a night. To show the unworthiness and smallness of the bigoted sentiment, the Lord secondly led him to consider that as he loved his gourd which had interested his affections, although it had grown up without his labour, had been so temporary, and was so slight, how could he fail to see that the Universal Father must love the vast multitude WHOM HE HAD MADE, and who in their weakness and their ignorance so much needed His mercy and His care.

We have said the Jewish Church was like a gourd: its growth was quick, it had an imposing appearance, but It was not solid; in fact, was not a real, enduring church at all. It had, a shadow of good things. It was a figure of the true, but it was only a figure. It was as a gourd is to the nobler trees, the olive, the vine, the fig, or the timber trees. It was a gourd that grew up in a night. The outward circumcision was not that inward purification which a real church requires–the circumcision of the heart. The sacrifices of lambs, sheep, goats, bulls, were but coarse things for worship, though they were the necessary symbols of the affections which offer the sacrifices of thanksgiving, the offerings of self-dedication, the worship of the broken and the contrite heart. I he elaborate and minute ceremonies, the numerous statutes, the hierarchal and decorated priesthood, and indeed all the arrangements of Israel in Canaan, were expedient for a time, until the Divine Saviour should bring glad tidings of great joy, which should be for all people; tidings of fatherhood for all men, brotherhood for all men, regeneration for all the obedient, and heaven for all who would live for it.

The Jewish Church, like the gourd, grew up in a night. It was a dark night indeed of idolatry, superstition, and depravity when that church was founded, and long centuries were to pass, on before men could learn to worship their heavenly Father in spirit and in truth. Even a poor literal symbol of a church must be endured until the fullness of time should come the dark midnight when men became even false to their symbols, and substituted their own miserable traditions, making the commandments of God, even as they understood them, of none effect. They would then go down in a night, and a new day from the Sun of Righteousness would dawn upon the world. How accurately the gourd, a sort of great herb, represents the Jewish Church, and its very external character will be evident if we reflect that the noble and enduring trees correspond to the interior and enduring principles of Christian love, Christian faith, Christian virtue, and Christian intelligence. Thus the two olive trees which Zechariah saw in vision, right and left of the golden candlestick which poured forth golden oil, and which are said to stand by the Lord of the whole earth (iv. 14), can be no other than the two grand affections of love to God and love to man, from which the sacred oil, the golden oil of sympathy, diffuses itself among mankind. That oil softens every asperity, heals every wound, and fills the hearts of men with joy (Isa. lxi, 3). These are the two olive trees which no man must kill, or he will spiritually kill himself, and shut up heaven against him (Rev. xi. 5,6).

The vine, too, which produces the wine which “cheers both God and man,” corresponds to the faith which imparts confidence, makes the eye gleam with victory, and inspires with hope, exhilaration, and the foretaste of peace. “I am the vine,” said the Lord Jesus, “ye are the branches. He that abideth in Me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit for without Me ye can do nothig” (John xv. 15). This faith is the tree, whose seed is at first the smallest of all seeds, the faith which is like the mustard seed, minute, but warm, and which as we are faithful, grows up, expands its principles like branches, until they protect and bless the whole mind, The fig tree, though it produces less precious fruit, still brings forth fruit, and, corresponds to that obedience in daily life which induces honesty, integrity, usefulness, without which society, is unstable, like a house without solid foundations.

“Religion’s path they never trod,
Who equity contemn;
Nor ever are they just to God,
Who prove unjust to men.”

When Jesus found no fruit upon the fig tree, He said, “Let no fruit grow on thee henceforward and for ever.” If there were none of the lower virtues, it was quite useless to expect the higher.

Even the timber trees correspond to great principles of understanding which grow up in the intellect, and make the mind like a goodly park, diversified by pastures of instructive nutriment, unfoldings of glorious perceptions, and grand developments of thought. “I will set in the desert the fir tree, the pine and the box tree together, that they may see and know and understand together that the hand of the Lord hath done this, and the Holy One of Israel hath created it” (Isa. xli. 19,20). The trees which are to be planted to enable us to see and know and understand together, can only be such trees as grow from the seed of the Word of God (Luke viii. 11), and tend to make the soul like a watered garden, as the Lord promised by the prophet (Isa. 1viii.11).

All the trees, however, which we have enumerated, and which correspond to grand interior principles, are firm, enduring, noble trees, which are not only valuable by their fruits, but endure for ages. The gourd is a very different production, and when the gourd was presented to Jonah as the symbol of that system or dispensation he so much loved, it was to intimate its temporary and inferior character. It grew up in a night, it would perish in a night. It was an agreeable shade while it lasted. It was an assurance of the Divine protection in the storms of life, and from the hot breath of ambition which blew from the world around them, in which proud conquerors trampled on subject and subjugated nations, but it would serve only for the little day of human life. It concerned this world only. Its rewards were temporal, itspunishments temporal. If they were willing and obedient, they would eat the fruit of the land; butif they refused and rebelled, they would perish by the sword, for the mouth of the Lord had spoken it (Isa. i. 19, 20).

The Israelitish dispensation, so far as it was merely national and purely Jewish, was a gourd, a temporary expedient among people essentially external and interiorly idolatrous, whose aims, even in religion, were to be great, rather than good-who sought by worshipping God to abound in temporal wealth. Such a dispensation could only be of a transient kind. It was a figure, as the Apostle said, “for the time then present, in which were offered both gifts and sacrifices, that could not make him that did the service perfect, as pertaining to the conscience; which stood only in meats and drinks, and divers washings and carnal, ordinances, imposed on them until the time of reformation” (Heb. ix. 9, 10). Such a system must in its very nature be transient. When spiritual and eternal principles were brought in by the blessed Redeemer, Himself, who was our heavenly Father, manifesting Himself in Christ, the figures would give way to the true-the shadows would pass and disappear before the splendours of a new and brighter day. The gourd would die, but the olives, the vines, and the fig-trees would flourish and bless mankind. Yet Jonah loved his gourd, and the Jews loved deeply their Jerusalem.

Men of profounder nature can only faintly realize the intensity of feeling with which a Jew regards his ancient country. Jonah loved his gourd. Other lands may be more beautiful, more fertile, and more productive. Other nations may be, and other civilizations are more powerful; but in Jerusalem his fathers worshipped, there God manifested Himself to His people, there the temple stood, and to it all his hallowed memories fondly turn. Wherever the Jew may have been, he has still had his heart attached to Jerusalem by the most surpassing literature, the most tender and magnificent poetry in the world—the literature and the poetry in which Infinite Wisdom has enshrined diviner things. The Jew in foreign lands has been taught with deepest feeling to say, If I forget thee, O Jerusalem, let my right hand forget her cunning; if I do not remember thee, let my tongue cleave to the roof of my mouth, if I prefer not Jerusalem above my chief joy. Jonah has loved his gourd, and when it perished, as all human things perish, when they enclose in their heart of hearts the worm of gnawing selfishness, he suffered bitterly, and said, “It is better for me to die than to live.” Each Jew was angry with the Divine Providence and said “I do well to be angry even unto death.”

It is to this state of mind that Divine Mercy addresses the argument of the remaining portion of the text. It is as if He said, ” You are very tender and affectionate to your dispensation, for which you indeed did not labour, but which was my gift ; how much more should I care for the world outside of you, to which in comparison ye are only as a gourd compared to the vast city of Nineveh? That city contains more than a million of people whom I created, and whom every moment preserve, for ‘in Me they live, and move, and have their being.’ Can it be, think you, that I do not care for and love them, and the thousand millions of mankind, when I care for and love you who are so few? Look, too, at the vast number of the ignorant. In Nineveh there are one hundred and twenty thousand persons so young, and so ignorant, that they cannot discern their right hand from their left. They are in the innocence of ignorance; must they perish in whom there is no actual sin? Know you not that ‘it is not the will of your Father in heaven that one of these little ones should perish?’ “

With this Divine lesson before them, is it not extraordinary that there are readers of the Bible, and professors of Christianity, who imagine that none but those who believe as they do can avoid everlasting misery? The remonstrance to Jonah, brought home to him as it was by Divine Wisdom, exhibited the error into which he had fallen, so that there was no possible reply. But what was that mistake to the monstrous idea that Infinite Mercy will make the salvation of millions upon millions of the human race to depend upon a few persons who shall go and preach to them certain opinions upon which these persons lay exaggerated stress. It is true that we read in Scripture that “without faith it is impossible to please God.” But faith means the trust which makes a man faithful to what he understands to be truth. Faith is faithfulness to God and God’s laws, which is shown in loving the one and obeying the other. Faith is not a set of opinions or doctrines which a person or a party may signify with the name of the true faith; but it is a firm and faithful confidence in what a person’s intellect assures him is true, and therefore he believes to be right. There is a glimmer of truth handed down from past ages in every part of the earth, however little may have been heard of the Gospel, or the name of Christian. This glimmer of truth testifies that there is a God, and that He is the rewarder of those who do His will, and shun what He declares to be wrong. He who is faithful to this has faith-it may be only as a grain of mustard seed; but it is that out of which may in good time come, as more truth is disclosed after death, if not in this world, the grand tree of a fully developed religion, under whose branches every bird of soaring heavenly thought may make its nest.

Let the cruel phantasy that God has no mercy, no pity, no love, except for Roman Catholics, or except for Protestants, or except for Methodists, or Calvinists, or some little sect, be resigned for ever. Let it die like Jonah’s gourd, for in truth it is a gourd with a worm in it. Self, wrapped round with religious profession, must the conceited notion be, that God deals round His favours only to those who think as we do. ” Other sheep,” the Lord Jesus said, “I have, who are not of this fold; them also must I bring, and they shall hear my voice, and there shall be one fold and one shepherd ” (John x. 16). “Of a truth,” the Apostle Peter declared, ” I perceive that God is no respecter of persons ; but in every nation he that feareth Him and worketh righteousness, is accepted of Him ” (Acts x. 34, 35). In every nation, when Christianity had as yet only been preached In a few cities out of Jerusalem, and when consequently systems of idolatry prevailed almost all over the earth—notwithstanding that, in every nation those who feared God under any name, and worked righteousness, were accepted of Him. “As many who have sinned without law shall also perish without law; and as many as have sinned in the law, shall be judged by the law. For not the hearers of the law are just before God, but the doers of the law shall be justified. For when the Gentiles, who have not the law, do by nature the things contained in the law, these having not the law are a law unto themselves.”

They who are faithful to the law of God as given In Judaism, or in any of the hundred forms of Christianity, or the hundred forms of Mohammedanism, or the hundred forms of Brahmanism or Buddhism, will be accepted by their heavenly Father in the Eternal World, as He has fed them, and caused His sun to shine upon them in this; and the mistakes of their religious teaching will be corrected in that world, where the secrets of all hearts will be made known, and every man be rewarded according as his work shall be (Rev, xxii. 12). Jesus is still the only Saviour, for He is the only God of heaven and earth. Every man who adores God under any name, has in his secret thought the idea of God, vague or clear, in a human form, and God in a human form is the Lord Jesus Christ. All power is His, in heaven and on earth: whoever therefore prays to God for power, for light, for strength, for comfort, for progress, and feels that Divine help is given, is receiving aid from the blessed Lord and Saviour, and being saved by Him, How could the ignorant all over the world, who, like those of Nineveh, cannot discern between their right hand and left, otherwise be saved at all?

Those of this description in Nineveh were no doubt very young children; but there are multitudes in every age, and all over the world, of whom it may be said, as to their spiritual condition, they cannot discern between their right hand and their left. Vast numbers make no clear mental distinctions. They do not discriminate between what they like—which is with them at the right hand,—and what their intellect teaches should be done, but which as yet is only at their left hand. Evil impulses as yet are in the first place, the teaching of better things only in the second. They have not well weighed and discerned the immense difference between them, There is a remarkable reference to the right band and the left in their spiritual relation in Gen. xlviii. 13, 14. In blessing the sons of Joseph, Ephraim and Manasseh, the dying patriarch Israel put his hands crosswise, his right hand on the hand of Ephraim the younger, and his left hand upon Manasseh, who was nevertheless the first-born. The spiritual lesson indicated is, that the left hand side, or the intellectual side of a man’s character, must for a time take the lead, until the will is regenerated; then the right hand side will again be restored to its proper place, and what we love to do when our hearts have been regenerated will also be right to do.

At the present day, however, those who do not spiritually discern between their right hand and their left are numerous indeed. There is also much cattle. Thinking, discriminating, judging, and daring to decide, those noble human activities are avoided, and often condemned by those who should know better. They treat mankind as the common herd, as dumb driven cattle, and have so stinted them, and kept education from them, that many are very little more intelligent than the cattle they tend. There is much cattle. Numbers do not rise far above the impulses of their animal nature; yet the Lord, in His mercy, cares for them all. Infinite Love —Love itself embodied in the Lord Jesus— pities them, spares them, in a thousand ways arranges circumstances to favour the highest possible good for them. Let us then in all things adore the Divine Goodness and Providence. “Bless the Lord, all His works in all places of His dominion: bless the Lord, O my soul!”

Author: JONATHAN BAYLEY –From The Divine Wisdom of the Word of God (1892)