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Jonah 4:5-6 a leafy vine

by Pastor Timothy Smith on Wednesday, January 9, 2019

5 Then Jonah came and sat down to the east of the city. He made himself a shelter there and sat under its shade, to see what would happen to the city.

Jonah has finished his argument with the Lord. He had rebuked Nineveh “with all authority” (Titus 2:15). He expected that the city should be destroyed like Sodom, and so, unlike Lot (who had to be taken by the hand and pulled from Sodom by angels, Genesis 19:16), he needed no coaxing to get out. He left the city and found a pretty good vantage point to the east (lit. “toward the sunrise”) to see what would happen.

The ruins of Nineveh are just outside of modern Mosul in Iraq, in the far north of the country close to the Turkish border (within about 60 miles). The prevailing winds are from the north or northwest, so it’s tempting to say that Jonah chose this spot east of the city so that when the fire and brimstone fell, the winds would blow the ash, soot, smoke, and stench of death off to his left, toward the south. However, it might also be that there was simply a very good place to watch off to the east, where there are rolling hills above the city.

The region is very arid, so Jonah built himself a sukkah or “hut,” the kind of shelter used in the Feast of Tabernacles (Leviticus 23:40-43). This kind of a hut is usually depicted as a rough frame of branches with a few leaves strewn over the ‘ceiling.’ It was used to commemorate the shelters used by Israel during the Exodus (Leviticus 23:43).

Jonah should have allowed the Lord to be his shade (Psalm 121:5), “the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles” (2 Corinthians 1:3-4), but instead he manufactured his own shade; his own comfort. He had forsaken God, the spring of living water, to dig his own cistern (Jeremiah 2:13). He was imagining the city’s destruction in his heart. “Oh, what a disaster awaits you!” was the kind of thought he had (Obadiah 5), rather than kindly thoughts of mercy and forgiveness that were in the Lord’s heart. Jonah did not want them to be spared, but to be sent into hell like the wicked angels (2 Peter 2:4), but God is compassionate. The Lord himself had worked repentance in their hearts. He had accomplished a miracle.

6 The LORD God then provided a leafy vine and made it quickly grow up over Jonah to give shade for his head and soothe his anger. Jonah was delighted with the leafy vine.

The verse together with verses 7, 9 and 10 presents us with the only time in the Bible in which the plant known as the qiqayon appears. The Greek translation (Septuagint) suggests “gourd” (κολόκυνθα, kolokyntha), while Jerome’s Latin proposes the hedera or “ivy.” Another suggestion by Jerome is that this plant might be the castor-oil bean, a fast-growing plant that reaches nine or ten feet. The castor-oil shrub has large leaves that would be suitable here in the text. Also, the Egyptian word for that plant is kiki, similar to the Hebrew qiqayon, and in Akkadian it is kukanitu (the name of the prophet Habakkuk comes from this word, which I sometimes translate for Bible classes as “Gordy”). Two other suggestions are the Oriental pumpkin and the bottle-gourd. Whether gourd or ivy, castor-oil or something else, the Lord provided it through a miracle.

According to the list we presented at the beginning of our study, the appearance of this plant overnight is the tenth of twelve miracles in this book. Why would God do this? Jonah himself, in retrospect, admits: “to give shade for his head and soothe his anger.” The NIV translates the last phrase, “to ease his discomfort.” Compare the New King James Version: “to deliver him from his misery.” However we take the translation, the Lord is the one who provided this, to soothe the prophet, either physically or spiritually, and perhaps—even probably—it was for both reasons.

Jonah is consistently obtuse about the Lord’s blessings. He was happy about this plant, but he did nothing to bring it about. He allowed himself to be blessed by the miracle, yet he refused to accept that God had performed a miracle in Nineveh. God’s command to his called workers is: “Be merciful to those who doubt; snatch others from the fire and save them” (Jude 22-23). Is this what we do, or do we behave like Jonah? It is never our task to judge, but to proclaim God’s judgment. When we proclaim the law and the gospel, as a sinner repents, then it is our privilege to rejoice along with all the angels in heaven.

The twelve miracles are: (1) the first divine call (2) the divine storm (3) the fall of lots to Jonah (4) the quieting of the storm (5) the whale (6) Jonah vomited out of the whale within traveling distance to Nineveh (7) the second divine call (8) the journey into northern Assyria unscathed (9) the success of Jonah’s preaching: Nineveh’s repentance (10) the plant that grew overnight (11) the worm that destroyed the plant overnight (12) God’s final conversation with the prophet.

In Christ,
Pastor Timothy Smith

Pastor Tim Smith

About Pastor Timothy Smith
Pastor Smith serves St. Paul’s Lutheran Church in New Ulm, Minnesota. To receive God’s Word for You via e-mail, please contact Pastor Smith.


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