March 2015 • Volume XV, Issue 11
The Lessons of Jonah’s Gourd (2)
How did God restore His angry, huffing prophet in Jonah
First, Jehovah did this in a way befitting Himself and His
nature. As Jonah confessed, He is “a gracious God, and
merciful, slow to anger, and of great kindness” (2). This
was the way He related to Jonah both throughout the book and
here in our text.
Second, Jehovah worked with Jonah as one who is a rational,
moral creature. God reasoned with Jonah as a rational
creature. He spoke to Jonah about moral, ethical, spiritual
things as a moral creature. Jehovah came to Jonah by means
of His Word and used that Word as a means of grace. This is
what our heavenly Father does with us too.
Third, God dealt with Jonah in keeping with his situation,
where he was at (so to speak). God decreed and ordered all
of the circumstances in this scene (and, indeed, in
absolutely all of Jonah’s life and ours too). He “prepared”
the gourd (6), the worm (7) and the vehement, east wind (8),
and He spoke to Jonah in his situation, just as Christ spoke
to the Samaritan woman at the well in her situation—about
Himself as the water of life, her sins against the seventh
commandment, her Samaritan ideas of holy places and the
Messiah (John 4:5-26). This is how the Triune God works with
us too—in our circumstances and situation, where we are at.
Specifically, how did God work with Jonah in a way befitting
His nature and Jonah’s nature (a rational, moral creature)
and circumstances? Jehovah came with a question, a question
that explained and convicted. In His question, God made a
comparison and formed a contrast between Jonah and Himself:
“Thou hast had pity on the gourd, for the which thou hast
not laboured, neither madest it grow; which came up in a
night, and perished in a night: And should not I spare
Nineveh, that great city, wherein are more than sixscore
thousand persons that cannot discern between their right
hand and their left hand; and also much cattle?” (Jonah
More particularly, the comparison and contrast is between
Jonah and his pity for the gourd, on the one hand, and
Jehovah and His pity for Nineveh, on the other hand: “Thou
hast had pity on the gourd, for the which thou hast not laboured, neither madest it grow; which came up in a night,
and perished in a night: And should not I spare [lit., have
pity—the same Hebrew word as in v. 10] Nineveh, that great
city, wherein are more than sixscore thousand persons that
cannot discern between their right hand and their left hand;
and also much cattle?” (10-11).
Though not all of the elements of the two sides of the
comparison are explicitly stated, we can identify four
different factors in the contrast between Jonah’s pity for
the gourd and God’s pity for Nineveh.
First, there is the time factor. Regarding the gourd, it
“came up in a night, and perished in a night” (10). This
refers to two different nights, one after the other, so that
the gourd lasted about 24 hours. On the other hand, its
antiquity was a part of what made Nineveh a “great city”
(11). It went way back to the days of Nimrod (Gen. 10:9-11),
some 1,500 years before Jonah. You see the comparison here
regarding time? God’s argument is: “If you have a right to
have pity on a 24-hour gourd, Jonah, cannot I have pity on
something that has lasted one and a half millennia?”
Second, there is the labour factor. Jonah did not dig a hole
for the gourd, plant it as a seed, fertilise it, water it,
stake it or protect it. As God said to Jonah, “Thou hast had
pity on the gourd, for the which thou hast not laboured,
neither madest it grow” (Jonah 4:10). However, in God’s wise
providence, He had built Nineveh’s mighty walls, many houses
and numerous streets, with all their families and people.
The argument is simple: Jonah pitied something in which he
had invested absolutely no labour whatsoever, but God pitied
a city which He had wrought in His sovereign providence.
Third, there is what we may call the “worth” factor. The
gourd was merely a plant, whereas Nineveh included livestock
and people. Consider a car driver who runs over a man and a
dog and someone’s lawn, before speeding off. One passerby
ignores the moans of the man and the whimpers of the dog,
hastening to the lawn to bemoan its indentation. Another
passerby hurries to the dog, turning his back on the injured
man. But surely the dog is more important than the lawn and
the man is of greater value than the dog (cf. Matt. 10:31)!
Well, Jonah is all upset about the gourd (a plant); he does
not care about the people and livestock of Nineveh; he is
even angry that they are not dead!
Fourth, there is the number factor. The gourd was one plant.
In Nineveh, there were 120,000 infants as yet unable to
distinguish between their left hand and their right hand
(Jonah 4:11). What age is that, and what ratio is there
between children that age and the rest of the population in
those days, when life expectancy was much lower than in the
twenty-first century Western world? Most guess the ratio at
about 1:5. This would make the population of Nineveh, both
inside and near its walls, to total about 720,000. The “much
cattle” or livestock (11) would have consisted of cows,
goats, sheep, oxen, horses, donkeys, camels, etc., numbering
tens of thousands, if not more.
The tragedy is that Jonah is more concerned over the loss of
one plant than the loss of about three quarters of a million
people and tens of thousands of livestock. For him, one
plant is more important than one million men, women,
children and animals. In fact, Jonah is angry, very angry,
that the one plant has died and the 720,000 people and all
their livestock have not died! What about our love for our
neighbour (Matt. 22:39) and desire for his or her salvation
(Rom. 9:1-3; 10:1)? Rev. Stewart
God’s Foreknowledge and Man’s Free Will (3)
In the last two issues of the News, I have been discussing
questions that were submitted that involve God’s
foreknowledge and man’s (alleged) free will.
One point remains to be answered. A questioner appealed to
Numbers 21:8-9 to argue that man is able of his own free
will to choose to believe a gospel in which a Christ is
preached who is a Saviour who loves all men, died for them
and wants everyone to be saved. The questioner claimed that
because Israel had the choice of looking at the brazen
serpent to be healed or refusing to look at the brazen
serpent and die, and because Jesus finds in this brazen
serpent a picture of Himself raised up on the cross (John
3:14-15), so all men have the choice of accepting Christ as
their Saviour or refusing to accept Him and perishing as a
The question that immediately pops into one’s head is this:
How does the questioner know that the Israelites who looked
at the brazen serpent did so of their own free will? The
text does not say that. If this act of the Israelites was of
their own free will, then everything that happened to them
was also of their own free will: their choice to leave Egypt
when the nation went; their choice to camp at Sinai; their
choice to murmur because of lack of water; their choice not
to believe the report of the ten spies or their choice to
believe this report; etc. All their salvation depends upon
their own choice.
If man has a choice to accept Christ or to reject Him, he
has a choice also to accept part of Christ and reject other
parts. He has a choice whether to continue to believe in
Christ or to change his mind; he has the choice to go to
heaven or to go to hell.
In other words, the whole of his salvation depends on him.
Christ is left with nothing else to do but worry whether
there will finally be anybody at all who believes in Him.
Christ can do nothing about it. Christ is helpless. The
choice is man’s to make. Who, I ask, wants such a weak
Christ? Or is the case that man makes the decisive choice
and then Christ takes over? Where in the Bible does one read
Let us see the matter as Scripture presents it. Mankind is
fallen. All people have sinned in Adam (Rom. 5:12ff.). Their
fall has so spiritually devastated them that they are
incapable of doing any good (3:12). Their depravity does not
only make any moral goodness impossible but also makes man a
hater of God, a rebel against Him, an enemy out to destroy
Him. This was and is man’s choice, man’s sin, man’s
God reveals the riches of His grace and mercy in bringing
salvation to this world through the work of our Lord Jesus
Christ. This salvation is proclaimed in the gospel. The
purpose of God in bringing salvation is twofold. On the one
hand, the gospel puts all men before God’s command to
forsake his sin, repent of his evil and believe in Christ.
God does this to maintain His righteous demands. On the
other hand, the gospel is also the power of God unto
salvation to all who believe (1:16).
The Canons of Dordt put it precisely: “That some receive the
gift of faith from God and others do not receive it proceeds
from God’s eternal decree” (1:6). God’s eternal decree
includes both election and reprobation (1:6; Rom. 9:10-23).
However, God does not deal with a man as a robot. As the
pastor of my youth would say in his sermons, “Man does not
go to heaven in a Pullman sleeper.” The wicked can do
nothing else but reject the gospel. That rejection is due to
a depravity which they brought on themselves. The elect
believe because God gives them the gift of faith (Eph. 2:8).
The wicked go to hell because of their terrible sin of
unbelief; the righteous go to heaven because of the mercy,
grace, love and longsuffering God shows to them.
Behind all rejection of the gospel stands the eternal decree
of God’s reprobation; behind all belief in the gospel stands
God’s decree of election. Christ died only for His elect
people and the cross is the means by which we are saved. But
God saves us in such a way that we become conscious of our
salvation. He brings us to repentance and faith. He calls us
to fight the old man, struggle with temptation, confess sin
and always flee to Christ to receive strength in the battle.
We are commanded to work out our own salvation and we are
called to do this because it is God who works in us both to
will and to do of His good pleasure (Phil. 2:12-13).
Scripture teaches the absolute sovereignty of God in all His
works and so maintains God’s glory. The opposite doctrines
make God small (really, an idolatrous caricature of God) and
the cross powerless.
I have often asked myself the question why almost the whole
church world pants after and lusts for a theology that
promotes the honour, the goodness and the basic moral
soundness of man. The answer can only be pride. Pride burns
so hot in the heart of man that man’s goodness in free will
must be maintained at all costs.
This theology revolves around man, not God. It is
humanistic. God loves all men for He would never hate
anyone, it claims. But what does that do to God’s holiness,
a holiness so bright in its light that it burns against sin
Christ died for everyone, they say. But what does that do to
the cross as the power of God unto salvation (I Cor. 1:24)?
It renders the cross powerless and makes of God in Christ
One who is unable to save. What does it do to the truth? It
drags God down to the level of man and tries, desperately,
to raise man up to God’s throne.
Calvin’s enemies charged him with being drunk with God. It
is the greatest of compliments. To be drunk with God! That
exceeds in blessedness any pleasure to be found anywhere.
The modern church world is drunk with man.
Would that today’s “evangelical” church would repent of its
emphasis on man, man, man. And would that it would turn to
the truth and confess that God is all!
Those who looked at the brazen serpent in the wilderness,
and saw their desperate need of a Saviour, had the living
faith that saves. That faith was a gift of God. Nicodemus
needed to hear these words of Jesus in John 3, for he was
thinking of a Messiah who would establish an earthly
kingdom. He had to learn that the kingdom of heaven would
not be established by human might but by the Messiah’s
And those who by faith look on that cross are those who are
saved: saved, not because they chose to do this of their own
(alleged) free will, but because God gave them faith to
believe in the crucified and risen Christ alone. Prof. Hanko
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