New English Translation
Jonah Responds to God’s Kindness
4 This displeased Jonah terribly[a] and he became very angry.[b] 2 He prayed to the Lord and said, “Oh, Lord, this is just what I thought[c] would happen[d] when I was in my own country.[e] This is what I tried to prevent[f] by attempting to escape to Tarshish,[g] because I knew[h] that you are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger[i] and abounding[j] in mercy, and one who relents concerning threatened judgment.[k] 3 So now, Lord, kill me instead,[l] because I would rather die than live!”[m] 4 The Lord said, “Are you really so very[n] angry?”[o]
5 Jonah left the city and sat down east[p] of it.[q] He made a shelter for himself there and sat down under it in the shade to see what would happen to the city.[r] 6 The Lord God appointed[s] a little plant[t] and caused it to grow up over Jonah to be a shade over his head to rescue[u] him from his misery.[v] Now Jonah was very delighted[w] about the little plant.
7 So God sent[x] a worm at dawn the next day, and it attacked the little plant so that it dried up. 8 When the sun began to shine, God sent[y] a hot[z] east wind. So the sun beat down[aa] on Jonah’s head, and he grew faint. So he despaired of life[ab] and said, “I would rather die than live!”[ac]
9 God said to Jonah, “Are you really so very angry[ad] about the little plant?” And he said, “I am as angry[ae] as I could possibly be!”[af] 10 The Lord said, “You were upset[ag] about this little[ah] plant, something for which you did not work, nor did you do anything to make it grow. It grew up overnight and died the next day.[ai] 11 Should I[aj] not be more[ak] concerned[al] about Nineveh, this enormous city?[am] There are more than 120,000 people in it who do not know right from wrong,[an] as well as many animals.”[ao]
- Jonah 4:1 tn Heb “It was evil to Jonah, a great evil.” The cognate accusative construction וַיֵּרע...רָעָה (vayyeraʿ…raʿah) emphasizes the great magnitude of his displeasure (e.g., Neh 2:10 for the identical construction; see IBHS 167 §10.2.1g). The verb רָעַע (raʿaʿ) means “to be displeasing” (BDB 949 s.v. רָעַע 1; e.g., Gen 21:11, 12; 48:17; Num 11:16; 22:34; Josh 24:15; 1 Sam 8:6; 2 Sam 11:25; Neh 2:10; 13:8; Prov 24:18; Jer 40:4). The use of the verb רָעַע (“to be evil, bad”) and the noun רָעָה (“evil, bad, calamity”) here in 4:1 creates a wordplay with the use of רָעָה in 3:8-10. When God saw that the Ninevites repented from their moral evil (רָעָה), he relented from the calamity (רָעָה) that he had threatened—and this development greatly displeased (רָעָה) Jonah.
- Jonah 4:1 tn Heb “it burned to him.” The verb חָרָה (kharah, “to burn”) functions figuratively here (hypocatastasis) referring to anger (BDB 354 s.v. חָרָה). It is related to the noun חֲרוֹן (kharon, “heat/burning”) in the phrase “the heat of his anger” in 3:9. The repetition of the root highlights the contrast in attitudes between Jonah and God: God’s burning anger “cooled off” when the Ninevites repented, but Jonah’s anger was “kindled” when God did not destroy Nineveh.
- Jonah 4:2 tn Heb “my saying?” The first common singular suffix on דְבָרִי (devari, “my saying”) functions as a subjective genitive: “I said.” The verb אָמַר (ʾamar, “to say”) here refers to the inner speech and thoughts of Jonah (see HALOT 66 s.v. אמר 4; BDB 56 s.v. אָמַר 2; e.g., Gen 17:17; Ruth 4:4; 1 Sam 20:26; Esth 6:6; Jonah 2:4). There is no hint anywhere else in the book that Jonah had argued with God when he was originally commissioned. While most English versions render it “I said” or “my saying,” a few take it as inner speech: “This is what I feared” (NEB), “It is just as I feared” (REB), and “I knew from the very beginning” (CEV).
- Jonah 4:2 tn The phrase “would happen” does not appear in the Hebrew text but is supplied in the translation for the sake of clarity and smoothness.
- Jonah 4:2 tn Heb “Is this not my saying while I was in my own country?” The rhetorical question implies a positive answer (“Yes, this was the very thing that Jonah had anticipated would happen all along!”), so it is rendered as an emphatic declaration in the translation.
- Jonah 4:2 tn Or “This is why I originally fled to Tarshish.” The verb קָדַם (qadam) in the Piel stem has a broad range of meanings and here could mean (1) “to go before, be in front of” (1 Sam 20:25; Ps 68:26); (2) “to do [something] beforehand,” (Ps 119:147); or (3) “to anticipate, to do [something] early, forestall [something]” (Ps 119:148). The lexicons nuance Jonah 4:2 as “to do [something] for the first time” (HALOT 1069 s.v. קדם 4) or “to do [something] beforehand” (BDB 870 s.v. קָדַם 3). The phrase קִדַּמְתִּי לִבְרֹחַ (qiddamti livroakh, “I did the first time to flee”) is an idiom that probably means, “I originally fled,” or, “I fled the first time.” The infinitive construct לִבְרֹחַ (“to flee”) functions as an object complement. This phrase is translated variously by English versions, depending on the category of meaning chosen for קָדַם: (1) to do [something] for the first time, beforehand: “That is why I fled beforehand” (JPS, NJPS), “I fled before” (KJV), “I fled previously” (NKJV), “I fled at the beginning” (NRSV), “I first tried to flee” (NJB), and “I fled at first” (NAB); (2) to do [something] early, to hasten to do [something]: “That is why I was so quick to flee” (NIV), “I hastened to flee” (ASV), “I made haste to flee” (RSV), and “I did my best to run away” (TEV); and (3) to anticipate, forestall [something]: “it was to forestall this that I tried to escape to Tarshish” (REB), “to forestall it I tried to escape to Tarshish” (NEB), and “in order to forestall this I fled” (NASB). The ancient versions also handle it variously: (1) to do [something] early, to hasten to do [something]: “Therefore I made haste to flee” (LXX), “That is why I hastened to run away” (Tg. Jonah 4:2); and (2) to go before, to be in front: “Therefore I went before to flee to Tarshish” (Vulgate). The two most likely options are (1) to do [something] the first time = “This is why I originally fled to Tarshish” and (2) to anticipate, forestall [something] = “This is what I tried to forestall [= prevent] by fleeing to Tarshish.”
- Jonah 4:2 tn See note on the phrase “to Tarshish” in 1:3.sn The narrator skillfully withheld Jonah’s motivations from the reader up to this point for rhetorical effect—to build suspense and to create a shocking, surprising effect. Now, for the first time, the narrator reveals why Jonah fled from the commission of God in 1:3—he had not wanted to give God the opportunity to relent from judging Nineveh! Jonah knew that if he preached in Nineveh, the people might repent, and consequently God more than likely would relent from sending judgment. Hoping to seal their fate, Jonah had originally refused to preach so the Ninevites would not have an opportunity to repent. Apparently Jonah hoped that God would therefore judge them without advance warning. Or perhaps he was afraid he would betray his nationalistic self-interests by functioning as the instrument through which the Lord would spare Israel’s main and cruel enemy. Jonah probably wanted God to destroy Nineveh for three reasons: (1) as a loyal nationalist, he despised non-Israelites (cf. 1:9); (2) he believed that idolaters had forfeited any opportunity to be shown mercy (cf. 2:9-10); and (3) the prophets Amos and Hosea had recently announced that God would sovereignly use the Assyrians to judge unrepentant Israel (Hos 9:3; 11:5) and take them into exile (Amos 5:27). If God destroyed Nineveh, the Assyrians would not be able to destroy Israel. The better solution would have been for Jonah to work for the repentance of Nineveh and Israel.
- Jonah 4:2 tn Or “know.” What Jonah knew then he still knows about the Lord’s character, which is being demonstrated in his dealings with both Nineveh and Jonah. The Hebrew suffixed tense accommodates both times here.
- Jonah 4:2 tn Heb “long of nostrils.” Because the nose often expresses anger through flared nostrils, it became the source of this idiom meaning “slow to anger” (e.g., Exod 34:6; Num 14:18; Neh 9:17; Pss 86:15; 103:8; 145:8; Jer 15:15; Nah 1:3; BDB 74 s.v. אָרֵךְ).
- Jonah 4:2 tn Heb “great” (so KJV); cf. ASV, NASB “abundant,” NAB “rich in clemency.”
- Jonah 4:2 tn Heb “calamity.” The noun רָעָה (raʿah, “calamity, disaster”) functions as a metonymy of result—the cause being the threatened judgment (e.g., Exod 32:12, 14; 2 Sam 24:16; Jer 18:8; 26:13, 19; 42:10; Joel 2:13; Jonah 4:2). The classic statement of God’s willingness to relent from judgment when a sinful people repent is Jer 18:1-11.sn Jonah is precisely correct in his listing of the Lord’s attributes. See Exod 34:6-7; Num 14:18-19; 2 Chr 30:9; Neh 9:17, 31-32; Pss 86:3-8, 15; 103:2-13; 116:5 (note the parallels to Jonah 2 in Ps 116:1-4); 145:8; Neh 9:17; Joel 2:13.
- Jonah 4:3 tn Heb “take my life from me.”
- Jonah 4:3 tn Heb “better my death than my life.”
- Jonah 4:4 tn Heb “Rightly/thoroughly does it burn to you?” This same question occurs again in v. 9 concerning the withered plant. The Hiphil of יָטַב (yatav, “to do good”) here may have one of two meanings. First, it may mean “to do [something] rightly” in terms of ethical right and wrong (BDB 406 s.v. יָטַב 5.b; HALOT 408 s.v. יטב 3.c; e.g., Gen 4:7; Lev 5:4; Pss 36:4; 119:68; Isa 1:17; Jer 4:22; 13:23). This approach is adopted by many English versions: “Do you have any right to be angry?” (NIV); “Are you right to be angry?” (REB, NJB); “Is it right for you to be angry?” (NRSV, NLT); “Do you have good reason to be angry?” (NASB); “Do you do well to be angry?” (cf. KJV, NKJV, ASV, RSV); “What right do you have to be angry?” (cf. TEV, CEV). Second, it may mean “well, utterly, thoroughly,” as an adverb (BDB 405 s.v. 3; HALOT 408 s.v. 5; e.g., Deut 9:21; 13:15; 17:4; 19:18; 27:8; 1 Sam 16:17; 2 Kgs 11:18; Prov 15:2; Isa 23:16; Jer 1:12; Ezek 33:32; Mic 7:3). This view is adopted by other English versions: “Are you that deeply grieved?” (JPS, NJPS); “Are you so angry?” (NEB). This is also the approach of the Tg. Jonah 4:4: “Are you that greatly angered?” The first interpretation can say such anger reflected the lack of submission to God’s sovereignty that caused Jonah to disobey initially. If God wanted to show mercy or wanted the plant to die, who was Jonah to get angry? But the rightness or wrongness of anger over plant death can seem a trivial question, and the later dialogue may focus on the depth of Jonah’s anger: He would rather be dead than alive (vv. 3, 8), and he concludes by saying that he was as angry as he could possibly be (v. 9; see note on עַד־מָוֶת [ʿad mavet, “to death”] in v. 9). The Lord then uses an a fortiori argument (from lesser to greater): Jonah was very upset that the plant had died (v. 10); likewise, God was very concerned about averting the destruction of Nineveh (v. 11).sn The use of the term יָטַב (yatab, “rightly, good”) creates a wordplay with its antonym רָעָה (raʿah, “evil, wrong”), which is used in 4:1 of Jonah’s bad attitude.
- Jonah 4:4 tn Heb “Does it burn to you?” The verb חָרָה (kharah, “to burn”) functions figuratively here (hypocatastasis) to refer to strong anger (BDB 354 s.v. חָרָה). The verb is repeated from v. 1 and will be used again in v. 9.
- Jonah 4:5 tn Heb “from the east” or “from the front.” When used to designate a location, the noun קֶדֶם (qedem) may mean “front” (BDB 869 s.v. קֶדֶם 1.a) or “east” (BDB 869 s.v. 1.b). The construction קֶדֶם + preposition מִן (min, “from”) means “from the front” = “in front of” (Job 23:8; Ps 139:5; Isa 9:11) or “from the east” = “eastward, on the east side” (Gen 3:21; 12:8; Num 34:11; Josh 7:2; Ezek 11:23). Because the morning sunrise beat down upon Jonah (v. 8) and the main city gate of Nineveh opened to the east, the term probably means “on the east side” of the city. But “in front of” the city would mean the same in this case.
- Jonah 4:5 tn Heb “of the city.” For stylistic reasons, to avoid redundancy, the noun “city” has been replaced here by the pronoun (“it”) in the translation.
- Jonah 4:5 sn Apparently Jonah hoped that he might have persuaded the Lord to “change his mind” again (see 3:8-10) and to judge Nineveh after all.
- Jonah 4:6 tn The verb מָנָה (manah) in the Piel stem is used elsewhere in Jonah meaning “to send, to appoint” (Jonah 2:1; 4:6-8; HALOT 599 s.v. מנה 2; BDB 584 s.v. מָנָה).
- Jonah 4:6 tn The noun קִיקָיוֹן (qiqayon, “plant”) has the suffixed ending וֹן- which denotes a diminutive (see IBHS 92 §5.7b), so it can be nuanced “little plant.” For the probable reason that the narrator used the diminutive form here, see the note on “little” in v. 10.
- Jonah 4:6 tc The consonantal form להציל is vocalized by the MT as לִהַצִּיל (lehatsil), a Hiphil infinitive construct from נָצַל (natsal, “to deliver, rescue”; BDB 664-65 s.v. נָצַל). However, the LXX’s τοῦ σκιάζειν (tou skiazein, “to shade”) reflects an alternate vocalization tradition of לְהָצֵיל (lehatsel), a Niphal infinitive construct from צָלַל (tsalal, “to shade”; see BDB 853 s.v. צָלַל). The MT vocalization is preferred for several reasons. First, it is the more difficult form with the assimilated nun. Second, the presence of the noun צֵל (tsel, “shadow”) just two words before helps to explain the origin of the LXX vocalization, which was influenced by this noun in the immediate context. Third, God’s primary motivation in giving the plant to Jonah was not simply to provide shade for him, because the next day the Lord killed the plant (v. 7). God’s primary motivation was to create a situation to “rescue” Jonah from his bad attitude. Nevertheless, the narrator’s choice of the somewhat ambiguous consonantal form להציל might have been done to create a wordplay on נָצַל (“to rescue, deliver”) and צָלַל (“to shade”). Jonah thought that God was providing him shade, but God was really working to deliver him from his evil attitude, as the ensuing dialogue indicates.
- Jonah 4:6 tn Or “evil attitude.” The meaning of the noun רָעָה (raʿah) is intentionally ambiguous; the author puns on its broad range of meanings to create a polysemantic wordplay. It can signify (1) “distress, misery, discomfort,” (2) “misfortune, injury,” (3) “calamity, disaster,” (4) “moral evil,” and (5) “ill-disposed, evil attitude” (see BDB 949 s.v. רָעָה; HALOT 1262-63 s.v. רָעָה). The narrator has used several meanings of רָעָה in 3:8-4:2, namely, “moral evil” (3:8, 10) and “calamity, disaster” (3:9, 10; 4:2), as well as the related verb רָעַע (raʿaʿ, “to be displeasing”; see 4:1). Here the narrator puns on the meaning “discomfort” created by the scorching desert heat, but God’s primary motivation is to “deliver” Jonah, not from something as trivial as physical discomfort from heat, but from his sinful attitude about God’s willingness to spare Nineveh. This gives the term an especially ironic twist: Jonah is only concerned about being delivered from his physical “discomfort,” while God wants to deliver him from his “evil attitude.”
- Jonah 4:6 tn Heb “he rejoiced with great joy.” The cognate accusative construction repeats the verb and noun of the consonantal root שׂמח (smkh, “rejoice”) for emphasis; it means, “he rejoiced with great joy,” or, “he was greatly delighted” (see IBHS 167 §10.2.1g). This cognate accusative construction ironically mirrors the identical syntax of v. 1: “he was angry with great anger.” The narrator repeated this construction to emphasize the contrast between Jonah’s anger that Nineveh was spared and his joy that his discomfort was relieved.
- Jonah 4:7 tn Or “appointed.” The verb מָנָה (manah) in the Piel stem means “to send, to appoint” (Ps 61:8; Jonah 2:1; 4:6-8; Dan 1:5, 10-11; HALOT 599 s.v. מנה 2; BDB 584 s.v. מָנָה).
- Jonah 4:8 tn Or “appointed.” See preceding note on v. 7.
- Jonah 4:8 tc The MT adjective חֲרִישִׁית (kharishit, “autumnal”) is a hapax legomenon with an unclear meaning (BDB 362 s.v. חֲרִישִׁי). Therefore, the BHS editors propose a conjectural emendation to the adjective, חֲרִיפִית (kharifit, “autumnal”), from the noun חֹרֶף (khoref, “autumn”; see BDB 358 s.v. חרֶף). However, this emendation would also create a hapax legomenon, and it would be no more clear than relating the MT’s חֲרִישִׁית to I חָרַשׁ (kharash, “to plough” [in autumn harvest]).tn Heb “autumnal” or “sultry.” The adjective חֲרִישִׁית is a hapax legomenon whose meaning is unclear. It might mean “autumnal” (from I חָרַשׁ, kharash; “to plough” [in the autumn harvest-time]). BDB 362 s.v. חֲרִישִׁי considers it mere conjecture that it means “silent” = “sultry” (from IV. חרשׁ, “to be silent.” The form חֲרִישִׁית might be a misspelling (שׁ for שׂ) of an alternate spelling (שׂ can replace ס) of חֲרִיסִית (kharisit) from the noun חֶרֶס (kheres, “sun”) and so mean “hot” (BDB 362 s.v.).
- Jonah 4:8 tn Heb “attacked” or “smote.”
- Jonah 4:8 tn Heb “he asked his soul to die.”
- Jonah 4:8 tn Heb “better my death than my life.”sn Jonah repeats his assessment, found also in 4:3.
- Jonah 4:9 tn Heb “Does it burn so thoroughly to you?”; or “Does it burn rightly to you?” See note on this expression in v. 4.
- Jonah 4:9 tn Heb “It thoroughly burns to me”; or “It rightly burns to me.”
- Jonah 4:9 tn Heb “unto death.” The phrase עַד־מָוֶת (ʿad mavet, “unto death”) is an idiomatic expression meaning “to the extreme” or simply “extremely [angry]” (HALOT 563 s.v. מָוֶת 1.c). The noun מָוֶת (“death”) is often used as an absolute superlative with a negative sense, similar to the English expression “bored to death” (IBHS 267-69 §14.5). For example, “his soul was vexed to death” (לָמוּת, lamut) means that he could no longer endure it (Judg 16:16), and “love is as strong as death” (כַמָּוֶת, kammavet) means love is irresistible or exceedingly strong (Song 8:6). Here the expression “I am angry unto death” (עַד־מָוֶת) means that Jonah could not be more angry. Unfortunately, this idiomatic expression has gone undetected by virtually every other major English version to date (KJV, NKJV, RSV, NRSV, ASV, NASB, NIV, NJB, JPS, NJPS). The only English version that comes close to representing the idiom correctly is BBE: “I have a right to be truly angry.”
- Jonah 4:10 tn Heb “were troubled.” The verb חוּס (khus) has a basic threefold range of meanings: (1) “to be troubled about,” (2) “to look with compassion upon,” and (3) “to show pity, to spare [someone from death/judgment]” (HALOT 298 s.v. חוס; BDB 299 s.v. חוּס). Clearly, here God is referring to Jonah’s remorse and anger when the plant died (vv. 7-9), so here it probably means “to be troubled about” (HALOT 298 s.v. 1.c) rather than “to pity” (BDB 299 s.v. c). Elsewhere חוּס describes emotional grief caused by the loss of property (Gen 45:20) and the death of family members (Deut 13:9 [ET 13:8]). The verb חוּס is derived from a common Semitic root with a basic meaning, “to pour out; to flow,” that is used in reference to emotion and tears in particular. This is seen in the Hebrew expression תָחוּס עֵין (takhus ʿen, “the eyes flow”), picturing tears of concern and grief (cf., Gen 45:20; Deut 13:9 [ET 13:8]). The verb חוּס will be used again in v. 11 but in a different sense (see note on v. 11).
- Jonah 4:10 tn The noun קִיקָיוֹן (qiqayon, “plant”) has the suffixed ending וֹן- that denotes a diminutive (see IBHS 92 §5.7b); so it can be nuanced “little plant.” The contrast between Jonah’s concern for his “little” plant (v. 10) and God’s concern about this “enormous” city (v. 11) could not be greater! Jonah’s misplaced priorities look exceedingly foolish and self-centered in comparison to God’s global concern about the fate of 120,000 pagans.
- Jonah 4:10 tn Heb “which was a son of a night and perished [as] a son of a night.”
- Jonah 4:11 tn The emphatic use of the independent pronouns “you” and “I” (אַתָּה, ʾattah, and אֲנִי, ʾani) in vv. 10 and 11 creates an ironic comparison and emphasizes the strong contrast between the attitudes of Jonah and the Lord.
- Jonah 4:11 tn Heb “You…Should I not spare…?” This is an a fortiori argument from lesser to greater. Since Jonah was “upset” (חוּס, khus) about such a trivial matter as the death of a little plant (the lesser), God had every right to “spare” (חוּס) the enormously populated city of Nineveh (the greater). The phrase “even more” does not appear in Hebrew but is implied by this a fortiori argument.
- Jonah 4:11 tn Heb “Should I not spare?”; or “Should I not show compassion?” The verb חוּס (khus) has a basic threefold range of meanings: (1) “to be troubled about”; (2) “to look with compassion upon”; and (3) “to show pity, to spare,” with respect to death/judgment (HALOT 298 s.v. חוס; BDB 299 s.v. חוּס). In v. 10 it refers to Jonah’s lament over the death of his plant, meaning “to be upset about” or “to be troubled about” (HALOT 298 s.v. 1.c). However, here in v. 11 it means, regarding judgment, “to show pity, spare” (BDB 298 s.v. b; HALOT 298 s.v. 2, 3; e.g., 1 Sam 24:11; Jer 21:7; Ezek 24:14). It is often used in contexts which contemplate whether God will or will not spare a sinful people from judgment (Ezek 5:11; 7:4, 9; 8:18; 9:5, 10; 20:17). So this repetition of the same verb but in a different sense creates a polysemantic wordplay in vv. 10-11. However, the wordplay is obscured by the appropriate translation for each usage—“be upset about” in v. 10 and “to spare” in v. 11—therefore, the translation above attempts to bring out the wordplay in English: “to be [even more] concerned about.”
- Jonah 4:11 tn Heb “the great city.”
- Jonah 4:11 tn Heb “their right from their left.” Interpreters wonder exactly what deficiency is meant by the phrase “do not know their right from their left.” The expression does not appear elsewhere in biblical Hebrew. It probably does not mean, as sometimes suggested, that Nineveh had 120,000 small children (the term אָדָם, ʾadam, “people,” does not seem to be used of children alone). In any case, it refers to a deficiency in discernment of which Jonah and the initial readers of Jonah would no doubt have considered themselves free. For partial parallels see 2 Sam 19:35; Eccl 10:2; Ezek 22:26; 44:23.
- Jonah 4:11 tn Heb “and many animals.”