Synopsis of the Books of the Bible, by John Nelson Darby, [1857-62], at sacred-texts.com
The God of grace has compassion on the works of His hands, when they humble themselves before Him and tremble at the hearing of His righteous judgments. But Jonah, instead of caring for them, thinks only of his own reputation as a prophet. Wretched heart of man, so unable to rise up to the goodness of God! If Jonah had been nearer to God, he would have known that this was truly the God whom he proclaimed, whom he had learnt to love by knowing Him. He would have been able to say, Now, indeed, the Ninevites know the God whose testimony I gloried in bearing, and they will be happy. But Jonah thought only of himself; and the horrid selfishness of his heart hides from him the God of grace, faithful to His love for His helpless creatures. Jon 4:2 exhibits the spirit of Jonah in all its deformity. The grace of God is insupportable to the pride of man. His justice is all very well: man can invest himself with it for his own glory; for man loves vengeance which is allied with the power that executes it. God must proclaim His justice. He does not save in sin. He makes man know his sin, in order to reconcile him to Himself, in order that his restoration may be real-may be that of his heart and of his conscience with God. But it is to make Himself known in pardoning him.
But God is above all the wretched evil of man, and He treats even Jonah with kindness, yet making him feel, at the same time, that He will not renounce His grace, His nature, to satisfy the frowardness of man's heart. He relieves the suffering of Jonah, disappointed at the non-fulfilment of his words; and the selfishness of Jonah's heart delights in this relief. He almost forgets the vengeance he had desired, in his satisfaction at being sheltered from the burning heat of the sun. Having gone out of Nineveh, and seated himself apart that he might see what would become of this city whose repentance vexed his evil heart, he rejoiced, in the midst of his anger, at the gourd which God prepared for him. But what a testimony to the utter iniquity of the flesh! The repentance of the sinner, his return to God, irritates the heart. It is really this; for the city is spared on account of its repentance. Will God smite one who returns to Him in humiliation for his sins? He who does not know the heart of man could not understand the application of such a word as "Charity rejoiceth not in iniquity." We see it here in the case of a prophet. There is the same thing-having also the same application, and the same patient grace on God's part-in the case of the elder brother in the parable of the prodigal son. But if man is content with that which relieves his own distress, and is even angry in his selfishness when that which relieved him is destroyed, shall not God spare the works of His hand and have compassion on that which, in His goodness, He has created? Assuredly He will not listen to the man who would silence His kindness towards those who need it. Most touching and beautiful is the last Verse of this book (Jon 4:11), in which God displays this force, this supreme necessity, of His love; which (although the threatenings of His justice are heard, and must needs be heard and even executed if man continues in rebellion) abides in the repose of that perfect goodness which nothing can alter, and which seizes the opportunity of displaying itself, whenever man allows Him, so to speak, to bless him-the repose of a perfection that nothing can escape, that observes everything, in order to act according to its own undisturbed nature-the repose of God Himself, essential to His perfection, on which depends all our blessing and all our peace.
It is well to remark here, that the subject of this book is not the judgment of the secrets of all hearts in the great day, but the government of God with respect to men on the earth. This is the case, moreover, with all the prophets. We may observe, also, that God reveals Himself in this book as God the Creator-Elohim. We know that even the creatures still groan under the effects of our sin; and they share also the kindness and the compassions of God. His tender mercies are over them. Not a sparrow falls to the ground without Him. The day will come when the curse shall be removed, and they shall enjoy the liberty of the glory of the children of God, set free from bondage and corruption. If God becomes our Father, He takes also the character of Jehovah, who will judge Israel, and who will accomplish His promises and His purposes with respect to them in spite of the whole world. He never ceases to be the Creator God. He does not lay aside one of His characters in order to assume another, any more than He confounds them together; for they reveal His nature, and what He is.
It is sweet, after all, to see Jonah's docility in the end to the voice of God, manifested by the existence of this book, in which the Spirit uses him to exhibit what is in the heart of man, as the vessel of God's testimony, and (in contrast with the prophet, who honestly confesses all his faults) the kindness of God, to which Jonah could not elevate himself, and to which he could not submit.
We may remark, that the case of Jonah is used in the New Testament in two ways, which must not be confounded together: as a testimony in the world, by the word of God-a service with which the Lord compares His own: and afterwards as in the belly of the fish-a circumstance used by the Lord as a figure of the time during which He lay in the grave. Jonah, by his preaching, was a sign to the Ninevites, even as the Lord was to the Jews, harder of hearing and of heart than those pagans who were afar from God. Jonah was also (in that which happened to him in consequence of his refusal to bear testimony) a type of that which befell Jesus when He bore the penalty of the people's sin, and when, being raised from the dead, He became the testimony of grace, and at the same time the occasion of judgment to those who had rejected Him. We have seen in his history that Jonah is a remarkable moral figure of Israel-at least of Israel's conduct.