Jonah 4: Bible Chapter Summary

Exploring the third chapter of the Old Testament Book of Jonah

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The Book of Jonah describes a number of strange and extraordinary events. But the fourth chapter -- the final chapter -- may be the strangest of all. It's certainly the most disappointing.

Let's take a look.


While chapter 3 ended in a positive way with God choosing to remove His wrath from the Ninevites, chapter 4 begins with Jonah's complaint against God. The prophet was angry that God spared the Ninevites.

Jonah wanted to see them destroyed, which is why he ran from God in the first place -- he knew God was merciful and would respond to the Ninevites' repentance. 

God responded to Jonah rant with a single question: "Is it right for you to be angry?" (verse 4).

Later, Jonah set up camp outside of the city's walls to see what would happen. Strangely, we're told that God caused a plant to grow next to Jonah's shelter. The plant provided shade from the hot sun, which made Jonah happy. The next day, however, God appointed a worm to eat through the plant, which withered and died. This made Jonah angry again.

Again, God asked Jonah a single question: "Is it right for you to be angry about the plant?" (verse 9). Jonah responded that he was angry -- angry enough to die!

God's response highlighted the prophet's lack of grace:

10 So the Lord said, “You cared about the plant, which you did not labor over and did not grow. It appeared in a night and perished in a night. 11 Should I not care about the great city of Nineveh, which has more than 120,000 people who cannot distinguish between their right and their left, as well as many animals?”
Jonah 4:10-11

Key Verse

But Jonah was greatly displeased and became furious. He prayed to the Lord: “Please, Lord, isn’t this what I said while I was still in my own country? That’s why I fled toward Tarshish in the first place. I knew that You are a merciful and compassionate God, slow to become angry, rich in faithful love, and One who relents from sending disaster.
Jonah 4:1-2

Jonah understood some of the depth of God's grace and mercy. Unfortunately, he did not share those characteristics, preferring to see his enemies destroyed rather than experience redemption.

Key Themes

As with chapter 3, grace is a major theme in the Book of Jonah's final chapter. We hear from Jonah himself that God is "merciful and compassionate," "slow to become angry," and "rich in faithful love." Unfortunately, God's grace and mercy is set against Jonah himself, who is a walking illustration of judgment and unforgiveness.

Another major theme in chapter 4 is the ridiculousness of human selfishness and self-righteousness. Jonah was callous to the lives of the Ninevites -- he wanted to see them destroyed. He did not realize the value of human life given that all people are created in the image of God. Therefore, he prioritized a plant over tens of thousands of people simply so he could have some shade.

The text uses Jonah's attitude and actions as an object lesson that describes how callous we can be when we choose to judge our enemies rather than offer grace.

Key Questions

The major question of Jonah 4 is connected to the book's abrupt ending. After Jonah's complaint, God explains in verses 10-11 why it is silly for Jonah to care so much about a plant and so little about a city full of people -- and that's the end.

The book seems to drop off a cliff without any further resolution.

Bible scholars have addressed this question in many ways, although there is not a strong consensus. What people do agree about (for the most part) is that the abrupt ending was intentional -- there aren't any missing verses still waiting to be discovered. Rather, it seems the biblical author intended to create tension by ending the book on a cliffhanger. Doing so forces us, the reader, to make our own conclusions about the contrast between God's grace and Jonah's desire for judgment.

Plus, it seems appropriate that the book ends with God highlighting Jonah's skewed vision of the world and then asking a question to which Jonah had no answer. It reminds us of Who was in charge throughout the entire circumstance.

One question we can answer is: What happened to the Assyrians?

There seems to be a period of genuine repentance in which the people of Nineveh turned away from their wicked ways. Sadly, this repentance didn't last. A generation later, the Assyrians were up to their old tricks. In fact, it was the Assyrians who destroyed the northern kingdom of Israel in 722 B.C.

Note: this is a continuing series exploring the Book of Jonah on a chapter-by-chapter basis. Click here to see earlier chapter summaries in Jonah: Jonah 1Jonah 2 and Jonah 3.

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Your Citation
O'Neal, Sam. "Jonah 4: Bible Chapter Summary." ThoughtCo, Feb. 4, 2017, O'Neal, Sam. (2017, February 4). Jonah 4: Bible Chapter Summary. Retrieved from O'Neal, Sam. "Jonah 4: Bible Chapter Summary." ThoughtCo. (accessed March 19, 2018).