Jonah Table of  Contents

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Minor Prophets: Major Messages

Chapter Four of Jonah

Jonah 4:1-11

"But it displeased Jonah exceedingly, and he became angry. So he prayed to the Lord, and said, ‘Ah, Lord, was not this what I said when I was still in my country? Therefore I fled previously to Tarshish; for I know that You are a gracious and merciful God, slow to anger and abundant in lovingkindness, One who relents from doing harm. Therefore now, O Lord, please take my life from me, for it is better for me to die than live!’ Then the Lord said, ‘Is it right for you to be angry?’ So Jonah went out of the city and sat on the east side of the city. There he made for himself a shelter and sat under it in the shade, till he might see what would become of the city. And the Lord God prepared a plant and made it come up over Jonah, that it might be shade for his head to deliver him from his misery. So Jonah was very grateful for the plant. But as morning dawned the next day God prepared a worm, and it so damaged the plant that it withered. And it happened, when the sun arose, that God prepared a vehement east wind; and the sun beat on Jonah’s head, so he grew faint. Then he wished death for himself, and said, ‘It is better for me to die than to live.’ Then God said to Jonah, ‘Is it right for you to be angry about the plant?’ And he said, ‘It is right for me to be angry, even to death!’ But the Lord said, ‘You have pity on the plant for which you have not labored, nor made it grow, which came up in a night and perished in a night. And should I not pity Nineveh, that great city, in which are more than one hundred and twenty thousand persons who cannot discern between their right hand and their left – and much livestock."

Passages From the Writings


  • "The Jewish nation became very angry at the salvation of the nations. A representation of their being inflamed thereat."

AE 401 [36]

  • "It is written in Jonah that ‘the gourd that came up over him withered, and that the sun beat upon his head, so that he fell sick.’ As this cannot be understood without explanation by the internal sense, it shall be explained in a few words...This is a description of the genius of the Jewish nation, that they are in the love of self and in falsities therefrom. Jonah was of that nation, and therefore also was sent to Nineveh; for the Jewish nation had the Word, and was therefore able to teach those who were outside of the church and who are called gentiles; these are signified by ‘Nineveh.’ Because the Jewish nation was, above others, in love of self and in falsities from that love, they did not wish well to any but themselves, thus not to the gentiles, but these they hated. Because that nation was such, and Jonah represented it, he was very angry that Jehovah should spare Nineveh… This evil in that nation is signified by the gourd which the worm smote so it dried up. ‘The sun that smote upon the head of Jonah’ signifies the love of self which was in that nation; and ‘the scorching east wind’ the falsity therefrom; and ‘the worm that smote the gourd’ signifies the destruction of this evil and the falsity thence. That this is the signification of ‘the gourd’ is evident from its being said in this description that Jonah at first ‘was glad over the gourd,’ and after the gourd had been smitten by the worm and had dried up that ‘he was angry over it, even unto death,’ and also from its being said that ‘he had pity over the gourd.’ That the Jewish nation, because it was in such a love and in such falsity…was liable to damnation is meant by these words to Jonah, ‘thou didst not cause it to grow up, because thou didst become a son of night, and a son of night perisheth." (Jonah 4:1, 3, 6-11)

AC 10441

  • "…‘repenting’ when said of Jehovah, denotes mercy, is plain [in Jonah 4:2]."

DSS 51 [2]

  • "It is said that Jehovah repenteth…and also that Jehovah repenteth not…without doctrine these statements do not agree." (Jonah 4:2)

TCR 226 [2]

  • Please note that this passage uses the same wording as the above passage and also refers to Jonah 4:2.

AE 419 [26]

  • "…by the wind coming from the east, which is called ‘the east wind,’ namely, that with the evil it disperses all the goods and truths which they presented in external form before the world, and all the truths which they talked about for the sake of appearances…" Jonah 4:8 is cited as an example.

Derived Doctrine

"Jonah became angry…"

  • Anger signifies a grievous turning away from good. (AC 6358) A hot anger signifies repugnance and aversion. (AC 7791)

"…when I was still in my country, was not this what I said…"

  • This passage indicates that Jonah, although he did the preaching for the Lord, never really did so from a changed heart. A country signifies the genius of each, in particular and general. (AC 1215) So it would appear that Jonah (the Jewish nation) was of the same mind, in generals and particulars, as when he tried to run the first time. Jonah mentions his fleeing to Tarshish.


The great platitudes regarding the gracious and merciful God, slow to anger and abundant in loving kindness.

  • One might do well to remember Balaam when reading these words. He was hired to speak a curse on Israel, but the words of condemnation couldn’t be uttered.
  • AE 140 teaches that Balaam signifies those whose understandings have been enlightened, and so teach truths, but who would yet love to destroy the church by craft. Jonah seems conflicted and yet hardened. He hates Nineveh and is in disbelief that the Lord would act contrary to his assumed spiritual correctness; he feels justified in excluding gentiles from the benefits of the Word and church.

"Is it right for you to be angry?"

  • The Divine question is the Lord’s way of opening internal reflection. The Lord knows the answer. Jonah needs to dig deeper to find the Lord’s answer.
  • Jonah wished to end his life. Hellish states burn with a desire to destroy others. Are we seeing the influence of hell wanting to destroy Jonah and make him ashamed of what he had done in the name of the Lord?

"Jonah went out of the city and sat on the east side of the city."

  • Jonah left the city. In the positive sense, a city reflects the organization and protection of truth. Truth, like a physical city, offers homes, places of business, places of worship, protection, libraries, hospitals, etc. In the opposite sense, a city represents the falsification of truth. It would be like living in caves, bogs, and makeshift housing. It seems that Jonah left the doctrinal city. He had to find ways to justify his opposition to what the Lord had done for Nineveh.
  • Sitting on the east side of the city sounds like a case of justification. East is where the ancients believed the Lord resided. They faced east to worship Him. Was Jonah fabricating his reasons for wanting and waiting for Nineveh to have a fiery ending? Was he constructing "spiritual" reasons why the destruction should happen?

"There he made for himself a shelter and sat under it in the shade."

  • Jonah made shelter so as to have shade for his comfort. In the good sense, this represents having a defense against evil and falsity. (AE 298 [5]) In the opposite sense, shade or shadow represents the mind darkening itself with reasoning from memory-knowledges. (AC 6723)
  • Sitting signifies a state of thought. (AC 2684) We are left with an idea that Jonah was reflecting on knowledges from his memory.

The gourd (the plant) and the worm

  • A gourd represents love of self. A worm signifies the torment of internal pain. (AR 763) A worm signifies falsities that destroy. (AC 8481)

"God prepared a vehement east wind…"

  • East wind signifies a state of temptation and vastation. (AC 7679 [3]) It also signifies providing the means to dissipate falsity (AC 8201) and influx from heaven. (AE 538 [10])

"The sun beat on his head, so that he grew faint."

  • Faintness signifies the failure of external good. (AR 381)
  • The sun beating on his head illustrates how troubling the light of the Lord (the sun) was to his thoughts of dominion. The Jewish church’s belief that the Lord favored them over all nations was a great contributor to its self-love. (AC 250)

"Is it right for you to be angry about the plant?"

  • This Divine question was put to Jonah with his best interests in mind. The Lord’s question goes to the heart of Jonah’s compassion. Do you care more for the gourd and your comfort than for the people of Nineveh?
  • Sadly, the answer comes back, "It is right for me to be angry, even to death!"

The Lord recounts that Nineveh had more than 120,000 inhabitants who could not "discern between their right hand and their left—and much livestock."

  • I cannot find a correspondence for 120,000. AE 430 gives quite a detailed explanation of simple numbers multiplied with greater numbers. If you have a gift for math and numerology, please give this reference a try.
  • For the meaning of right hand and left hand, see AC 10,061 [4]: "As most things in the Word have an opposite sense, so also have the right and left…‘the right’ signifies the evil from which is falsity, and ‘the left’ the falsity through which is evil…"
  • A hand signifies ability, power, and therefore confidence. (AC 878)
  • Putting these things together, one can see how desperately the Ninevites needed the Lord’s rescue. They were confused and unable to discriminate with power and confidence the degree of evil around them.

Putting It All Together

The Jewish Church would not reconsider its believe in its "favored nation status." The people, as represented by Jonah, could not and would not share the Word with other nations. They challenged the Lord. They could not believe that He wanted to save a worthless and cruel Nineveh. In this chapter, Jonah gives us a sense that he thinks he knows better than the Lord. His statements about the Lord seem to imply that He is a soft and loving God, with a forgiving side, who needed to come around to Jonah’s tougher view on the plight of the gentiles.

The Jewish Church was going to hold fast to those things in its memory-knowledges about gentiles. Jonah was going to be angry. He believed he had a right to be angry. Jonah preferred death than seeing the Lord’s way save more than 120,000 people. Self love wanted shade, protection for its concepts. The Lord needed to bring such thinking to an end. The worm brought about death to the gourd from within. The Lord sent a vehement east wind to represent a blowing away of the stagnant thinking of the church. His heavenly sun shone upon them, but they felt faint. Their insistence on their own troubling view of things made them uncomfortable with the Lord’s view. The Divine questions offered them a way to learn to enjoy the success of their neighbor as their own, but they would not.


Jonah as a representation of the Jewish church cared most for his own comfort, and he awaited the death and destruction of the gentiles. How sad for him. How wonderful for those who listened and repented because they heard the Word of the Lord.


Read the Selection from P & P.

Read Jonah 4:1-11


Questions to Stimulate Reflection

  1. Is there a Jonah-like spirit still among us today? Do we have a smug sense of being a favored church? Are there still people who believe in ethnic purity?

  2. Have you ever chosen your way over the Lord’s way? How do we resist the Lord’s enlightenment—choosing death, choosing to be angry instead of happy?

  3. What little shelter have we built to protect us from the sun of heaven? How do we know when we are feeling faint or dizzy about spiritual things? What can we do about it?

  4. What Divine questions can you recall hearing in your life that helped you reflect on a deeper level?

  5. Do you feel a sense of sadness for Jonah? He went to preach the message of repentance. In spite of his half-hearted efforts, the Lord’s Word was powerfully effective. Jonah seems to have been ashamed of his work. Sound familiar?

  6. How has this study changed your understanding of the story of Jonah and its meaning?

  7. This study had us thinking about the mistakes of self-love within the Jewish Church. We also needed to see Jonah as being representative of the Lord and all that He had to fight against. Were you able to keep the two in mind as you read? When Jonah failed, it showed what maternal inherited tendencies the Lord overcame. The story of Jonah shows us the states of exinanition the Lord overcame on His way to the Glorification of the His Divine Human. What is exinanition? It is the emptying out of all inherited tendencies from His mother Mary.

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