April 2015 • Volume XV, Issue 12
The Lessons of Jonah’s Gourd (3)
How did sunburned Jonah, huffing in his booth outside
Nineveh, come to evaluate things so utterly wrongly and
wickedly (Jonah 4:1-9)? Why did he reckon so important one
plant that only lasted 24 hours and upon which he did not
bestow any labour? Why did he esteem of so little value some
720,000 people and much livestock in an ancient city?
There is a common factor here. Jonah, himself! Jonah’s
selfishness! He was angry at God for killing the gourd
because it provided shelter for him (Jonah). He was furious
with the Almighty for not killing the myriads of Ninevites
and their livestock, because he (Jonah) hated them and he
(Jonah) did not want Jehovah to judge Israel, his own
In short, Jonah maintained that the gourd should live, and
many thousands of people and cattle in Nineveh should die,
because of his own sinful desires. The “very angry” prophet
(1) even told his Creator to His face that he was right to
be “angry” about it, “even unto death” (9)!
So did Jonah afterwards repent of his hardness of heart and
blindness of mind? The book does not say yea or nay, in so
many words, but I firmly believe that he did, for three main
First, though Jonah had fallen into grievous sin, he was
still a child of God and the Lord always brings His sons and
daughters back to fellowship with Himself through
repentance, as with the prodigal son. The Canons of Dordt
explain it well: “For, in the first place, in these falls He
preserves in them the incorruptible seed of regeneration
from perishing, or being totally lost; and again, by His
Word and Spirit, certainly and effectually renews them to
repentance, to a sincere and godly sorrow for their sins,
that they may seek and obtain remission in the blood of the
Mediator, may again experience the favour of a reconciled
God, through faith adore His mercies, and henceforward more
diligently work out their own salvation with fear and
Second, Jonah wrote his book, as all the sixteen holy
writing prophets penned their own inspired books, by “the
Spirit of Christ which was in them” (I Pet. 1:11).
Third, read again Jehovah’s winsome argument, which was
explained in the last issue of the News, in the light of His
irresistible grace and wisdom: “Then said the Lord, 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 4:10-11).
Jehovah used these powerful words as a mighty means of grace
to Jonah so that he saw his foolishness, selfishness and
wickedness. He could have crawled under the dirt under the
booth and shriveled up like that gourd out of shame!
Thus, by God’s Spirit, the prophet redirected his anger. He
was no longer sinfully angry against the Lord; he was now
righteously angry against himself. The apostle Paul
describes the zeal of true repentance: “For godly sorrow
worketh repentance to salvation not to be repented of: but
the sorrow of the world worketh death. For behold this
selfsame thing, that ye sorrowed after a godly sort, what
carefulness it wrought in you, yea, what clearing of
yourselves, yea, what indignation, yea, what fear, yea, what
vehement desire, yea, what zeal, yea, what revenge! In all
things ye have approved yourselves to be clear in this
matter” (II Cor. 7:10-11).
There is hardly a verse that Jonah could have written in his
book without a tear. In fact, there is hardly a verse in his
book that he could have read later without a tear.
There were tears of sorrow over his stubbornness and
rebelliousness against his covenant God, especially His
disobedience to the divine call to go to Nineveh, his flight
to Tarshish and His sinful example to the sailors in chapter
1; and his childish petulance, repeated death wish and sulky
answers to the Lord in chapter 4.
There were tears of thankfulness over Jehovah’s graciousness
and kindness to him, especially his deliverance from
drowning by the great fish, his escape from its dark,
stinking belly and his answered prayer from the depths in
chapter 2; and the marvellous salvation of the Ninevites, a
foretaste of the conversion of the Gentiles, in chapter 3.
After all, Jonah’s great comfort was, as he had confessed
earlier in the great fish’s belly, “Salvation is of the
Lord” (Jonah 2:9). This is the consolation of us all, who
hate our sins and have turned to God in Jesus Christ, for we
also confess with Jonah, “thou art a gracious God, and
merciful, slow to anger, and of great kindness, and
repentest thee of the evil” (4:2)! Rev. Stewart
Prophet Jonah (I),” 6 sermons on Jonah 1-2 in an attractive
box set (CD or DVD), is available for £8/set (inc. P&P);
“The Prophet Jonah (II),” 12 sermons on Jonah 2-4 in an
attractive box set (CD or DVD), costs £12/box set (inc.
P&P). Both sets together (CD or DVD) are just £18/box set (inc.
P&P) and can be ordered by replying to this e-mail.
The sermons are also free to listen to or watch on-line
God’s Admonition of Cain
“If thou doest well, shalt thou not be accepted? and if thou
doest not well, sin lieth at the door. And unto thee shall
be his desire, and thou shalt rule over him” (Gen. 4:7).
“Is sin personified in this verse? Did Cain have the power
to overcome sin?”—these are the questions of a reader, in
connection with the above text.
In the last three issues of the News, I have dealt at some
length with the question of the relation between God’s
foreknowledge of all things and the sin of man for which he
is responsible. It might be well for the reader and
questioner to re-read those issues, for the questions posed
above, especially the last one, are part of the same
question discussed recently in the News.
As far as the first question is concerned, whether sin is
personified in Genesis 4:7, the answer to that question is
affirmative. Yes, indeed, sin is personified here.
Personification is frequently used in Scripture. It is a
figure of speech in which human activities are ascribed to
inanimate creatures. This powerful figure of speech is used
with great effect in God’s Word. Some familiar
personifications are the following.
“The burden of Tyre. Howl, ye ships of Tarshish; for it is
laid waste, so that there is no house, no entering in: from
the land of Chittim it is revealed to them” (Isa. 23:1).
These ships are told to “howl” or cry, in a personification,
for the great market city of Tyre, to which they frequently
sailed, was to be destroyed.
“O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, thou that killest the prophets, and
stonest them which are sent unto thee, how often would I
have gathered thy children together, even as a hen gathereth
her chickens under her wings, and ye would not!” (Matt.
23:37). Jerusalem was only a city but it is here described
as engaging in the murder of prophets and resisting the
salvation of her children, for the religious representatives
of Jerusalem (v. 13) tried (but failed) to stop Christ
gathering Jerusalem’s elect children (John 6:39-40;
10:27-29), as Augustine, Peter Martyr Vermigli, John Calvin,
John Knox, Francis Turretin and many other worthies rightly
Jerusalem was, however, the capital of Israel since the time
of David and would now be destroyed for her sins—which meant
that the nation of Israel would no longer exist as the
theocratic nation (Matt. 23:38; 21:42-43).
“O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory”
(I Cor. 15:55)? Death is personified as the enemy and final
destroyer of men, but the believer mocks the grave’s power
in the hope of rising again through the power of Christ’s
“For we know that the whole creation groaneth and travaileth
in pain together until now” (Rom. 8:22). The creation also
shall be saved through Christ’s redemptive work, and it is
here pictured as longing for the day of the general
Isaiah 44:23 is an exhortation flowing from the redemption
of God’s people and the blotting out of their sins: “Sing, O
ye heavens; for the Lord hath done it: shout, ye lower parts
of the earth: break forth into singing, ye mountains, O
forest, and every tree therein: for the Lord hath redeemed
Jacob, and glorified himself in Israel.” More
personification is seen in these verses concerning the
Lord’s return to judge at the end of the world: “Let the
field be joyful, and all that is therein: then shall all the
trees of the wood rejoice” (Ps. 96:12) and “Let the floods
clap their hands: let the hills be joyful together” (98:8).
In Genesis 4:7, sin is pictured as a power that can destroy
the sinner. When one takes the road of sin against God,
every sin he commits makes other and more heinous sins more
likely. The first act of adultery may only leave a guilty
conscience, but it opens the door to the next one and the
next one—each one easier and more to be desired, until it
all leads to sexual perversion such as we see all about us
By the way, the last clause of Genesis 4:7 is better
translated as an imperative, so that Cain is commanded by
God: “But do thou rule over it.”
The second question has to do with the statement: “If thou
doest well, shalt thou not be accepted?” The questioner is
asking if the statement, “if thou doest well,” implies
Cain’s spiritual ability to do well and possession of a free
First of all, the questioner ought to ask himself this
question: As it stands in the text, is it not a true
statement? Can anyone on the face of God’s earth deny that
in doing well one is accepted by the Lord? That statement is
so obviously true that it is impossible to understand how
anyone can possibly deny it.
Therefore, to imply that the statement means that a totally
depraved sinner is able to do what is pleasing in Jehovah’s
sight is a totally unwarranted deduction. The error lies in
a premise that the Arminian accepts as true but that is, in
fact, false. The error is this: God will not demand of a
person that which he is unable to do.
The demand to do well is implied in the text. It has to be.
Jehovah does not withdraw the demands of His law on the
grounds that the sinner is incapable of performing the good.
God is holy, just and righteous. His moral perfection
requires that He must continue to demand righteousness of
the sinner. God created him in true righteousness. Man
deliberately squandered these gifts. He can no longer do
what is righteous. Does God now say, “Oh, I am so sorry you
did this terrible thing. I will no longer ask you any more
to do that which I formerly required of you.” No! That would
If a man owes you £10,000 and turns a profit of £100,000 on
a project he finished, but squanders the money on a
world-wide trip, justice demands that he still be required
to pay you. His plea that he is broke does not release him
from his obligation to pay his debt. You have every right to
take him to court and obtain a court order that compels him
to pay it. His plea that he is unable to do so means
nothing. He was able to pay it. He, by his own foolishness,
made himself unable to pay the debt. He is to blame. He must
still pay what he owes.
Jehovah does no less. God’s command to the totally depraved
sinner must be heard by him. The sinner will not get away
with pleading, in the great judgment day, his inability as
if it were an acceptable excuse.
How thankful we must be who by faith flee to Christ, who has
paid the debt for us and so made us, out of sheer grace,
acceptable to God! Prof. Hanko
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