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Jonah 4:10-11

Context
4:10 The Lord said, “You were upset 1  about this little 2  plant, something for which you have not worked nor did you do anything to make it grow. It grew up overnight and died the next day. 3  4:11 Should I 4  not be even more 5  concerned 6  about Nineveh, this enormous city? 7  There are more than one hundred twenty thousand people in it who do not know right from wrong, 8  as well as many animals!” 9 

1 tn Heb “were troubled.” The verb חוּס (khus) has a basic three-fold 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 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 which has a basic meaning “to pour out; to flow” which is used in reference to emotion and tears in particular. This is seen in the Hebrew expression תָחוּס עֵין (takhushen, “the eyes flow”) picturing tears of concern and grief (c.f., 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).

2 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.” 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.

3 tn Heb “which was a son of a night and perished [as] a son of a night.”

4 tn The emphatic use of the independent pronouns “you” and “I” (אַתָּה, ’attah, and אֲנִי, ’ani) in vv. 10 and 11 creates an ironic comparison and emphasizes the strong contrast between the attitudes of Jonah and the Lord.

5 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.

6 tn Heb “Should I not spare?”; or “Should I not show compassion?” The verb חוּס (khus) has a basic three-fold 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). 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 “to show pity, spare” from judgment (BDB 298 s.v. b; HALOT 298 s.v. 1.a; 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; 8:19; 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.”

7 tn Heb “the great city.”

8 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, ’adam, “people,” does not seem to be used of children alone). In any case, it refers to a deficiency in discernment that Jonah and the initial readers of Jonah would no doubt have considered themselves free of. For partial parallels see 2 Sam 19:35; Eccl 10:2; Ezek 22:26; 44:23.

9 tn Heb “and many animals.”



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