With some rare exceptions, a prophetic word from God is conditional, typically a call for repentance. Rare is the prophet who isn’t thrilled to see his audience take the warning seriously, but Jonah hated his audience in the first place. Again, this was a combination of the oppression and cruelty of the imperial government in dealing with Jonah’s people, plus we now see a rather strong element of racism. Jonah preferred to see all God’s blessings for only the Nation of Israel. So Jonah groused at God for being so merciful, of all things. He begged God permission to die, since his obedience would surely bring more trouble on his homeland. God asked Jonah if this attitude was really appropriate.
Nineveh stood on the eastern bank of the Tigris in what is today northern Iraq, opposite modern Mosul. To the east of this area can be found any number of little high spots where a fellow might camp out and view the flat river plain below. For this purpose, the narrative mentions Jonah (and whomever was with him) built a booth, a light frame with vegetation for cover. It was the most common temporary shelter aside from tents. Jonah’s purpose was to watch for sure whether their repentance as sufficient to escape God’s wrath. His foul mood would be no match for God, though.
During this stay, however long it was, a large shading plant, which we believe was a Castor bean plant, grew up to reinforce the limited shade offered by the shelter. This brightened Jonah’s mood somewhat, given the sparseness of vegetation in that area. A Castor bean plant can be quite large with broad overlapping leaves, and would have made a substantial shelter by itself. They are also vulnerable to worms, and we are told one killed this extra shade Jonah had enjoyed. That same day, an eastern wind began to blow. Any such wind in that part of the world would be blistering hot and dry. Jonah suffered miserably and was once more ready to die.
In his truculence, Jonah seemed hardly careful in answering God. The prophet insisted he had every right to be angry with God in these difficult circumstances, for both the salvation of his enemies and the nasty discomfort. God had commanded him to do something utterly abhorrent and unpatriotic, forced him into doing so when he tried to flee, and now the worst of all outcomes stood before him as the city repented. Topping it all off was a blistering wind and his last bit of comfort in this world was gone. God spoke again and reminded Jonah he had felt protective of a simple piece of seasonal greenery.
Having invested nothing in the plant, why should Jonah care about its short life span? In this fallen world, such flora are simply random background scenery. Nothing justifies strong feelings about it either way. People? That’s another matter. Sure, in the vagaries of life in the broader pagan world, empires come and go. Israel had the revelation of God, His personal attention and blessings never offered to any other people anywhere on the planet, past or future. And what good did it do them? Here was a city with more than a hundred thousand souls without any such revelation from God, and they were repenting with such ardor, it should embarrass any Israelite. Jonah was rooting for the wrong side, because God could hardly claim to be on the side of the Northern Kingdom after centuries of ignoring His Word. Instead, every prophet should be glad to rejoice with anyone on this earth who embraces however much of God’s Laws they can grasp.