What is a Gourd in The Bible?

The gourd, being a rapidly spreading vine, is truly a wonder of nature. In Biblical scripture, this plant was used by God as a teaching instrument in His effort to enlighten Jonah – the vexed prophet, on His divine compassion and mercy on the transgressing city of Nineveh.

The gourd is an interesting plant and God had a specific purpose in mind when He selected it to grow over Jonah at the end of his missionary journey. Let’s dig a bit deeper and color in the picture of a gourd plant, a man, and his Great Big God. 

What is a Gourd?

Gourds refer to a family of creeping plants (curcurbits) which includes the well-known pumpkin, zucchini, and squash. Typically, the plant grows extremely fast and, when damaged, withers very quickly. Gourds are large and fleshy and can be used as drinking vessels as well as decorative items. Typically, the leaves of a gourd plant are large.

Some gourds are good to eat and others are harmful. There are a few references to gourds in The Bible – and it’s possible there were some gourds in the garden with Adam and Eve. Let’s take a closer look at some key passages. 

Mentions of Gourds in The Bible

Elisha and the Gourd Stew

In 2 Kings 4:38-41, we see a miracle involving inedible wild gourds. During a famine in Gilgal, the prophet Elisha set out a meal for the sons of the prophets. It became clear that his servant had mistakenly picked inedible, poisonous, wild gourds for the stew. Elisha threw in some flour and miraculously, the food was edible – God’s power, grace, and provision on display.

Jonah and the Gourd Plant

In this Old Testament book of the Bible, Jonah, the prophet, had been called by God to travel to the wicked city of Nineveh (Israel’s enemy), and warn them of God’s impending judgment. He rebelled against God’s word, went his own way, and fled in the opposite direction. 

God used a storm while Jonah was onboard a ship, and when Jonah was thrown overboard, God used a big fish to rescue him. Jonah’s heart was broken and repentant before the LORD and God commanded the fish to spit out Jonah on dry land – God’s power, grace, and provision on display.

Jonah obeyed God. He went to Nineveh and declared God’s judgment, and the people turned from their ways, repented, and looked to God. God revoked his judgment in an act of compassion and mercy. Jonah was angry that God spared Nineveh – he disagreed with God and wanted the city to be destroyed. He went and sat away from the city in the hot sun.

In the book of Jonah, according to the Smiths Bible Dictionary, “plant” is translated from the Hebrew word kikayan. A kikayan is a gourd plant, most likely from the cucumber family, that in the East is often grown for shade for workers out in the fields due to its large leaves. This is the only place in The Bible that mentions this specific plant.

Let’s see how God used this gourd to demonstrate an important lesson.

Now the Lord God appointed a plant and made it come up over Jonah, that it might be a shade over his head, to save him from his discomfort. So Jonah was exceedingly glad because of the plant. 

Jonah 4: 6-10 (ESV)

But when dawn came up the next day, God appointed a worm that attacked the plant, so that it withered. When the sun rose, God appointed a scorching east wind, and the sun beat down on the head of Jonah so that he was faint. And he asked that he might die and said, “It is better for me to die than to live.” 

But God said to Jonah, “Do you do well to be angry for the plant?” And he said, “Yes, I do well to be angry, angry enough to die.” And the Lord said, “You pity the plant, for which you did not labor, nor did you make it grow, which came into being in a night and perished in a night. And should not I pity Nineveh, that great city, in which there are more than 120,000 persons who do not know their right hand from their left, and also much cattle?”

The Gourd is a Reminder of God’s Compassion and Sovereignty

We can learn a lot from the lesson about Jonah. Jonah had been rescued from death. Jonah deserved judgment for his disobedience but instead received mercy and a second chance. How did he respond when God poured out His compassion and mercy on others? 

He was angry. His heart was hardened. He wanted the wicked city to be punished. He lost sight of what God had done for him! God still didn’t give up on Jonah and tried to remind Him of the grace that he, himself had received and caused a gourd to grow and bring him shade while he sulked!

The gourd in Jonah’s story reminds us of so many key truths:

  • God is faithful when we are not
  • God is forgiving when we are not
  • God doesn’t forsake his children even when they disobey
  • God gives and God takes away
  • God is slow to anger when we are not
  • God’s way is perfect, ours is not

Christian, may Jonah’s story be a warning to us. When God calls us, we must go. When we see God’s grace and compassion in the lives of others we must remember His grace in our own lives. When we see the wicked turn from their ways and look to God, we must worship our God, not question him. He is the God who is slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. His ways are perfect. He is the God of second chances! 

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