The Prophet Series: Jonah, part 2
Jonah part 2
The deliverance of Assyria reveals Jonah’s reason for fleeing to Tarshish at the first call. He knew that it was possible that God would spare the city Nineveh.
But it greatly displeased Jonah, and he became angry. And he prayed to the Lord and said, "Please Lord, was not this what I said while I was still in my own country? Therefore, in order to forestall this I fled to Tarshish, for I knew that Thou art a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abundant in lovingkindness, and one who relents concerning calamity.
Jonah doesn’t reveal what he said when God called him (“was not this what I said”), but what he continues to say to God here reveals it - God has abundant lovingkindness and there is a slim chance that the Ninevites might be spared. This he knew. He would hardly be a prophet of God if he didn’t. This is a common problem amongst God’s people who long for the enemies of God to be smashed before them. Christ made it clear: MAT 5:43-45 "You have heard that it was said, 'You shall love your neighbor, and hate your enemy.' But I say to you, love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you 45 in order that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven.”
Pop a squat and watch?
Then Jonah went out from the city and sat east of it. There he made a shelter for himself and sat under it in the shade until he could see what would happen in the city.
Jonah builds a crude shelter and seems to brood over the city. Why didn’t he just leave? Just go home Jonah. It’s over. But for some strange reason he desires to stay and watch the city. Perhaps the shock of their repentance has left him in shock and he doesn’t know what else to do, perhaps it is a case of morbid curiosity, or perhaps Jonah thought there might be the slightest chance that God would destroy the city anyway. The last thing I list is impossible since God had already spoken, but an irrational man will convince himself to believe anything.
Your seat, sir, is in section E.
He sat east of the city. It is impossible to determine, at least for me, how the direction “east” has significance. (The wind that will scorch him (vs. 8) comes from the east, but God can send wind from anywhere.) Man was driven from Eden to the east. The cherubim were stationed on the eastern side of the Garden to guard it. Cain settled east of Eden. Ishmael settled in the east. Add then to the list of who’s who of God rejectors, Jonah takes a seat to the east. I’m not sure about that one. The plague of locusts against Egypt came from the east and perhaps Jonah thinks that after long, Nineveh will un-repent (and they will but not till years later), and if he sits there patiently enough, he’ll see it. Well, now I’m just having a bit of fun.
If the city was about to be destroyed, he would have taken this front row seat with excited anticipation, yet rather, he sits in dejection and depression.
The shelter Jonah made isn’t so good. Prophets don’t make very good carpenters, well … except for One. Jonah’s shelter doesn’t provide much shade from the desert sun, but then again, Jonah was probably not in a “whistle while you work” kind of mood.
God gives a visual lesson before He asks the question again.
So the Lord God appointed a plant and it grew up over Jonah to be a shade over his head to deliver him from his discomfort. And Jonah was extremely happy about the plant.
God gives him some creature comfort and this gives Jonah great joy. He is happy with the vine (likely a castor bean plant), but also, he has zero affection in his heart for the souls of the Ninevites. He is glad for his own comfort but not for the Ninevite’s relief from judgment. Yet as clear as this lesson should be, he does not see it.
When we’re miserable over something disappointing, we will absorb ourselves with the smallest comfort, be it alcohol, food, sex, pleasure, and even the discomfort of someone else. While absorbed with small comforts we are blinded to the true prosperity that comes our way by means of the grace of God. How much misery the human race would be delivered from if they would all learn this lesson.
Worm vs. great fish
But God appointed a worm when dawn came the next day, and it attacked the plant and it withered. And it came about when the sun came up that God appointed a scorching east wind, and the sun beat down on Jonah's head so that he became faint and begged with all his soul to die, saying, "Death is better to me than life."
A worm is much smaller than a great fish. Aren’t you glad you read these blogs? Yet, the worm made Jonah more miserable than the fish did. In the fish he prayed while the worm makes him want to die. The fish saved his life and the worm kill his shade plant.
God again controls the weather and sends a scorching wind. He can send you a storm on the sea or in the desert. Jonah lost his comfort and he wants to die. What about the city? Thousands of lives are being spared and he cares more for the sunburn on his head. How quickly we can become our own little universe and nothing outside of it matters.
And so, God asks him again, “Do you have a right to be angry?”
Then God said to Jonah, "Do you have good reason to be angry about the plant?" And he said, "I have good reason to be angry, even to death." Then the Lord said, "You had compassion on the plant for which you did not work, and which you did not cause to grow, which came up overnight and perished overnight. "And should I not have compassion on Nineveh, the great city in which there are more than 120,000 persons who do not know the difference between their right and left hand, as well as many animals?"
This last conversation with God just cracks me up. Imagine a hot, sweaty, sunburnt little prophet with a scowl on his face, shaking his fist in the air and saying to God, “Of course I have the right to be angry!” My fourteen-month-old daughter has developed the skill of throwing a fit. When she doesn’t get what she wants immediately, she now stomps her little feet (at a whopping 20 pounds it’s not much of a stomp), goes around in a little circle stomping like Indians around the wagons, whines at a high pitch and cries at a repeated frequency, and if she’s really going for it, she hits the ground like a sack and writhes, wiggling all fours and crying and crying. All parents know this act. Kris and I think it’s the funniest thing and it doesn’t upset us in the least, and no, we don’t reward it by giving her what she wants. I think God laughs at Jonah here, and, doesn’t give him what he wants either.
God’s reasoning is of course flawless, but it is a reasoning that any of us should be able to possess. You liked the comfort that you didn’t even work for and when it was gone you complained. God worked to make the Ninevites. He created the people and provided for them and brought a prophet to them, and should He not have compassion on them?
A vine is small compared to the city, yet Jonah wanted to spare the vine and destroy the city. He desired his own comfort, small, over the deliverance of the city, big. The worm is small; the fish is big. The fish saved Jonah’s life and the worm killed his little plant. Uh, hello???
And arise from the dead,
And Christ will shine on you."
God wanted Jonah to see the contrast that He spared the city yet killed the vine, and equate this simple lesson with the contrast of Jonah’s lack of concern for thousands of soul and his all-consuming concern for shade on his head. He wanted to die because Nineveh lived. Then he wanted to die when the plant died. He didn’t have any less after the plant died. It was a gift to him. The Lord gives and the Lord takes away.
Jonah gave nothing here other than the word of the Lord, which is significant, but it doesn’t belong to him. The word, the gospel, the truth is given to us by the grace of God. When we give it to others we are simply passing along a gift. When we serve God, we don’t give Him anything that He hadn’t already given to us. It’s like a child asking his father for money so that he can buy his father a birthday present. The father is not in the child’s debt.
Jonah has not given life to the city or the vine, nor has he sustained them. God did. Jonah cared more for his own comfort than he did the destiny of thousands of souls. What a clear picture of Israel in his day.
Donald Baker paraphrases the Lord’s response: “Let’s analyze this anger of yours, Jonah … It represents your concern over your beloved plant - but what did it really mean to you? Your attachment to it couldn’t be very deep, for it was here one day and gone the next. Your concern was dictated by self-interest, not by genuine love. You never had the devotion of a gardener. If you feel as bad as you do, what would you expect a gardener to feel like, who tended a plant and watched it grow only to see it wither and die? This is how I feel about Nineveh, only much more so. All those people, all those animals, I made the; I have cherished them all these years. Nineveh has cost Me no end of effort, and it means the world to Me. Your pain is nothing compared to Mine when I contemplate their destruction.” [Jonah and the Worm]
This gets to the heart of spiritual warfare and why God Himself would submit to enormous discomfort in order to save men. Spiritual warfare is far bigger than any physical warfare. I know something of the wars men declare on one another. I know less about being in wars that nations fight against each other. But it is clear that a man’s soul is far more valuable than his body, and his spiritual life far more important than his physical existence. Yet, the first and greater will always make the second worthwhile. And it is true that the prophet, the evangelist, the teacher, and all witnesses will have to endure a certain amount of discomfort when upholding and proclaiming the gospel, but the soul of the unbeliever, no matter what “ite” peoples he hails from, is far, far more important.
Spiritual warfare is where the real battles are fought.
"And should I not have compassion on Nineveh, the great city in which there are more than 120,000 persons who do not know the difference between their right and left hand, as well as many animals?"
The book ends with a question from God. It leaves us wanting an answer. It is not an ending at all.
By the time Jonah wrote the book he would have answered the question properly, but he doesn’t write it in the book. He leaves the question open, inviting all of us to answer it for ourselves. Should God have compassion?
To Him be all glory and honor,
Pastor Joe Sugrue