Then Jonah went out to the east side of the city and made a shelter to sit under as he waited to see if anything would happen to the city. And the LORD God arranged for a leafy plant to grow there, and soon it spread its broad leaves over Jonah’s head, shading him from the sun. This eased some of his discomfort, and Jonah was very grateful for the plant.
But God also prepared a worm! The next morning at dawn the worm ate through the stem of the plant, so that it soon died and withered away. And as the sun grew hot, God sent a scorching east wind to blow on Jonah. The sun beat down on his head until he grew faint and wished to die. “Death is certainly better than this!” he exclaimed.
Then God said to Jonah, “Is it right for you to be angry because the plant died?”
“Yes,” Jonah retorted, “even angry enough to die!”
Then the LORD said, “You feel sorry about the plant, though you did nothing to put it there. And a plant is only, at best, short lived. But Nineveh has more than 120,000 people living in spiritual darkness, not to mention all the animals. Shouldn’t I feel sorry for such a great city?”
It’s amusing to picture the prophet Jonah sitting in the dirt pouting like a little boy with the Heavenly Father trying to calm him down with Godly counsel. It makes me think of an adult and a baby. If the adult gives the baby a baby rattle, the baby may laugh and play with the toy. But when the adult takes the toy away, the baby cries. In the story, God is like the adult and Jonah is like the baby. Is God like that sometimes? Is He that capricious to give and to take away without good reason? A lot of times, I’m such a baby because I cry without stopping to wonder why or I don’t trust God that He knows best.
Jonah’s story gives me insight into the heart of God. He was right when he said that he knew God was a gracious and compassionate God, slow to get angry and filled with unfailing love (v. 2). That patience and compassion was shown to Jonah. Even though he disobeyed the Lord the first time, when Jonah repented in the belly of the fish, God forgave him and gave him another chance to obey. And when the Ninevites fasted in repentance, God had mercy on them and did not destroy them.
What I learn from Jonah is not just that God is merciful, but that sometimes He does things that we don’t like in order to help us realize and receive His kindness. For example, Jonah had broken his relationship with God through rebellion. So God sent a storm and the fish. That probably wasn’t pleasant for Jonah at the time. But without them Jonah may never have repented and experienced God’s restoration. In the same way, the Ninevites had sinned greatly against the Lord and were headed toward destruction. So God sent Jonah with a prophecy of destruction, which was probably terrifying to the local residents of Ninevah. The ensuing fear was probably not pleasant. But without it they would not have repented and so experienced God’s forgiveness.
We human beings are so wayward; I know I am. We stray so easily and often do things to ruin our fellowship with the Lord. His heart is always to bring us back to full fellowship and relationship with Him. Sometimes He does things to us that are certainly not pleasant. At that point we have a choice to either (1) cry like a baby and get so angry we wish we could die or (2) stop, repent and turn back to the Lord to receive the mercy He longs to show us.
God seems to have a reputation for being mean and judgmental in the Old Testament. But through Jonah’s life, we see that God is more like a parent who loves His children. Children are often sullen and mad when they get spanked by their parents. Later when they grow up having a depth of character, they realize how much their parents loved them.
Lord, help me to grow up. I no longer want to be a baby that only knows how to cry and get upset. Help me to put my trust in You no matter what You do. And give me the grace to understand Your love in its many forms. Help me to turn to You for forgiveness, then receive Your mercy and share it with others.