“But to Jonah this seemed very wrong, and he became angry. He prayed to the Lord, ‘Isnʼt this what I said, Lord, when I was still at home? That is what I tried to forestall by fleeing to Tarshish. I knew that you are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abounding in love, a God who relents from sending calamity. Now, Lord, take away my life, for it is better for me to die than to live.’ ” Jonah 4:1-3
Jonah is still struggling, but he obeys the Lord, goes to Nineveh, and reluctantly preaches the message God told him to preach. To his surprise and dismay, the people repent.
Jonah is not happy about it. As if he hasn’t already had enough near death experiences, he’s so upset by this whole ordeal, he tells God he’s ready to die.
So Jonah goes outside the city of Nineveh and finds himself a place to perch. He wanted to see what would happen to the city. I think he had his fingers crossed hoping that maybe, just maybe, he might see some heavenly fireworks after all. While Jonah is taking in the view, the Lord provides a leafy plant to grow up near Jonah. And Jonah really likes this plant. It provided some nice shade and eased his stress level. Everything was great–until the next day.
“But at dawn the next day God provided a worm, which chewed the plant so that it withered. When the sun rose, God provided a scorching east wind, and the sun blazed on Jonah’s head so that he grew faint. He wanted to die, and said, “It would be better for me to die than to live.” Jonah 4:7-8
Jonah is a pretty dramatic fellow. We might have to start calling him “DK” for “Drama King!” Jonah allows his circumstances to determine his attitude.
Nice leafy plant shelter=happy Jonah
Worm eats nice leafy plant shelter=mad Jonah
I have to admit that I too often allow circumstances to control my attitude, especially when it comes to food. Anyone who knows me, knows I am very passionate about food. So when I haven’t eaten in a while, things can escalate real fast, and I get hungry+angry =hangry! 😉
It is interesting to note a few details in those verses:
God provided a vine (v.6)
God provided a worm (v.7)
God provided a scorching east wind (v.8)
These were not random coincidences. The Lord provided all three of these things. God intentionally provided them to teach Jonah a powerful lesson.
But God said to Jonah, “Do you have a right to be angry about the vine?” “I do,” he said. “I am angry enough to die.” But the LORD said, “You have been concerned about this vine, though you did not tend it or make it grow. It sprang up overnight and died overnight. But Nineveh has more than a hundred and twenty thousand people who cannot tell their right hand from their left, and many cattle as well. Should I not be concerned about that great city?” Jonah 4:9-10
The plant was totally provided by God. Jonah didn’t do anything to make that plant grow. Yet Jonah had more concern for the plant than he did for people of Nineveh. The plant was temporary. It was there one day and gone the next.
How many times do I get wrapped up in temporary things and lose sight of the most important things?
When I was in Haiti a few months ago, I saw the most pitiful sights I have ever seen. Brokenness everywhere. Broken down buildings. Trash filled the city. It looked like a landfill. There were so many people. They swarmed the streets like flies trying to sell things. Some had booths or baskets. Still others had pallets laid out on the ground with clothes, shoes, or other items scattered about. And most of their stuff looked like junk. I’m not trying to be critical–just honest. It was heartbreaking. Their stuff made our Goodwill stores look like Saks Fifth Avenue. But the craziest part was how the people were so caught up in all their stuff. As I looked out from the car window at the mounds and mounds of stuff laid out all over the streets, I prayed, “Lord, do you see this? These people are so caught up in all their junk.”
And immediately the thought came to my mind, “You get all caught up in your junk too, Rachel.”
It’s true. My junk might look a little different than their junk, but really, I am no different than the Haitians. I too get all caught up in my junk.
I put so much of my time and effort into temporary things—things that are not going to last, things that really don’t matter.
God is always teaching us through our trials and experiences. There’s a lesson in each season of life or circumstance we find ourselves in. The Lord was teaching Jonah powerful truths from the shore of Joppa, to the storm on the boat, from deep inside the belly of a great fish. Now He is teaching Jonah another powerful lesson through a leafy plant, a worm, and a scorching wind.
He wanted Jonah to feel what God felt. He wanted Jonah to know His heart.
God has invested His heart into His creation. God not only created the plant, He created the people of Nineveh. And there were 120,000 lost people in that city. Like the worm that had devoured the plant, sin had devoured the Ninevites. And God loved those people and wanted to show them mercy and set them free.
God wants us to know His heart. He wants us to see people the way He sees them. He wants us to love people the way He loves them. Love is so important to God.
“He said to him, ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and most important command. The second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself.’ ” Matthew 22:37-39
Love isn’t a temporary investment. Love is an eternal investment. Loving God and loving people. That’s what all of life boils down to.
So let’s learn from Jonah. We can’t run from God. And we can’t run from people. We can’t be in sync in our relationship with God and be out of sync with those around us. It doesn’t work that way. The two are always connected to each other. The horizontal (people) always affect the vertical (God).
So if you find yourself perched under a shady leafy plant on a hot sunny day–awesome! Enjoy the plant! Be grateful for the plant! Savor the comfort the plant brings for as long as it lasts! But remember–
Don’t let your dependence on the short-lived replace your dependence on God.
Don’t let the circumstances determine your attitude.
And, by all means, don’t let your love for something temporary like a plant overshadow your love for something eternal like God and people.
Now that’s what’s up with the plant!