Devotional: Jonah 4:1-11
In this chapter, Jonah reveals to us his heart and why he chose to disobey God’s instructions. It wasn’t because he was afraid he might not be received peaceably, or that God wouldn’t go with him. It was out of a deep-seated hatred for the Assyrians! I find it interesting that Jonah disobeyed because of his faith in the LORD; because he knew that God’s merciful love had the power to change hearts, and Jonah wanted to see the Ninevites punished instead of changed. While disobedience isn’t a thing to emulate, having this kind of certainty regarding God’s character is. Verse 2 reminds me of Exodus 34:6-7, where God reveals Himself to Moses on the mountain.
In both verses 1 and 4 the word translated “angry” means figuratively “to blaze up” either with anger, zeal, or jealousy. Jonah was consumed with anger towards God. I see these verses as he is almost talking back to God and accusing Him of causing Jonah’s disobedience! At first, I thought that Jonah’s declaration that he would rather be dead is kind of hyperbole, something said in the heat of the moment just to let God know how upset he was over the situation. However, reading this verse in the New Living Translation Bible, it sheds another light on the subject. “Just kill me now, LORD! I’d rather be dead than alive if what I predicted will not happen.” That reminded me that a sign of a true prophet of God was that the prophecies they proclaimed came true. Jonah is facing quite possibly a “death” of reputation as a true prophet of God. Whatever the case, in the face of his anger (maybe somewhat warranted, seeing it in this light), instead of rebuking Jonah for his outburst and the underlying insolent attitude, God displays towards Jonah His graciousness, compassion, patience and abundant mercy. It is interesting to me that Jonah is receiving this from the LORD but is not willing to “pass it on”. How often do I/we bask in God’s grace and mercy, yet fail to allow Him to pour it out on needy individuals through us?
Verse 5 is almost comical. We see Jonah’s determined hope that God will uphold Jonah’s reputation as His prophet, or maybe his hope that God will succumb to Jonah’s argument, and that the city and its inhabitants will be destroyed. However, God lovingly prepares an object lesson for His servant. He blesses Jonah with a plant to shade him as he sits in the hot sun! I find it interesting that the word translated “plant” here is, according to Strong’s Concordance, rooted in a word that means “to vomit”. Jonah received this gift with great joy. However, the LORD also had prepared for a worm (“a voracious maggot” according to Strong’s) to eat through this poisonous plant so that it withered away. Not only that, when the sun reaches its zenith and it’s really shining uncomfortably on Jonah’s head, He sends a “goading, stinging” wind. Again, we have God’s creation (weather, plants, creatures) doing His bidding, while His servant is only grudgingly obeying in outward action only. How often has the LORD used pets or children to teach you and me a lesson that we are slow to pick up on without Him providing that “picture”?
Verse 8 shows us that at this moment, Jonah is still focused on his own comfort and well-being. Take away his creature comforts (prosperity?), and he immediately begins to grumble and decide that death is better than living under these conditions. How much do our creature comforts mean to us? Have they become idols in our minds that we would prefer to “die” without them?
I notice that so far, Jonah hasn’t yielded his anger to God yet. Instead of drawing close in repentance, seeking to be reconciled, and to align himself with God’s known will, he seems to just be digging deeper into resistance and rebellion. Still, God extends His mercy and grace to Jonah. Again, He asks Jonah to question the rightness of his own anger. Jonah still doesn’t “get it”. So, the LORD spells it out for him. I find it interesting that He attributes at least some of Jonah’s emotions over the death of the plant to compassion (a burdened spirit). To me, this indicates that only God knows what is in the depths of our hearts (Psalm 44:20-21; Jeremiah 17:9-10; Hebrews 4:13). From my point of view, Jonah was not concerned about the plant accept as it affected him! I am so glad that the LORD looks deeper into my heart than I can see. In any case, God uses Jonah’s own compassion for a lowly plant that “just” grew up without any help from Jonah, and then died, to give him a small inkling of the compassion that God had for the Ninevites whom He had created and sustained all this time (Colossians 1:15-17).
I don’t usually like the Message version of the Bible, but this time it really makes clear what verse 11 is talking about when it says “there are more than 120,000 people, who do not know the difference between their right hand and their left”. This is how the Message puts it “God said, “What’s this? How is it that you can change your feelings from pleasure to anger overnight about a mere shade tree that you did nothing to get? You neither planted nor watered it. It grew up one night and died the next night. So, why can’t I likewise change what I feel about Nineveh from anger to pleasure, this big city of more than 120,000 childlike people who don’t yet know right from wrong, to say nothing of all the innocent animals?” This makes me think of the man that Marilyn had an opportunity to witness to last week. He had never read the Bible before. How many people here in the USA have not read it, and do not know right from wrong as a result? I can see that instead of judging ungodly people for acting in ungodly ways, I should be praying for them and looking for opportunities to introduce them to the Bible so that the Holy Spirit can transform their hearts.
Devotional reading to be shared on September 16th: 2 Peter 1:1-21