After his repetitive turn or burn speeches, Jonah hightails it out of town. He sits down outside the city of Nineveh, far removed from any after-sermon interaction or activity with those he secretly hopes will not heed his words and will just go away somehow. Instead of investing in those he is sent to minister to, he neurotically watches them, doubtless waiting impatiently for ill to come to them.
Jonah went out of the city and sat to the east of the city and made a booth for himself there. He sat under it in the shade, till he should see what would become of the city. 6 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. 7 But when dawn came up the next day, God appointed a worm that attacked the plant, so that it withered. 8 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.” 9 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.” 10 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. 11 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?” ~Jonah 4:5-11
God is less than impressed with Jonah’s temper tantrum. But God is full of grace. He seeks to teach Jonah through his foolishness. Using a weed and a worm, God shows Jonah his error.
God gave Jonah temporary comfort and quickly dismissed it in exchange for pain. As most humans would, Jonah loved the comfort and hated the pain. The tragedy for this God-fearing man is that neither circumstance seemed to drive him toward God in the least. The former made him rejoice in a created thing. The latter made him curse his own life. Instead of thanking God for his good will, he basks in the glory of the plant. Instead of turning to God in his pain, he despairs and becomes irate.
Oh, Jonah, how I wish I weren’t you.
In his great mercy, God again asks a simple question of his child.
“Do you do well to be angry for the plant?”
With crossed arms and plastered poker face, Jonah keeps his guard up and sticks with his story. Too bad his story sounds like something my four-year-old would say after stubbing her toe because she didn’t wear shoes outside. Disobedience breeds contempt.
God shows Jonah how his love for a weed which he had no hand in making mirrors the selfishness he is exhibiting towards a people God himself created – a people who are dreadfully lost and helpless. He’s showing Jonah his gross inconsistency. He’s exposing Jonah’s hypocrisy. He may see his fellow humans as obstacles in his way and weeds to be cut down, but God loves weeds like you and me.
It may seem harsh and unreasonable to give and to take away only to teach an object lesson about anger, but these are the ways of God. If it was up to me, I’d probably just clock Jonah a good one. But then I’d get clocked for being angry with Jonah. Drat! I guess God’s ways are better.
When God begins to show us our many faults, expose our underlying sin, and question us closely about it all, we would do well to uncross our arms, humble our poker face, stop the four-year-old excuse-making, and simply examine ourselves for foolishness, hypocrisy, and inconsistency. Why? Because God opposes the proud. It’s the humble to whom he gives grace.