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Last week we learned that Jonah was not overjoyed at the repentance of a whole city which led to God relenting of the calamity He had planned. Yet Jonah was thrilled that God provided a plant to shade him from the hot Assyrian sun. God has a lesson for Jonah to learn. Let’s see what it is.
Jonah 4:7-8 says, “But God appointed a worm when dawn came the next day and it attacked the plant and it withered. When the sun came up 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.’”
God is always working and isn’t always this fast. Today, Jonah would probably be defined a bipolar. His moods change quickly. God tells him to go to Nineveh, he runs away. A storm of epic proportions comes up on the Med and he wants to die. He’s swallowed by a fish and begs to be delivered. He’s given another opportunity and he reluctantly submits. Everything in the city happens just as he believed would happen and he falls into a pit of despair. What should cause joy causes sorrow. Lives are saved and he’s disgusted. A plant grows and he is beside himself with joy. Jonah has serious issues. Sometimes God seems to move with glacier like slowness. When you look directly at a glacier, it doesn’t seem to be moving at all. But if you plot the course of a glacier over days, weeks, and months, you can see the progress it makes. The speed that God moves in this book of Jonah seems incredibly fast. Jonah is sitting in his little shelter with the plant God provided enjoying some shade.
The first word in our passage today sets us up for a contrast. The word “but” in Scripture always prepares us to see that. “But God appointed a worm when dawn came the next day and it attacked the plant and it withered.” God first appointed a fish, then a plant, now a worm. God used each to teach Jonah a lesson and He’s still in control of nature. Jonah’s happiness over the plant is short lived as the worm destroys the plant removing the relief Jonah enjoyed from it. Destruction is a common theme throughout this book. The ship and the sailors faced it on the sea. Jonah faced it in the sea. Nineveh faced it as a result of wickedness. What’s curious is that even with the potential for destruction in this book, the only thing that actually is destroyed is the plant. Destruction came upon something that brought Jonah great joy.
And Jonah’s mood changes again. It’s unlikely that Jonah noticed the worm that God appointed. He was too busy convincing himself that he was right to want Nineveh destroyed. We can probably identify with Jonah when we consider the atrocities done against us from organizations like Al-Qaeda, Hamas, and Hezbollah operating in countries like Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan, but I would hope that the life changing results of Jesus Christ residing in our hearts would change our hatred to love just as Jesus commanded. We have no excuse not to demonstrate the love to others that was demonstrated to us on Calvary. Jonah was not justified in wanting Nineveh destroyed and we’re not justified in wanting the annihilation of what we consider our enemies. No I haven’t gone soft, I believe we have a right to defend our nation and hold people responsible that inflict terror on the United States, but I also recognize that they need someone to preach the truth that is found in Christ to them. That was Jonah’s problem. He didn’t think Nineveh deserved the grace or mercy that was shown to him looking ahead to Jesus. Even as Nineveh repented, his heart didn’t change.
The plant withers as the day began and v. 8 says, “When the sun came up 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.” Jonah was deliriously happy yesterday and now the plant withers and he wants to die. Here again God uses His control over nature to appoint a scorching wind. It’s the fourth time God demonstrates His power over nature. For Jonah, it goes from bad to worse. The loss of the plant was significant. The plant provided shade and now that the sun is fully up, it is blisteringly hot. Then the wind comes. It’s not just any wind. This one comes from the east. When the east wind blows, the temperature goes up significantly and the humidity drops. The wind carries fine bits of sand. The sun is beating down on his head and he’s being sand blasted by the wind. One commentator on Jonah said this: “Constant hot air [is] so full of positive ions that it affects the levels of serotonin and other brain neurotransmitters, causing exhaustion, depression, feelings of unreality, and occasionally, bizarre behavior.” I think that describes Jonah. As a result of the sun and the wind, Jonah once again concludes that he was better off dead. To his bi-polar disorder, add drama queen. I have no doubt that he was miserable and the heat and the wind took an incredible toll on his mental faculties, but let’s face it, God is doing all He can to get Jonah’s attention and Jonah continues to ignore it. “Became faint” is nearly identical to how Jonah was feeling back in 2:7 in the belly of the fish.
Jonah was at the end of his rope, ready, and willing to die. Is this the end for Jonah? Will God answer his prayers for death? How desperate do you have to be to give up hope? Jonah, “Begged with all his soul to die, saying, “Death is better to me than life.” Exhaustion can do strange things to your brain. Add to that exhaustion heat, dehydration, and probably hunger and you get a sense of how bad it must have been for Jonah. Jonah pleaded with God to let him die. In Rev. 1:18, Jesus said that He has, “The keys of death and of Hades.” Heb. 9:27 says, “And inasmuch as it is appointed for men to die once and after this comes judgment.” You can’t die unless God approves it. It’s not time for Jonah. God has not finished His lesson; God’s not through teaching. Jonah felt that he was at his wit’s end. We see from this entire account of his mission, that he is not a proactive prayer. He is a reactive prayer, praying only when he is in crisis. We’re no different. When all else fails, when there is nothing left to do, when we can no longer control our circumstances we turn to God. Prayer must be something that we regularly engage in. No one is too busy to pray. 1 Thes. 5:17 tells us to, “Pray without ceasing.” If this was our practice, we would be able to face life’s issues from a godly perspective. Too often we only pray when we feel it necessary. Someone asks us to pray for them. We’re asked to take on some duty or responsibility and we need to pray about it. We spend days or weeks praying about something. Truth be told, I think many times we say that just because we don’t want to make a decision. Or maybe God is telling us to do what we have just been asked and we simply don’t want to do it. Yes, we should pray out of necessity, but we should pray out of love. As Christians we say we love God and we love Jesus yet we do little to cultivate that relationship except coming to church. When you think of the relationships you have with your spouse or your friends, or your family; the common denominator of why that relationship flourishes or dies is based on the time you spend communicating. You’ll never have the relationship God wants with you if you don’t spend any time with Him. When you consider what you spend the majority of your time on, you find out what’s important to you. Jonah didn’t pray for his attitude to change, he prayed to die. He didn’t thank God for the privilege to be a part of eternity’s plan. He didn’t thank God for preparing the way for him. Jonah was focused completely on himself. We can sit here and pass judgment on Jonah. It’s easy to armchair quarterback what he did, his attitude, and his obvious lack of willingness to conform to God’s plan. Why is it so easy to clearly see other’s shortcomings and be blind to our own? Jonah was in total despair and needed an attitude adjustment.
If you are at the point of despair, there is hope. If you’re tired, there is rest. If you’re discouraged, there is encouragement. If you’re focused more on yourself than you are on God, it’s easy to fall into the same trap Jonah fell into. Let’s focus on God, do what He has instructed us to do in His Word, do what He has called us to do, and leave the results to Him.