A Story of Jonah
Jonah received very clear instructions from God. "Get up and go to the great city of Nineveh, and deliver the message of judgment I have given you." (Jonah 3:1) This is the second iteration of the message, given to Jonah after he had been spit out by the fish. We know from our Sunday School lessons that Jonah obeyed the second time around and gave his message to Nineveh. The result was a great revival, how Jonah must have felt the power of the effect his words had on the people! You may have noticed that I said "his" message. Look at what the Lord said to him, "...the message I have given you." Yesterday, I reminded you and my self that when the Lord gives us something, we should take ownership of it in humble gratitude. Thus the message now becomes Jonah's and he probably felt quite powerful after such a dramatic event. A city of 120,000 repents from the "greatest to the least" as the Bible records. Now Jonah is sitting in a small, hand built shelter outside of the city, waiting for the Lord to rain down destruction upon the city. But! the Lord sees the genuine change of heart in the people of Nineveh and changes or cancels his plan to destroy them. Jonah, as any of us might, promptly begins to complain bitterly, perhaps he feels the fool for having given a message that will not happen, but more than likely he is frightened. That power of his message is suddenly rendered moot, and false prophets, those whose predicted events did not come to pass, were often treated rather badly in those times, that is they were stoned to death.
Sitting in that little shelter, the Lord doesn't explain everything to Jonah right away, but simply asks, "Is it right for you to be angry about this?" We often have that same problem, we rail and complain against everything in general or something more specific, and yet do we really have a right to be angry about events that happen as they do according to God's great plan? Jonah was like those workers in Jesus' parable who were angry that those who arrived late were paid the same as those who worked the entire day. Jonah had taken a bit too much ownership; he not only owned the message, but tried to usurp the power of God that was behind the message too! He wanted to exercise that power and destroy a city of now repentant souls. Would any of us have been any different?
Later, Jonah is sent a large, leafy plant to shade his little dwelling. He is very glad of this plant. Here is where the Lord has given me special understanding of Jonah's situation in this little shelter. He, after spending three days in the belly of a fish, was claustrophobic. Think of the terror of that situation, three days waiting for the fish to take one gulp of water and drowning you, 36 hours of imagination run wild in a dark, wet place that you are completely powerless to escape. The fish probably dived like a submarine; it isn't as though Jonah could just step out the side door. The plant provided Jonah shelter from the sun, but outside of that little hut that Jonah had built. He could be sheltered but outside in the open at the same time. What a blessing for a claustrophobic! You can probably imagine Jonah with the BC equivalent of a lawn chair and a cool drink, sitting under the shade of that great plant. But then, disaster.. the plant dies. We are beginning to see the similarity between Jonah and all of us, and he does not disappoint... he immediately starts whining again, just like...us! The Lord asks him again, "Is it right for you to be angry because the plant died?"
Jonah's answer is terribly bitter, "Yes, even angry enough to die!" The Lord then compassionately answers Jonah and explains how Jonah feels sorry for the plant and reminds Jonah that he did nothing to put it there. The last question the Lord has for Jonah, and the one that completes the Book of Jonah, is powerful and to the point. "Shouldn't I feel sorry for such a great city?" A worm was in Nineveh, destroying the people just as one destroyed the plant Jonah had enjoyed. God's message, given to Jonah, who then gave it to the people of Nineveh (we can see that Jonah no longer had ownership anyway) destroyed that worm of sin which had infested them. Who are we a special messenger to?
To God be the Glory!