Jonah 4 Part 3 - A Sheltering Plant and a Lesson
Jonah 4:5-8 - Our lives are His; emotional mood swings and dwelling on the past or future do not define us.
“Then Jonah went out from the city and sat east of it. There he made a shelter for himself and sat under it in the shade until he could see what would happen in the city. So the Lord God appointed a plant and it grew up over Jonah to be a shade over his head to deliver him from his discomfort. And Jonah was extremely happy about the plant. 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.””
Jonah 4:5-8 NASB1995
We are nearing the end of my devotional series on Jonah, which has been utterly fascinating! By digging into this book of a minor prophet, so much of the Glory of God is revealed!
Speaking of our pouting prophet, he is still hoping for that calamity in Nineveh and sits outside the city waiting for God to agree with him. The Lord appoints a plant that grows up over Jonah to shade his head and deliver him from his discomfort. Jonah, who wished for death not that long ago, is now “extremely happy” about the plant. In the painting I used for the top art work, the Dutch painter Van Heemskerck visualized Jonah sitting under a bridge outside the city, but others would likely say that he was on a hillside; in either case, he doesn’t lift a finger to help the Ninevites with their revival, but waits.
God decides to give Jonah an object lesson in humility. Just like He brought the storm and the sea creature, He appoints a worm to attack the plant and wither it and then brings a scorching east wind and the sun beats down on Jonah’s head. Once again, Jonah begs to die, when he was very happy about the plant just the day before (in fact, that’s the first time we have seen him happy in this saga). His mood swings are worse than a hormonal teenager and probably just as self-centered.
Here is what Enduring Word commentary says about this passage:
Jonah went out of the city…. till he might see what would become of the city: Jonah seemed to hope that the repentance of Nineveh was not enough to hold back God’s judgment, and hoped that he would see the city destroyed after all. He went out of the city for safety.
The LORD God prepared a plant and made it come up over Jonah: Just as God prepared a great fish to swallow Jonah, now He prepared a particular plant to shelter Jonah as he waited, hoping that the city would be destroyed.
This is the first time we find Jonah happy. “Jonah was pleased because at last, after all the compassion of God for other people, God was finally doing something for Jonah. Selfish? Of course, it was. And petty too!” (James Montgomery Boice)
We could say that Jonah’s happiness was just as fleshly as his anger. Both were all about self.
The sun beat on Jonah’s head, so that he grew faint: Jonah was angry with God because He brought the people of Nineveh to repentance (Jonah 4:1). The ancient Hebrew word for “angry” is literally “to be hot.” Now God would let Jonah feel some of the heat!
Jonah was very grateful for the plant…. It is better for me to die than to live: When God took the plant and its pleasant shelter away from Jonah, he missed the plant so much that he wanted to die.
“If, dear friends, like Jonah, you want to complain, you will soon have something to complain of. People who are resolved to fret, generally make for themselves causes for fretfulness.” (Charles Spurgeon)
Jonah allowed even a silly thing like a plant to become an idol. “How often our gourds are allowed to perish, to teach us these deep lessons. In spite of all we can do to keep them green, their leaves turn more and more sere and yellow, until they droop and die.” (F.B. Meyer)
There are some very salient points in this commentary. If you want to find something to complain about, then you will likely get something to complain about! Jonah acts just like the ungrateful Israelites after they left Egypt in the book of Exodus - nothing is good or right and the slavery they left behind seems like paradise in comparison to their daily struggles in the wilderness. They “idolize” their past experiences, forgetting about the suffering they endured and how God is protecting them and providing for them.
Jonah is a metaphor for our modern society, which is filled with mostly unhappy, miserable people. Rather than focus on the blessings that they have and the prosperity that continues to elevate people in many places in the world from past grim conditions, they want some kind of “utopia” that isn’t what we currently have as our physical reality. Suicide Rates in the United States hit a record high in 2022. Our children are being taught that our planet is in crisis and “dying” (although it is remarkable that almost every single prediction of doom over the last 40 years has not come true and the concerns continue to move far out in time but the “mitigations” are more and more painful now - yet life goes on). Our children are being taught that they should be unhappy being“imprisoned” with the gender they were assigned when they were born. Our children are being taught that science is the only thing that is infallible and that a bigoted, racist, primitive God is dead. Our children are being taught that their “authentic” lives and “finding” themselves and their true identities (without God) are the only things that matter.
People idolize the past or dream about an impossible future (including a future that would naturally require the deaths of billions to “save” the planet), rather than living in the “now” and serving others by serving and obeying God and finding our identity in Christ. Jonah served God and was unhappy about it due to his own expectations and idolatries not being aligned with God’s plan. Are you unhappy serving Him? Time to pray about it!
God speaks to Jonah one last time after he sulks more after the loss of his precious plant. My last Jonah devotional explores what God says in Jonah 4:9-11. My next series of devotionals is planned around the parables that are in Matthew and/or Mark or in the three concordant Gospels; I had a previous series that examined the 17 parables that are unique to Luke.
Heaven on Wheels Daily Prayer:
Dear Lord - My contentment should come from my identity in Christ and serving You and being obedient to Your commands. Please help me to live in the “now” and not idolize the past or wish for a future that may never come to pass. Amen.
Scripture quotations taken from the (NASB®) New American Standard Bible®, Copyright © 1960, 1971, 1977, 1995 by The Lockman Foundation. Used by permission. All rights reserved. lockman.org
Commentary from Enduring Word by David Guzik is used with written permission.