5 Jonah had gone out and sat down at a place east of the city. There he made himself a shelter, sat in its shade and waited to see what would happen to the city. 6 Then the Lord God provided a leafy plant and made it grow up over Jonah to give shade for his head to ease his discomfort, and Jonah was very happy about the plant. 7 But at dawn the next day God provided a worm, which chewed the plant so that it withered.8 When the sun rose, God provided a scorching east wind, and the sun blazed on Jonah’s head so that he grew faint. He wanted to die, and said, “It would be better for me to die than to live.”
9 But God said to Jonah, “Is it right for you to be angry about the plant?”
“It is,” he said. “And I’m so angry I wish I were dead.”
10 But the Lord said, “You have been concerned about this plant, though you did not tend it or make it grow. It sprang up overnight and died overnight. 11 And should I not have concern for the great city of Nineveh, in which there are more than a hundred and twenty thousand people who cannot tell their right hand from their left—and also many animals?”
(Jonah 4:5-11 NIV)
In our previous time together, we saw that Jonah was angry that God had mercy on Nineveh after everyone in the city repented. God appealed to Jonah and asked Jonah if he was angry because God did something good. Jonah had a short memory of the kindness and grace that God had shown him when he was disobedient and repented… something about three days in the belly of the fish – how could he forget so soon?
In today’s text, Jonah leaves Nineveh and makes himself a little makeshift shelter just outside the city. Jonah still has an unforgiving attitude toward the Ninevites. Jonah doesn’t want the people of Nineveh redeemed and reconciled with God – he wants them dead.
Jonah was hoping that the Ninevites’ repentance was temporary and that God would see through their mascarade and change His mind again, destroying the Ninevites. Instead of rejoicing in the entire city turning to the Lord, Jonah was harboring a grudge and still wanted God to judge the city and all its inhabitants. And Jonah wanted a front row seat for the show.
So God decided to give Jonah another object lesson on grace. The Lord raised up a leafy plant overnight, giving Jonah shelter from the harshness of the Middle Eastern sun. The plant’s broad leaves provided shade and shelter over Jonah’s shelter. Obviously, Jonah was extremely happy about the plant.
The first part of the lesson went well. The second part, not so much.
The next day, the Lord then appointed a lowly worm to eat on the plant so that the plant died. On top of the dead plant, the Lord stirred up a scorching east wind that made Jonah almost faint under the furnace-like heat. The plant was gone, and Jonah’s shelter provided no relief, as the hot wind blew directly into the opening.
Once again, Jonah had a pity party and said he would be better off dead.
And once again, God questioned Jonah’s attitude, asking Jonah if he was justified in feeling sorry for himself. Jonah was focused on himself and reiterated his feelings of anger, that he would be better off dead than to experience his current suffering.
The Lord then reminded Jonah that he had nothing to do with the plant – this was all God’s doing. If God had shown grace to Jonah for 24 hours, how much more grace would He show to a city of 120,000 people? And not just the people, but all of His creation (the animals) as well?
As the Lord describes Nineveh, He uses the phrase “more than a hundred and twenty thousand people who cannot tell their right hand from their left”. Some scholars take this to mean that there were 120,000 young children who had not learned the difference between their left and right hands.
More scholars, however, believe this refers to the spiritual maturity of the Ninevites. Here was Jonah, fully trained in God’s ways and Law, yet with a hardened heart toward the Lord’s grace shown to an entire city that repented.
Yet, the Lord showed grace to an entire city that had a mere child’s view and understanding of the God of the Hebrews, not even knowing, as it were, the difference between their spiritual left and right hands, knowing nothing about God’s Law. And yet they responded as a child to the overwhelming love of their new Heavenly Father who showed grace and love toward them.
May we experience God’s love and grace today, even if it’s just for 24 hours as Jonah did.
And may we freely share God’s love with those who are opposed to God, not desiring evil on them when they turn to Christ.
After all, we were once enemies of God before we repented and became His sons and daughters.
We finish the book of Jonah where we started – with God’s love and grace abounding.