Grace for Today: The Lord’s Intense Object Lesson (Jonah 4)

Grace for Today

The Lord’s Intense Object Lesson

Welcome to another edition of Grace for Today.  We’ve been systematically walking through the Book of Jonah week by week.  Today, we’ll be finishing our journey through Jonah.  I’m still praying about what to do starting next week, so I guess it will be a surprise to us all.  At this point, I’m thinking we’ll do something from the New Testament.

I’ve had some comments about the article and it seems that a lot of folks have been reading it.  Thank you for taking the time to read the article.  It’s been a blessing to write these.  I hope you’ve been challenged and encourage as much as I have been.

***Please read Jonah 4:1-11

When preachers measure the success of their ministry, they often turn to adding up the numbers.  Most I know will go to great lengths to look successful.  In their minds large churches and great crowds are the marks of success.  They are often like the rich man who isn’t happy until he has one dollar more.  Whether it’s the number of baptisms last year or the number on last week’s attendance sheet, their concern is with numbers.  In their attempts to be crowd drawers they become crowd pleasers.  Nothing is as important to many of these men as being successful in the world’s eyes.  It’s ironic that the very thing that would make most modern day preachers ecstatic made Jonah angry.

In the Book of Jonah, we see a huge number of people repenting, the very thing that would be the envy of most preachers, and Jonah is angry about the whole thing.  He is angry that God turned away His fierce anger and relented of the wrath that preached.

Before we go too far in condemning Jonah for his frame of mind, words, and deeds we must remember that in the end, it was Jonah that wrote these words.  In the end, Gods teaching session with Jonah accomplished God’s intended outcome.

What we must see to get this passage right is that what pleased the Lord, greatly displeased Jonah.

Literally, it was evil to Jonah with great evil.

Jonah gives us a play on words.  Originally the Ninevites were characterized as a people of great evil.  The evil that formerly characterized the Ninevites now is a trait of Jonah.  When in chapter three God’s anger toward the pagan people was turned away because they repented, Jonah’s anger was provoked.

Why was Jonah angry?  Perhaps he saw God beginning to bless the Ninevites as He did the Israelites.  Perhaps he believed that because he preached doom and God relented that he was a false prophet.  Nineveh didn’t get what they had coming.  Or perhaps he was angry because they repented so quickly when in fact his own people, the Israelites, refused to repent.  Whatever the reason he found himself at odds with the Lord.  Jonah thought he knew best.

In Jonah 4:2-4 we see His self-centered prayer.  God, I told you so…I told you that if I preached this would happen.  Here we see Jonah says I, me, my seven times.  Here is Jonah’s I-ME-MY prayer.  Are we ever guilty of praying these types of self-centered prayers?

Jesus told a parable that captured the attitude that Jonah was exhibiting…(Matthew 18:23-35).

On the flip side, this could be compared to an American pastor who had worked so hard at preaching and teaching in his home church for years without see very many conversions and then going to a foreign country and preaching one sermon and the whole village repents.  I believe at least this preacher would be happy to see lives changed and yet every foreigner who repented would only remind him of one which he labored for at his home church without ever seeing any sign of repentance.

What Jonah is saying to God is that I know you are a covenant keeping God.  I know that when you show mercy and commit yourself to a people you mean business.  Jonah knew exactly what God was doing with those foreigners and he hated every bit of it.

Jesus told a parable that captured the attitude that Jonah was exhibiting:

Jonah is so angry with God that he says, just take my life.  Do with me what You were going to do to them.  If they can be forgiven and grafted into You covenant as a people then I don’t want to have anything to do with any of this.  Put me out of my misery.

[5] 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.

Jonah wanted a good seat for the action.  Just in case God was going to still destroy the city.  40 days had passed and the Ninevites’ repentance was proved genuine.  God relented of His judgment.  Jonah built himself a crude shelter, something to help with the intense Assyrian sun.  Jonah was hoping for another Sodom and Gomorrah.  Maybe Jonah thought the Ninevites are so wicked a people that surely after 40 days they’re back to their old ways.  But to Jonah’s disappointment, their repentance was sincere.

Here in verse 6 we have the same word used when the Lord appointed or provided the great fish.  Again it is the word manna.  The Lord appointed a supernatural vine to grow and cover Jonah’s small shelter to provide shade and comfort for him.  God is Creator.  By simply appointing it happens.  The Lord appoints a plant.

What might have been going through Jonah’s mind?  Perhaps he thought, “Something is going to happen because God wants me comfortable while He destroys the city.

Preview of Coming Attractions: Sodom and Gomorrah 2, The Wrath of God

Things seem good for Jonah right now and he is happy.  The Lord is setting Jonah up for a very crucial object lesson.  This is one that Jonah will remember.

Right in front of Jonah(verse 7) his vine of favor was withering away and along with it his happiness.  Again God is showing His sovereignty over creation and over the people of the earth.  This cut worm goes right for the stem and severs the life of the plant.  Cut the stem and everything above it withers away and dies.

For the fourth time in the Book this word manna or provided is used.  Here God shows His control over nature again.  God controls the weather.  It was one thing for Jonah to loose his shade; it’s another thing all together for this very hot wind to start blowing in his face.  Jonah was miserable.  His box seats are ruined.  Clearly, God is not going to do what Jonah thought.  Jonah is mad as a hornet and begins to complain again.

God’s object lesson is accomplishing His purpose in His prophet.  God is showing His reluctant pupil that Jonah had more pity for a wild vine than he had for a city full of people.  The reason Jonah hated to see the vine destroyed is because along with it went his comfort and yet he cared nothing for the Ninevites.  Jonah did not deserve shade and the Ninevites did not deserve grace and yet God is the One who determines who to save and who to comfort.

The Book of Jonah ends very abruptly.  All through the book, we’ve seen a God whose will is accomplished a reluctant prophet and a people who did not deserve any mercy from God.  I pray that the Book of Jonah has taught us that God loves people and is willing to go to great lengths to save them…even as far as sending His only Son to die for them.

I’m Brian Evans, pastor of Grace Community Church in Waverly http://www.gccWaverly.com

Thank you for joining me today for another edition of Grace for Today.

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