The Pouty Prophet Pt 2
Devotion In motion
Verse 6, “And the LORD God prepared a plant and made it come up over Jonah, that it might be shade for his head to deliver him from his misery. So Jonah was very grateful for the plant.”
Notice this is the first time in the story of Jonah that we’re told he was “grateful.” He wasn’t grateful for the fish that kept him from drowning – or for getting vomited on dry land – or for being given a second chance to follow God’s will – or for even the revival that occurred in Nineveh. He’s not grateful until God provides him some shade. Here God works another miracle – it’s a miracle-grow plant. Overnight in the desert heat and dryness, God causes a palm plant to grow up and shelter Jonah.
The date palms in the Tigris valley grow 8-10 feet high, with large, elephant ear leaves and tender stalks. The plant is common in Palestine, India, and in parts of Africa. In fact, the palm is the symbol on Iraqi coins. Here God prepared Jonah some supernatural shade. Overnight, a leafy palm grew eight to ten feet, and served the pouting prophet like a beach umbrella. The palm was God’s merciful relief from the heat of the sun. Jonah may’ve interpreted this unexpected blessing as a prelude for what he’d been waiting on. It was almost show time – fire and brimstone were ready to fall.
Verse 7 “But as morning dawned the next day God prepared a worm, and it so damaged the plant that it withered.” Every gardener knows this can happen. Worms eat away the leaves, and can defoliate an entire plant. Often they burrow their way into the plant where they leave behind their fecal pellets. Turn a worm loose in your garden, and it can destroy a plant and a garden. This is what happened to Jonah’s precious palm. Notice, the plant grew overnight – then the plant died overnight. In short, God gives and God takes away. “And it happened, when the sun arose, that God prepared a vehement east wind; and the sun beat on Jonah’s head, so that he grew faint. Then he wished death for himself, and said, “It is better for me to die than to live.”
For a second time Jonah pleads for God to kill him. This man had such a grim outlook on life. Rather than endure a difficulty, his first reaction is to check out. His life has become too miserable to bear. Twenty-four hours earlier Jonah was surprised by the plant. It was God’s gift. He was “grateful.” But now a day later, he believes he was deserving of the shade – and now he’s upset, God had no right to take it away. The sun is now beating down on him… The wind is now chapping his skin… But that’s not all that’s making Jonah miserable…
Bitterness is the heaviest burden a person can carry. It’s been said, “No matter how long you nurse a grudge it never gets any better.” You don’t heal a grudge by nursing it – but by forgiving its cause. In verse 9 God again asks Jonah a question. It’s similar to the one He posed in verse 4, “Then God said to Jonah, “Is it right for you to be angry about the plant?” And he said, “It is right for me to be angry, even to death!” This Jonah is so stubborn! He thought he deserved the plant God sent and the shade it provided.
Jonah came to Nineveh hoping to see the city burn with fire. Instead he’s the one burning up under the hot sun. Once again, he asks God to just take his life. When you study Jonah, You go away with one truth, you realize that no one is too messed up to be used by God. Bitter, angry, depressed, arrogant… imagine, a prophet with a death-wish. Jonah was not the ideal candidate to send to Nineveh. This fellow had some very real hang-ups. Jonah wants Nineveh to fry, or he’d just as soon die. Yet to the end, God is patient with Jonah. God loved His reluctant prophet as much as He loved the wicked Ninevites. God wants to help Jonah grasp His grace.
Today’s society takes a hard stance against racial prejudice, as we rightly should. There is no sympathy for the news anchor or television host who uses a racial slur. Even in those cases where there was no malice – the person got caught up in a conversation and sent out an ill-advised tweet – or the statement was made in a different context than it’s now being framed. It just seems our society has only so much empathy, Unfortunately these days it’s reserved for the perpetrator when it should be reserved for the victim. But not too long ago it was the other way around. But God does something here that’s unheard of in our politically correct world. He not only has love for the victims of this hate crime – the Ninevites. He even has compassion on the perpetrator of the bigotry – Jonah.
God wants to rehabilitate his prejudiced prophet. God speaks to him again in verse 10, “The LORD said, “You have had pity on the plant for which you have not labored, nor made it grow, which came up in a night and perished in a 14 night.” Even after receiving grace from God, Jonah treated it as if it were a blessing to which he was entitled. Jonah didn’t buy the plant, pot the plant, water the plant, prune the plant… The palm only lived 24 hours, but in that short time it became His palm. How dare God mess with His palm. Jonah never grasped the concept of God’s grace. The blessings God sends our way aren’t paid for by our worthiness, they’re free gifts. They’re on the house. It’s interesting that some people, like Jonah, in the absence of human relationships, get attached to plants or animals.
For some folks it’s ferns and flowers. For other’s it’s a pet. For still other’s it’s a hobby or career. People can use a flower bed, or a pet, or a pursuit as an emotional substitute for a flesh and blood person. Like Jonah, We can forgot what matters in life… Remember I Peter 1:23, “The grass withers, and its flower falls away, but the word of the Lord endures forever.” Don’t ever let a thing become more valuable than a person. Only two earthly items will live forever… the Bible – and the souls of men, women, boys, and girls… It’s your neighbor that will go to heaven or hell. Your petunias turn back to dirt. People should be our priority. Perhaps you spend all day playing video games, or cross stitch, or paint, or read, or tinker on cars, or hit golf balls – or you’re into some other hobby.
None of these activities are evil in and of themselves, as long as you don’t use them as a way to escape people. Yet you say, “But I’m just not a people person.” Why aren’t you? If you’re not a people person you’re at odds with God. Only God takes priority over people! God loves Ninevites, not palm trees. And just as Jonah was surrounded by Ninevites, so are you. Are you a plant person, a pet person, or a people person? Don’t waste your life, like Jonah, sitting in the shade of trivialities. Care about what concerns God. Serve and love people. Helping people is more difficult and a lot messier than tilling your garden, or even cleaning up after your dog, but in the end it’s far more rewarding!
Verse 11, “And should I not pity Nineveh, that great city, in which are more than 120,000 persons who cannot discern between their right hand and their left – and much livestock?” As I said at the beginning, the 120,000 persons unable to discern their left from their right were children – the Ninevite preschoolers. And it’s from this number that we calculate Nineveh’s population. If there were 120,000 preschoolers there had to have been around a million-and-a-half people. But here’s God’s point, Jonah cared more about a plant than the survival of a million plus people, even the children.
Today, in Jerusalem, Palestinian panhandlers use kids, innocent children, to beg for money. The kids approach you with those sad eyes and beg you for help. They take the money back to their rich handlers. But here God is trying the same approach on Jonah. He mentions the innocent children to squeeze Jonah’s heart and try to ooze out a few drops of compassion. “Come on Jonah, are you so prejudiced and hard-hearted that you don’t even care about the children?” Jonah pitied a plant that was literally, here today and gone tomorrow.
Yet he got angry with God for showing compassion on a million Ninevites that He created and loved deeply? The prophet’s priorities were out of sync with the rhythm of God’s heart and His love for people. God wants to forgive our sins, and heal our hurts, and mend our breaks, and open our eyes, and provide us rest, and restore our usefulness. God created plants and animals, but it’s people He loves and saves. People matter to God, and if the salvation of Nineveh isn’t proof enough – look to the cross. Jesus became a people, so He could die in the place of sinful people, and not just Ninevites, but Snellvillites and Lilburnites!
Don’t be a Jonah, be a Jesus! Be a giver, not a griper. Help grow people, not just pets or plants. God cares for you, now you need to care for others! Did God’s efforts to change Jonah’s heart work? What ultimately happened to Jonah? We don’t know! The book leaves us hanging… But I think that’s the point, we walk away with a question that applies to our lives… Do we care about the people God cares about? Or are we so wrapped up in our prejudices that we can’t hear the voice of legitimate cries for help? Have we become so immune to even the cries of the children?
Are we so busy petting dogs and watering plants that we don’t have time for the people Jesus died to save? In the end, Jonah’s outcome remains a mystery. We do know archeologists identified a mound near the ancient ruins of Nineveh, that the locals called, “Nebi Yunas” – or Arabic for “the prophet Jonah.” The mound was so venerated among the locals the Muslims built a mosque over the site, and refused to let it be explored. A whale bone even hung inside. The Arabs claimed it was the site of the tomb of Jonah.
We’d like to think Jonah laid down his prejudices and loved the Assyrians. He stayed there to help them grow in their faith. This is why the site was so respected. Sadly, in 2014 ISIS fighters blew up the Tomb of Jonah. Though the Prophet is revered by Islam, Isis destroyed the tomb and the mosque that housed it as an assault on the role Jonah plays in Christianity. ISIS understood that Jesus pointed to Jonah as a type of His death, burial, and resurrection.
In Matthew 12, Jesus said, “As Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.” It was ISIS and Islam’s hatred for Jesus and Christianity that caused the attack on Jonah’s memory. Let me wrap it up, by bringing you in on a little intrigue! If you go to Italy and visit the Vatican, and particularly the Sistine Chapel. You’re not supposed to take photographs of Michelangelo’s famous ceiling in the Sistine Chapel, Here’s the Prophet Jonah –
The entire ceiling is a masterpiece, but all art critics say there’s something unique about the portrayal of Jonah. There’s a brightness shining from his face. Author Lloyd Ogilvie puts it, “Michelangelo’s painting in the Sistine Chapel at the Vatican portrays the prophets, apostles, and patriarchs. Of all the faces he painted, none has a more radiant countenance than Jonah.” Ogilvie surmises, “We wonder if Michelangelo knew something we do not know about what happened to Jonah after the sudden close of his biography.”
The renaissance artist portrayed Jonah with a radiant face. As if he were a man set free from prejudice, and had fallen in love with God and his fellow man. This is how I want to remember Jonah! It’s nice to think Jonah overcame his prejudices and recognized the mercy and grace God had given him – then showed the Ninevites that same kindness. Always remember, the book of Jonah is full of miracles: the storm at sea, the great fish, the overnight plant, the hungry worm, the sudden east wind. But the greatest miracle is when God transforms a bigot into a big-hearted person. That’s what we hope happened to Jonah… and we trust happens to us!
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