Lessons From Jonah, Part 5
By the Rev. Kathy Brumbaugh, Special Writer
Background text: Jonah 4
Devotional text: Acts 10:34-35
We have been reading the four-chapter book of Jonah from the Old Testament during these past few weeks. Last week, we completed chapter three,and today we will move on to chapter four.
This last chapter tells us what happened between God and Jonah after Jonah delivered his message to the Ninevites and the Ninevites repented. God, having compassion on them, did not bring destruction to the people.
Chapter four begins by showing us Jonah’s response to God’s compassion. The scripture tells us he was “greatly displeased” and “angry.” He tells God exactly why he felt this way in verses one through three.
In verse 2b, Jonah speaks to God in his anger: “That is why I was so quick to flee to Tarshish. I know that you are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abounding in love, a God who relents in sending calamity.”
At this point in the story, Jonah is in such anger and despair that he asks God to just take his life. “Now, O Lord, take away my life, for it is better for me to die than to live,” he said.
I think we can all understand Jonah’s anger because he still had to get over his hatred for the Ninevites. This section teaches us particularly that even in our feelings of anger we should still turn to God, for God knows and understands our anger.
God doesn’t leave us because we become angry with him. His gentle words to Jonah in the following verses show us that his love and compassion do not go away because we are angry. Instead, as we will see with Jonah, God helps us to work through our anger.
We should also take a closer look at verse 3, where Jonah wishes to die. Why would Jonah speak in such an extreme way?
Here, it is important for us to consider who Jonah was. He was a prophet of God for 40 years. Faithful and true, Jonah spoke God’s word to Israel. In the book of Jonah, God sent Jonah to the Ninevites to teach him the love and compassion of God is for all nations. Yet, it was a hard lesson for Jonah to learn.
Following his visit to the Ninevites, Jonah would be going back to his own people in Israel. His anger then would also rest on his reputation with his own people. How would they respond to Jonah who fulfilled God’s purpose that led to the Ninevites not being destroyed? In Jonah’s despair over returning to Israel, he told God he would rather die.
Do we feel that way at times when burdens in our own lives become so great that we would rather not face them? We would rather run away or just forget all our troubles and try to hide from them.
Life is not always easy. God shows us this truth throughout scripture. The one constant is “God with us.” As human beings, we only see our present troubles and cannot always see how they can be resolved. Despair itself clouds the mind from thinking clearly. Yet, “God is with us.”
In the life of Jonah, when he ran from God, God saved Jonah from the storm; God saved Jonah from the sea; God was with Jonah as he preached to the people of Nineveh; and, lastly, God, in his compassion, remained with Jonah to teach him God’s love for all people.
In our own lives, God is with us in our troubles. It is he who helps us think clearly and helps to lead us out of trouble.
God with us doesn’t mean that God is in favor of all the paths we choose. It means that God will lead us to the right paths to take.
Just as God gently asked Jonah, “Have you any right to be angry?” God asks us, “Who do you trust?” If our trust is in God, who is always faithful to us, then we can lose our anger and believe that all will turn out for the best.
For some, this is a big leap of faith. For others who have grown to put all their trust in God and who have seen God at work in their lives, it is easier.
As we read the rest of chapter four in Jonah, we see the various ways in which God showed his power to the prophet. God caused a vine to grow to shade Jonah, then for the vine to wither. He was reminding Jonah that he is the God of creation. He is the God of compassion. As it was God who led Jonah to Nineveh, wouldn’t he now take care of him as he returned to Israel?
Finally, God spoke to Jonah about the foolishness of worrying about a vine, when God’s bigger plan was at stake, saving the 120,000 people of Nineveh.
Sometimes, like Jonah, we get our priorities in the wrong place. Are we worried about petty little things that make no difference at all in the long run? Do we worry about outcomes that may never happen? Or, do we remain close to God with trust?
The book of Jonah doesn’t tell us how Jonah found reconciliation for his despair. However, knowing that he remained God’s prophet for many more years after his visit to Nineveh does allow us to believe his reputation with the people of Israel did not suffer.
Our lives are like that, too. We go through difficulties, and sometimes they seem bigger than life and too hard to handle. As Jonah found peace and comfort for a little while under the shade of the vine, God offers the same to us, peace and comfort.
Taking time to rest in the love of God is a sure help in times of trouble. It helps us to refrain from reacting without thinking. Spending time with God helps us to think more clearly and allows us to carry on.