Tag Archives: Jonah 4

Jonah the Gardener

Pure speculation but I think Jonah was a gardener prior to his call as a prophet. 

"Sower with Setting Sun" by Vincent Van Gogh, 1888

How else can the reader understand his roller coaster of emotions in chapter four?  When God is merciful and does not punish Nineveh, Jonah plunges into despair and wants to die.   He pouts outside the city.  God causes a “bush” to grow up rapidly.  Its shade provides Jonah comfort; “so Jonah was very happy about the bush” (v.7).  The next day God sends a tiny worm to attack the bush so that it withered.   Without the bush, the hot sun and sultry east wind hit Jonah so that he wants to die (v.8).  Jonah’s passion for a plant reminds me of a gardener’s deep identity with her garden.

Castor Bean Plant

Scholars speculate as to what kind of bush it was.   The Hebrew word here is qiqayon which is used nowhere else in the Bible.   Some think it was castor bean plant which can grow very quickly, up to ten feet in a few months (but not overnight, which is God’s doing in the story). Whatever kind it was, Jonah immediately sees its value.  He has it for a day and then it is gone.

After the bush dies, God confronts Jonah again, “Is it right for you to be angry about the bush?”Clearly Jonah valued the bush and its comfort and he makes the judgment that he is angry enough to die.  God challenges Jonah’s perspective and judgment.

God said, “What’s this? How is it that you can change your feelings from pleasure to anger overnight about a mere shade tree that you did nothing to get? You neither planted nor watered it. It grew up one night and died the next night.  So, why can’t I likewise change what I feel about Nineveh from anger to pleasure, this big city of more than a hundred and twenty thousand childlike people who don’t yet know right from wrong, to say nothing of all the innocent animals?”   Jonah 4:10-11 The Message

The book of Jonah ends with this question.  The tension between God and Jonah is left unresolved.  It is as if God is now the gardener, planting a seed of compassion and mercy in the reader’s heart to see if it will grow.  Will it grow in you?

Lord Jesus, Master Gardener, plant and water the seeds of compassion and grace in my life.

Is it right to be angry?

Last night we wrapped up the study of Jonah for Summer Lite Worship.   Most remember Jonah’s attempt to escape from God’s mission to Nineveh and how God sends his pet whale to retrieve him.  What happens next is even more fantastic, because when Jonah finally reaches Nineveh, a city renown for sin, he preaches a one-sentence sermon and the ENTIRE CITY REPENTS, including the cattle, sheep, dogs and cats.   It is a marvelous scene with everyone wearing ashes and gunnysacks, seeking the mercy of a God they did not know prior to Jonah’s arrival.    And wonder of wonders, “God changed his mind about the calamity that he had said he would bring upon them and he did not do it.”  Jonah 3:10

The reader would think that Jonah would rejoice.  After all, what preacher has ever had 100% positive response to her sermon?   But not Jonah; he despairs!   He wants Nineveh to be punished for what it had done to Israel.   Jonah starts to argue with God,

“O Lord! Is not this what I said while I was still in my own country? That is why I fled to Tarshish at the beginning; for I knew that you are a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love, and ready to relent from punishing.  And now, O Lord, please take my life from me, for it is better for me to die than to live.” Jonah 4:2-3  

The mercy of God causes Jonah pain because he sees others getting away with “murder.” Even though he received mercy when the great fish rescued him from the depths of the sea, he cannot stomach others receiving mercy.  God’s mercy irks him so much that he wants to die.

So God asked Jonah a fateful question, “Is it right for you to be angry?”

Almost all emotions involve some kind of judgment.   We are sad when we are deprived of something that we valued.  We are happy when we receive something we value.  A Garmin Forerunner 410 as a birthday present could give joy to an avid runner and disappointment to a six-year-old.  

God asks Jonah if his anger towards God’s compassion is right.  Should God be merciful to all sinners, even the most horrendous ones? Should God be gracious towards those who have hurt you?

Lord Jesus, wash me in mercy, that I might be merciful.