Last Wednesday, we talked about Jonah running from his calling. If you missed that post, you can find it here. In the meantime, let's continue the conversation about Jonah by looking at the end of the book.
I'll be honest. The last chapter of Jonah has always sort of bothered me. Because, really, I thought it seemed kind of mean that God would cause a vine to grow for Jonah's provision and then take that vine away. And also, this sort of scared me. If God took the vine away because He was frustrated with Jonah, what was to keep Him from taking away the "vines" in my life when I did something displeasing? Seemed a little cruel.
But I think that reading of chapter four is completely wrong. Because the chapter is fairly short, I'm going to go ahead and copy the entire thing below.
But Jonah was greatly displeased and became angry. He prayed to the Lord, “O Lord, is this not what I said when I was still at home? That is why I was so quick to flee to Tarshish. I knew that you are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abounding in love, a God who relents from sending calamity. Now, O Lord, take away my life, for it is better for me to die than to live.”
But the Lord replied, “Have you any right to be angry?”
Jonah went 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.
Then the Lord God provided a vine and made it grow up over Jonah to give shade for his head to ease his discomfort, and Jonah was very happy about the vine. But at dawn the next day God provided a worm, which chewed the vine so that it withered. 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.”
But God said to Jonah, “Do you have a right to be angry about the vine?”
“I do,” he said. “I am angry enough to die.”
But the Lord said, “You have been concerned about this vine, though you did not tend it or make it grow. It sprang up overnight and died overnight. But Nineveh has more than a hundred and twenty thousand people who cannot tell their right hand from their left, and many cattle as well. Should I not be concerned about that great city?”
I love God's response here whenever Jonah is getting frustrated about God's compassion. "Do you have any right to be angry?" And doesn't the answer seem obvious to us? Um, Jonah, God just saved you from inside of a whale. Maybe you should be a little more grateful. But isn't it just like human nature to point to finger at someone else and say, "Hey, you shouldn't be forgiving them so easily. Look what they've put me through!"
So God causes this vine to grow about Jonah, and Jonah becomes very fond of it. Then God causes the vine to die, and Jonah becomes frustrated at God. He says it'd be better if he could just die. Seems like an over-exaggeration, right? Considering, once again, he did almost die just a few days prior?
But the thing is, Jonah is really very attached to this vine. He doesn't want to witness its destruction. The vine matters to him. The vine serves a very important purpose. So when the worm destroys it, Jonah becomes very, very upset.
Then God does a very interesting thing. He makes a connection between that vine and the people of Nineveh. He asks a couple questions. Has Jonah tended to the vine? No. Has Jonah made it grow? Again, no. And yet Jonah seems to care so much.
How much more, then, does God care about Nineveh?
That's when it hit me. Jonah is a story of God's compassion. Not His wrath, or His judgement, or His intolerance for evil. He could've wiped out all of Nineveh in one breath for their wickedness. But instead, He cares about them so very much, He does whatever it takes to send them a message of hope, a message of the gospel, a message of redemption--even when it involves a stubborn Christian and a whale.
God is so gracious to us. Whether you feel like Nineveh or Jonah, remember that God isn't taking your vine. He's trying to get you to see the incredible heart He has, the incredible value He places on each person who is hurting and looking for truth in their lives. May we keep this at the forefront of our minds as we write each day and as we live our lives, that we may begin to see the Ninevites as dearly loved.