God Provided a Worm
Do you ever wish that God would just talk directly to you, with a voice as clear as that of the person sitting net to you? I know I have. Jonah’s testimony makes it clear that even when God is talking directly to people, our own sinful nature gets in the way. As Jesus says in the parable of Lazarus and the rich man (Luke 16:31) “If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.” In Exodus God’s people Israel saw God by day as a pillar of smoke and by night as a pillar of fire, they ate manna directly from God’s hand, and saw God’s hand punish the people of Egypt, yet they turned away. If you’re having trouble listening to God, don’t try to blame it on God’s method of talking to you, think of Jonah.
I’ve been reading through the book of Jonah quite a bit in the past few months, and this is the second time I’ve prepared a sermon on chapter four, though the last time I focused on just a few verses. I would like to share with you a few themes that have offered themselves to me during this time: Jonah’s Anger and God’s Compassion, God’s Provision and Our Needs, and the Call to Repentance.
But first, here is the Reader’s Digest version of the first three chapters: Chapter 1--God calls Jonah to preach against Nineveh, but Jonah runs away. He gets on a boat to Tarshish. The boat runs into a terrible storm, Jonah confesses to being the cause and asks to be thrown overboard. When he is, the sea grows calm, and God provides a great fish to swallow Jonah. Chapter 2--In the fish, Jonah prays about and for God’s mercy, and the fish spews him up. Chapter 3--Jonah, not being a complete idiot, goes to Nineveh and preaches that God’s judgment is coming. The people of Nineveh, from the king to the guy who cleans the stables, repent, put on uncomfortable clothes, stop eating, and call on God for mercy. So God has compassion on them.
1. And so God’s Compassion brings us directly to Jonah’s anger.
One way that we can use the Bible is to imagine ourselves in the same situation as the people we read about. Because after all, they are just regular people who have been touched by God. Like us.
We left off last week at the end of Chapter 3, with God having Compassion on the city of Nineveh, and the result in Chapter 4, verse 1, is that Jonah is angry with this decision. Very angry. The literal translation of this verse is that the decision was evil to him, and it burned to him. I don’t think “pissed off” is a strong enough expression for his anger. This is in direct contrast with the mercy God has shown to Nineveh.
While I was growing up, I had the idea that Jonah ran away because he was afraid of the Ninevites, maybe afraid of being killed. That’s a comforting motivation. We all have fear sometimes, and even though God doesn’t want us to be afraid, it’s not actually evil, is it?
But he wasn’t acting out of fear. Reading on in verses 2 and 3. [read] He was angry because God is a god of Love! He had a deep hatred of the wicked, evil Ninevites. He despised them, and did not want to see them provided with God’s grace and compassion! He wanted God to crush them, but he knew that God would forgive them if they repented. He didn’t want to be party to this forgiveness, this act of compassion. He was so mad that he wanted to die.
In verse 4, God asks Jonah a direct question: “Do you have any right to be angry?” or “Is it right for you to be angry?” One other possibility: “Are you that deeply upset?” Jonah doesn’t answer. Instead he goes East of Nineveh (v 5), builds a shelter for himself, and waits to see what happens.
2. God’s provision
In Busan right now, we can sympathize with Jonah. It is hot now, and it was hot then. So in verse 6 [read], God appoints a vine to shade Jonah. The NIV uses the word “provided”, which I kind of like. It is also translated as “sent.” However you look at it, the vine is from God. The same word is used two more times in the next two verses [read vs 7-8]
So in the desert God is giving Jonah exactly what he deserves, right? An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth, a spiteful act for a spiteful act, right?
Wrong. If God were to give even the best of us a fraction what we deserve, we would be doomed. We would be so burdened with hate and spite that we would never be able to rise above it. We would have no hope. We would die, forever.
Fortunately for us, God provided the Ultimate Sacrifice to save us. Instead of justice, he gives us mercy. And this mercy is evident 750 years before Christ was born, when this man of God, Jonah, strayed from God’s path. First God put Jonah back on his path, or, if you prefer, provided a great fish to vomit him back on the path, then God helped Jonah to understand that path and improve himself. By providing a worm.
Back home in the States, my parents had a cat named Dolly. Dolly was a bit temperamental: sometimes she liked to be stroked, sometimes not. She sometimes showed her feelings in a somewhat violent manner, but she was also very liberal with her affection when in the mood. But as brave as she was, she turned into a nervous wreck whenever we put her in the car: She shed fur all over, she made the most pitiful noises, and she walked all over the driver, passenger, back seat, floor and anyplace else she could get to. Because she knew she was going to the vet, and it was probably going to hurt, or at the very least be humiliating.
In the same way Dolly wanted to avoid the pain and humiliation of going to the vet, we want to avoid the pain and humiliation of having our nasty, sinful nature exposed and removed. All Dolly could think of was the immediate pain, not the consequences of avoiding the injection. Dolly not only did not, but could not imagine the consequences of not getting a rabies vaccination. And we can’t possibly imagine the actual results of allowing our sinful natures to keep control of us.
If I could have learned cat language, and tried to tell Dolly that we provided these trips to the vet for her, her reaction would probably be similar to our reaction on hearing that God provided a worm to Jonah. I can’t speak cat language, but for days after going to the vet, Dolly used to hide when we called for her, then while we were walking down the hall she would stalk us and pounce on our legs. Sounds to me a lot like Jonah sitting in the desert wanting to die.
Jonah needed that worm. God could have left Jonah in the desert to rot; after all, God convinced Jonah to do his work, and the Ninevites repented. Job done. But it does not suit God to use people and throw them away. God wanted Jonah to understand God’s concern for the Ninevites, and to feel the same way. Words alone weren’t getting through to Jonah, so God provided him something simple and ephemeral, a vine, then took it away. Then God has this conversation with Jonah: [read Jonah 4: 8-end] And that’s the end of the book.
3. Call to repentance
We are kind of left hanging, here. How does Jonah reply to God’s final question? The answer is that he wrote down his story for us to read and learn from. Did he repent? I think yes. I don’t think you get a book of the Bible named after you if you finish your story angry at God. I think that Jonah finally understood how selfish he was being, and when he wrote out his story it was obvious how wrong he was. God’s question doesn’t require an answer, because it is completely rhetorical: God asks so that we will think and act.
The people of Nineveh repented. They heard that judgment was coming, they were rightfully scared, and they CHANGED. They stopped what they were doing and begged for mercy. And God provided mercy. Much later, in Matthew 12:39, Jesus is asked for a miraculous sign. He offers none but the sign of Jonah, buried for three days, then come back to the world of the living. But that generation was condemned, because they would not repent.
And so we have the words of Moses and the prophets. We have the witnesses of Jesus. We have the choice to repent or not.
We will get angry, it is human nature. Be we can choose to embrace our anger, or let it go.
God will provide worms and scorching East winds for us. We can choose whether to learn or just get angry.
If you have not made that choice, or if you’re having trouble with your choices now, please come talk with me, or John, or Mark, or a member of the praise team, or someone here who just seems like the right person to talk to. Ask for prayer, because anyone who is a member of ICC will be happy to pray for you.
And now, let’s go together to God in prayer: