I have read through the book of Jonah since my Sunday School teacher taught about it when I was very young. Sometimes it is hard not to glean something new from this well known story. And yet . . . God can always show us something we haven’t focused on before . . .
Most of us know about Jonah’s story. How God told him to go and preach against the city of Nineveh. How Jonah chose to try to run away from God. While he was fleeing on a ship bound for Tarshish, the Lord caused a great storm to arise and cause fear in those on the ship. In the end, Jonah realized his disobedience was the cause of the storm and the only way to end it was for him to be thrown overboard. (Jonah 1)
We all know that a big fish swallowed Jonah where he stayed for three days and nights. We know that Jonah repented of his disobedience while in the belly of the fish and his prayer ended with this, “But I, with a song of thanksgiving, will sacrifice to you. What I have owed I will make good. Salvation comes from the Lord.” The Lord chose to command the fish to vomit Jonah out onto dry land. (Jonah 2)
The Lord came to Jonah a second time and said, “Go to the great city of Nineveh and proclaim to it the message I give you” (Jonah 3:1). This time Jonah did go, the king and all of Nineveh heard the message and repented. Unfortunately, this was not what Jonah wanted to see happen. He wanted them to be punished for their sins but the Lord showed compassion upon them and saved them from destruction. (Jonah 3)
At the end of this story we find Jonah sulking under a vine the Lord provided for him. It helped ease his discomfort from the heat and sun. The Lord also provided a worm that ate the vine so it withered and died. At this point Jonah starts to wallow in a misery of his own making and becomes angry with the Lord for killing off his only protection from the sun. (Jonah 4)
Here is how the conversation went between God and Jonah:
“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’” (verse 8).
“But God said to Jonah, ‘Is it right for you to be angry about the plant?’
‘It is,’ he said. ‘And I’m so angry I wish I were dead'” (verse 9).
“But the Lord said, ‘You have been concerned about this plant, 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?'” (verses 10-11).
It amazes me that Jonah witnessed a miracle first hand. He was part of being used by God to save people from destruction. He learned a valuable lesson about obedience. Lived through being swallowed by a large fish. And yet, he throws himself a pity party because he didn’t get what he wanted. Jonah was more concerned about his precious vine than he was over a nation of people who didn’t know the Lord God. My study notes say, “Are the souls of men not worth as much as a vine?”
As I finished reading through this book I had to ask myself if I was more concerned about myself and material possessions than I am about those who are lost? There are so many things in this world that we can be concerned over that overshadow what we really should be concerned about. The Lord is more concerned about the lost than He is about our personal and material comfort.
“Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.” Philippians 2:3-4