Jonah is a Biblical character who is familiar to most of us. Many of us, in fact, have known this individual from childhood, but there is one element of the story we seldom give much consideration. That is the vine or gourd the Lord grows to shade Jonah. The book is set around 775 B.C. in the kingdom of Assyria. This was a nation whose leaders were focused on conquest, and their military was reputed to be extremely cruel and efficient.
In Jonah 1, God tells His prophet to go and tell the Assyrians to repent, but Jonah is more concerned with his own ideology and agenda than God’s plan. He goes down to Joppa, down into a ship, and finally down into the sea. Jonah seems to have the concept that Jehovah is his God and his alone. God belongs to Israel and no one else. He thinks politically, carrying an us-versus-them mentality that prevents him from sharing God’s grace with the Assyrians.
Jonah’s Roundabout Journey
We know the story of the great storm that leads to Jonah being cast from the ship. We know of the great fish God raises up to transport Jonah to his destination. We know of Jonah’s prayers, recounting his near-death experience and God’s saving of his body. He prays while drowning. He prays loyalty once saved. However, God is not done with Jonah, who gets regurgitated onto the land where God commands Him once again to go to Assyria.
Jonah delivers God’s message in a way that seems reluctant, simply stating that they had forty days until God would destroy their nation. Despite Jonah, the people of Nineveh believe the message, and they demonstrate a complete understanding of the depth of their sins. They humble themselves before God from the least of them to the king. They repent, and God spares Assyria.
A Lesson in Mercy
Jonah 4:1 records that Jonah is displeased. He states his displeasure to God, telling Him he knew that God would spare them. He goes so far as praying for his own death in the face of Assyria’s repentance. In verse 4, God asks him if this is so worth being angry over. In response, Jonah prepares a shelter outside the city to wait for its destruction. God provides him with some shade that exceedingly pleased Jonah. However, the next day, God allows the plant to die and great heat to pound on Jonah. Again, Jonah prays for his own death in the face of his discomfort.
What are the gourds in our own lives? Are we, like Jonah, more concerned with our wants than in the spiritual needs in others? Are we more concerned with national policies or with individual persons? We may talk about politics at the expense of the gospel. Do we grow impatient or intolerant when others’ ideologies or methods differ from those we prefer? Do we dwell on hurt feelings and fail to see the positive in others because things don’t go our way? We look at Jonah, and we call him silly because of the trauma he experiences over his gourd. We are guilty of the same.
Facing Our Own Gourds
Times of service, order of service, the seating arrangement, personal politics, tax structure, etc. – what do any of these have to do with saving the lost? The world needs the gospel, and they will come despite niggling details. However, we might leave for those same insignificant issues. We need to quit worrying about the gourds and focus on the gospel. Our concern needs to be for others’ souls more than for our own conveniences or personal ideas.
As Jonah concludes, God asks his prophet about his priorities. God reminds Jonah and us that God cares for all creation, regardless of race or background. He is full of grace and mercy, and He is no respecter of persons. We need to get rid of the gourds in our lives, seeing how much grace and mercy He has provided us. In turn, we should want to share that grace with anyone and everyone we can.
lesson by Tim Smelser