“So the Lord said, ‘You cared about the plant, which you did not labor over and did not grow. It appeared in a night and perished in a night. But may I not care about the great city of Nineveh, which has more than a hundred and twenty thousand people who cannot distinguish between their right and their left, as well as many animals?’” (CSB – Read the chapter)
What do you care about most? Don’t just go with the first thing that comes to mind. What is the thing on which you’ll spend the most money? To what do you give the bulk of your time? About what do you get the most worked up in the shortest time? The answer to those questions will point you in the direction of what is truly your greatest concern. What we see here at the end of Jonah is a glimpse at what is most important to God.
The first thing we see, though, is God challenging Jonah on what was most important to him. When Jonah left Nineveh, he went out to hill from which he could see the city, and he waited to see what was going to happen to it.
In reading and rereading this chapter several times, I am more and more of the opinion that the first three verses are a summary version of the next eight. Starting at v. 5, we get a more detailed look at what vv. 1-3 are describing.
In any event, Jonah goes to the outskirts of town and waits for God to rain destruction down on the inhabitants of Nineveh. He waited. And waited. And waited. And the longer he waited, the angrier he got. Where was the destruction God was going to bring? He had done his absolutely worst with his preaching. There’s no way the people were going to be able to respond positively to it. Except, the destruction kept not coming
At the same time, God was waiting to see just how long he would sit there. Apparently a long time. After all, he had told them they had 40 days before they would be destroyed. This means he was going to be there over a month at least. He built himself a little shelter so he was protected from the worst of the elements. He wanted to watch the destruction in comfort.
His shelter seems to have been only moderately effective because the sun was giving him fits as he waited in the desert. So, God taught him a little lesson. He made a plant grow up over the top of his shelter that gave it some shade. Jonah was thrilled with this. Now he really could wait in comfort for the Ninevites to get their due. But then, some kind of worm attacked the plant and it was gone in a day. It withered all up and was gone.
We planted some squash and zucchini one year in our garden. One night after we had picked them clean, we went out the next morning and they had been attacked by some kind of cut worm. Their stems had been sliced through and they were completely dried up. Over night.
This is what happened to Jonah’s plant. And he was furious about it. Now he was doubly mad. In fact, Jonah was so mad about the plant and the lack of judgment on Nineveh, he asks God to just go ahead and kill him. He decides it’s better to die than to keep living like this.
With his little pity party carrying on at full tilt, God walks up and poses the worst possible question: Are you right to be so angry? This is one of those dangerous questions that poses the threat of perspective. When we’ve gotten all nice and high on an anger trip, this question threatens to smash our clay feet and send us plummeting back down to reality; a reality that looks rather different from how we thought.
Jonah refuses to play ball, though. “Yes, I’m angry,” he adamantly insists. “I’m angry enough to die.” Never mind that the idea of being so angry that you want to die rather than wanting someone else to die is a bit of an odd one (but then, intense anger and rational thought don’t very often go together), God doesn’t jump all over him for his gross irreverence and selfishness. Instead, He assumes on Jonah’s anger and poses another question.
If you care so much about the loss of this thing in which you had absolutely no personal investment, shouldn’t I be even more concerned about these people in whom I have an enormous personal investment?
Let’s go back to that first question again. What do you care about the most? This thing is often revealed by what makes you the angriest the quickest. Jonah revealed that he cared the most about himself and his personal comfort. He didn’t care at all about the Ninevites. In fact, he wanted them to be judged and destroyed.
God didn’t share Jonah’s passion. Or rather, He did, but not in the way Jonah wanted Him to. As much as Jonah cared about the plant and his personal comfort, God cared exponentially more about the people of Nineveh. God is passionate about the people He created. All of them. All of us. He doesn’t want for any to perish and where we are willing to repent, He is more than willing to receive us back and give us grace. In fact, God is so committed to seeing everyone come back to a relationship with Him that He was willing to die for it.
This is the grace and character of our God. This is what stirs His passion more than just about anything else. He was willing to give the Ninevites a second chance when they repented and Jesus hadn’t even entered the picture yet. Imagine how much more He is willing to give us grace now that Jesus is at His Father’s right hand interceding for us all the time.
Let me put this in personal terms: God is passionate about you. He wants you to be in a relationship with Him. He is willing to receive you just as you are the moment you are ready to repent and return to Him in Christ and no matter what it is you have in your past or present. Why wouldn’t you take such an offer as this? Of course you’re not worthy of it, but your worthiness was never the issue. His love is. And His love is more than big enough to accomplish the job. Won’t you receive Him? He’s ready to receive you.