For this week, please read Jonah 4. This is the first of two emails today. Next week we will begin our reading of C. S. Lewis’s The Screwtape Letters. This email is available online and on Facebook.
The Reproof of Jonah
God has one last lesson for Jonah. Like the older brother to the prodigal (Luke 15:28), Jonah’s anger at God’s mercy causes him to want to be removed from God’s presence. God, however, refuses to give up on Jonah and has one more lesson for Jonah to bring him back.
Jonah does not believe in God’s mercy and situates himself on a hill outside of Nineveh waiting for the destruction that Jonah is still certain that a just God must visit upon the Assyrians. Just as God previously appointed a fish to save Jonah, so now God appoints a vine to grow over Jonah and to shade him on the hillside. And Jonah is happy.
God then appoints a worm to eat the plant, and cause it to die. God appoints a scorching east wind from the desert to blow on Jonah enhancing his discomfort from the unprotected sun. And Jonah now is anger, again. Once more Jonah proclaims that he is angry enough to die.
God’s lesson is that Jonah had more pity for the vine which he did not cultivate and which only existed for a brief moment in time than for the 120,000 people of Nineveh who did not know right from wrong. Jonah cared more for the plant that gave him shade than for the multitude created in God’s image.
Jonah’s reproof is ours as well. How much do we care for things over people? Why is it that we get angry over the loss of a trifle like a shade vine but are never angry over the harm and death caused to other people? Jonah has compassion for a plant but is hard-hearted towards others. For me, Jonah’s reproof is a little too close.
Our story ends with silence. After his reproof, God asks Jonah whether God should not have had pity and compassion on Nineveh and all of its inhabitants. God gives Jonah a question. In Job, God responds similarly to Job’s complaints. (Job 38-41). Job responds to God, acknowledging God’s sovereignty. (Job 40:3-5, 42:1-6). Jonah, however, is silent.
Jonah does not verbalize an answer to the question. But it is in Jonah’s silence that he gives his response. We have all been in places or situations where any speech would only serve to diminish the situation. I would like to think that Jonah finally beheld the full majesty of the divine ineffable and was thereby rendered speechless. I would like to think that Jonah finally meets his God in his silence.
More spiritual progress can be made in one short moment of speechless silence in the awesome presence of God than in years of mere study.A.W. Tozer