The Lessons of Jonah’s Gourd (3)
How did sunburned Jonah, huffing in his booth outside Nineveh, come to evaluate things so utterly wrongly and wickedly (Jonah 4:1-9)? Why did he reckon so important one plant that only lasted 24 hours and upon which he did not bestow any labour? Why did he esteem of so little value some 720,000 people and much livestock in an ancient city?
There is a common factor here. Jonah, himself! Jonah’s selfishness! He was angry at God for killing the gourd because it provided shelter for him (Jonah). He was furious with the Almighty for not killing the myriads of Ninevites and their livestock, because he (Jonah) hated them and he (Jonah) did not want Jehovah to judge Israel, his own country.
In short, Jonah maintained that the gourd should live, and many thousands of people and cattle in Nineveh should die, because of his own sinful desires. The “very angry” prophet (1) even told his Creator to His face that he was right to be “angry” about it, “even unto death” (9)!
So did Jonah afterwards repent of his hardness of heart and blindness of mind? The book does not say yea or nay, in so many words, but I firmly believe that he did, for three main reasons.
First, though Jonah had fallen into grievous sin, he was still a child of God and the Lord always brings His sons and daughters back to fellowship with Himself through repentance, as with the prodigal son. The Canons of Dordt explain it well: “For, in the first place, in these falls He preserves in them the incorruptible seed of regeneration from perishing, or being totally lost; and again, by His Word and Spirit, certainly and effectually renews them to repentance, to a sincere and godly sorrow for their sins, that they may seek and obtain remission in the blood of the Mediator, may again experience the favour of a reconciled God, through faith adore His mercies, and henceforward more diligently work out their own salvation with fear and trembling” (V:7).
Second, Jonah wrote his book, as all the sixteen holy writing prophets penned their own inspired books, by “the Spirit of Christ which was in them” (I Pet. 1:11).
Third, read again Jehovah’s winsome argument, which was explained in the last issue of the News, in the light of His irresistible grace and wisdom: “Then said the Lord, Thou hast had pity on the gourd, for the which thou hast not laboured, neither madest it grow; which came up in a night, and perished in a night: And should not I spare Nineveh, that great city, wherein are more than sixscore thousand persons that cannot discern between their right hand and their left hand; and also much cattle?” (Jonah 4:10-11).
Jehovah used these powerful words as a mighty means of grace to Jonah so that he saw his foolishness, selfishness and wickedness. He could have crawled under the dirt under the booth and shriveled up like that gourd out of shame!
Thus, by God’s Spirit, the prophet redirected his anger. He was no longer sinfully angry against the Lord; he was now righteously angry against himself. The apostle Paul describes the zeal of true repentance: “For godly sorrow worketh repentance to salvation not to be repented of: but the sorrow of the world worketh death. For behold this selfsame thing, that ye sorrowed after a godly sort, what carefulness it wrought in you, yea, what clearing of yourselves, yea, what indignation, yea, what fear, yea, what vehement desire, yea, what zeal, yea, what revenge! In all things ye have approved yourselves to be clear in this matter” (II Cor. 7:10-11).
There is hardly a verse that Jonah could have written in his book without a tear. In fact, there is hardly a verse in his book that he could have read later without a tear.
There were tears of sorrow over his stubbornness and rebelliousness against his covenant God, especially His disobedience to the divine call to go to Nineveh, his flight to Tarshish and His sinful example to the sailors in chapter 1; and his childish petulance, repeated death wish and sulky answers to the Lord in chapter 4.
There were tears of thankfulness over Jehovah’s graciousness and kindness to him, especially his deliverance from drowning by the great fish, his escape from its dark, stinking belly and his answered prayer from the depths in chapter 2; and the marvellous salvation of the Ninevites, a foretaste of the conversion of the Gentiles, in chapter 3.
After all, Jonah’s great comfort was, as he had confessed earlier in the great fish’s belly, “Salvation is of the Lord” (Jonah 2:9). This is the consolation of us all, who hate our sins and have turned to God in Jesus Christ, for we also confess with Jonah, “thou art a gracious God, and merciful, slow to anger, and of great kindness, and repentest thee of the evil” (4:2)!
Rev. Angus Stewart, Pastor of Covenant PRC in Ballymena, N.Ireland
- Volume: 15
- Issue: 12
Rev. Angust Stewart (Wife: Mary)
Ordained - 2001
Pastorates: Covenant Protestant Reformed Church of Ballymena, Northern Ireland - 2001Website: www.cprf.co.uk/
Address7 Lislunnan Road
State or ProvinceCo.Antrim
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