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February 28, 2011

A new twist to the story of Jonah

by Dave Malnes

When we think of the story of Jonah in the Old Testament, we are accustomed to hearing about a whale or a big fish that swallowed him.  Even in the New Testament, Jesus refers to Jonah’s time inside a big fish.  But there is another part of the story that doesn’t get as much attention.  There is another part of Jonah’s story that has been a great source of comfort.

The prophet Jonah was sitting on top of the hill gazing over the great city of Nineveh.  He had just finished preaching to them and the whole city repented.  But, Jonah was not very happy.  How could God show compassion and mercy to an enemy of Israel?  While grumbling about this, overcome by frustration and depression, the Lord lovingly provides a vine for Jonah to give him shade and ease his discomfort.  To involved in his misery, Jonah barely noticed God’s care and blessing.

The very next day was very hot along with a scorching wind.  The Lord, in his wisdom, took away the vine and Jonah was left without any comfort from the shade.  In desperation, Jonah cries out, “Please, Lord, grant me death.  It would be better for me to die than to live!”

Like a father dealing with a young child’s tantrum, the Lord asks, “Jonah, do you really have a right to be angry about the vine?

Jonah replies, “You bet I do!  I’m angry enough to die?

But the Lord says, “Yes, you have been very concerned about this vine, even though you did not tend to it or make it grow.”  The Lord went on to explain to Jonah that there were 120,000 people who had no clue what they were doing in worshipping another god.  Instead of wiping them off the face of the earth, which Jonah would have preferred, the Lord exhibited great compassion and concern by sending Jonah with a message of repentance.

A self-absorbed Jonah just didn’t get it.

The Lord provides great comfort during times when we need Him most.  But how often do we recognize his blessings during these times, let alone acknowledge them?  To help us draw attention to his grace and mercy, the Lord allows us to be exposed to the elements of a sinful world, and all it pain and suffering, to draw us closer to Him in order to receive a greater understanding of who He is.

There are times in our life where we feel like throwing in the towel — to quit; to stop trusting God and his promises; to be enticed into a sinful lifestyle and to stop trying to life a life pleasing to God.   We complain to God and justify our actions by thinking that there are many undeserving people who have it much better than we do.  They don’t deserve Your mercy, Your blessing, Your love.  This becomes especially true when something is taken away from us—a job, a friend, a loved one, or even a dream.  We get angry.  We get upset.  We cry out to God in our grief, “Take my life.  It would be better for me to die than to live!!”

It is at this point that our loving God, who loves us far more than any parent, spouse or friend, tenderly reminds us that He is very concerned about us.  He has our best interest at heart.  He is the author of all blessings, not us.  Everything that He does is for our good purpose.  He is the one who molds us and shapes us — allowing us to be holy and set apart from the world.   Whether that means to be blessed with worldly wealth or success, or a life of suffering and disappointment, it is God that determines whether to provide the comfort of a vine or allow us to be exposed to the element.  All for a purpose that we can’t begin to fathom in this life.

It is helpful to remember that God not only has great concern for each of us, but also a great concern for our world.  Instead of looking at results or circumstances to deepen our trust in God, why don’t we just look to Him—the author and renewer of our faith.  He is God and deserving of our trust.

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