Jonah knew the Lord as gracious, merciful, patient, and abundant in lovingkindness (See Jonah 4:2). These are all amazing and powerful characteristics of God. However, this time Jonah was displeased because the Assyrians (the people he didn’t like) were going to benefit from them. So the Lord used an object lesson to teach Jonah about loving others.
Then the Lord said, “Is it right for you to be angry?”
So Jonah went out of the city and sat on the east side of the city. There he made himself a shelter and sat under it in the shade, till he might see what would become of the city. And the Lord God prepared a plant and made it come up over Jonah, that it might be shade for his head to deliver him from his misery. So Jonah was very grateful for the plant. But as morning dawned the next day God prepared a worm, and it so damaged the plant that it withered. And it happened, when the sun arose, that God prepared a vehement east wind; and the sun beat on Jonah’s head, so that he grew faint. Then he wished death for himself, and said, “It is better for me to die than to live.”
Then God said to Jonah, “Is it right for you to be angry about the plant?”
And he said, “It is right for me to be angry, even to death!”
But the Lord said, “You have had pity on the plant for which you have not labored, nor made it grow, which came up in a night and perished in a night. And should I not pity Nineveh, that great city, in which are more than one hundred and twenty thousand persons who cannot discern between their right hand and their left—and much livestock?” Jonah 4:4-11
Jonah sat in the desert wondering what would happen to the Assyrians. The temperatures were high, so God blessed Jonah with a plant that grew quickly and provided shade for Jonah. Jonah was very grateful for the plant that protected him from the heat and the hot winds of the Middle East. However, God allowed a worm to eat the plant and for the temperatures to soar. So Jonah was displeased, and he was ready to die because the plant withered.
The Lord graciously asked Jonah if it was right for him to be so upset. How was it that Jonah could be displeased about a plant that had come up in a short time and had vanished quickly but he expected the Lord not to care about Assyrians!? This is such an important question. We all have things that we get attached to and we love. Some of us enjoy our creature comforts such as our favorite chair, pillow, or sweatshirt. Others have favorite cars, arts, collections, trophies, or furniture that they would not do away with. All these things are a blessing from the Lord, and they are for our enjoyment. However, do they take more space in our hearts than people!?
Interestingly, Jonah was ready to die because the plant died. Is it possible that he had lost his connection to people to the point that the loss of one plant caused him such an emotional distress? Did he not have somewhere else to go instead of sitting in the heat of the desert and wondering what would happen to the Assyrians!?
You see when Jesus was asked about the greatest commandment, He gave people two commandments, which were to love God with all their being and to love their neighbor as themselves. When we look at Jesus’ commandments as rules, we miss out on the fact that these commandments are God’s operating instructions for human soul. If we don’t follow them, we jeopardize our wellbeing. Loving God and loving our neighbors allow us to properly connect to God and relate to people. Otherwise we are in danger of wrongly being attached to things rather than holding on to God and being connected to people. Following Jesus’ two greatest commandments also protect us from isolation, depression, and hopelessness. We were made to love God and to love people!
How is your relationship with the Lord? How well are you connected with others? Do you have a burden for the lost? Do you care about your neighbor’s struggle? Do you want the best for those you don’t agree with? Do you get more upset about losing your favorite sunglasses than hearing someone lose their job!?
True life comes from being invested in the Kingdom and for caring for people. We need to continually check our hearts to ensure we have not lost our compassion for people especially in times like this when people are so divided in their opinions. God still is in the business of having a relationship with people. If that is important to Him, it should also be important to us.
The Assyrians were important to God but apparently Jonah did care about them, and he would have preferred if God had not relented from judging them. Is this how we view certain individuals or people groups?
The Lord wanted Jonah to see God’s heart for the Assyrians. Similarly, God wants us to see His heart for people and for people groups. The Lord’s blessings are not meant to occupy our hearts to the point that there is no place for the lost, the strangers, the unclean, the enemies, and the sinners. This also means that we need to go beyond racial, ethnic, and political divides and see people for how God sees them. Today, spend sometime with the Lord and ask Him if you have Jonah’s attitude towards anyone or any people group. Repent and ask Him to give you His heart for people!