I’m a person who doesn’t like loose ends. I like everything tied up in a nice neat little package with a bow on top, so much so that, in my mind, my favorite book, Gone With the Wind, doesn’t end with Scarlett wondering whether or not she’ll get Rhett back. I’ve mentally re-written the ending. He comes to his senses before he gets to the end of the driveway and takes her back. And also, they both repent of being such scallywags and get saved. Because that’s how it is supposed to end.
I have a feeling Jonah was the kind of guy who needed closure, too. All God told Jonah to do was to go to Nineveh and preach the message He gave him. Jonah didn’t have to hang around and wait for the results. But aggravated as he was, Jonah felt the need to see things through. And he did much more than just dream up an alternate ending for a novel. This guy went to the trouble of building himself a little lean-to and hanging around in the desert heat and wind for who knows how long, to see what the Ninevites would do and how God would respond. And with each passing moment of Ninevite repentance, Jonah grew angrier and angrier. Because things weren’t ending the way he thought they were supposed to end.
It was time for an object lesson.
Overnight, God planted and grew some sort of vine—some scholars speculate that it was a castor bean plant—to grow up over Jonah and give him some relief from the sun and scorching wind. (Again, skeptics will cite the overnight growth of this vine as evidence that the book of Jonah couldn’t be literally true. Obviously none of them are from the South, or they would be familiar with kudzu, a climbing vine which has the ability to engulf your whole house while you’re walking to the mailbox.)
Oh, how wonderful it was! Oh, how Jonah probably praised God for it. And then, our “the Lord giveth and the Lord taketh away” God killed Jonah’s shade.
And Jonah lost it.
I mean, he was fit to be tied furious.
I see him ranting and raving, yelling at God, “MAD?!? OF COURSE I HAVE THE RIGHT TO BE MAD!!!”
Now, I’m not sure why God didn’t turn Jonah into a little wet spot on the sand right then and there. He certainly could have, and He had previously done so to people who seemed to have committed far lesser offenses than hollering right in His face. But while we look on the outward appearance, God looks on the heart (I Samuel 16:7), and there was something in Jonah’s heart that God wanted to deal with, not by striking him down, but by reasoning with him.
“Jonah,” God said, “Get over it. It was just a plant, here today and gone tomorrow. You didn’t plant it. You didn’t sweat over it and tend it. You didn’t lift a finger to make it grow. What’s the big deal?”
“What’s the big deal? Get over it? Lord, that plant was great! I enjoyed it! It was beautiful and brought me delight!”
“Yeah, and you know what, Jonah? That’s how I feel about the Ninevites. Only they’re not just some dumb plant. They have eternal souls. I’ve watched as each and every one of them was born. It has broken My heart as time after time they have each dived headlong into sin when they could have delighted in Me instead. I want to heal them. I made them. I love them. You care more about that stinkin’ plant than you do about human beings who desperately need Me.”
Wait, what do you mean “The End”? Is this another one of those stories that leaves loose ends out there? How could the story end right here? What happens next?
Well, in my mind, Jonah comes to his senses and grasps the irony of the situation. The God who loves him and forgave his rebellion is the same God who loves the Ninevites and forgives them of their rebellion. Jonah repents completely this time and rejoices in the work God has done. He makes friends with the Ninevites and plants First Baptist Church of Nineveh right where the pagan temple used to stand. They celebrate the ribbon cutting with an all-day singing and dinner on the grounds—a fish fry, of course. And everybody lives happily ever after.
Because that’s how it’s supposed to end.
Compare Jonah’s attitude about God forgiving and showing mercy to Nineveh with the attitude of Simon towards the sinful woman in Luke 7:36-50. What are some similarities or differences? How would you fit into the story? Would you be Jonah/Simon, Nineveh/the sinful woman, neither, or both? Explain.
What do Matthew 6:12, 14-15, 18:21-35 have to say about God’s forgiveness of us and our forgiveness of others?
Repent: of any situation in which you have refused to forgive someone.
Request: the strength and grace to forgive people who are difficult to forgive.
Seek God: for practical ways in which you can extend mercy and grace towards those people.