We are flung into the pity party of the protagonist in this story of Jonah, and the beauty of this book has come to a head in the very last chapter.
As we have seen this story in full, we get to also concern ourselves to whom this author was actually writing to. Many scholars debate the exact date Jonah was written, but with some of the verses from Jeremiah 18 and Joel 2 showing up within these pages, some say that this book is post-exilic, meaning that this would have been to an audience of those returning back to Israel after being in exile. Jonah’s clear nationalistic sentiments would have made him a character immediately unliked, even resented by the hearers of this book due to the tensions between the North (Israel) and the South (Judah), both pre and post exile.
Many of us can name the people who, in the name of God, act out of step with what Christ and the gospel calls his people to. Ironically so, we tend to point the finger, wagging it, and in turn, become the older brother that we have attempted to condemn. Granted, there is much to say about the love that calls for truth to be told, love that creates room for rebuke that makes way for repentance; however, this book’s author so beautifully casts a mirror as we are rightfully struck by Jonah’s foolishness.
Much like the other moments throughout the book, this prophet is rather forgetful, and as we push past Jonah’s ridiculous behavior, we soon see his amnesia and actions are like our own. Jonah says with his words what he believes, and yet, misbelief is eating away at his heart, pride and stubbornness allowing for many places to remain stone cold. Jonah forgets that the truth that he recites was itself a grace given to the undeserved, a revelation of Yahweh Himself to Moses, further disclosed to the people of Israel who are not loved because of their greatness or goodness, but simply because He chose them, right after the golden calf incident.
The same worms that devoured the manna swallow up the plant of Jonah’s pleasure, or literally from the Hebrew, the “pukey Jonah plant.” Just as the manna, a miracle of provision, was a sign pointing forward, so too the plant a parable. Jonah did nothing to grant himself this gift of shade, his own booth a disaster, and he still throws a giant fit in protest of its death, lending to his own desire to follow after the fate of his emotional support tree. Beneath the surface, we see not selflessness, but selfishness, concern only run by his comfort and not genuine care.
Do we really believe Christ? Do we believe in the gospel? We can say the right creed, but where is right conduct? Orthodoxy bleeds into orthopraxy, yet, too many have great theology that never seems to find itself lodged and pierced in the heart, missing the distance from head to chest; but God’s grace cannot be hoarded.
This book isn’t a morality lesson in what not to do. Do take heed: the snare of the lie of scarcity and clenched fists is one that leads to death. Although there is much to learn that changes who we are, the Bible is not primarily a book about us, but about God.
See the Lord’s heart for those we have deemed lost, completely unreachable, gone forever. See the Lord’s consistency in being exactly who He says He is. See the Lord’s vastly generous mercy, His tenderness, His humble and passionate care.
Look ahead to how the Son of God’s jealousy for His people led to the ultimate selflessness, not only as prophet, but as priest, as sacrifice, so that the sick might have a chance to be healed, to turn, to believe. Look ahead to how the transience of manna and Jonah’s plant point ahead to Jesus who calls Himself the bread of life, who bears burdens, who brings rest and comfort to the full.
After a hard week heavy with loss, wondering what God is doing, or if I’ll ever make sense of the proverbial reason for what feels like meaningless hurt and suffering, His pursuit of me and presence with me remains constant. Along with Jonah, the first hearers of this parable, and the cloud of witnesses before and after me, I am undone by the sin, distrust, and unbelief plaguing our bones. But God.