The Gourd of the Lord

Jonah 4:6 And the LORD God prepared a gourd, and made it to come up over Jonah, that it might be a shadow over his head, to deliver him from his grief. So Jonah was exceeding glad of the gourd.
(KJV)

Today, we're going to take a final look at the book of Jonah. We opened this series of blogs by talking about 3 things the Lord did. And guess what.....that's how we're going to end it too! When we last left Jonah, he had preached his message of destruction, and the people of Nineveh responded by turning to God in repentance. Subsequently, God turned from His intentions and pardoned the people of Nineveh. Jonah should be happy now, right? Not exactly.

Jonah 4:1 But it displeased Jonah exceedingly, and he was very angry. (KJV)

I won't spend much time dealing with Jonah's shallow and selfish response. But I will say this; there are times when our expectations and God's will don't converge. Yes, there are some who say if you simply have enough faith, you can make anything happen by saying the magic words or following the right formula(s). This too, is a shallow expression of faith. From our vantage point, it is often difficult to understand the "big picture". Jonah had just experienced the "altar call" of a lifetime. He saw more converts in one day than many of us will see in a lifetime. But he wasn't happy. He obviously didn't "get it".

At this point, we might expect the ground to open up and swallow Jonah alive. How dare he take such an attitude, after God went to such great lengths to preserve him for this very mission. But, as is always the case- God is much more merciful than we give Him credit for. Even in the midst of Jonah's pity party, God is doing a redemptive work and teaching a lesson. So let's look quickly at 3 things that the Lord did.

#1- God prepared a gourd (4:6)- This gourd provided shade from the intense heat of the day. Psalm 145:9a says "The Lord is good to all". Jesus says that God sends sun and rain on the just and the unjust (Matt 5:45). God is good to everyone! When we see injustice, we often ask the question "why do bad things happen to good people?". Such questioning ignores the fact that God allows good things to happen to everyone- regardless of whether they deserve it or not.

#2- God prepares a worm (4:7)- The worm reminds us not to hold too tightly to the things of this world. Paul told the Corinthians that all that we see in the material world is temporary (2 Cor 4:18). Life is filled with change and various seasons. Our lives can easily be devoted to the temporal. I recently had a laptop failure which reminded me how quickly years worth of work can be lost forever (here's a friendly reminder to always back up your data!). Ask yourself this question- how much of your time do you devote to issues of no eternal value? Obviously, I'm not suggesting that we spend every waking moment teaching or preaching. It is my opinion that God wants us to enjoy life- not simply endure it. But where are our priorities?

#3- God prepared a wind (4:8)- The wind reminds us that our only defense is faith in God. Our security does not rest in the amount of possessions we can amass in this life. We can do our best to insulate ourselves from disaster, but truly our lives are in God's hands. The gourd of yesterday, can be destroyed by the worm of today- offering no protection from the winds of tomorrow.

All of this makes Jonah wish for death. Again, at this point, we might expect the Lord to simply grant his request. At the very least, we might expect Divine silence. Instead, the Lord engages Jonah in dialogue (4:9). He explains to Jonah that the gourd was an object lesson. Jonah's priorities were totally askew. He had no concern for the thousands of innocent children living in Nineveh. He seemed only concerned about his reputation, the "unfortunate" repentance of the people of Nineveh, and of course- the withering of the gourd.

We are a culture of stress and anxiety. Some of our fears may be legitimate. Some of our anxieties may well be warranted. I would be lying if I said I never experienced either of them, so I don't stand in judgment of you today. But I want us to take an inventory today, and see where our priorities stand. How much of our time is spent in frustration and anger because our expectations and God's will don't seem to be on parallel tracks? Could it be that God is using us in a way that we despise and yet it's for the greater good?

The book of Jonah has always left me a little uneasy because of the ending. We don't end this book with a benediction, a hymn, or an Amen. The book ends with a question. Just as Jonah was left with the question, so are we. In light of God's love for all mankind, what are we going to do about it?

Until next time...

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