Monday, August 08, 2016

Here comes the worm, and there goes the shade tree

A few weeks ago, Pulse (our young adults group) was studying the book of Jonah. Most people focus on the part of the story where the reluctant prophet gets swallowed by a whale; but I felt particularly drawn to the fourth and final chapter in the story.

And as usual, God gave me a poignant, real-life illustration of the principles in His Word.

The fourth chapter finds Jonah, having (finally) fulfilled God's command by walking back and forth among the streets of the ancient world's largest city, Nineveh, proclaiming:

"Forty more days Nineveh will be overthrown."

It was a very simple message God had given him to deliver. God had said in chapter 1, "Go to the great city of Nineveh and preach against it, because its wickedness has come up before me." And in chapter 3, after Jonah got barfed up on the beach facing Nineveh, He added: "Go to the great city of Nineveh and proclaim to it the message I give you.” So that's what Jonah did. And of course the amazing thing that happened as a result was nothing short of the greatest revival in history. Tens of thousands of Ninevites repented of their sin, "from the least to the greatest." Even the king got into sackcloth and ashes. And God in His compassion and mercy decided to spare Nineveh from the promised calamity.

And Jonah was not a happy camper. Chapter 4 details his expression of anger against God for being so gracious to Israel's enemies. Remaining convinced that surely God was mistaken and the repentance was false, he sat up on a hillside above Nineveh to watch and see what would happen.

What happens next in chapter 4 is fascinating, and the point of this blog. Verses 6 through 8 report:

Then the Lord God provided a leafy plant and made it grow up over Jonah to give shade for his head to ease his discomfort, and Jonah was very happy about the plant. But at dawn the next day God provided a worm, which chewed the plant so that it withered. When the sun rose, God provided a scorching east wind, and the sun blazed on Jonah’s head so that he grew faint. He wanted to die, and said, “It would be better for me to die than to live.”

Why would our gracious and loving God both provide great comfort to make Jonah happy ... then take it away to make him miserable? What was the point?

It's easy to conclude from reading this passage that God is more interested in developing our character than He is in our comfort and happiness. Note that "God provided" both the blessing (the shade tree) and the curse (the worm that chewed it). He used Jonah's resulting discomfort and frustration as an object lesson both on how "the Lord gives and the Lord taketh away" and why compassion is such a key part of God's character (and should be a key part of ours as well).

My Shade Tree

Right before leading this Bible study, I was called to a meeting in our human resources department and informed I was being laid off. For nearly 23 years, God had provided me with a marvelous shade tree, my job at World Vision. I loved it, I was good at it, it brought me great joy and satisfaction, not to mention a decent living. I had planned to retire in about three years or so, after I had accomplished a few more milestones. All was good.

But then, bam, God sent a worm to chew on my shade tree!

So, after studying Jonah 4 I've been asking myself, "What is it in my character that God is seeking to work on through this event?" I'm grateful to God for the many years of beautiful shade. I must be grateful as well for the worm. For both come from His hand.

I've blogged before about how the Hebrew word translated "worm" in chapter 4 is "Tolah," the crimson worm which throughout Scripture is used to represent the Messiah. (For instance, see the Messianic Psalm 22.) Jesus was in some manner in Jonah's worm, which reminds us that He gave up the comforts of heaven to be born as a human baby, to struggle with all the things we struggle with, and ultimately to give up His life on the Cross for our sins.

I'm grateful that God is present in both blessing and comfort, as well as in adversity. Thank you for your prayers as we seek to discern His will in this next phase of our lives together.

No comments: