Lent Devotional: Jonah 4:5-11

by Jonathan Haefs

Jonah 4:5-11 (click here)
But God said to Jonah, “Do you do well to be angry for the plant?” And he said, “Yes, I do well to be angry, angry enough to die.” And the LORD said, “You pity the plant, for which you did not labor, nor did you make it grow, which came into being in a night and perished in a night. And should not I pity Nineveh, that great city, in which there are more than 120,000 persons who do not know their right hand from their left, and also much cattle?” (Jonah 4:9-11)

Jonah has set himself up. He has trapped himself with his own words.

He was angry over a plant that the Lord had graciously provided to him for some shade and relief from the sun. The plant lasted all of 24 hours and Jonah’s praise died with the plant.

Yet…Jonah insists that he has every right to be angry over the plant! It was important and valuable to him. He pities the plant…he has compassion on it. It doesn’t matter that he didn’t create it, sustain it, or even know it for very long…he has the right to be passionate about this plant.

And now God turns the tables.

If Jonah thinks he has the right to be passionate over this plant, how much more so does God have the right to be passionate about 120,000 people whom he did create, he does sustain, and who he has known since before they were born! Are they not more valuable than a single plant. God even gets sarcastic…if Jonah can’t see these people as valuable he must at least be willing to admit that so many cows are worth more than one plant!

Jonah looks silly, pitying a plant while wanting people to perish.

This must be how we look, when we get upset over small broken comforts…a broken picture frame, a busted A/C, or a flat tire. Oh the injustice of it all! We care deeply about these little things…all the while we care little for so many people. We have a “Nineveh” in our life that we wouldn’t mind seeing perishing…but to see our comforts perish…that is a crime!

God’s question to Jonah hangs in the air… “Should I not pity Nineveh?” We don’t get Jonah’s answer…because Jonah’s answer isn’t the point. The point is how will we answer the question? We are supposed to finish the story.

Should God pity our Nineveh? Will we embrace his amazing grace…or be angered by it?

*The complete SVCC Lenten reading guide is available here.