The Hebrew prophet Jonah tried to run away from God's call for him to preach to the citizens of the evil city of Nineveh in order to get them to repent and turn to God. However God stopped him by causing a giant fish to swallow him and return him to his appointed mission. Jonah's preaching was successful and the city of Nineveh was saved from God's destruction. Jonah was angry that God would show compassion toward this enemy of Israel. God asked Jonah if he had a right to be angry about this.
Jonah went out and sat down at a place east of the city. There he made himself a shelter, sat in its shade and waited to see what would happen to the city. Then the LORD God provided a vine and made it grow up over Jonah to give shade for his head to ease his discomfort, and Jonah was very happy about the vine.
Jonah 4:5-6 (New International Version)
Jonah displays a real lack of respect for God in his act of pouting. He also shows a doubt for what God has said He would do. Even though God said that He is going to spare Nineveh from destruction if they repent, Jonah, after bringing the city to its knees in repentance, goes to watch and wait for the destruction of Nineveh. Does he doubt his own persuasive abilities as a prophet? Or does he doubt that God will do what He says He will do?
As has been the case throughout the book of Jonah, details are sparse and we are given only a limited amount of information. Geographically Nineveh is situated in a desert environment that can be very hot. These verses tell us that Jonah is waiting to the east of the city, which would mean the sun is rising behind him as he waits in what is probably a rather crudely built shelter. As the day progresses Jonah is growing increasingly uncomfortable in the heat.
What does God do for his sullen servant? He shows Jonah compassion by miraculously providing a vine to grow over him to give him additional shade. What does Jonah do? These verses do not say he did anything except that he was happy. Jonah should have been praising God for this miracle, but instead, in his selfish anger, he is content in his own good fortune in having this vine grow over his head and he does not attribute this miracle to God's compassion for him.
When things aren't going our way we sometimes complain to God about why these terrible things are happening to us. How often are our prayers concerned with what we need God to do for us, or what we want Him to give us? Prayers can be comforting in bad times, but they can also be self-centered plaints about the predicament we are in. Perhaps these should be the times of turning to God for forgiveness, support, and praise. When Jonah was in the belly of the fish, his properly directed prayers were heard by God and acted upon. When Jonah was being selfish, God wanted Jonah to understand the wrongness of his thinking by giving him a lesson to dwell upon.
More important than presenting God with lists of our needs is that we approach him with praise and gladness on our lips for all that He has done for us and all of creation. God's blessings upon each of us is a cause for celebrating another victory of the greatness of God. What we want is not the most important thing. What God wants should be everything to us. When we can help bring others to the awareness of who God is and what God can do, then we are doing the work that God has called us to do.
God will bless us, and all the ends of the earth will fear him.
Psalm 67:7 (New International Version)