The Hebrew prophet Jonah was instructed by God to go to Nineveh to warn its people that they were going to be destroyed if they did not turn to God. Instead, Jonah ran in the opposite direction to escape from God. Jonah was put back on God's course partly by being swallowed by a giant fish which returned him to land. Jonah was successful in delivering his message to the Ninevites and getting them to repent and avoid God's wrath, but he was also resentful that God would save these evil people who were the enemies of Israel. As he waited to see whether the city would be destroyed or not, God miraculously provided Jonah with a vine to shelter him from the blazing sun. Jonah was happy to have this shade.
But at dawn the next day God provided a worm, which chewed the vine 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."
Jonah 4:7-8 (New International Version)
In this short book of the Bible, we see Jonah as a man who behaves in a stubborn and childish manner. He tries to hide, he stomps and pouts when he doesn't get his way, and he becomes totally self-absorbed without gratitude for the good things he has received and angry when those he thinks are undeserving receive blessings. Jonah was obviously missing something in the account given in this book and he clearly needed instruction from God.
Jonah was not recognizing that God is God of all of the Earth and of all peoples. God blessed the Israelites, but they did not hold an exclusive claim to God. God's compassion is directed to all who repent, believe, and sincerely beseech his mercy. God wanted to show Jonah that even the Ninevites could be worthy of His compassion just as all sinners are. One of the steps in the learning process was to bless Jonah and then take away the blessing so that he would suffer.
In another book of the Bible we read the story of Job, who reacts to this concept in a very different way. Job loses family, home, property, friends, and health and eventually is much worse off than we ever see Jonah. However, instead of insolent behavior toward God, he accepts his fate and continues to honor Him.
Job said: "Naked I came from my mother's womb, and naked I will depart. The LORD gave and the LORD has taken away; may the name of the LORD be praised."
Job 1:21 (New International Version)
Job got it, but when we see Jonah in today's episode we see that he has not. Jonah was angry with God because God showed compassion to the sinful Ninevites. And yet, Jonah has failed to see the compassion God repeatedly shows him after his disobedience and his lack of respect. God saves Jonah from drowning by sending a big fish to carry him back to land; God saves Jonah from death inside the belly of a giant fish by causing the fish to expel Jonah onto dry land: and God shields Jonah from the discomfort of the hot desert sun by providing him shade. Now God takes away the shade to provide a lesson.
Jonah is going to have to have this explained directly by God, who has been extremely patient with Jonah. Next week we will learn the lesson that God wants Jonah to understand.
But this week we once again hear Jonah saying that he would rather die than deal with his suffering. This leads me to a thought that may be going out on a limb a bit. When I think about what Jonah says I think about people who are suffering with pain and sickness, or dealing with things that they find to be personal injustices, or have some other inner problem that might lead to the extreme measure of suicide. Jonah is not suggesting that he is going to kill himself, but he wants to die because of what he is going through.
I don't think that God wants any of us to suffer, but is there sometimes a lesson in suffering? Do any of us have the right to end our suffering by taking our own lives? Likewise, if we consider euthanasia, does anyone have the right to end another's suffering by ending their life? I'm not talking about pulling the plug on life support, but I am referring to the direct action of killing another human being because they are suffering. Should death be the domain of God alone? I am not addressing the acts of killing in war or the death penalty, but some would show abhorrence to these actions, and yet condone acts of euthanasia or abortion. Do we ever have the right to take a life because someone is suffering physically, emotionally, financially, or for any other reason?
Teach me your way, O LORD,
and I will walk in your truth;
give me an undivided heart,
that I may fear your name.
I will praise you, O Lord my God, with all my heart;
I will glorify your name forever.
For great is your love toward me;
you have delivered me from the depths of the grave.
The arrogant are attacking me, O God;
a band of ruthless men seeks my life—
men without regard for you.
But you, O Lord, are a compassionate and gracious God,
slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness.
Turn to me and have mercy on me;
grant your strength to your servant
and save the son of your maidservant.
Give me a sign of your goodness,
that my enemies may see it and be put to shame,
for you, O LORD, have helped me and comforted me.
Psalm 86:11-17 (New International Version)