6 October 2010

Jonah 4

"God said to Jonah ... "You are concerned about the bush ... And should I not be concerned about Nineveh?'" (v.9-11)


To understand today's reading, you need to look at the story so far, especially Jonah 1 and 3. What was displeasing to Jonah was that the arch enemy - the people of Assyria - had now been accepted by God! It was that possibility that led Jonah to run away in the first place.

There is honesty in Jonah's prayer - just as there is in his prayer in chapter 2. God's "steadfast love" is something which Jonah recognised, even if he was not happy with it. It is a characteristic of God which permeates the Old Testament, not least in the Psalms (for example Psalm 107:1).

To use a non-biblical word, we might say that Jonah was grumpy! Once again he offered to die, but this time for his own sake, unlike the time on the boat when he offered his life for the sake of his fellow mariners (Jonah 1:12).

He set up camp to watch what was going to happen to Nineveh. The booth which he made for himself is a reminder of the booths in which God's people lived in the desert and during particular festivals (Leviticus 23:42-43).

Despite all this, God's steadfast love still extends to Jonah. God protected Jonah by providing a large fish (Jonah 1:17), and then provided a bush which grew up and provided shade from the sun. The result was a happy Jonah! But God's power over all things was shown by the appointing of a worm to kill the bush. Jonah's resumed anger seemed to be on behalf of the bush as well as himself.

However, God had used the rise and fall of the bush as a parable - a story with a meaning. If the bush was important to Jonah, then it shouldn't be surprising that Nineveh was important to God.

What became of Jonah we do not know, but God's steadfast love is amply demonstrated in the care for Nineveh as well as for Jonah.

To Ponder

How do you feel about God's behaviour towards Jonah?

Can you think of people today who might be perceived like the inhabitants of Nineveh? What do you think should happen to them?

Bible notes author

The Revd Stephen Burgess

Revd Stephen Burgess is chair of the York & Hull District of the Methodist Church. He initially trained as a chemist and after some years in industry and teaching served in two school chaplaincy appointments before becoming superintendent of the Cambridge Circuit and then moving to Yorkshire.