God’s Threefold Appointment

Previously, we looked at Jonah’s act of sinful defiance against God. Rather than humbly reflecting upon God’s word to him and repenting of his sinful anger, Jonah went out of the city, stationed himself at a safe distance from it, set up a tent, and sat under it to observe what would become of the city.

How did the Lord respond to Jonah’s defiance? He could have simply destroyed him, which would have been perfectly just. But He didn’t. Instead, He did three things in preparation for the lesson which He wanted Jonah to learn.

The first thing that God did is found in verse 6, “And the LORD God prepared a gourd, and made it to come up over Jonah, that it might be a shadow over his head, to deliver him from his grief. So Jonah was exceeding glad of the gourd.”

The tent that Jonah had earlier constructed for himself lasted only for a while in the oppressive Assyrian heat. The leaves on his tent must have withered and dropped off leaving Jonah exposed to the sun. The phrase “to deliver him from his grief” could be translated “to ease his discomfort” or “to shade him from his distress.” The average daily maximum temperature in Mesopotamia is about 43 degrees Celsius. You can imagine Jonah’s grief or discomfort or distress in that kind of heat.

But it’s very interesting to note that the Hebrew word translated “grief” can also mean wickedness or evil. Now it’s true that from the context, most probably, that word has reference to his discomfort or distress due to the effects of the sun, but I suspect that Hebrew readers, when they see it, might also be thinking about the concept of evil or wickedness.

Jonah needed to be delivered both from his heat problem as well as his problem of evil and unjustified anger. Interestingly enough, the word “angry” in Hebrew is also the word “heat.” Jonah was physically hot but he was also emotionally hot, and it was especially this second kind of heat, i.e. this evil anger, that Jonah needed to be delivered from.

Well how did the Lord deliver Jonah? Verse 6 says that He prepared a plant and made it come up over Jonah that it might provide shelter for him. Most likely, this was a fast-growing vine or climbing plant that grew up at the right time and at the right place to give Jonah renewed protection from the sun.  

It was not by chance that it grew up there and then. God was the one who prepared it or, if you like, He divinely commissioned the plant to shelter His prophet. The word “prepared” appeared earlier in chapter 1 verse 17, “Now the LORD had prepared a great fish to swallow up Jonah. And Jonah was in the belly of the fish three days and three nights.”

So the LORD prepared or appointed a great fish to swallow up Jonah in order to deliver him from drowning in the depths of the sea and to bring him back to dry land. Here in chapter 4, the LORD prepares or appoints a plant to deliver Jonah from dying of the intense heat. We are reminded again that the LORD is sovereign over all of His creation. The fish of the sea, the plants of the field and other objects of creation, as we shall see in a short while, are all under His absolute authority and control. And not only that, but He exercises His sovereignty over creation for the blessing and benefit of His people.

Well how did Jonah respond to the LORD’s appointment of a plant to shelter him? The last part of verse 6 says, “So Jonah was exceeding glad of the gourd.” Literally the text says, “So Jonah rejoiced over the gourd with a great rejoicing.” Not only was he relieved and glad, but he was deliriously glad and exceedingly happy about it.

For the first time in the book of Jonah, Jonah is described as being happy. We do not read that Jonah was exceedingly glad when he was delivered from certain death by the fish or when the whole city of Nineveh repented and turned to the Lord. But he is made exceedingly glad and joyful by a little plant.

I think many of us can appreciate, to some extent, the sense of relief and respite that a shelter brings after being out in very strong sunlight for even just a few minutes. If you haven’t tried that, you should! Stand in the hot sun for five minutes and then step back into the shade. The contrast is great and so too is the sense of relief. 

But more than just shelter from the sun, I think Jonah was exceedingly glad because he thought that the miraculous plant growth was an indication that God approved of what he was doing, namely, that it was right for him to wait and see the city destroyed, and that his anger was indeed justified.

But Jonah’s exceeding joy was short-lived. We read in verses 7 and 8, “But God prepared a worm when the morning rose the next day, and it smote the gourd that it withered. And it came to pass, when the sun did arise, that God prepared a vehement east wind; and the sun beat upon the head of Jonah, that he fainted, and wished in himself to die, and said, It is better for me to die than to live.”

This is the second thing which the Lord prepared or appointed in this chapter. The One who appointed a plant to provide shelter is also the One who appointed a worm to destroy that plant and with it the shelter that it provided. God commissioned a worm the next morning to attack the plant such that it withered in a very short time. Most probably, the worm chewed at the stem and that action together with the very harsh conditions totally killed the plant.

Then when the sun arose, the LORD prepared something else to intensify the heat. He appointed a vehement east wind. This is the third thing that the Lord prepares or appoints for Jonah in this chapter. It was bad enough that Jonah had lost his precious shade in this unrelenting desert environment. The Lord added to his misery by sending this extremely hot and drying wind from the east.

The combination of intense sun and scorching wind was too much for Jonah to bear. He was struck down with heat exhaustion or perhaps even heat stroke and he grew faint. He felt his life ebbing away. And so for the second time in this chapter, he expressed his desire to die. The phrase “and wished in himself to die” is exactly the same as what was said of the prophet Elijah while he sat under the juniper tree. Jonah felt that it was better for him to die than to live.

What a miserable state he had fallen into! But once again, the Lord did not grant Jonah’s request to die. Instead, He used all the events of the past few days to teach Jonah an important lesson, which we shall consider in the next article.

—Linus Chua