THE RELUCTANT PROPHET

Read: Jonah 4 

Reflect: I love the character “Pig-Pen” from the comic strip Peanuts.  Charles M. Schultz, the creator, described Pig-Pen as “a human soil bank who raises a cloud of dust on a perfectly clean street and passes out gumdrops that are invariably black.” In one strip, Pig-Pen cleans himself up for a party, but the other Peanuts characters do not let him in because they can’t recognize him. 

In some ways, Jonah in chapter 3 also became unrecognizable.  Afterall, he had been bleached by fish stomach acids for three days, was covered with seaweed, and the stench of dead fish followed him.  It’s possible that Jonah also changed internally, at least for a short time.  He obeyed God. The obedient Jonah is the opposite of the Jonah who ran off to Tarshish. 

And then we arrive at Jonah 4.  While in the fish, Jonah had tearfully prayed, “But with the voice of thanksgiving I will sacrifice to You; what I have vowed I will pay. Salvation belongs to the Lord!” That lovely prayer seems to evaporate after Jonah hits dry land.  How do we know this? Jonah preaches, the city repents, God spares Nineveh and Jonah is enraged.  As dirt was instantly attracted to Pig-Pen, so a sinful heart was magnetized to Jonah. Instead of giving God the glory for the revival, Jonah is angry. The prayer Jonah now utters is a complaint, “God! I knew it—when I was back home, I knew this was going to happen! That’s why I ran off to Tarshish! I knew you were sheer grace and mercy, not easily angered, rich in love, and ready at the drop of a hat to turn your plans of punishment into a program of forgiveness! “So, God, if you won’t kill them, kill me! I’m better off dead!” 

Former fish-food Jonah is furious at God for showing the Ninevites mercy, even though God’s mercy had kept Jonah from drowning in the depths of the sea. In his tantrum, Jonah leaves the city and gives himself a front row seat, still hoping God will change His mind and rain fire and brimstone on Nineveh.   

The front seat turns into a hot seat.  The sun is oppressive. Jonah is overjoyed when “God designated a plant, and it grew up over Jonah to be a shade over his head, to relieve him of his discomfort.”  This is the first time Jonah is ever described as happy.  That’s pretty sad.  He’s not jubilant that lives have been saved; he is just happy regarding his personal comfort. He doesn’t recognize the shade plant as another act of mercy shown by a gracious God.  

Our guy falls to pieces when a worm is sent from God to eat the plant that shades Jonah.  Jonah begs with all his soul to die, saying, “Death is better to me than life!” And that is the landscape of the heart of the Bible’s version of Pig-Pen, the reluctant prophet whose heart is just as rebellious as the Ninevites Jonah had been sent to. God sums up Jonah’s attitude by saying, “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?” The darkness in Jonah’s heart is laid bare.  

There is a scene in “The Peanuts Movie” of a school dance Pig-Pen is attending. Accidentally the water sprinklers go off.  Pig-Pen is briefly cleansed by the water fall and that prompts his dancing partner, Patty, to look at him and ask, “Do I know you?”  

Apply: This begs the question, where is your own heart right now?  Does it resemble self-righteous Jonah, the one who resented a loving merciful God? Or does it resemble the Jonah who we hope eventually responded to God’s question and finally repented, realizing he was no better than the people he was sent to preach to.  Are you the person who wants to be so changed by God that others will say, “Do I know you?”

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