WEEKLY SUNDAY SCHOOL LESSON
An international Sunday school lesson commentary
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SEEING THE BIG PICTURE
(GOD is in control, even when we are frustrated with HIM)
In Jonah 4, we see the prophet throwing a major, adult-sized temper tantrum, storming out of the city of Nineveh, and sitting himself in the shade of a large leafy plant that GOD had provided for his protection from the blazing hot sun. There he literally sulked and pouted for the remainder of the day, and throughout the whole night.
Jonah was angered and very disturbed earlier by the fact, that, because of his preaching GOD’s message to the Ninevites, they had put an end to their evils ways and practices. God, as a result of their conversion, had granted them mercy and did not carry out HIS previous plan of judgment upon them. Jonah was angered, although he knew that this (leading people to salvation) was the GODly thing to do.
And so after his salvation mission was complete, Jonah complained bitterly to the LORD about HIS decision to grant the Assyrians, who were Israel’s enemies, HIS favor. In verses 2-3 Jonah laments; “Didn’t I say before I left home that YOU would do this, LORD? That is why I ran away to Tarshish! I knew that YOU were a gracious and compassionate GOD, slow to get angry and filled with unfailing love. I knew how easily YOU could cancel YOUR plans for destroying these people. Just kill me now, LORD! I’d rather be dead than alive because nothing I predicted is going to happen” (NLT).
However the LORD replied to Jonah’s anger and disappointment with this question, “Is it right for you to be angry about this? GOD continues to deal with HIS disgruntled prophet, and attempts to console his discomfort somewhat, by providing the large leafy plant, that, unbeknownst to Jonah, would later serve it purpose further, in “an object lesson” that is being prepared here in this passage (Vs.5-8) by the LORD.
After the LORD gave shade and comfort from the scorching sun to Jonah with the large leaves of this unidentified plant, Jonah was very grateful. However, here the LORD is just setting Jonah up for the lesson in “compassion” that he so sorely needed, because later HE would send a worm to eat at the stem of huge plant, causing it to die and wither away by morning.
As the sun rose the following day, and became hotter and hotter, the LORD then sends a scorching hot wind from the east to blow on Jonah causing him to grow very faint. Jonah became so uncomfortable that he felt that he was about to die, and in fact, he declared to the LORD that it was better that he did die (v.8b).
Just as GOD had asked Jonah earlier, “Is it right for you to be angry because the Ninevite’s lives were spared? Here HE poses a similar question to Jonah, “Is it right for you to be angry because the plant died? And Jonah’s replies “Yes, even angry enough to die!”
GOD then calls out Jonah’s failure to employ “GODly wisdom” to this situation, a wisdom which had been squelched by his emotion of “anger”. Here GOD ends this book of Jonah on a “cliffhanger” by saying to HIS angry prophet, “You feel sorry about the plant, though you did nothing to put it there. And a plant is only, at best, short lived. But Nineveh has more than 120,000 people living in spiritual darkness, not to mention all the animals. Shouldn’t I feel sorry for such a great (populous) city?” (NLT)
Here GOD exposes Jonah as a man who is ruled by his “emotions”, rather than being ruled by his “compassion”, a condition that “men of GOD” can’t afford to put themselves into. He has developed and nurtured an attitude that now leads him to believe that there are some people in this world, and animals, that deserve less mercy from GOD and man, than a single plant that may be here today, and gone tomorrow. He clearly, because of his lack of self control over his emotions, has pushed his priorities way out of the realm of GOD’s intended order for us to live by.
The lesson that GOD is trying to teach Jonah here is that, when we cause HIM to withdraw HIS favor from us, through our own ungratefulness, disobedience, and lack of compassion, we don’t have a right to be angry when we see GOD bestowing HIS grace and compassion upon someone else, who is more obedient than we are, even if HE bestows it upon someone we don’t necessarily like.
We cannot be sure whether or not this lesson was wasted on Jonah, because the book of Jonah ends without him ever responding to GOD’s final comments to him. However, as I said in the last commentary, Jonah was clearly at fault with his attitude of not wanting GOD’s Will and compassion to be demonstrated in the lives of others, even if he felt, through his lack of faith, that they might somehow harm him in the future. If we pray for GOD’s Will to be done, even in the lives of those we think might harm us, as Believers, we have to know that GOD, can and will, act on their heart for the better, and thus, remove us from the peril of their wicked intentions.
The book of Jonah has often been referred to as “the Gospel of Second Chances” because it clearly shows that when we know GOD, HE will not let us run away from obedience for too long. And sometimes, HE may have to place “great storms” in our lives, or “great fish” in our path, to get our attention. However, we can be thankful, because ultimately, our good and compassionate GOD always has our best interest at heart.
A Sunday school lesson by,
Larry D. Alexander