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Get the Big Picture

Jonah 4:9-11 - Then God said to Jonah, "Do you have good reason to be angry about the plant?" And he said, "I have good reason to be angry, even to death." Then the Lord said, "You had compassion on the plant for which you did not work, and which you did not cause to grow, which came up overnight and perished overnight. And should I not have compassion on Nineveh, the great city in which there are more than 120,000 persons who do not know the difference between their right and left hand, as well as many animals?"

If possible, read the whole book of Jonah before proceeding.

The little book of Jonah in the Old Testament is more than just the historical record of a Jewish prophet who was swallowed by a big fish. It is the Word of God! Because it is Scripture it is packed full of lessons for the growing Christian. As God worked with His servant Jonah many years ago, so He works with His servants today. All growing Christians are servants of the Lord.

In the first three chapters of the book we find that Jonah disobeyed the Lord by running away from a job that the Lord wanted him to do. Instead of preaching to the wicked city of Nineveh as God commanded, Jonah sailed away towards Tarshish, a city at least 2500 miles in the opposite direction. But God in His disciplining love brought Jonah back. We know that the return trip was quite traumatic for Jonah, but that's usually the way it is. When God's servants disobey, the return to obedience is often through discipline.

Jonah was recommissioned (3:1) and preached boldly at Nineveh, that great capital city of the ancient Assyrian Empire. The result was one of the greatest "revivals" in history. From the king on down (3:5), the people of Nineveh repented of their evil ways, and God withheld His judgment. Nineveh was spared for approximately another 150 years until overthrown by Babylon in 612 B.C. By the way, what we learn of God in the book of Jonah is a far cry from the misinformed idea that the God of the Old Testament was a cruel, vindictive God who limited His grace to the Jewish people. No way! The story of Jonah is just one example of the fact that the love of God extended well beyond the borders of Israel to the pagan nations of the ancient world.

As we come to chapter 4 we are surprised to find that Jonah is really uptight! Instead of being elated over the results of his ministry, Jonah is very angry (4:1). Why? Because Jonah doesn't really want the mercy of the Lord extended to Nineveh (4:2). After all, these Assyrians are the arch-enemies of Israel. (The Assyrians are known to have been one of the most cruel of the ancient peoples in warfare.) Jonah would rather see his warning and pronouncing of judgment realized. Let those Assyrians get what's coming to them! They deserve to go to Hell without any mercy! Is it possible that we feel this way about some people whom God loves? What about the thousands who are in prison in this country--even murderers?

Jonah is so upset with God that he wants to die (4:3). Have you ever been so frustrated and angry with the circumstances in your life that you felt the same way? God wants us to be mature servants, but many times we act like children--selfish, spoiled, and shortsighted. Jonah pouts all the way out of the city and sets up some kind of makeshift observation post (4:5) in hopes that maybe, just maybe, God will still destroy Nineveh--maybe even send fire from heaven. "Burn, baby burn!" expresses Jonah's attitude quite well at this point!

Because of Jonah's bad attitude, God has to reprove his servant, and that's what the rest of chapter 4 is all about. Jonah's problem here is not his problem in chapter 1. There is no willful and blatant disobedience--just a poor attitude and lack of maturity. Jonah doesn't have to go through the storm and fish experience again, but he does need to be reproved. God wants Jonah to grow up and get the big picture--God's view of the whole situation. Many times the Lord must reprove His servants today because of our bad attitude and immaturity.

In verses 6-8 we see the Lord giving Jonah an object lesson in order to help His servant visualize his own problem and see how selfish his attitude really is. First a shade plant grows up, under which Jonah can sit in comfort while he waits for the "fireworks." "This is really great," Jonah says to himself (4:6). But then the Lord has a worm come along the next day and destroy the very plant that God Himself had given for Jonah's comfort. When the hot eastern sun comes up, Jonah is ready to throw in the towel again (4:8). He is so depressed he even "begged the Lord with all his soul" to take his life.

How easy it is to see ourselves in Jonah through all this. When we are not right with the Lord our feelings run like a roller coaster. One day we're way up and "extremely happy" (4:6), but the next day we're down in the depths, feeling sorry for ourselves and wishing we were dead (4:8). Such very small things (a little worm) can ruin our whole day--a B+ instead of an A-; a scratch on our car or furniture; an empty mailbox; a small tear in our new sweater; a rainy day! God wants His servants to grow up and get the big picture--His viewpoint! As in the case of Jonah, the Lord often gives us things that we don't deserve for our own comfort--perhaps He even lets us have something we had our hearts set on. We become really happy and even take this blessing as a sign of God's approval on our lives and actions. But it may not be a sign of God's approval at all. It may be part of a lesson that God wants to teach us, or it may be just the goodness of God to undeserving servants. Everything we have is only by the goodness of God anyway. But, like Jonah, how often we get upset if the Lord takes away any of our little comforts! We act like spoiled and selfish children. We can't seem to see that "the Lord gives and the Lord takes away," and He has a very good reason for doing so which we may never fully understand in this lifetime. (See Job 1:21.) God may take away a comfortable job or an easy schedule or even a person we like to have near us. When the Lord takes something from us let us patiently look for the lesson He may have for us instead of getting angry and resentful with God who has the big picture.

The Lord drives home the point of His object lesson to Jonah in verses 9-11 and it goes something like this: "Jonah, why are you so uptight about that plant? Can you give me one good reason? Can't you see that you're being selfish and short-sighted? You're so concerned about that one plant, Jonah, but I'm concerned about 120,000 people. Don't you see that these people are mine, Jonah? I made them. I love them. I don't want them to perish! Jonah, you're not even concerned about the many animals that would be destroyed, never mind the people! My dear servant Jonah, I love you, but please grow up and get the big picture!"

What a lesson for us growing Christians! So often we get hung up on the incidentals while the world around us is perishing. We're more interested in our room than our roommate; our bonus than our boss; our touchdown than our teammate; our fun than our family. How it must hurt God to see His children so interested in the "toys" He has given them that they are insensitive to the needs of others. Let us grow up and see things from the perspective of our Heavenly Father.

Did Jonah learn the lesson? He must have, because he wrote the book! It takes a big man to write about his own obstinacy and immaturity. In fact, our Lord refers to Jonah as a great prophet (Luke 11:32). Yes, Jonah learned the lesson which God is constantly trying to teach us: Grow up and get the big picture.
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