God knows how to deal with grown-up temper tantrums. After listening to the pathetic rant of His rebellious, hard-hearted prophet, God simply poses a question to Jonah, “Do you do well to be angry?” (verse 4). God wants Jonah to explain his ridiculous behavior, fully knowing that he cannot. So how does Jonah answer God’s question? In Jonah 4:5 we see that Jonah doesn’t even try to answer God. Instead, we see a lot of movement from Jonah and this characterizes Jonah: God speaks, Jonah walks away. He “went out of the city and sat to the east of the city and made a booth for himself there. He sat under it in the shade, till he should see what would become of the city.” Now, we all know what Jonah is doing in this make-shift covering. He’s still hoping that Nineveh is going to be destroyed, and he wants a first-row seat to witness it.
But God isn’t going to let Jonah off the hook. He once again takes this pouty prophet to task and in verse 6 God does this through a test involving a plant. As Jonah sits under his makeshift hut, God grows a plant to come up over the hut “that it might be a shade over his head, to save him from his discomfort.” Jonah is, after all, in the middle of a desert. It’s hot. There is no relief. But now, the God who is too gracious and compassionate according to Jonah provides shade, and this makes Jonah “exceedingly glad.” This is what God does for Jonah. Despite the prophet’s arrogance and sin, God still demonstrates compassion on him.
Now, notice how the author sets up a contrast in Jonah in his joyful response. Earlier in verse 1, he was incredibly displeased, but when this plant provides some extra shade, he is happy beyond measure. Jonah’s two distinct reactions reveal that he is both self-centered and ethno-centric. His comfort is all that matters.
Having made His point (both to Jonah and now to us as the readers), God turns on the heat both literally and metaphorically. In Jonah 4:7-8, as Jonah is sleeping, God “appointed a worm” to kill the plant and then, to add insult to injury, He “appointed a scorching east wind” that actually made everything feel hotter. This wind does not feel good. Instead, it increases the heat index. Then, God causes the sun to “beat down on the head of Jonah so that he was faint.” This trifactor breaks the prophet down. But instead of going back into the city for refreshment, Jonah begs God again for death. For he would much rather die than seek the aid of the very people he wishes were also dead.
Do you see that God is testing Jonah? God Himself will explain the purpose of this test in the following verses (verses 9 through 11). But for now it will suffice to say that God is pushing Jonah to his limits to reveal to the prophet the absurdity of his heart. This is an important lesson for us today and one that should make us stop and think about the difficulties in our life. We are so quick to label suffering as spiritual warfare, as some ploy by the devil to “bring us down”. But many times, the devil might not have anything to do with your current problems. For Jonah, his struggle in the desert is his own fault: he has been proud and disobedient and now God is putting him through trials to learn a lesson. If this happens to Jonah, why should we not think that God does similar things to us? We are sinners. We sin. Constantly. We care more about ourselves than others. We prefer to follow our own hearts than die to self to follow God’s commands. Is it no wonder that God tests and tries us? Is it no surprise that He tries to hold up mirrors – difficult, prickly and painful mirrors – to our lives so that we can humble ourselves, repent and turn from our sinful ways? The next time you go through a difficult time, the next time you feel as if your “shade” has been stripped from you, the next time you feel “the heat” beating down on you, stop and consider your life. Take time to confess and repent from sin. There may be something that God is trying to show you.