Jonah 4:6 – 8 “Then the LORD God provided a vine and made it grow up over Jonah to give shade for his head to ease his discomfort, and Jonah was very happy about the vine. But at dawn the next day God provided a worm, which chewed the vine so that it withered. When the sun rose, God provided a scorching east wind, and the sun blazed on Jonah’s head so that he grew faint. He wanted to die, and said, ‘It would be better for me to die than to live.'”
When I was a little girl, my pastor, Brother Bennie, provided an object lesson. Using a hammer, he pounded nails into an old board. “Those nails are like sin, and the board represents our lives,” he said. Then, he used the claw end of the hammer to remove the nails. He pointed to the holes in the board. “God can take away our sin. But we often have to live with the scars that sin leaves behind.”
I’ve been in church, hearing preaching and teaching for decades. But that one little object lesson stands out in my mind above other, more academic lessons. Why? Because object lessons work. They are simple, concrete, and they paint a picture for us.
God is the Creator of object lessons, and He used one here with Jonah. He gave the pouting prophet a vine for shade. Then He took it away.
Jonah rejoiced over a silly, soul-less vine. Then he was distressed, even devastated, when the vine died. Yet, he didn’t give a hoot about the people of Nineveh, who were trapped in a miserable existence and were destined for eternal death.
We can shake our heads and point our fingers at Jonah’s shallow, superficial values. Yet, I am just as guilty. I was frantic when my daughter’s pet rabbit was lost. I even prayed that the rabbit would be found, and rejoiced when the pet was located, all safe and sound. I mourn when one of my plants dies. Yet, I have friends and neighbors all around me who don’t know the One who can give them life. Like the Ninevites, they are trapped in a miserable existence, and are destined for eternal death.
And I do nothing. I show more concern over a pet or a plant than I do for people.
I’m not saying that we shouldn’t love our animals or care for our plants. But friends, shouldn’t we be most concerned about the people who are all around us, who need God? Shouldn’t our hearts break? Shouldn’t we be on our knees for them?
I’m glad God is a patient, gentle teacher. I’m glad He takes the time to teach us things in simple, concrete ways, so that we can “get it.” God used the vine to gently redirect Jonah’s focus, and to get his attention. Then, he invited Jonah back into the conversation (v. 9).
I don’t know about you, but I think I need to reevaluate my priorities. I need to make sure my values are in line with God’s values. While I will continue to love the sweet, non-human blessings God has placed in my life, I must be sure that people are always my first priority.
Dear Father, Thank You for making me – and all people – Your first priority. Help me to reflect that love and compassion for those around me.