Jonah 4 – Garbage Prophet

Jonah 4 Bible with Endangered Species 88 Percent Cocoa Dark Chocolate

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Today’s PassageJonah 4

I’m pretty sure it wasn’t until I was in junior high that I discovered there was more Jonah after Nineveh’s repentance. You may have had a different experience, but it seemed children’s Bible stories always stopped short of the scene where Jonah gets bent out of shape over Nineveh’s non-destruction. Then again, I may be misremembering, or perhaps I somehow never realized that the guy in the picture books grousing about his dead plant was still Jonah. Either way, I’ve got my intro paragraph, so let’s look at the actual text.

This chapter marks the big reveal for Jonah’s motivations. At the outset, the text simply reported that Jonah received God’s message for Nineveh and straight-up left in the opposite direction, offering no insight into his inner world. But now that the city’s received the message, repented, and been spared, Jonah comes out with it: “In order to forestall this I fled to Tarshish, for I knew that You are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abundant in lovingkindness” (2). You can imagine him stomping, raging, shouting, “I knew it! I just knew you’d show them mercy! You’re so good and kind, you just had to go and not destroy them and pardon their wickedness!” Jonah wanted to see fire, but all he got was a city of penitents.

So he leaves Nineveh, finds a good vantage point overlooking the city, and sits himself down to watch, almost as if he’s hoping God will change his mind a second time and drop the hammer after all. While he’s out there, God gives him a plant for shade. But God quickly takes away the plant, and when the heat of the day rolls in, Jonah begs for the release of death, complaining, “Death is better to me than life” (8). It’s the second time Jonah’s expressed the sentiment. Whether he’s being deprived of the comfort of the plant or the satisfaction of watching an entire city writhe in the suffering of judgment, as soon as he loses the thing he wants, Jonah tells God, “I’m done here. There’s nothing more to live for, take me now.” And each time, as God asks him, “Do you have good reason to be angry?” (4, 9), the answer to the rhetorical question is: no, not really.

What makes a prophet a prophet? Just one thing: carrying a message from God to its intended recipients. It’s not about your résumé or qualifications. Jonah shows us that you can be a quitter, resentful, even depressive, and still be a prophet. One average Joe, one bitter and contemptuous Hebrew, got sent to the most wicked city of his day, and as a result, the city turned from its evil and got itself spared a terrible judgment.

All it takes is taking the message where it needs to go. God can use you to make a difference in the world, even if you’re an absolute garbage prophet.

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4 thoughts on “Jonah 4 – Garbage Prophet

  1. Dude, I wrote a personal essay on this, on how I am such a Jonah Ch. 4. I think it’s about a decade old now. I’ll try to dig it up for ya.
    On the note of children’s books, we actually have one which DOES cover Jonah getting all bent out of shape. But then it does make the editorial leap to say that Jonah learned a lesson about God’s mercy, whereas the Bible passage ends with God rebuking Jonah and we don’t know if he really learned anything or continued to be resentful. Interesting. But at least they didn’t gloss over that whole part.

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    1. I wonder if I’ve read that essay before? The topic seems vaguely familiar. I deliberately avoided calling Jonah a drama king in this post, because his reaction is a very human one, but at the end of the day, all that says is that we’ve all got some vine whines in us.

      I also debated whether to write about how super-weird the ending of Jonah is, and not just the sort of weird that doesn’t always make it into the children’s books. Not only does God’s final question to Jonah hang in the air unanswered, but he adds that phrase at the very end: “as well as many animals.” Somehow it’s significant to God that Nineveh is home to horses and goats and stuff too. It’s a bizarre, ineffable note to end on, and it leaves me scratching my head.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Jonah: A VeggieTales Movie shows it all. You can’t beat VeggieTales. :p

    “All it takes is taking the message where it needs to go. God can use you to make a difference in the world, even if you’re an absolute garbage prophet.” I like this. We are all garbage prophets.

    Liked by 1 person

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