Jonah 4:7-9 (The Message)
But then God sent a worm. By dawn of the next day, the worm had bored into the shade tree and it withered away. The sun came up and God sent a hot, blistering wind from the east. The sun beat down on Jonah’s head and he started to faint. He prayed to die: “I’m better off dead!” Then God said to Jonah, “What right do you have to get angry about this shade tree?” Jonah said, “Plenty of right. It’s made me angry enough to die!”
God uses two unlikely characters in this story. The first was a really big fish. The second is a little tiny worm. But it is apparently a very hungry worm! It eats into the tree, killing it from the inside out.
Worms are used in Old Testament imagery to illustrate the fragility and smallness of human beings, as in Psalm 22:7: “But I am a worm and not a man, scorned by everyone, despised by the people.” God uses this little creature to turn the shade tree into a lesson for Jonah. God wants to save Jonah from his own destructive nature.
We saw that he had been happy to have the tree over him, but, now that it is gone, Jonah has a surprising depth of attachment to the greenery that shaded him for only a few hours. “I’m better off dead!” he declares.
[Aaaaaaand, the Drama Queen award goes to: ………. The Prophet Jonah!!!]
Yes, the plant that provided relief from the sun is gone. But was there no other shade to be had? Of course not! There was an entire city within walking distance of Jonah’s location. But Jonah wants to sit and wallow and complain. It’s easy to picture him sulking next to the withered tree, arms crossed, and a big pout on his face.
God looks at this reluctant, obstinate prophet, and asks him:
“Do you think it is right for you to be angry about this?”
For most of us, if we were to hear this question coming out of the air, directly from God, we would think very, very, very carefully about our answer.
“Well, God… seeing as you’ve asked it in that way… let me think about it. Is it right for me to be angry about this? I guess… ummmmm… No?”
The Hebrew word for angry used here is hara, which can mean “to burn.” It refers to the “kindling” of anger, like the kindling of a fire that, once started, is hard to put out. Jonah boldly proclaims that, yes!, his burning anger is entirely appropriate. It’s such an ironic statement, given what Jonah had proclaimed about God in verse 4:2: “I knew that you are a God who is kind and shows mercy. You don’t become angry quickly, and you have great love.” In verse 1:9, Jonah had confessed to the sailors that he was a follower of this slow-to-anger God.
God has shown Jonah kindness, mercy, and love. God has not punished Jonah for his blatant rebellion. God did not give in to anger at Jonah’s sulky, resentful acceptance of God’s call to go to Nineveh.
And yet, Jonah cannot reciprocate.
When have you had a difficult time letting go of anger or bitterness?