Taking it In
All by himself, Jonah would like to overturn God’s redemption in and through Nineveh and prevent it, which is interesting, because God provides a shrub of sorts to provide Jonah shade, or protection, during this time. Perhaps God is giving Jonah a comfortable seat to counteract the discomfort of what God is about to do. The growth of the shrub contrasts with the construction of the booth which Jonah built for himself and also harkens back to God “providing” a fish, too. You may be wondering at this point, “why does Jonah need a booth and a shrub for shade?” If you Google a picture of a sukkah you’ll notice it doesn’t have a roof, at least not a solid one. So there’s that. But the bigger point is that the walls of Jerusalem that the returning exiles would rebuild one day are necessary for Israel’s protection from invaders. Yet, the city itself doesn’t have a roof to go with those walls. At some point, even the most protected and fortified Jerusalem is only a bunch of mud bricks without the “shade,” or protection, of God. Though God’s love is absolutely free, that protection is only cultivated in and through faithful obedience based on that love on the daily. This shrub is Jonah’s protection but it is also, like the fish, a means to his salvation. On a very concrete level, it delivers him from the heat of the sun. Even more so, however, and more to the point of the story as a whole, this description of shade from the shrub is also the protection of the people of God from all her enemies be they spiritual or physical. God’s shade liberates as well as protects. This shrub is different from the fish and from even the hut because Jonah can feel its protection and it makes him happy, we are told, for the first time in the story. As wayward as he is at this point in the story, he can still recognize and enjoy a good gift of God even if it’s just for a minute, because once again God throws a mean curveball. The Lord giveth the shrub and the Lord taketh away. God is still working on Jonah and so instead of striking him dead like Jonah wished, God once again “provided,” this time a worm that attacked the shrub and killed it and after that, a fierce wind that will reach Jonah way before it gets to Nineveh. If you remember back to the beginning of our journey with Jonah, the wind has already played a big part and we likened it to “spirit,” as the Hebrew word for “wind” implies. Something is brewing here and God is moving again, we just aren’t sure what is going to come of it, or Jonah in the process. And it comes across as more than he can bear.
Working it Out
We can build but we cannot grow. Art is the work of human hands. Nature, on the other hand, is the work of God. We plant, and water, but God gives the growth as Paul says in 1 Corinthians 3:6. In the end, the only reliable protection we have is from God who pitches a booth, too, and dwells among us (Revelation 7:15-16). However, like Jonah, God is always going to work on us too no matter how “protected” we think we are. When God took away the shade of the tree, God was attacking Jonah. But, of course, God doesn’t attack the beloved children out of violence or aggression. No. God was attacking Jonah’s pride and inflated sense of religious ego. Yahweh is turning Jonah into a servant who sees things Yahweh’s way much like Yahweh does to us consistently. And many times, we have the same reaction as Jonah does. We ask for something we think is good. In Jonah’s case he thought it would be better to just die instead of live and that would be good for him. And again, these are the same words spoken by Elijah while he was sitting under a tree, too (1 Kings 19:4). But the outcomes are at extreme odds. Elijah was obedient. Jonah was not. God was working on both of them, but it took a drastic action to try and get through to Jonah. So, where are we? Are we asking God to rescue us because we have been obedient, or, are we asking God to rescue us from ourselves because we haven’t? This sets Elijah and Jonah apart and if we stop and reflect, it might just set us apart from our mistaken and misguided views of God and God’s mission in the world. Either road leads to the need to pick up our cross and crucify our pride. It comes down to if we carry our cross voluntarily or if we are trying our best to put it on other people so we don’t have to confront our own ugliness inside.