Imagine going to a theater and watching a play, and seeing one of the bit players—someone with a mere couplet to recite—who attempts to upstage the star of the show. He stands in front of the lead actor, and says much more than he’s been given to say. He frolicks and jumps and makes a complete buffoon of himself in a sordid attempt to be the star of the show. Eventually, security escorts him off the stage and the play goes on, uninterrupted. If Shakespeare was right that all of life’s a stage and we are merely players, the star of this show is the love of God. Why do we bit players always insist on making it about ourselves?
1This displeased Jonah greatly, and he became very angry.
2And he prayed to the LORD and said, “Ah, LORD! Was this not my word when I was in my land? Therefore I acted before to flee to Tarshish because I know that You are merciful and compassionate, slow to anger, and abounding in loyal love, and Who relents of calamity.”
3And now, LORD, take my life from me, because it is better to die than to live.
4And the LORD said, “Are you really so very angry?”
5Then Jonah left the city and sat down east of it. He made a shelter for himself there and sat down under it in the shade to see what would happen to the city.
6And the LORD God appointed a little plant and caused it to grow over Jonah to be shade over his head, to rescue him from his misery. Now Jonah rejoiced greatly about the little plant.
7The LORD God appointed a worm at dawn the next day, and it struck the little plant, so that it dried up.
8When the sun began to shine, the LORD appointed a hot east wind. So the sun beat down on Jonah’s head and he became faint. So he despaired of life, and asked said “It is better to die than to live.”
9And the LORD said to Jonah, “Are you so very angry about the little plant?” He said, “I am as angry as I can be!”
10The LORD said, “You had pity on the little plant, for which you did not work, nor did you make it grow. It grew overnight and died the next day.
11Should I not pity Ninevah, that great city that has more than 120,000 people in it who do not know right from wrong—and also many animals?”
Jonah is an earlier prophet; he is writing just prior to the Assyrian captivity, and consequently still has a homeland. His story is interesting on many levels, but perhaps the most forgotten one is his own ego. This is not really a story about redemption, although he and the Assyrians receive it. It is not really a story about miraculous deliverance, though he and the Assyrians receive that. It is a story about one man’s narcissism and how God was able to demonstrate His love to mankind despite it. We note that God calls Jonah to warn the vicious foreigners, the Assyrians, in chapter 1. As a Jew, Jonah would no doubt have loved to have seen this people destroyed by God. For whatever reason, he refuses God’s call and runs away. God is not Someone Who can be escaped, so He gets Jonah’s attention through a harrowing experience in the deep (2). Jonah’s poem after being spit out on dry land is telling inasmuch as it is a confession of his own weakness and God’s sovereignty and strength. He praises God for rescuing him from the depths of Sheol, and he is fired up about going to preach God’s word to the Assyrians. A surprising thing happens, though: the Assyrians repent of their sins after hearing his preaching, and they become YHWH-fearers. This is too much for Jonah: he had thought that he was going to be powerful prophet of destruction and a violent representative of the frightening Creator. His anger and disappointment in chapter 4 represent the most anticlimactic ending to any story in the Bible; there is no easy resolution to Jonah’s attitude problem. But the overarching theme of all scripture shines through as the reader sees God’s love for mankind—even a bitter, Gentile enemy of God’s people. God demonstrated His love toward the Assyrians despite Jonah’s prejudice and hatred. The point of the prophecy exercise was to save the Assyrians, not destroy them. Jonah wanted the story to be about him, and it was really about God.
We know about as much of God’s plan as Jonah. We don’t’ understand much of what He is doing, and the more we try to figure it out the worse our attitude can frequently get. What is often forgotten in the ego-driven haze of our own personal rescue is that God feels that way about everybody. He wants everyone to be saved. He has kept you alive on this side of eternity to help bring others to Him. It’s true that He loves you, and pursued you even though He needn’t. It’s true that His great love for you rescued you from a terrible fate. But it’s also true that He feels that way about those around you. The lost people in your life need Jesus, and your existence here on earth is all about that. It’s not about the work you do to provide for yourself or your family. It’s about the love He has for your neighbors.
Chapter 4 tells us that Jonah sat down and pouted angrily. How are we any different when we bury ourselves in our own lives while the lost continue on, Savior-less? This show wasn’t about you after all; it was always about Him and His great love. You’re not the star; you’re merely playing a bit role that He’s given you. Play it and demonstrate His love to others. His love is the real star of the show.