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The Heart of God in the Heart of the Sea

Devotion Twenty Four

May 2, 2024

A Plant, a Worm, and a Prophet

Daniel Barta

After Jonah found himself a nice place to observe the outcome of Nineveh, God provided shade for him. He did so to "save [Jonah] from his discomfort" (Jon 4:6), otherwise the hot sun would have "beat down on [Jonah's] head" (Jon 4:8).

Recognizing the greatness of the plant's shade, Jonah's heart rejoiced over the plant. He was "exceedingly glad" on account of the plant and its comfort.

But God sent a worm to attack the plant. The worm successfully destroyed the plant and Jonah's head once again came under the intense heat of the hot sun. To make matters worse, God sent a "scorching east wind" (Jon 4:7). The result of God's activity left Jonah "faint" and weak.

In frustration and anger, Jonah "asked that he might die" (Jon 4:8a),

"It is better for me to die than to live." - Jonah 4:8b (ESV)

Just as God did in response to Jonah's displeasure with Nineveh's survival, God asked Jonah, "Do you do well to be angry?" (Jon 4:9). In response, Jonah stated decisively,

Yes, I do well to be angry, angry enough to die. - Jonah 4:9 (ESV)

God's Compassion Is an Expression of His Love

Many have pointed out the strangeness of this final chapter. Why did God send a plant and then take it away? Why did he highlight Jonah's dramatic response? What's the connection between Jonah's response to God's mercy toward Nineveh and his response to the destruction of the plant?

While I do not have a secret key to unlock the exhaustive significance of this text, I can say that this little episode highlights an important truth about compassion, pity and mercy. These do not co-exist in the hearts of self-interested human beings. Hearts centered on the self do not feel compassion towards others.

God pities sinners and moves quickly and energetically to work for their receiving mercy. He feels compassion in His heart over their condition and He feels sorrow over their destruction. This compassion and pity he feels flows from love.

The LORD's heart overflows with love. Love that seeks not its own interest but also the interest of others. So loving and so passionate about the good and interests of others, the LORD provided His own Son for man's salvation. From love, Jesus wept over the condition of sinful Jerusalem, and the bondage of humanity to death (John 11:35). It is not that God is loving and God is compassionate. Instead, God loves therefore He looks on with compassion.

Work Hard to Increase Love in the Heart

If then, we will be a people who show mercy and compassion to those in our city, we must first love our city. If we are unmoved in the heart as we look out and see the suffering and trouble of the city, we should conclude that our hearts lack love.

Jesus made this lesson plain in the story of the Good Samaritan. First, he called those gathered around him to love their neighbor, and then he told a story of an unlikely hero. This Good Samaritan, moved with compassion, worked to mercifully lift up a victim of abuse and thievery from off the side of the road. He, out of pity for the wounded, went out of his own way, spent his own money, and rearranged his own schedule to serve and care for troubled one.

A Samaritan, as he journeyed, came to where [the beaten and robbed man] was, and when he saw [the man], he had compassion. - Luke 10:33.

The connection cannot be overlooked. Love for neighbor and compassion felt at the sight of our neighbor's trouble stand together. The reason we feel no compassion and remain inactive is a lack of love in our hearts.

Like Jonah, we are too often so self-interested, lovers of self that we feel great sorrow and grief only when the thing destroyed (such as a plant giving us shade) affects us personally. We remain unmoved in the heart at the trouble of others because quite simply we do not love them.

So then, if we wish to see more compassion and mercy, we must work hard to foster, increase, and inflame love within our hearts and in the hearts of others. Among others' actions, we must pray that God fills our hearts with love. We must stare long at the love of God in Christ. We remember God's works. We must discipline ourselves to walk in love even when our hearts do not feel so loving. We must fight against sin and make war on the flesh, for they make war on love.

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