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God’s Word for You

Jonah 4:7-8 God sent a worm to attack

by Pastor Timothy Smith on Thursday, January 10, 2019

7 But the next day at dawn, God sent a worm to attack the leafy vine, and it withered.  8 Then, when the sun rose, God sent a scorching east wind. The sun beat down on Jonah’s head, and he grew faint. He asked for death, saying, “Death would be better for me than to go on living.”

Through another miracle, God caused the leafy vine to be destroyed by an obedient worm. God didn’t do this to punish Jonah, but to open his eyes to his place in God’s kingdom. “I struck all the work of your hands,” God told his people, “with blight, mildew hail, and yet you did not turn to me” (Haggai 2:17).

Like the whale, the worm was an ordinary creature used by God for this specific purpose. Again like the whale, the worm was perhaps given guidance by God or his angels to accomplish the specific task God had planned. In the case of the whale, it was (1) to swallow Jonah before he drowned, (2) not to digest the prophet, and (3) to regurgitate the prophet in such a place that he was near enough to the road to Nineveh as to be able to carry out his mission. In the case of the worm, the Lord made sure (1) that the worm waited until the morning to chew through the plant, and (2) to chew through the plant completely so that Jonah was altogether deprived of its shade.

The east wind was the second wind sent by God, for he had done that before when the prophet was running from the Lord. The sun beating down on his head is also an echo of the waters covering his head as he sank beneath the waves, so that we have a kind of chiasm of opposites in Jonah:

α. God speaks
β. Jonah goes west to avoid God’s assignment
  γ. The Lord sends a windstorm
  δ. Jonah’s head is covered by water
  ε. An animal (whale) consumes Jonah
    ζ. Jonah prays for help & describes the seaweed
    η. God speaks / Jonah obeys the Lord
    ζ. Jonah preaches and then (β.) goes east; there is a vine
  ε. An animal (worm) consumes the vine
  δ. Jonah’s head is heated by the sun
  γ. The Lord sends a windstorm
α. God speaks

Once again, Jonah thinks death would be better than living in a world in which God is gracious. His attitude is so outrageous that we are led to look back up at the “chiasm of opposites” I just proposed to answer the question: Was Jonah even a believer at the end of the book? The answer, of course, is yes. Jonah was not writing his book as he sat there grumbling to the east of Nineveh while a sandstorm howled in his ears. A prophet of God, he wrote down his experience in the book before us and, like a true Hebrew poet, he placed the key passage in the middle of his book rather than at the end. We see this in some very important parts of the Bible:

In the gospel half of Isaiah (chapters 40-66), we find the crucifixion of Jesus in the center. “But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed” (Isaiah 53:5).

In the book of Job, in the middle of his three friends’ accusations, Job makes his great confession of faith: “I know that my redeemer lives, and that in the end he will stand upon the earth. And after my skin has been destroyed, yet in my flesh I will see God; I myself will see him with my own eyes—I, and not another. How my heart yearns within me!” (Job 19:25-27).

In the center of Lamentations, Jeremiah sets aside his mourning for a brief glimpse of the gospel’s daylight: “For men are not cast off from the Lord forever. Though he brings grief, he will show compassion, so great is his unfailing love” (Lamentations 3:31-32).

In the prophetic part of Habakkuk (the first two chapters), the prophet is given the answer to his complaints by God in a passage so powerful that it serves as the theme verse for Paul’s letters to the Romans (Romans 1:17) and Galatians (Galatians 3:11): “But the righteous will live by faith” (Habakkuk 2:4).

The second section of Proverbs, “The Proverbs of Solomon” (Proverbs 10:1-22:16) has as its middle verse, “Commit to the LORD whatever you do; and your plans will succeed” (Proverbs 16:3).

There are many other examples of this kind of centering (2 Samuel 22:25; Psalm 69:18, 106:23, 111:5b, and often in the Psalms). For those who struggle with whether Jonah was a believer at the end of the book, the more important question is to ask, was Jonah a repentant believer later, when he wrote the book and at the end of his life? He was certainly human, a man of contradictions and subject to a fiery temper. He wanted God’s mercy for himself but not for other people. He expected that God’s plans would always go along exactly with the way he saw the world. Jonah was a lot like you and me. By grace he was a redeemed child of God, forgiven for all his rebellious ways and his contrary attitude. He knew his Savior, and he put his trust in God. At the center of his book (just 48 verses long) is a reminder to us all of our place in God’s kingdom: “When my life was fading away, I remembered you, LORD, and my prayer rose to you, to your holy temple” (Jonah 2:7). By the grace of God, even when we think death would be better than life, God offers to us a life beyond our imaginations. He covers over our sins, and grants us everlasting life with him in heaven.

In Christ,
Pastor Timothy Smith

Pastor Tim SmithAbout Pastor Timothy Smith
Pastor Smith serves St. Paul’s Lutheran Church in New Ulm, Minnesota. His wife, Kathryn, attended the Chapel from 1987-1990 while studying Secondary Education (Theater and Math) at UW-Madison. Kathryn’s father, John Meyer, was also the first man to serve as a Vicar at Chapel.

To receive God’s Word for You via e-mail, please contact Pastor Smith.



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