I live in a small rural community where people often burn brush, trash, and other debris that they do not want to take the time to dispose of. It is common in the summer and fall to drive past houses where dark clouds of smoke are billowing from the back...
Jonah went out and sat down at a place east of the city. There he made himself a shelter, sat in its shade and waited to see what would happen to the city (Jonah 4:5).
Put yourself in Jonah’s shoes. You just visited Ninevah, one of the worst places in the world, and God showed mercy to its people. You did not think it was possible, but that’s what happened! Now, you are filled with resentment, and you are feeling miserable. You are not happy about life. You are on your own, sitting in the desert sand, just a few miles east of a city you really don’t like.
The sun is beating down on you, so you decide to make a shelter. You don’t have much you can use in the desert—a few stones, some water, and some sand—enough to make some mud bricks. So, when you put it all together, it’s not much of a shelter. Then God steps in:
Then the Lord God provided a vine and made it grow up over Jonah to give shade for his head to ease his discomfort (Jonah 4:6).
God is good. He saw how miserable Jonah was, and he gave him a special gift to ease his discomfort. This vine in the desert was a wonderful expression of the kindness of God.
Notice Jonah’s reaction: “And Jonah was very happy about the vine” (v6). I can imagine Jonah looking at his man-made, baked clay shelter, and then looking at the marvelous mass of green foliage on the vine, saying, “God’s shelter is much better than mine.”
The vine brought comfort, joy, and blessing to Jonah. What is your vine? What brings you comfort, joy, and blessing? Have you had success in business? It is a gift from God. Do others speak well of you? That is a gift from God. Have you enough money to spend some on your pleasure? That is a gift from God. Thank God for the vine.
But at dawn the next day God provided a worm, which chewed the vine so that it withered (Jonah 4:7).
Jonah woke up ready for another day of comfort joy and blessing under the vine that has made him so happy, only to find that the vine has been chewed up and withered. One day the vine brought comfort, joy, and blessing into Jonah’s life. The next day the worm brought sorrow, loss, and disappointment.
What is your worm? What is the source of sorrow, loss, and disappointment in your life right now?
You marry in the confident expectation of having children, but a child is not born. God gives you children, but then they grow up and leave, and it feels like there is an enormous hole at the center of your world. The one you love is taken from you.
You build a business and it is a source of blessing, but as times change, it becomes a burden. Your ministry sees evangelistic success. It grows like the vine, but then the worm comes and destroys all the good work you have been doing.
The worm provides a helpful picture of those times when you fall back into an old sin after you thought you had victory over it. The victory made you happy like the vine, but then it gets chewed up by the worm of a fresh failure. Your victory has withered. And then it gets worse—
When the sun rose, God provided a scorching east wind, and the sun blazed on Jonah’s head so that he grew faint (Jonah 4:8).
Try to put yourself in Jonah’s shoes again. He may have thought: “The sand is blowing into my face. The sun is beating down on my head. God, if you are going to take my vine, you might have done it on a cool day.”
The vine brought comfort, joy, and blessing. The worm brought sorrow, loss, and disappointment. The wind brought affliction, pain, and distress.
What is your east wind? What in your life is causing you affliction, pain, and distress?
The Surprising Truth About the Worm and the Wind
The vine, the worm, and the wind: Which of these comes from God? Notice what the Bible says: God provided the vine (4:6), God provided the worm (4:7), and God provided the scorching east wind (4:8). It’s the same word that is used in each verse. Jonah wants us to understand: “God’s hand was as much in the worm and the wind as it was in the vine.”
God was working as much in the wind that brought affliction, pain, and distress and in the worm that brought sorrow, loss, and disappointment as he was in the vine that brought comfort, joy, and blessing.
God uses each of them for our sanctification.
But the Lord provided a great fish to swallow Jonah, and Jonah was inside the fish three days and three nights (Jonah 1:17).
Notice Jonah used the same word “provided,” back in chapter 1 as he used in chapter 4, verses 6, 7, and 8! The God who saved Jonah by providing a great fish now sanctifies Jonah by providing a vine, a worm, and a scorching east wind.
It’s good to learn these two important Bible words: Justification is how God forgives us through Jesus. Sanctification is how God makes us like Jesus. The first is a one-time event, the second is a continuous process. How does God do sanctification in our lives?
God provides for our sanctification through gifts that bring joy, trials that bring sorrow, and experiences that bring pain. The fish is God’s fish, the vine is God’s vine, the worm is God’s worm, and the wind is God’s wind.
Now it’s easy to see why God provided the vine. God is good. All good gifts come from him, but why did God send the worm and the wind? What possible good can come in my life from the worm and the wind?
God used the worm and the wind to save Jonah from a vine-centered life. A vine-centered person is one who is so taken up with the joys and blessings of God’s vines in this life that he comes to love his gifts more than the God who gives them.
God’s vines often mask our problems.
“Do you have a right to be angry about the vine?” “I do,” he said, “I am angry enough to die?” (Jonah 4:9).
When God took away the vine, Jonah’s anger intensified. Jonah was already angry (v. 4), but when God gave him the vine (v. 6), he was happy. The anger seemed to go away. But now that the vine is gone, his anger is back. Here’s a man who is fundamentally angry with God, but the vine masked Jonah’s problem for a time.
Friends, money, family, and success can do that. God’s gifts in your life bring you happiness, but if your greatest joy is in the vine, you will live a vine-centered life. And when the vine is gone, what happens is that your antagonism towards God comes out.
Jonah lost his reason to live. He found his own comfort and joy in the vine to such an extent that, when it is gone, he no longer feels he has a reason to live. So, he says, “It would be better for me to die than to live… I am angry enough to die” (v8-9).
Something has become so important to you that you say, “If you take away the gifts that bring me comfort joy and blessing, I do not have a reason to live.” The extraordinary thing is that Jonah is saying this to God, who is the reason to live!
If you live a vine-centered life, your reason for living withers with the vine. The vine is not the reason to live! Your family, your friends, your work, and your money are good gifts from God, but they are not the reason to live. Thank God for the vine, but don’t live for the vine. The reason to live is not the gifts, but the Giver!