God's Ways in Training His Own for His Service and Testimony: 9

 •  7 min. read  •  grade level: 9
We now come to the second and much harder lesson, which the prophet had to learn under that miraculous tree, commonly called the gourd. It was a wondrous tree indeed, not only on account of the suddenness of its origin and decay, but because of the wonderful scene which took place at its foot between Jehovah and His prophet. It was very different from that between Jehovah and His faithful and yet so tenderhearted servant Abraham (Gen. 18). In the latter we behold Abraham soliciting Jehovah's pardon for Sodom, that ungodly city, which showed no trace of repentance, but the very opposite. Here, on the contrary, we hear Jehovah's prophet murmuring at the grace and pardon granted to penitent Nineveh.
“But it displeased Jonah exceedingly, and he was very angry. And he prayed unto the Lord, and said, I pray thee, O Lord, was not this my saying, when I was yet in my country? Therefore I fled before unto Tarshish: for I knew that thou art a gracious God, and merciful, slow to anger, and of great kindness, and repentest thee of the evil. Therefore now, O Lord, take, I beseech thee, my life from me; for it is better for me to die than to live. Then said the Lord, Doest thou well to be angry?” Here the real motive of Jonah's flight, recorded in the first chapter, comes out. The prophet makes no secret of it. In Ch. 1. I have commented already upon Jonah's terribly selfish motive, and therefore need not here enter again upon it.
What language on the part of a prophet towards God, and of a servant towards his supreme and sovereign Lord! Jonah's self-will, indeed, had been broken. But of what avail is a broken will, without a heart broken under the sense of pardoning divine grace and redeeming love? A broken will may fit us for serving the Lord, but only a broken heart fits us for suitable service, as has been truly observed. How soon Jonah had forgotten his distress and prayer in the fish's belly, and his deliverance from the terrible prison! Then he could not thank God enough for having saved him from the “belly of the grave.” And now, when the same saving or sparing divine grace is to be extended to a whole city with numberless penitent inhabitants, he murmurs against that grace. And why? Because he thought that, through the remittance of the judgment announced by him, his prophecy and consequently his character as prophet would be compromised. Rather let a whole city perish, and millions of souls be hurled into eternity, and hell, than a prophet be discredited!
Oh, what a terrible thing is the desperately wicked unbroken heart, even when self-will has been tamed and broken in! How often does it happen that in the fiery furnace of trial, under God's chastening hand, the will appears to be broken, without the sinful heart with its selfish and idolatrous inclinations having really been judged in God's presence. The consequence is, that when the trial is over, the evil root in the heart, having never been cut to the quick by the knife of self-judgment, produces fresh shoots, and soon bears its sad fruits. So it was with Jonah. Rather die, than live as a discredited prophet. How patient and longsuffering is God's answer, “Doest thou well to be angry?” Jehovah deals graciously and tenderly with His downhearted and murmuring servant, intending to deal not only with his conscience, but with his heart. How calculated His whole way of procedure in this last chapter to accomplish that gracious purpose.
“So Jonah went out of the city, and sat on the east side of the city, and there made him a booth, and sat under it in the shadow, till he might see what would become of the city.” Even after the forty days had elapsed, he evidently could not bring himself to believe that Jehovah would entirely disown his prophecy, and thus expose His prophet. He clearly still entertained some, lingering hope that God would at least in some, though less severe, way visit Nineveh with judgment.
So he builds a booth on the east side of Nineveh and settles down in expectation of some judgment to come. The “Lord of glory,” Who so gently dealt here with His discontented and grumbling prophet, was Himself crucified nine hundred years later, on the west side of Jerusalem, to bear the judgment due to Jonah's people and to us. The sun of God's favor and mercy, which for more than a thousand years had shone upon that city, was then setting. And whilst those hands which had fed thousands of hungry ones and healed countless sufferers, and those blessed indefatigable feet which had served to carry the heavenly Messenger of peace from place to place, when He was “going about doing good,” and delivering them that were oppressed by the devil, were about to be nailed by cruel hands to the cross, there went up to God from the heart and lips of the crucified Messiah and “King of the Jews” that marvelous intercession, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”
What a prayer at such a moment, Christian reader!
It could only come from Him, Who had wept over Jerusalem. His martyr Stephen prayed afterward in the spirit of his Master, but he could only do so on account of the cross and victory of that blessed One. Reader! how much have we imbibed of the spirit of that same gracious Master, Who says, “Love your enemies; bless them that curse you; do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you?”
Jonah knew very little of the spirit of his Master, when murmuring in the east of Nineveh against divine grace, whilst the sun of God's mercy had just risen shining upon the penitent city. But God, “Who is good and whose mercy endureth forever,” gives to His poor servant a fresh proof of His kind provision and care, to soothe his grief. A new link in the chain of His wise providence now appears. “And the Lord God prepared a gourd, and made it to come up over Jonah, that it might be a shadow over his head, to deliver him from his grief. So Jonah was exceeding glad of the gourd.” The hasty and disappointed prophet soon subsides into the enjoyment of his boon, and whilst enjoying its cool shade he makes himself as comfortable as he can in his sad post of observation.
There are especially four trees in holy Writ which with regard to our subject are full of instruction. Two of them we find in the Old, and two in the New Testament. The two former are “trees of grumbling,” for in the persons connected with the two we behold the fruit of “Meribah.” The two latter we may call “trees of blessing,” perceiving in the two persons associated with them the fruits of true and fervent prayer and looking for the Savior. The first of these four trees is the “juniper tree” with the grumbling prophet Elijah beneath its branches. The second is the miraculous tree or “gourd” in Jonah 4 with the murmuring prophet Jonah in its shadow. The third is the “fig tree” (John 1) with Nathanael praying at the foot of it; and fourthly the “sycamore tree” with the searching Zacchזus in its top. Beneath which of these four trees is the Christian reader mostly to be found? Is it the two “grumbling trees” of the Old, or the two “trees of blessing” of the New Testament?
A few remarks on each of them may, under God's blessing, be profitable for some of us.