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Background Considerations:

Literary considerations. Again, we reflect on the literary features which not only give the story of Jonah richness and character, but teach us theologically as well. What about irony? Any of that in the verses we cover in this lesson? What about the concentration of divine “appointments” in these verses – God “appoints” (manah) a castor-oil plant, a worm to destroy the plant, a hot easterly wind to create discomfort with the plant gone (otherwise, only the fish had been “appointed” by God). Why are these described as “appointments”? The appointed worm “attacks” or “beats down on” or “strikes” (nakah) the plant, just as the sun “beats down on” (nakah) Jonah’s head. Is this simply narrative play? Or is there something else we should observe?

Relevant Biblical Passages

  • Read through the entire book of Jonah.
  • Jonah 4:5 – Jonah’s protective booth. Central Iraq is nothing if not hot in the summertime. While we don’t know what time of year is reflected in the story of Jonah, the rise of the sultry east wind could suggest late spring or early summer. It would have been warm. Two interesting facets to this verse: Jonah’s construction of a source of shade, which for some unexplained reason is replaced (?) by God’s gourd plant, and Job’s purpose for being out there. How long was he there and why? To see the outcome of his prediction, yes, but was it in anticipation of destruction or deliverance? How does this play into the irony of the story as a whole?
  • Jonah 4:6-8 – God’s natural appointments (shade-producing plant, shade-destroying worm, hot wind) and Jonah’s response. Jonah’s protective hut was of his own making. We have no idea how long it lasted (well, less than 40 days, we assume) nor how effective it was. Now we turn to God’s actions, all of which involve the natural world. Why does God do it this way? Why go to the bother of marshaling a plant, a worm and a wind to make the point? How much of a role does humor play? Irony? And why another death wish on Jonah’s part? What is the story attempting to tell us by this description?
  • Jonah 4:9-10 – God and Jonah in dialogue. How do these verses set us up for the punch line, for the point of it all? Another conversation between God and Jonah unfolds (check all of these in the book for any patterns and parallels), this time about concern for the plant and for people. How ironic! Pity for the plant, but not for the people.

Contributions to the study of Jonah

How free should God be to show his mercy wherever he wishes? Aren’t there some moral issues at stake here? Should God be allowed to rescue whomever he wants to? Can God really get away with this?!

Lessons for Life

What is there in these verses, as part of the entire book of Jonah, which might address our feelings toward other people, especially people not exactly like us, particularly people whose ongoing presence is a threat to our well being? Was Jonah correct in his attitudes about this whole affair?

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