Read Jonah 4:4-8. Watch Jonah as he sits, sulks, and sweats in the sun while he watches and waits for ‘the end of the world’ in Assyria. He has a front-row, complementary seat for the ‘Grand Finale’ in pagan Nineveh, that ‘by-word’ for centuries of pitiless cruelty. He awaits the sight of God’s ‘mushroom cloud’, signalling the total defeat of all God’s enemies! But apparently, God will have nothing to do with this. His strategy is to attempt to soften Jonah’s heart with kindness.

Jonah is beginning to ‘bake’ in the sun. His head and neck are burning, and his eyes are seared with the shimmering glare of the sun on the rock-strewn Assyrian desert. Suddenly, a plant springs up ‘Jack-and-the-beanstalk’-like, arching over him for cool shade. Was it ‘a castor oil plant’ (RSV) – after all, he needed a good dose of castor oil to ease his uptight spiritual constipation and anally retentive, sour-spirit, or simply a ‘vine’ (NIV)? Either way, he’s cooled and relieved by God’s mercy. God wants him to see that we all need shade in the ‘Day of trouble’! If he can’t stand the blaze of God’s sun, how would the Ninevites fair in the blaze of God’s wrath? Think about it Jonah!

But Jonah still sits clinch-bottomed and smug in his ‘royal box’, and ‘right royal’ indignation, still cherishing the hope that a devastating cataclysm will turn the hated Assyrians into a sticky brown stain on the desert floor, and become total ‘history’ in God’s sight! And so, this time at first light, God commands a worm to wither his vine and a sirocco-hot wind to bake him in God’s oven!  He needs to experience another taste of God’s wrath, so he’ll recall God’s grace in saving him from death by drowning, rebel that he had once been.

The worm quickly ended Jonah’s cool comforts, as the vine suddenly withered away by mid-morning, leaving Jonah in some kind of ‘hell’ for the day! He was exposed to the experience of great and unrelieved torment – scorched and blasted by sun and sirocco winds, baking in God’s ‘oven’ until he’s completely done! Heat, thirst, fire and torment – the very fate he wished God had inflicted upon Nineveh, only in their case it would have been a thousand times worse, and lasted an everlasting eternity!

It’s time we all asked the Lord to melt our hardness, and impart his own compassion to us, so we rescue lost rebels doomed for death!