When Jonah left Nineveh, the city had been saved, but the prophet was sulking. I knew You’d forgive them despite all the evil they’ve done, he said to the Lord. Now I’d rather be dead than have to see my enemies forgiven (Jonah 4:2-3).
Jonah made a little shelter for himself (v 5), presumably out of stones or mud bricks; the heat of the sun would have made it very uncomfortable for him to sit out in the open air. Picture him as he sat in his little hut, wishing that he were dead, and then realizing that a wonderful plant was growing around him. Suddenly the heat of the day was eased by this plant’s shadow—and Jonah was very, very happy.
But his gladness was short-lived. The same God who provided the plant to make Jonah happy also provided the worm that brought about its destruction. The plant shriveled up not in some unnatural way but as a result of normal processes taking place under God’s divine control.
God the Creator is sovereign over all that He has made. In His mysterious providence, He was continuing to work with His servant according to the purpose of His will. There is a recurring phrase in the book of Jonah: “God appointed.” He appointed a great fish, a plant, a worm, and a scorching east wind, all as an expression of His love and concern for His servant (Jonah 1:17; 4:8). Whether through a gigantic fish or a small worm, God was at work—as He still is—directing everything to its appointed end.
We see this doctrine of providence addressed in Question 27 of the Heidelberg Catechism: “What do you understand by the providence of God?” The answer comes: “God’s providence is His almighty and ever present power, whereby, as with His hand, He still upholds heaven and earth and all creatures, and so governs them that leaf and blade, rain and drought, fruitful and barren years, food and drink, health and sickness, riches and poverty, indeed, all things, come not by chance but by His fatherly hand.”
Throughout life’s journey, as you encounter both “plants” that make you comfortable and happy and “worms” that remove comfort or company from your life, you can find encouragement in knowing that you’re not held in the grip of some blind, fatalistic force. Rather, your heavenly Father, who holds you with a loving embrace, is ordering everything that He might achieve His ultimate purpose in your life: to make you more like His Son and bring you home to His side. So consider your life. Where are the plants? Where are the worms? And will you seek to give thanks for both, secure in the knowledge that both are given by a loving Father for your eternal good?
9Let the lowly brother boast in his exaltation, 10and the rich in his humiliation, because like a flower of the grass3 he will pass away. 11For the sun rises with its scorching heat and withers the grass; its flower falls, and its beauty perishes. So also will the rich man fade away in the midst of his pursuits.
12Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love him. 13Let no one say when he is tempted, “I am being tempted by God,” for God cannot be tempted with evil, and he himself tempts no one. 14But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. 15Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death.
16Do not be deceived, my beloved brothers. 17Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.4 18Of his own will he brought us forth by the word of truth, that we should be a kind of firstfruits of his creatures.
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