Jonah: “it is better for me to die”

Weekly | Dec 08 2020
Jonah: “it is better for me to die”
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I WANT to lay the stress especially upon these three sentences in my text,  
     “God prepared a gourd.” 
     “God prepared a worm.” 
     “God prepared a vehement east wind.” 

The life of Jonah cannot be written without God; take God out of the prophet’s history, and there is no history to write. This is equally true of each one of us. Apart from God, there is no life, nor thought, nor act, nor career of any man, however lowly or however high. Leave out God, and you cannot write the story of anyone’s career. If you attempt it, it will be so ill-written that it shall be clearly perceived that you have tried to make bricks without straw, and that you have sought to fashion a potter’s vessel without clay. I believe that, in a man’s life, the great secret of strength, and holiness, and righteousness, is the acknowledgment of God. When a man has no fear of God before his eyes, there is no wonder that he should run to an excess of meanness, and even to an excess of riot. In proportion as the thought of God dominates the mind, we may expect to find a life that shall be true and really worth living; but in proportion as we forget God, we shall play the fool. It is the fool who says in his heart, “No God,” and it is the fool who lives and acts as if there were no God. 

In Jonah’s life, we meet with God continually. The Lord bade the prophet go to Nineveh, but instead of going there, he took ship to go to Tarshish. God hurled out the wind and there such a terrible storm that the shipmen were compelled to cast Jonah overboard. “The Lord had prepared a great fish to swallow up Jonah. And Jonah was in the belly of the fish three days and three nights.”  God began by preparing a storm, but He went on to prepare a fish. We do not know what fish it was, and it does not matter; it was one that God made on purpose, and it answered so well that Jonah lived in the fish’s belly for three days and three nights, and then he was landed safely, a better man than when he went into the sea, though none too good even then. 

You may have found, dear friend, that God has prepared a storm in your life. There was a tempest which checked you in your career of sin. You who were cast into the sea were, nevertheless, not lost, but saved. What you judged to be your destruction turned out to be for your salvation, for God had from of old prepared the means of saving you; and He sent you such a deliverance that you were compelled to say with Jonah, “Salvation is of the Lord.”  If you have erred as Jonah did, you have probably had to bear the same kind of discipline and chastisement. 

Let it never be forgotten that Jonah was a man of God. When he was in the very depths of the sea, when he appeared to be cut off from all hope, he prayed as none but a man of God could pray: “Out of the belly of hell cried I, and Thou heardest my voice.”  It takes a real saint to cry out of such a place as Jonah was in, — the living tomb of the belly of the fish. He was also a man of faith, else had he not been a man of prayer. But he did still believe in his God. Jonah was a man of faith and a man of prayer, and God honoured him exceedingly by making his word to turn the whole city upside down.  

God is in our comforts 

We have God very conspicuous in the life of His servant Jonah; and I want to bring out this truth very prominently, that we may also see God in our lives in similar points to those in which He manifested Himself to Jonah. So, first, I remind you that GOD IS IN OUR COMFORTS: “God prepared a gourd.”  Everything of good that we enjoy, however little it may be, comes from God. It was sent to him when he was in a very wrong spirit, angry with God, and angry with his fellow-men. He had hidden away from everybody in that bit of a shanty which he had put up for himself outside the city. Sick of everybody, and sick even of himself, he gets away into this little booth, and there, in discontent and discomfort, he sits watching to see the fate of the city lying below the hill. Yet God comforted him by preparing a gourd to be “a shadow over his head, to deliver him from his grief.”  

You know that we are very apt to say of some people, “Well, really, they are of such a trying disposition, they fret about nothing at all, and they worry themselves when they have no cause for it; we have no patience with them.” That is what you say, but that is not how God acts. He does have pity upon such people, and He has had patience with many of you when you have been of the number of such people. Why, I do not believe that any man here would have proposed to make a gourd grow up to cover the head of the angry prophet; we should much more likely have called a committee meeting, and we should have agreed that, if the discontented brother liked to go and live in a booth, he had better work the experiment out; it would probably be for his good, and make him come back and live in the city properly, like other people! Though he was left to feel the cold by night, and the heat by day, it was entirely his own choice; and if a person chooses such a residence, it is not for us to interfere! That is how men talk, and men are so exceedingly wise, you know; but that is not how God talks, and He is infinitely wiser than any of His creatures. His wisdom is sweetly loving, but ours sometimes curdles into hardness. 

What think ye, brothers and sisters, has not God sent us many comforts when we did not deserve them; when, on the contrary, we had made a rod for our own back, and might well have reckoned upon being made to smart? Yet God has sent us comforts which have relieved us of the sorrow which we foolishly brought upon ourselves, and made us stay the fretfulness which was our own voluntary choice. God has been wonderfully tender with us. Have you not found it so, brothers and sisters?  Well, now, look back upon your past life, and think that all the comforts which came to you when you deserved to be left without them, came from God, and for them all let His Name be blessed. 

God sent this comfort to Jonah at the right time; when he was most distressed, then it was that the gourd came up in a night. The punctuality of God is very notable. 

“He never is before his time, 
He never is too late.” 

Just when we need a mercy, and when the mercy is all the more a mercy because it is so timely, then it comes. All is well if it be in God’s hands. Let us, therefore, distinctly recognize God in our comforts, in their coming to us when we are unworthy of them, in their coming in the form in which we most require them, and in their coming at the time when we are most in need of them. 

“Jonah was exceeding glad of the gourd.”  God has often sent us mercies that have made us exceeding glad, and we have been delivered from the pressure of heavy grief. But here is the sad note in the history of Jonah, as it has often been with us also, although he was exceeding glad, he does not appear to have been exceeding grateful. It is one thing to be glad of a mercy, it is another matter to be grateful for that mercy. Let us overlay the wood of our comfort with the gold plate of our gratitude; so shall it be preserved. An ordinary comfort protected with a sheet of gratitude shall become to us a double means of grac e. 

God is in our griefs 

Jonah’s great comfort was destroyed by a very little thing. It was only a worm, but that was enough to destroy the gourd. Oh! how soon may our earthly comforts be taken away from us! There is a little fluctuation in the markets, and the prosperous merchant becomes a bankrupt. A very little thing may soon destroy all your comforts, and make them to be like the withered leaves of Jonah’s gourd. I want you, dear friends, just to pause here to learn this lesson. It is God who sends your trials. If you quarrel with anything that happens, your quarrel is virtually with God Himself. Say, as old Eli did, when he heard the evil tidings concerning his household, “It is the Lord: let Him do what seemeth Him good.”  Let it be with you as it was with Aaron when, as he could not speak joyfully, he did not speak at all: “Aaron held his peace.”  It is sometimes a great thing to be able not to say anything. Silence is golden when it is the silence of a complete submission to the will of the Lord. God prepares the worm; therefore, be not angry with the poor worm, but just let the gourd go. It was God who made it to grow, and He had a perfect right to take it away when He pleased. 

God is in our trials 

God prepared a vehement east wind. Jonah could not escape the fury of the wind, especially when his gourd was withered. The gourd is gone; now the east wind comes. Troubles seldom come alone. And you will say to yourself, “Why does this trial come just now when I am least able to bear it? Trouble may come when we think ourselves secure. When Jonah went away out of the city, he seemed to say, “There, I will get away from men; I will not have anything more to do with them, they have always worried and troubled me. I will get quite alone; there I shall sit and enjoy myself, for I cannot enjoy anybody else.” But the troubles came even there. 

It is a popular notion that trials sanctify those who have to endure them; but by themselves they do not. It is a sanctified trial that sanctifies the tried one; but trial itself, alone and by itself, might make men even worse than they are. “No chastening for the present seemeth to be joyous, but grievous: nevertheless afterward if; yieldeth the peaceable fruit of righteousness unto them which are exercised thereby.”  You may have ten thousand trials, and yet be none the better for them unless you cry to God to sanctify every twig of the rod, and to make the fury of the east wind or the burning rays of the sun to be a blessing to you. 

There is nothing in suffering, any more than there is in joy, in and of itself, to make a man holy. That is the work of God, and of God alone; yet God overrules both our joy and our grief to accomplish His own Divine purpose by His Spirit. It is God who sends the wind; so, once again, I want you to pause, and bow your heads before Him who sends all your trouble. Do not be angry with God for what He does to you; but feel that it must be right even though it should tear everything away from you. God is God still

God was preparing His servant 

Do you not see that God was teaching Jonah by the eye and by experience? So the gourd must go, and the wind must come, and the sun must beat upon the fainting prophet, and Jonah in his angry temper must get to feel great grief over his poor gourd which had met with such an untimely death, and then God comes to him, and says, “Art thou troubled about thy gourd? Hast thou pity upon a gourd, and should not I have pity upon a great city with more than a hundred and twenty thousand helpless children within its walls, and all those thousands of unsinning cattle? Should not I spare these, when thou wouldst have spared this tender plant, which sprang up in a night, and withered in a right?” 

Sometimes, God puts us through an unusual experiences in order that we may the better understand Him; and sometimes that we may the better know ourselves. Men who are of a hard nature must have hard usage, diamond must cut diamond, that at last the purpose of the great Owner of the jewels may be accomplished. 

It was a good thing for Jonah when he had finished that quarrel with his God, for no good ever comes that way. Turn to Him, then. Let the God of love end your discussions, and end your questionings; may His blessed Spirit come and sanctify your troubles, and bring you to Himself! 

God bless you all, dear friends, for Jesus’ sake! Amen. 

Excerpted from the sermon titled “Jonah’s Object-lessons"  (Jonah 4:6=8) by CH Spurgeon dated 11 June 1885). You are encouraged to read the full text of the sermon from The Spurgeon Library | Jonah’s Object-Lessons