The Lord will teach us lessons in the oddest of places. I was reading to my toddler before nap time. We were reading a kids book about Jonah. We read about the Lord calling Jonah to tell the people of Nineveh to repent. Jonah ignored the Lord and went in the opposite direction. His fellow sailors did not mean to do him harm but realized that Jonah’s God would not be appeased until they threw him into the raging water. Almost instantly the sea ceased from her raging and those sailors were converted, they “feared the Lord exceedingly, and offered a sacrifice unto the Lord, and made vows” (Jonah 1:16) And then the big fish that the Lord prepared for Jonah comes and swallows him up and three days later he is placed back on the shore. Jonah is now willing to go to Ninevah… but this isn’t the part of the story that surprised me. In fact this is the childhood story that a new and loved about Jonah. But the book mentioned that the Lord prepared a gourd to give Jonah shade from the hot sun and then the gourd dies and Jonah is angry . I had to go to my bible right away. Was this part of the childrens novel real? I felt compelled to learn what this part had to do with the story and why I had never realized it before.
When I went to the bible sure enough the story about the gourd is recorded there. How come I had never heard about this part and why did I feel so compelled to learn about it now?
Well, I guess to really understand this story you have to understand a little bit about Jonah and the why he didn’t want to go to Nineveh. The Assyrians were savage. There war tactics were calculated and cruel. They were barbaric and raised to be warriors. For example they would wear severed heads around their necks and parade in the town to cause fear and celebrate their victory. They were ferocious.
Now I am not sure if Jonah just didn’t like the Assyrians collectively or they had done something to him personally but either way Jonah was wrong. We see in this story how human a prophet can be. When Jonah was released from the fish and went into to Nineveh to call them to repentance, he told them that God would destroy then in forty days if they didn’t repent. Then he climbs a big hill and waits for God to destroy them. Unannounced to Jonah, the people of Nineveh heed his warning and the king makes a decree and everyone repents. When Jonah finds out about this, “it displeased Jonah exceedingly, and he was very angry.” I kinda of relate to Jonah ( he is sooooo dramatic) and he wishes he could die. I think Jonah failed to remember how happy he was to find that same forgiveness not many days before in the belly of a big fish. He fully expected the Lord’s atonement to work on behave of him and his sins; and yet, when it applied to others he was not so excited. Are you ever tempted to be a little like Jonah? You want all the mercy the Lord has to give you and all the justice and wrath on our enemies.
But the Lord has one more lesson that he wants Jonah to learn. As Jonah sits on the hill waiting for the destruction to take place, he finds comfort in the shade of a gourd. But a little worm comes and destroys the gourd. Jonah is beside himself with anger, fatigue and wishes that he would die. (once again Jonah and the drama) Then the Lord says to him, and I take some creative liberty, “Jonah, you care so much about the death of this plant, and you don’t even care for the thousands of people down there in Nineveh. I am their Father. Just like I forgave you who repented. I have forgiven them too. Do you really think a plant is more valuable then all my children in Nineveh? The Lord closes the book with a question.
I am not sure if Jonah was the author of his own story or not, but talk about a man who was willing to lay all the good and bad out on the line. Sometimes we can learn from peoples good examples and sometimes we can learn from their bad ones. Even though Jonah was a prophet he still had a lot to learn about forgiveness and love.
I love what Elder Uchtdorf said about this topic, “When it comes to hating, gossiping, ignoring, ridiculing, holding grudges, or wanting to cause harm, please apply the following:
“It’s that simple. We simply have to stop judging others and replace judgmental thoughts and feelings with a heart full of love for God and His children. …
“We must recognize that we are all imperfect—that we are beggars before God. Haven’t we all, at one time or another, meekly approached the mercy seat and pleaded for grace? Haven’t we wished with all the energy of our souls for mercy—to be forgiven for the mistakes we have made and the sins we have committed?
“Because we all depend on the mercy of God, how can we deny to others any measure of the grace we so desperately desire for ourselves? My beloved brothers and sisters, should we not forgive as we wish to be forgiven? …
“The pure love of Christ can remove the scales of resentment and wrath from our eyes, allowing us to see others the way our Heavenly Father sees us: as flawed and imperfect mortals who have potential and worth far beyond our capacity to imagine. Because God loves us so much, we too must love and forgive each other” (“The Merciful Obtain Mercy,” Ensign or Liahona, May 2012, 75–76).