A FISH, A PLANT, AND A WORM : ALL ON A MISSION FROM GOD

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Although the value of the sparrow seems small, and its flight seems frivolous and at random, yet it does not fall to the ground nor land anywhere without God’s knowledge and direction. His all-wise providence has appointed what branch it shall perch upon; what grains it shall pick up; where it shall lodge and where it shall build its nest; on what it shall live and where and when it shall die.

 

Jonah under his shelter

Jonah under his shelter

Every raindrop and every snowflake which falls from the cloud, every insect which moves, every plant which grows, every grain of dust which floats in the air has had certain definite causes and will have certain definite effects. Each is a link in the chain of events and many of the great events of history have turned on these apparently insignificant things.

 Throughout the course of world affairs there is progress toward a predetermined end. Dr. B.B. Warfield has well written: “It was not accident that brought Rebecca to the well to welcome Abraham’s servant (Genesis 24), or that sent Joseph into Egypt (Genesis. 45:8; 50:20: ‘God meant it for good’), or guided Pharaoh’s daughter to the ark among the reeds (Exodus 2), or directed the millstone that crushed Abimelech’s head (Judges 9:53), or guided the arrow to smite the king in the joints of the armor (1 Kings 22:34). Every historical event is treated as an item functioning to fulfill an underlying Divine purpose; and the historian is continually aware of the pres­ence in history of Him who gives even to the lightning a charge to strike its mark (Job 36:32).”

                                           – Lorraine Boettner, The Reformed Doctrine of Predestination

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Jonah is cast into the sea

Jonah is cast into the sea

In the book of Jonah (NASB) we find the word “appointed” four times. First God dispenses a great fish to swallow the prophet (1:17).  Next the Lord appoints a plant to shelter him (4:6). Then a worm is chosen to destroy the plant (4:7). Lastly a scorching wind is employed so that it would torment the prophet Jonah (4:8).

מָנָה (manah,4487) means “to assign.” Other English uses of the Hebrew verb: to appoint or ordain; its most common way מָנָה  is translated in the Old Testament is “to number or count out” in the sense of an allocation to be doled out for a specific purpose.  The LXX translates the Hebrew מָנָה to προσέταξεν, which means (to command or assign – in the sense a king designates tasks to his subjects). The Vulgate translates מָנָה in the book of Jonah as parare, or “to prepare.”

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The Fish

Jonah 1:17:  “… the LORD appointed a great fish to swallow Jonah, and Jonah was in the stomach of the fish three days and three nights.” The prophet Jonah had been cast into the sea and consequently taken in unharmed by a great fish. By a natural reading of the text we surmise the great fish was “made ready” by God Himself. It was motivated by the Lord to meet Jonah at jonah-and-the-great-fishthese waters at this precise moment, and for this specific purpose. Jonah was not torn apart by wandering sharks, but preserved uninjured by a large fish that consumed him whole so as to protect him. Jonah was received inside the fish as though it were a hospital. Skeptics claim such preservation is contrary to nature; hence the story is often ridiculed and the basis of laughter by secularizing unbelievers. But we read that the fish was prepared by Lord for this very function; perhaps not created specifically for this purpose but appointed by God in His providence.  The fish was God’s means for bearing Jonah safely ashore. To disbelieve this miracle brings as much damnation upon the unbeliever as not believing in Christ Himself – for He, too, rose on the third day:

But [Jesus] said to them, “An evil and adulterous generation craves for a sign; and yet no sign will be given to it but the sign of Jonah the prophet; for just as JONAH WAS THREE DAYS AND THREE NIGHTS IN THE BELLY OF THE SEA MONSTER, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth. The men of Nineveh will stand up with this generation at the judgment, and will condemn it because they repented at the preaching of Jonah; and behold, something greater than Jonah is here.” [Matthew 12:39-41]

The Plant

Jonah 4:6: “…So the LORD God appointed a plant and it grew up over Jonah …”  Much has been written on the character of this plant. Some commentators have determined the plant was the Ricinus, commonly called Palma Christi. It matters not what it was.  It may have been an indigenous plant or it may have been such a plant as never grew there before or even after. Three things are evident: 1) God prepared the plant 2) and He prepared it to shelter Jonah. 3) Its overnight growth in its specific location was an act of God.  However, in my humble

Ricinus communis is often conjectured as the plant which shaded Jonah.

Ricinus communis is often conjectured as the plant which shaded Jonah.

opinion English translators would have better informed their readers if they had retained the original name, קִיקָיוֹן (kikiun), or to give it the general name “plant.”  To call it a gourd, an ivy, castor-oil tree, or a cucumber is to convey an incorrect idea. Any attempt to find a plant in our botany which would grow high enough in a single day to give shade to Jonah is beside the point. Any plant God chooses grows suddenly at His command, just as the great fish swallowed Jonah at His command. Furthermore one need not know of what species the plant was to understand the lesson.

By and large, God works according to the laws of nature when advancing His plans and providential undertakings. By “laws of nature” it is meant the ordinary rules of science God Himself ordained, for these are too are created by Him.  On rare occasion God bypasses or exceeds His own natural laws — these are called miracles. In Jonah’s case I believe the Lord used a common plant known to the prophet. Scripture is clear that it was God who caused the plant to grow and made it so overnight (4:10).  There is nothing unusual about a plant providing overhead cover from the heat (law of nature); however due to the miraculous speed of its growth, the act itself is a miracle.

The text does not specify that the plant entirely replaced the shelter previously built by Jonah (4:5). The plant may have supplemented his makeshift lookout and thus added additional protection from the sun.  For this reason Jonah was “exceedingly happy.”  Any desert dweller knows that a roof over one’s head provides comfort from the elements; but plants that extend over the housetop is a shield from the sun resulting in a cooling canopy outcome.

The Worm

Jonah 4:7 “…But God appointed a worm when dawn came the next day and it attacked the plant and it withered…” We see here that what seemed to happen by chance was actually directed by the providence of God. The chewing of a lowly worm is directed by the counsel of God so that a plant does not wither independent of His divine purpose. The same truth is declared by the Lord Jesus when He says “Are not two sparrows sold for a cent? And yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father” (Matthew 10:29).

worm-on-plant-leafObserve that the destruction came not by way of some huge beast or some royal bird, but by a lowly worm. The blessings of God can be destroyed by any means God chooses. Hours before Jonah was enjoying the comforts of home, but abruptly all this was taken from him.

Out of curiosity I wish to know by what means God conversed with the worm.  How does the all-wise, all-powerful, all-knowing Creator of the Universe communicate His wishes and the details of the attack to a worm? The maggot or caterpillar knew precisely where to be, which plant to destroy, and what time to be there.

The next time I encounter a worm in my garden I will ponder what purpose is the mission God has sent him.

The Storm

Jonah 4:8 “…When the sun came up God appointed a scorching east wind, and the sun beat down on Jonah’s head so that he became faint…” In this verse learn the same thing as before: winds do not rise of their own accord or by chance, but are stirred by Divine power. There is indeed found in nature the causes why in one moment the air is tranquil and the next hour it is disturbed by the winds; however these “natural causes” are themselves governed by God. God’s providence regulates all these intermediate sources.

haboobNature is not some blind impulse but a law settled by the will of God. God continuously controls by His will whatever happens in the world. From our human standpoint His works may flow in the normal course and carry the name “nature cause.” At other times His works are truly miraculous and thus exceed the laws of nature. God changes their customary path. Yet both methods proceed from God as their author and director. Therefore in regard to this wind, it must be under­stood that it was not usual or a common one. Ordinary winds are indeed daily stirred by God’s providence just as much as this wind of which Jonah speaks. But God produces them both, and in the case of Jonah went beyond the usual course of nature.

The adjective which describes this wind is difficult to translate. חֲרִישִׁי is often rendered into English as vehement or scorching. It is derived from a verb which means “to be silent.” The Jewish sage, Ibn Ezra, suggests it was deafening.

The story of Jonah begins and ends with God sending powerful winds.  In the first chapter God launched (טוּל) a wind and ensuing storm to bring calamity upon the ship on which the Lord’s prophet sailed. The disturbance did not arise by chance as wicked men want to explain the phenomenon, who ascribe everything that happens to fortune. The tempest arose not by chance, but by the certain purpose of God.  No storms ever gathered, nor any changes in the air which stir up rain happen by chance.  Rather the cosmos is so regulated by God’s power that nothing takes place without being foreseen and decreed.

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The lesson to be learned from this little book: the series of divine actions directed toward Jonah had a single purpose. God pointed out the absurdity of Jonah’s spiritual unconcern for human welfare by contrasting it with his prophet’s legitimate concern for his own physical welfare.

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