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  • Chad Werkhoven

Jonah 4 - The Whales & Worms of Providence

God provides both whales and worms in your life.


Jonah 4 (NIV)

CONTEXT: After Jonah finally gets to Nineveh, he delivers history's shortest sermon. Even though Jonah's proclamation is half-hearted, he's still proclaiming the powerful word of the Lord, and the Lord uses it to convict and convert the evil Ninevites.

4 But to Jonah this seemed very wrong, and he became angry. 2 He prayed to the Lord, “Isn’t this what I said, Lord, when I was still at home? That is what I tried to forestall by fleeing to Tarshish. I knew that you are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abounding in love, a God who relents from sending calamity. 3 Now, Lord, take away my life, for it is better for me to die than to live.”

4 But the Lord replied, “Is it right for you to be angry?”

5 Jonah had gone out and sat down at a place east of the city. There he made himself a shelter, sat in its shade and waited to see what would happen to the city. Then the Lord God provided a leafy plant and made it grow up over Jonah to give shade for his head to ease his discomfort, and Jonah was very happy about the plant.But at dawn the next day God provided a worm, which chewed the plant so that it withered.When the sun rose, God provided a scorching east wind, and the sun blazed on Jonah’s head so that he grew faint. He wanted to die, and said, “It would be better for me to die than to live.”

But God said to Jonah, “Is it right for you to be angry about the plant?”

“It is,” he said. “And I’m so angry I wish I were dead.”

10 But the Lord said, “You have been concerned about this plant, though you did not tend it or make it grow. It sprang up overnight and died overnight. 11 And should I not have concern for the great city of Nineveh, in which there are more than a hundred and twenty thousand people who cannot tell their right hand from their left—and also many animals?”


Listen to passage & devotional:


Belgic Confession of Faith, Article 13: The Doctrine of God’s Providence

We believe that this good God,

after he created all things,

did not abandon them to chance or fortune

but leads and governs them

according to his holy will,

in such a way that nothing happens in this world

without his orderly arrangement.

Yet God is not the author of,

nor can he be charged with,

the sin that occurs.

For his power and goodness

are so great and incomprehensible

that he arranges and does his work very well and justly

even when the devils and wicked men act unjustly.

We do not wish to inquire

with undue curiosity

into what he does that surpasses human understanding

and is beyond our ability to comprehend.

But in all humility and reverence

we adore the just judgments of God,

which are hidden from us,

being content to be Christ’s disciples,

so as to learn only what he shows us in his Word,

without going beyond those limits.

This doctrine gives us unspeakable comfort

since it teaches us

that nothing can happen to us by chance

but only by the arrangement of our gracious

heavenly Father.

He watches over us with fatherly care,

keeping all creatures under his control,

so that not one of the hairs on our heads

(for they are all numbered)

nor even a little bird

can fall to the ground

without the will of our Father. Pro-video

In this thought we rest,

knowing that he holds in check

the devils and all our enemies,

who cannot hurt us

without his permission and will.

For that reason we reject

the damnable error of the Epicureans,

who say that God involves himself in nothing

and leaves everything to chance.



You wouldn't be wrong if you concluded that the book of Jonah was all about God's grace shown to the wicked Ninevites. You could also make a good argument that the point of the book is showcasing God's authority and power in pursuing his runaway prophet, even using comedic and ironic means to pull Jonah back to Him.

But this short, entertaining and memorable little book of the Bible is about much more than unmerited grace and divine sovereignty. It's a picture of God's providence, and especially how God's providence prevails despite man's sinful efforts to derail it.

When Jonah thought he had escaped on the ship, God provided the storm that nearly sank the ship. When the sailors reluctantly threw Jonah overboard, God provided the great fish that swallowed him up before vomiting him back onto the shore.

Jonah wasn't happy with God's providence of grace and mercy towards the wicked Ninevites. Jonah had looked forward to watching them get pelted with the fire and brimstone they deserved. God had told him to "go to the great city of Nineveh and preach against it (1:1)," so Jonah did. But Jonah's eight word sermon was less than half the length of God's initial command to go to Nineveh. Jonah told God he'd rather die than see God provide grace and compassion to such undeserving people.

It's in the final passage of the book that we see the complexity of God's providence on full display. First God graciously provided a nice shade plant for Jonah to wallow under. But the very next morning, God provided a worm that ate the plant, after which God provided a scorching east wind which compounds Jonah's misery.

Dig Deeper

When we think of God's providence, we often associate it with all of the wonderful blessings that God provides. But what our passage teaches us today is that God doesn't just provide good things, like the shade plant, but that He also provides the worms, hot winds and scorching sun!

Theologically, the doctrine of providence is much bigger than God giving us some good gifts. As our Confession puts it, God providentially leads and governs [all things] according to his holy will, in such a way that nothing happens in this world without his orderly arrangement.

This means that God is not just causing the good things that happen, but also that He's leading and governing even the sinful things that occur! Except for his beautiful confession in chapter two and his eight word sermon in chapter three, Jonah's life is nothing but a parade of sins. God certainly didn't want Jonah to sin, nor did God cause Jonah to sin, but at the same time God sovereignly used Jonah's sin to provide salvation for the Ninevites as well as an enduring (and even humorous) lesson for His covenant people.

In our messed up world and society, it may seem like the effects of sin are overwhelming the good gifts of God's providence. But keep the faith! Let Jonah's strange story remind you that God doesn't want or cause the sins that underlie our problems, but He does sovereignly and providentially (and often humorously) control all things.

  • ACKNOWLEDGE WHO GOD IS: Our Father: who is "a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abounding in love, a God who relents from sending calamity."

  • ALIGN YOUR LIFE WITH GOD'S WILL: Pray that you will see God's providential control over all things and align yourself with it;



Read the New Testament in a year! Today: James 4


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