Debra Isenbletter, PastorChristian Assembly, Springfield, Missouri
Jonah 4:3 —”Therefore now, O Lord, take, I beseech thee, my life from me; for it is better for me to die than to live.”
In this verse we see Jonah’s Desire and his Despair. His despair is what motivates his desire and his desire is to die, to give up but he puts the responsibility upon the Lord to take his life.
Jonah’s desire is seen in what he asks the Lord to do. He asks the Lord to “take” his life and there are two opposing meanings to this word. It can mean to “receive” or to “seize.” To “receive” speaks of an offering up and to “seize” speaks of a giving up. It speaks of being taken by judgment by discipline. Jonah is not surrendering his life to the Lord when he says “take” my life. This is not about surrender, it is about resistance to God’s Will. Jonah is not offering up his life, he is giving up on his life. There is nothing wrong with surrendering our life to the Lord but there is a right way and a wrong way to do this and it is about the attitude heart. Paul, all though his years of ministry and labor and suffering never once gave up on life. He offered up his life. He surrendered it willingly and joyfully. It was not about knowing, it was about obeying. Jonah needs to learn the lesson Paul teaches us, that our lives are not our own, that we belong to the Lord, to be used by Him in whatever way He wants and to trust in the outcome. (1Cor.6:19-20). He knows what we do not know. Jonah needs to see this but he is caught up in “my life” and “me.” It is not about me, it is all about Him.
Jonah’s despair is clearly seen when he says: “for it is better for me to die than to live.” That declaration shows how Jonah is not seeing clearly. He says it is “better,” it is a “good thing,” it is the “best thing.” It is not, it is not better, it is just easy, because it is harder to go on. And the obstacle he sees before him, his prophecy that has not come to pass is not an obstacle, it is an opportunity. But Jonah thinks it is better to die than to live. Sometimes it is easier to die for the Lord than it is to live for the Lord. Living for the Lord sometimes takes greater strength. Notice the word “me.” When it is all about “me” it is selfish and not selfless. Jonah has forgotten Nineveh, he has forgotten others. Jonah is really not offering up his life, he is giving up on life. To live means he had to face himself and his true motive for preaching and true feelings about the Gentiles. To live means he had to surrender himself fully and completely and hold nothing back. There was a surrender in Jonah’s life when he did go and preach to Nineveh but it seems he was holding back, it was not a full surrender. We can do that and, on the surface, it looks fine and everyone sees something wonderful but the Lord sees the heart and the motive. I believe the Lord wanted Jonah to see that his heart attitude and his heart motive did not measure up.
Paul shows us how to have a balance between dying and living. His life was a fully surrendered life. He was ready to die for Christ but he chose to live for Christ. Paul chose to live for Christ which was harder because he put the needs of others before his own desire. (Phil.1:21-25). Paul overcame, and sometimes overcoming is harder when we have to go on and go forward. At that time Paul had no idea how long he would be laboring for the Lord, suffering for the Lord, imprisoned for the Lord but he put the needs of the saints before his own needs and served the Lord. What a testimony!
It is interesting that Jonah is not the only one who felt despair and became discouraged and wanted to give up. Job despaired of the burden of suffering and asked God to take his life. He said, “Oh that I might have my request: and that God would grant me the thing that I long for!” (Job 6:8) What did he long for? He longed for death. He longed for the suffering and the trial to end. He said “destroy me,” he said “cut me off” (Job 6:9). Unlike Job, Jonah is not suffering and this is not a trial, there is no reason for Jonah to feel this way. Moses despaired of the burden of responsibility and asked God to take his life. The complaining and murmuring of God’s people wore Moses down. They were tired of manna (Num.11:6), they wanted meat (Num.11:4-5,11). Finally Moses said, “kill me, I pray thee” (Num.11:15). It was a heart-felt plea. Instead the Lord sustained him and strengthened him and enabled him to go on. There is the real victory and the real overcoming. Jonah had a burden of responsibility but it was not like what Moses had. Nineveh did not complain, they repented. Elijah had the burden of persecution and asked God to take his life when Jezebel threatened him. He said, “O Lord, take away my life” (1Kings19:1-4). The Lord instead taught him a lesson, revealed Himself in a wondrous way and Elijah went on. Jonah had no persecution or threat against his life but the Lord will reveal Himself in a wonderful way.
There is a contrast between the despair of these men and the despair of Jonah. Their despair was because of negative circumstances, it was justified. For Job it was everything. The loss of family, friends, wealth, health. For Moses it was the people. The loss of control (they were out of control) and the loss of patience. For Elijah it was Jezebel. The loss of his life. Jonah’s despair was because of positive circumstances. It was not justified. His burden was the burden of pride and the burden of prejudice. It was an imagined burden. Each loss seen is a loss these men could learn from and had tried to run from. They learned the lesson of faith and faithfulness. Jonah in his attitude is still running away and does not realize it. He is just running in a different way. Paul accepted every loss, faced every obstacle, endured every criticism and he did not run away, instead he ran on! (Phil.3:8-14). There is no real loss, but there is a very real reward, it is “the prize of the high calling in Christ Jesus.”