Tag Archives: Ricinus communis

Compassion – Lessons from Jonah’s Vine

Most of you know something about Jonah. Jonah’s ministry was almost 3000 years ago; but, the message is timeless. Jonah begins with God telling Jonah go to Nineveh, Assyria to warn the people to repent of their wickedness. If Ninevites didn’t repent, God was going to destroy them.

Jonah didn’t want to go to Nineveh! He boarded a ship sailing across the Mediterranean Sea in the opposite direction. Every Sunday School child knows what happened next. God cause a giant storm in the Sea, sailors threw Jonah overboard. A fish swallowed Jonah.

Jonah remained in the fish’s belly three days. During that time, he rethought his disobedience to God’s command to go to Nineveh. I would have rethought my disobedience if I was in the belly of a fish, wouldn’t you?

Jonah repented. In response, God caused the fish to vomit Jonah onto land.  Can you imagine your clothes and skin after being in a fish’s belly three days? Slime, mucus, digestive juices! All I can say is “Yuck, I need to bathe and a clean set of clothes. Where’s the shower?”

After this experience, Jonah went to Nineveh and proclaimed the message God give him:  Forty more days and Nineveh will be destroyed unless you repent.

Ninevites, including their king, believed Jonah. They fasted and repented in sackcloth and ashes. When God saw that Ninevites turned from their evil ways, he had compassion. God did not destroy Nineveh.

Likely, Ninevites were ecstatic over God’s decision not to destroy them; however, Jonah was angry.  Jonah went to a hill top, east of Nineveh, built a small shelter, and sat down under it. Jonah waited to see what would happen to Nineveh. Jonah had no confidence that Ninevites would continue their reformed ways. Jonah wanted God to destroy Nineveh and he wanted a front row seat.

As he watched Nineveh, God caused a vine to grow over Jonah to screen him from the sun. Jonah was glad for the vine’s protection. The next day, God caused a worm to chew the vine. It withered. Later in the day, God caused a scorching east wind to blow on Jonah and the sun to shine on his head. Jonah grew faint.

Jonah was angry with God for destroying the vine. God asked Jonah: “Do you have a right to be angry about the vine?” Jonah’s response was a resounding “I do and I am angry enough to die.”

God told Jonah that Jonah was concerned about a vine that he neither caused to grow nor tended. How much more should God be concerned about Nineveh, a city of 120,000 people who didn’t know right from wrong.

Compassion

Jonah’s vine symbolized God’s compassion. Compassion is awareness of another person’s distress, together with a desire to alleviate the distress. Throughout Jonah, God leads Jonah to a new understanding of God himself and God’s compassion. God was never angry with the sulky Jonah. Instead, God gave patient explanations, using Jonah’s feelings for the vine to parallel God’s feelings for Ninevites.

Reflection: I wonder if our lack of compassion on individuals of other nationalities results from Americans believing that God and Christianity belongs to us. I hope not. Hopefully, we rejoice that God has compassion on all peoples.

Copyright April 23, 2019; All Rights Reserved.

Pleases visit my website for more insights on plants in the Bible: http://www.CarolynRothMinistry.com

Jonah and the Vine

Ricinus communis (2)This book of Jonah is only four chapters long; the episode of Jonah and the vine is in Jonah Chapter 4.

Jonah was the only Old Testament prophet sent directly to the Gentiles.  The theme of Jonah is the God’s divine mercy is applied without favoritism to Jews and Gentiles.  Jonah was from the tribe of Zebulun.  His ministry was between 800-750 B.C. about the time of King Jeroboam II in the Northern Kingdom.  By the end of 721 B.C., Assyria conquered and deported the Northern Kingdom Jews.

The Book of Jonah begins with God telling Jonah to travel to Ninevah, Assyria to warn the people of pending retribution because of their wickedness.  Instead of heading northeast to Nineveh, Jonah booked passage on a ship to Tarshish, a city located in southern Spain.  God caused a violent storm to buffet the ship.  The superstitious sailors cast lots to identify who was responsible for the calamity. The lot fell on Jonah.  Jonah was thrown into the Mediterranean Sea where he was swallowed by a giant fish.  While inside the fish, Jonah acknowledged his disobedience and the sovereignty of God.  After three days, the fish vomited Jonah onto dry land, probably near an eastern Mediterranean country.

Again, God told Jonah to go to Nineveh and proclaim a message that God would give to him.  Jonah went and proclaimed, “forty more days and Nineveh will be overturned” (Jonah 3:4, NIV-SB, 2002).  The Ninevehites including their king believed Jonah’s prophecy.  They fasted in sackcloth and ashes.  When God saw that the Ninevehites turn from their evil ways, he had compassion and did not destroy Nineveh.

Likely, the Ninevites were ecstatic over God’s decision, however, Jonah was angry.  His complaint to God and about God included (Jonah 4:2):

  • isn’t this just what I said would happen when I was at home?
  • that’s why I was so quick to flee to Tarshish.
  • I knew that you are gracious, compassionate, slow to anger, abounding in love, and relent from sending calamity.

Jonah was so upset that he told God to kill him; it would be better for him to be dead than alive.  God’s response was to ask Jonah the question, “Have you any right to be angry” (Jonah 4:4).  Instead of answering God, Jonah went to a spot east of Nineveh, built a small shelter, sat down under it, and waited to see what would happen to Nineveh.  Jonah had no confidence that the Ninevehites would continue their reformed ways.  As Jonah watched the city, God stimulated a vine to grow over Jonah to screen him from the sun and to ease his discomfort.  Jonah was very happy about the vine.  At dawn the next day, God made a worm chew the vine so it withered.  When sun rose, God caused a scorching east wind and the sun to shine on Jonah’s head.  Jonah grew faint and again told God that it would be better for him to die than live.

God asked Jonah, “Do you have a right to be angry about the vine” (Jonah 4:9).   Jonah’s response was a resounding “I do and I am angry enough to die.” God said told Jonah was concerned about a vine that he neither caused to grow nor tended.  How much more should God be concerned about Nineveh, a city of 120,000 people who did not know right from wrong.

Castor bean leavesCastor Bean Plant

The majority of present day botanists and scholars agree that Jonah’s gourd was the  Ricinus communis, also known as the castor bean, castor oil plant, and palma Christi (hand of Christ).  The castor bean vine is indigenous to Northeastern Africa, the Middle East, or India.  It was found in 5000 year-old Egyptian tombs.  The castor oil bean tree grows wild in Israel and can be seen on rocky hillsides, in waste areas, along road shoulders, and in fallow fields. Established plants are drought tolerant; but are killed by substantial frost. It grows as an annual that reaches 8-15 feet tall in a single growing season. When young, leaves are red and shining; however, when fully expanded (12-30 inches across), leaves are blue-green and paler on the underside. These large leaves produce abundant shade when the tree is full grown. When the growing season is short, gardeners start seeds inside or scar the seeds before planting. The castor oil tree produces a variety of products.  Made from the castor oil seed coat, ricin is a deadly chemical which can be used in biological warfare.  Ingesting ricin in even small doses can be fatal.  Castor oil is a distasteful laxative made from castor seeds.

Symbolism:  Compassion

The Biblical gourd is a symbol of compassion.  Compassion means a sympathetic awareness of another person’s distress together with a desire to alleviate the distress.  In the story of Jonah, we see compassion juxtaposition with lack of compassion.  God had compassion on the Ninevehites and sent Jonah to call them to repentance.  Jonah had no compassion for the 120,000 Ninevehites who repented of their sins.  God had compassion on Jonah and caused a leafy gourd to grow over Jonah’s shelter.  Jonah had compassion on the gourd that protected him from the sun; he was angry when a worm chewed through the vine and caused it to die.

Possibly some of Jonah’s lack of compassion for the Ninevehites was the result of seeing God as belonging to the Israelites.  He did not fully comprehend that God was the God of the world and cared about all peoples to include the Ninevehites (Psalm 145:9).  Throughout the book of Jonah, God leads Jonah to a new understanding of God himself.   We never read that God was angry with the sulky Jonah.  Instead God gave patient explanations using Jonah’s feelings for the gourd vine to parallel God’s feelings for the Ninevehites.

In his ministry Christ demonstrated compassion consistently.  In the Gospels we can read that Christ had compassion on individuals and groups (Matthew 9:36, 14:14; 20:34; Mark 1:41, 6:34; and Luke 7:13, 10:13).  Repeatedly Christ used the word “compassion” when he told stories of love (Matthew 18:27, 33; Mark 5:19; and Luke 7:13, 15:20).

When investigating compassion, I read that personal salvation should bear fruit in social compassion.  Not being too sure of that statement, I searched the scriptures for confirmation or dis-confirmation.  I found these words penned by St. John: “If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother in need but has no pity on him, how can the love of God be in him?  Dear children, let us not love with words or tongue but with actions” (I John 3:17-18.   John was calling us to have social compassion on others.

Jonah called the Ninevehites to repentance because of God’s compassion for them.  Because of Christ’s love for us, we need to have compassion on our brothers and sisters in need.

Reflection.  As I write this unit, it is 9 days until Christmas.  Many of us have softer hearts at this time of year. We remember that Christ came into the world because he had compassion on us. How do you exhibit Christ’s compassion all year long?

I love Bible plants along with their symbolism. If you want to learn more about them, read my two books: 1) Rooted in God and 2) God as a Gardener. You can purchase them from my website: Carolyn Roth Ministry at http://www.CarolynRothMinistry.com/

Copyright June 11, 2012; carolyn a. roth

Save