Jonah and the Worm

I have a deep, personal connection with the worm from the book of Jonah.I know, that sounds…well, really strange, but let me explain. When I was a junior in college, I took part in a children’s theatre performance called Gospel Time in Gospel Rhyme. It was an hour-long musical that retold five Biblical stories in cutesy rhyming couplets. Think Dr. Seuss without the made-up words.

Anyway, one of the stories that we told was that of Jonah. We went through the entire story: the call, the mad flight to Tarshish, being swallowed by a giant fish, Jonah’s lousy sermon, Nineveh’s repentance, all of it. And then, in the final moments, we recreated the story of Jonah and the worm in a rather unique way.

There’s Jonah, suffering under the heat of the sun, so God sends a vine to shelter him. And at that point, a friend of mine danced out on stage, dressed in all black with green vines and leaves attached to his body. He did a pirouette, a few ballet poses (and I suppose it would help if I mentioned that this gentleman was not graceful in the slightest), and then spread out his arms over Jonah’s head. Jonah is very happy, and he starts arranging the leaves to shade him even better.

jonah and the wormBut then the worm shows up. And that was my cue. I crawled on stage, wrapped in gaudy black and green striped fabric. It was essentially a tube around seven and a half feet long. The only part of me that was truly visible was my mouth and chin. I let out an evil belly laugh and then inched across the stage to Jonah and the vine. Then I bit my friend in the leg, knocked him over, and crawled off stage, chortling all the way.

We brought the house down each time.

Now you might think that a worm with an evil laugh is a bit over the top (and yeah, I suppose it was), but Jonah would have thought of that worm as a force of pure evil.

But let’s let the story speak for itself:

But this was very displeasing to Jonah, and he became angry. He prayed to the Lord and said, “O Lord! Is not this what I said while I was still in my own country? That is why I fled to Tarshish at the beginning; for I knew that you are a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love, and ready to relent from punishing. And now, O Lord, please take my life from me, for it is better for me to die than to live.” And the Lord said, “Is it right for you to be angry?” Then Jonah went out of the city and sat down east of the city, and made a booth for himself there. He sat under it in the shade, waiting to see what would become of the city.

The “this” that the first verse refers to is the non-destruction of Nineveh. God has spared the Assyrians from the fate that they so richly deserved, just like Jonah knew He would. He says that’s why he ran at first. He knew that this would happen.

But maybe God will change his mind, so Jonah camps out to watch.

The Lord God appointed a bush, and made it come up over Jonah, to give shade over his head, to save him from his discomfort; so Jonah was very happy about the bush. But when dawn came up the next day, God appointed a worm that attacked the bush, so that it withered. When the sun rose, God prepared a sultry east wind, and the sun beat down on the head of Jonah so that he was faint and asked that he might die. He said, “It is better for me to die than to live.”

So God, being the gracious God that He is, sends a bush (or a vine, depending on your translation) to give Jonah some shade. But just as quickly, God takes it away when he sends the worm to attack it. This whole series of events was enough to make Jonah suicidal. He’s done. He’s frustrated at God’s mercy, he’s furious at the worm, and he’s probably feeling really hot and sweaty. Stick a fork in him. He’s done.

But God’s not done with him yet.

But God said to Jonah, “Is it right for you to be angry about the bush?” And he said, “Yes, angry enough to die.” Then the Lord said, “You are concerned about the bush, for which you did not labor and which you did not grow; it came into being in a night and perished in a night. And should I not be concerned about Nineveh, that great city, in which there are more than a hundred and twenty thousand persons who do not know their right hand from their left, and also many animals?”

God points out that Jonah is so angry about the death of this one bush, then He makes the connection between Jonah’s compassion for a plant and the people of Nineveh. Shouldn’t God be compassionate toward all 120,000 of them as well? Shouldn’t He show them mercy too?

Jonah wanted God to be the worm to Nineveh’s vine. He wanted God to tear it all down. But God shows His love and mercy in that He’s willing to forgive, even in the face of Jonah’s fierce anger.

A few years ago, I heard a missionary speak at a church conference, and he shared how he got to work on the first translation of the Bible into the language of the people he was ministering to. Apparently they had quite the decision to make: which book of the Bible should they translate first? He was extremely surprised when one of the native assistants suggested Jonah. He asked why, and the assistant explained: “God shows great mercy to an idolatrous people, just like my people. This shows that God can love us too!”

And that’s the truth. The story of Jonah isn’t about Jonah. It’s really about God and His incredible mercy towards the people that we might think don’t deserve it.

The true hero of the book of Jonah isn't the prophet but the God he represents. Click To Tweet

But the story of Jonah technically isn’t done yet. Come back next week and we’ll see how the story ends.


  1. And here I thought I was the only one with a deep personal connection to Jonah’s worm! I love my translation that says, “But God appointed a worm.” That word, “appointed.” Even the itty-bitties can have big jobs.

  2. Oh how I love the book of Jonah. Jonah is such a Jerk (yes I realize he was probably afraid of being flayed alive by the Ninevites, but still) and God loves Him. the book of Jonah is all about God’s love and Grace, long before Christ came and made a way, God was still reaching out to us.

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