Wind, Dice, Fish, Plants, and Worms: What Do These Have in Common?
Perhaps you think that the collection of wind, dice, fish, plants, and worms seems like about as random a collection of things (is wind a thing?) as possible. I would tend to agree. Yet there is something that groups all of these very different things together. When one reads the book of Jonah it can be found that, at one point or another in this short book, God is controlling each of them in order to fulfill his purposes in the life of Jonah and others.
God controls the wind, sending a great storm to stop Jonah from running away.
But the Lord hurled a great wind upon the sea, and there was a mighty tempest on the sea, so that the ship threatened to break up. (Jonah 1:4)
God controls the outcome of lots that are cast. It likely wasn’t dice used, but you get the idea. A random draw of names was made, and the lot was cast correctly on Jonah.
And they said to one another, “Come, let us cast lots, that we may know on whose account this evil has come upon us.” So they cast lots, and the lot fell on Jonah. (Jonah 1:7)
God ordains a giant fish (whale?) to swallow up Jonah and then later spew him back out by the seashore.
And the LORD appointed a great fish to swallow up Jonah. And Jonah was in the belly of the fish three days and three nights….And the LORD spoke to the fish, and it vomited Jonah out upon the dry land. (Jonah 1:17, 2:10)
God causes a plant to grow up over Jonah to shade him from the sun.
Now the LORD God appointed a plant and made it come up over Jonah, that it might be a shade over his head, to save him from his discomfort. (Jonah 4:6)
God later appoints a worm to come and eat the root of the plant so that it withers and dies.
But when dawn came up the next day, God appointed a worm that attacked the plant, so that it withered. (Jonah 4:7)
This is remarkable, is it not? That God would be involved in such seemingly sporadic goings on such as the growing of a plant or the lunch of a worm. Doesn’t God have bigger things to worry about? What about diseases that take the lives of millions? Or tyrannical dictators? Or human trafficking? Or the deterioration of our planet? What in the world is God doing messing around with puking fish when there are such greater issues at hand? What are we to make of this?
God in Control
The consistent teaching of the Bible is that God is in complete control of the universe. Nothing happens apart from either his direct involvement or sovereign permission. What I mean by this is that there are instances where God is the acting agent, the acting force in something that takes place. Meanwhile, at other times, God is not the acting agent, but is in a passive role, being able to stop what is about to take place but choosing not to. Either way, the Bible presents the truth that God ordains or governs all the activity in the universe in order to accomplish his divine purposes. Nothing happens apart from his control or permission. He is steering human history towards the accomplishment of his plan for mankind.
Remember the former things of old; for I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is none like me, declaring the end from the beginning and from ancient times things not yet done, saying, ‘My counsel shall stand, and I will accomplish all my purpose,’ (Isaiah 46:9-10)
This means that God is working not only in what are perceived to be “big” ways, but in little ways as well. It was that way for Jonah. God had a plan to not only cause the city of Nineveh to repent and spare the lives of 120,000 people, but God also had a plan to work in the heart of his prophet Jonah, who clearly had pride issues and a lack of love. In order for God to spare the city and expose the sin in Jonah, he used the means of a great wind, the correct outcome of a random lottery, the swallowing and spewing out of a fish, the growing of a plant and its subsequent withering by a worm’s eating of it. Each of these seemingly insignificant and random actions were under the control and appointment of God. He used each of them, just at the right time, to bring about the outcome he desired. It ended with Nineveh’s repentance and possibly the repentance of Jonah as well (the story finishes before we find out).
What it Means for You
One takeaway from the book of Jonah for us is that God is in complete control. Nothing that happens takes place outside of his will or permission. This includes seemingly small, random, insignificant details. God is in control of the rusty bolt on your transmission, the dog eating the baking you left out by accident, the TV remote button that keeps sticking, the freckle that you wish you didn’t have, the spot in your living room that gets a poor wifi signal, and the dollar you found in the grocery store parking lot. Or, in my current case, the tons of rotted wood I found when replacing the shingles of my roof. God uses these kinds of things in ways much bigger than we realize. I suspect that we will never understand how all the random goings on of everyday life have affected us until we get to heaven, but when we do, it will be like a light bulb of revelation going off in our heads. Suddenly the randomness will not seem so random and the insignificant will seem more significant.
This, of course, does not mean that God is fickle or trivial. To suggest otherwise would be tantamount to blasphemy! Rather, God is ominous and concerned about weighty things, far more than you and I are. And he is in control of them too. He is in control of ISIS, of world commerce, of the alignment of the planets, and dare I say, even of the cancer growing inside our bodies. And, despite all of the misery that things can bring us, both big and small, God is using them all to bring about the greater good, just as he was with Jonah. Do you suppose that Jonah, being tossed into the sea and swallowed by a fish, did not wonder what in the world God was doing? Yet he rightly credited God with no wrongdoing, and the Lord gave him a second chance. The fish incident was the very means used by God to get Jonah to Nineveh and deliver a message of grace, which was received, and a whole city was spared.
From the story of Jonah, we know that God is in control of the big things and the little things, and that he uses both to accomplish good in the lives of his people. Isn’t that one of the great promises of the Christian faith?
And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. (Romans 8:28)
The “all things” of Romans 8:28 cannot be overlooked. God works all things, including the very thing that is causing you anxiety right now, the thing that drives you crazy, the thing you thought was a curse but actually is a blessing, to accomplish good for you. We saw God do it in the book of Jonah. Even more importantly, we saw God do it in the cross of his Son. From the outside, the crucifixion of Christ seemed like the most random and wicked collection of events, yet God was in complete control and used it to secure the pardon of sinners (Acts 4:27-30). If God can do it for Jonah, and if God can do it in the death of Christ, then he can do it for you too. Actually, it’s not just that he can. He is.
Let the story of Jonah humble you to see that God is up to things that you simply can’t see or understand. In the little things and in the big things he is accomplishing his purposes, and his purposes are good. He is forging you into a useful vessel for him. He is bringing about the salvation of sinners. He is lifting himself up as glorious and just. He knows what he is doing, even when it makes no sense to us. We can know this to be true, because of Jonah, and because of the cross. Let the evidence of Scripture shape the way you think and build into you a kind of faith that is unshakable in the goodness of the God who has everything under control, serving his purposes and working for your everlasting joy.