The Wonder Worm

“But God prepared a worm when the morning rose the next day, and it smote the gourd that it withered.” (Jonah 4:7)

No doubt, you probably have read about Jonah in a children’s storybook back when you were a tot. Toward the end there is inevitably a colorful picture of a fuzzy caterpillar with bloated cheeks and a satisfied smile. Perched atop a humongous leaf he munches away like a hungry piranha. As cute as that sounds, that is not how scripture describes the scene. First of all, it wasn’t a leaf. It was a gourd. And it wasn’t a caterpillar. It was a worm. Furthermore, that bitty creature didn’t take its sweet time gnawing on that massive gourd as if to savor each bite. It smote that bitter ball, as if it were nothing to be desired. As indicated in the passage above, the gourd got whacked and it withered.

The gourd represents the law.

But what does that fierce little worm represent?

You might be surprised by the answer. That worm is a picture of Jesus. To better understand

Jonah and the Worm

Jonah and the Worm

this we’ll need to examine this creepy crawler a bit closer. In the original, this worm is called ‘tola’ which is also Hebrew for scarlet. These scrawny maggots, also called crimson grubs, are actually larva of the clothes-moth. They appear in decaying organic matter, which tells us that Jonah’s gourd was already on the way out before the worm showed up. In ancient times, the tola was used in the making of scarlet red dyes. Interestingly enough, tola is used in the original Hebrew versions of the Bible to describe sin. Here is one example:

Come now, and let us reason together, saith the Lord: though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson [tola], they shall be as wool.”  (Isaiah 1:18)

The tola is an interesting little maggot in the way that it produces new life. The female fastens itself to a tree limb then dies while bearing her offspring. The young then consume the body, leaving a scarlet stain on the limb. After a few days this spot turns white as wool then flakes off like snow. In like manner,

Jesus became like scarlet upon a tree.

He shed His blood, yes, but additionally he became as scarlet by taking on the sins of the world. The apostle Paul states, “For he hath made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him.” (2 Corinthians 5:21) This was the beginning of new life for Jesus’ spiritual offspring.

Though our sins are as scarlet,  we are made white as snow.

Prior to breathing His last Jesus wailed, My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” He was quoting the first verse of Psalm 22. This chapter of the Bible is recognized as “the psalm of the cross” which depicts the Messiah’s bloody crucifixion. With eerie detail, the psalmist records our Lord’s agony:

“I am poured out like water, and all my bones are out of joint: my heart is like wax; it is melted in the midst of my bowels. My strength is dried up like a potsherd; and my tongue cleaveth to my jaws; and thou hast brought me into the dust of death. For dogs have compassed me: the assembly of the wicked have enclosed me: they pierced my hands and my feet. I may tell all my bones: they look and stare upon me. They part my garments among them, and cast lots upon my vesture.” (Psalms 22:14-18)

Keep in mind, this passage was penned centuries before crucifixion was heard of. Yet all these things were fulfilled exactly as the psalmist predicted. Perhaps one of the most intriguing statements in this entire Psalm is when Christ declares, “But I am a worm [tola], and no man; a reproach of men, and despised of the people.” (vs.6)

He who knew no sin became a bloody maggot…

…and there on the tree He left a crimson stain. Yet on the third day life emerged from the blood, and the sins of our Savior’s offspring were made white as snow. That was when the gourd (the law) landed with a resounding thud.

The gourd covered mankind for a brief time but could not save us. It was only a precursor to the worm who covers us with his life-giving blood. The worm accomplished what the gourd could not. In essence, the gourd revealed the darkness, but the worm removed it. The scarlet stain blots out our every blemish. That’s the gospel according to the Book of Jonah. Of course, what was foreshadowed in Jonah’s story was spoken of by other prophets as well. For one, Jeremiah spoke of a day when the old covenant (the law) would be replaced by the new (the blood). Through Jeremiah, the promise was given that God’s people would make the leap from religion to relationship, and that their sins would be forgiven once and for all. That is what we see in the Book of Jonah. When the worm went up the gourd went down.

The law served its purpose, but now that covering is gone.

We have a new covering in the new covenant. By the precious blood of Jesus our sins are washed away forevermore. Yes, we have been laundered on the heavy duty cycle. Every spot has been bleached out. We are white as snow. There is nothing we can do to make ourselves any cleaner before God. Jesus did it all. The law just exposed how dirty we were. Jesus brought the cleaning agent – His blood. The apostle Paul explains it like this:

“Christ hath redeemed us from the curse of the law, being made a curse for us: for it is written, Cursed is every one that hangeth on a tree.” (Galatians 3:13)

“Wherefore then serveth the law? It was added because of transgressions, till the seed should come to whom the promise was made; and it was ordained by angels in the hand of a mediator.” (Galatians 3:19)

“But before faith came, we were kept under the law, shut up unto the faith which should afterwards be revealed. Wherefore the law was our schoolmaster to bring us unto Christ, that we might be justified by faith. But after that faith is come, we are no longer under a schoolmaster.” (Galatians 3:23-25)

Sadly, legalists don’t see it that way.

They panic when they hear that we are no longer covered by the law. There is a fear that the church will turn into Saints gone wild! Those who take this position don’t fully grasp what was accomplished on the cross. They understand in theory that Jesus paid for our sins, but they fail to realize the full impact of what this means for us today. Because our sins are covered, God has declared each believer as His holy tabernacle. What this means is that His Spirit dwells within us. Our response is to simply allow Him to lead. If we are truly yielded, we will be led in the way of righteousness. As Paul put it, “If ye be led of the Spirit, ye are not under the law.” (Galatians 5:18)

Furthermore, the fruit of the Spirit is love and by love all the law is fulfilled. “Love is the fulfilling of the law.” (Romans 13:10) That is what the blood does for us. It gives us the capacity to love, first God then others. That is all we are required to do. Without love we are reduced to a hollow and bitter gourd. And without the worm, love is beyond our grasp. The gourd must be smote and we must be smitten with love.

I hope I’ve jarred a mental picture that helps you better understand the gospel according to Jonah. Erase that image from your mind of a fuzzy caterpillar chomping on a leaf. Now picture a bloody maggot striking a blow at a gourd large enough to shade a grown man. Imagine how cool that was. Then kiss the gourd goodbye. Once you hear the “squash” below, look up. Look upon the blood. There is enough to cover everyone.

“For this is my blood of the new testament, which is shed for many for the remission of sins.” (Matthew 26:28)

*This blog is an excerpt from ‘My City Was Gone’ by Terry Michaels


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