I recently finished teaching through the book of Jonah in our Children’s Church. I began to see some big themes in Jonah that I had missed before. Here is an outline of what I taught, it will need some adaptation to fit in your ministry. This page offers some hints for teaching this important Bible story to children. Below you will also find links to our free Sunday School lessons based on the book of Jonah.
- 8 Part Inductive Study on Jonah for older elementary students. Jonah 1-2 (step one, two, three, four). Jonah 3-4 (step one, two, three, four).
- 5 Part Sunday School Series on Jonah (one, two, three, four, five)
- 2 Part Children’s Sermon on Jonah (one, two)
- Top 10 Boats in the Bible, this lesson features a slide on Jonah
Theme of Jonah: Salvation Belongs To The Lord
The literary and theological climax of the book of Jonah is his cry for salvation: But I with the voice of thanksgiving will sacrifice to you; what I have vowed I will pay. Salvation belongs to the LORD!“ Jonah 2:9 ESV. In his unthinkable terror, he cries to God for salvation.
The whole book of Jonah is about God’s salvation. Repeatedly, we see the LORD acting decisively to rescue those who turn to Him. Consider:
- God saved the sailors from drowning and from their paganism. By God’s providence they are taught to fear the LORD more than the fear the sea. Their prayer in 1:14 and sacrifices in 1:16 demonstrate men with changed hearts. God has revealed himself in a raging sea and they were changed. Notice they were also physically saved from the storm in 1:15.
- God save Jonah from disobedience and a watery grave. The storm itself was God acting to bring Jonah to repentance. He was saved from certain death by the fish in 1:17. Then he was saved from the fish and restored to dry land in 2:10.
- God saved the people of Nineveh from his judgment. In 3:5 they repent at the preaching of Jonah.
- God saved the king of Nineveh from his judgment. In 3:6-9 this pagan emperor humbles himself and his great city before the LORD. The conversion of Nineveh is the most impressive miracle in the book of Jonah. God demanded and secured this repentance. Ultimately the people were saved from God’s righteous wrath toward their wickedness. But the LORD saved them.
- God saved Jonah from the heat of the day. The plant that gave Jonah shade in 4:6 was and expression of God’s mercy.
- God saved Jonah from his hardening heart. God sent suffering in 4:7-8 by removing the plant and sending a scorching east wind. This was God’s mercy to humble Jonah and save him from pride.
In the book of Jonah, we see God moving in the lives of people great and small to bring about his salvation. Salvation belongs to the LORD.
So Why Did God Save Nineveh?
When and why God works is often a mystery. But in God reveals at least three reasons why he saved the city of Nineveh:
- God was pleased with their repentance and chose to have mercy on them. This was the hope of the King of Nineveh when he called for a citywide time of humbling.
Who knows? God may turn and relent and turn from his fierce anger, so that we may not perish.” When God saw what they did, how they turned from their evil way, God relented of the disaster that he had said he would do to them, and he did not do it. Jonah 3:9-10 ESV
- God wanted to save the children of Nineveh. We usually miss the last verse of Jonah. But in it we find the divine motive for saving the city of Nineveh.
And should not I pity Nineveh, that great city, in which there are more than 120,000 persons who do not know their right hand from their left, and also much cattle?” Jonah 4:11 ESV.
This is God’s explanation. It was the LORD’s sovereign right to have pity upon the children of that wicked city. This phrase is a very typical Hebraic way to speak of children. God was willing to save this city in order to save the young children of Nineveh.
- God had pity on the cattle of Nineveh. From the same verse as above, but look carefully at the last few works, “and also much cattle?” God cares about cows – deal with it. :)
Theme: The Hand Of God In The Book Of Jonah
It is striking how many times God does things in this little book. Reading a typical Children’s Story Bible you might not realize how God-centeredness of this short book. Consider some examples of God’s hand in the book of Jonah.
- God sends His Word to Jonah in Jonah 1:1-2
- God hurls a great wind upon the sea in Jonah 1:13
- God makes the storm worse in Jonah1:13 (implied)
- God causes the storm to cease in Jonah 1:15
- God appoints a fish to save Jonah in 1:17
- God hears Jonah’s prayer in Jonah 2 (implied)
- God speaks to the fish in Jonah 2:10
- God sends His Word to Jonah a second time in Jonah 3:1-2
- God appoints a plant to shade the prophet in Jonah 4:6
- God appoints a worm to attack the plant in Jonah 4:7
- God appoints an east wind in Jonah 4:8
- God questions Jonah in 4:9
- God explains his salvation of Nineveh in Jonah 4:10-11
The book of “Jonah” could easily be called the book of “God.” He is the main character. From start to finish, this book is about God. He is at work (despite his reluctant prophet) to save a wicked people. In this, God brings glory to himself and shows mercy on the great city of Nineveh.
So, when you teach Jonah, remember that God is the hero – not the fish.