This lesson is based on the the first chapter of the Book of Jonah. It focuses on how a person’s disobedience to God causes difficulty in the lives of others. Despite knowing his mission from God, Jonah allowed prejudice and fear to control his actions. This lesson plan was prepared for older elementary Sunday School, but you modify it to use as a Children’s church lesson and simplified for younger students. As always, be creative and teach for the children God has placed in your ministry. We also have a Jonah children’s church lesson and children sermon about Jonah.
Bible Story: Jonah Runs From God
Scripture: Jonah 1
Target Age Group: Age 9 – 11 (U.S. 3rd – 5th Grade)
Learning Context: Sunday School
Target Time Frame: 60 minutes
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Learning Goal: Students will learn that disobedience to God negatively affects others.
Learning Indicator: Students will be able to re-enact the lesson at the end. They will be able to demonstrate their understanding of the lesson by answering review questions.
Learning Activity #1: Cause and Effect: Choose some examples of how a person’s negative actions affect others. (Lying causes others not to trust you. Speaking unkind words about others hurts them. Pushing in line may cause physical harm to others.) Discuss examples and allow students to come up with other ideas of how our negative actions affect others. When people choose to sin their sin hurts others.
Learning Activity #2: Let students line up dominoes so that by pushing down the first one all the dominoes will be knocked down. The first domino that fell put into motion all the others to fall down. When we make sinful choices we cause others to fall or suffer as well.
Learning Activity #3: After the lesson create a boat by lining up chairs. If you have some small empty boxes the students could use those to pretend to throw the cargo overboard. Allow students to reenact the story.
Test: Review Questions
Memory Verse: Hebrews 12:1 “Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us.”
The story of Jonah is a great Bible illustration about the meaning of sin & repentance. Despite all his blessings, Jonah refused to follow the mission God had given. God still loved this reluctant prophet and worked to bring him back to a right relationship. When teaching kids this can be a great way to approach the Gospel story. We are all like Jonah and need God’s love & patience as we learn to obey. Because of Jesus and the cross, we can be forgiven and welcomed back.
Choose a volunteer to be Simon and play the game ‘Simon Says’. Have students recite verse. As believers others are watching our examples. This verse teaches us to live in such a way that no sin keeps us from running the race that God has given to each believer. As we run the race God has given us our goal is to point others to Jesus so they can believe and be saved. If we obey God and follow Jesus’ example others will see Him clearly in our lives. If we choose to let sin control our lives we affect others in a negative way and cause other believers to follow our bad examples or hinder unbelievers from being saved. (Another idea is to use the boxes that are for the reenactment to symbolize the sin in our lives and toss them overboard because our sin weighs us down and keeps us from running the race well.)
Bible Lesson: Jonah Runs From God
(This is only a guide to teach this lesson. As you pray for your class’ individual needs God will impress on your heart what truths to teach your students.)
Have students open their Bibles to Jonah 1. (Give Bibles to students who do not have one.) Ask the class which part of the Bible would be find Jonah (Old Testament or New Testament)? Jonah is found in the Old Testament and is considered one of the minor prophets.
Some of you may have heard this story many times in your life if you have been in church since you were small. Maybe this is the first time you will be hearing this story from God’s Word.
Whether this is your first or 100th time hearing about Jonah, God always has something He wants to teach us from His Word. Each one of us in this room has different needs and God knows what we need to hear. Let’s listen to this story as though it was the first time we have ever heard it so we can learn the lesson God wants to teach us.
When we sin against God there will always be negative results. Earlier we discussed how our negative actions affect those around us. Sin always has consequences. God is holy and He must punish sin. God is also merciful which means He is kind and compassionate. He wants people to turn from their sin and turn to Him so they can live a life that pleases Him.
(Give a brief history of the Israelites.) God’s people the Israelites had a long history of disobedience. When David was king he ruled over the whole country of Israel (show a map.) After David died his son Solomon became king. Solomon sinned against God and the consequence for his sin caused the nation of Israel to be divided into two parts. Israel was divided into a northern kingdom and a southern kingdom. You can find out more about the history of the divided kingdoms in 1 & 2 Kings and 1 & 2 Chronicles. The northern kingdom had wicked kings who were evil in the sight of God. As evil kings they led the people in the northern kingdom to sin against God by their wicked example. The southern kingdom had many good kings who tried to lead the people to obey God’s laws.
One of the consequences of sin in both of the kingdoms was that enemies from other countries attacked the Israelites. Assyria was one of the countries that attacked Israel and caused difficulty for them. The Assyrians were very cruel people.
With that brief background let’s read Jonah 1:1-2. Jonah is an Israelite and he has received a message from God. Nineveh was the capital city of Assyria. How do you think Jonah felt about the Ninevites? He did not like them because they were enemies of Israel.
God is a compassionate God. He knew that the Assyrians were wicked and cruel. He also knew that there were over 600,000 people living in Nineveh. (Nineveh was the largest city in the world at the time Jonah lived.) If they did not turn from their sins they would be punished by God. Because He is compassionate He gives people a chance to turn from their wickedness so they will not suffer His punishment. (Ezekiel 18:32, 2 Peter 3:9)
God chose Jonah to go to the Ninevites and tell them that unless they turned from their wicked ways they would face God’s punishment.
If you are a follower of Jesus, God has given you instructions to take the message of the Good News to others (Matthew 28:19-20). People need to hear that Jesus died on the cross for their sins, was buried and rose again on the third day. When people believe in Jesus they are rescued from God’s punishment for their sins which is death (separated from Him for all eternity).
Jonah was not happy with this assignment God had given him. He did not like the Ninevites because they were Assyrians and wanted them to be punished for all the hurtful things they had done to the Israelites over the years.
Jonah chose to disobey God’s instructions and went completely in the opposite direction that he was told to go. (Show Map) If Jonah would have obeyed God immediately his trip to Nineveh would only be 550 miles. Instead he went to Joppa and found a boat that was heading to Tarshish located 2500 miles away.
Jonah may have breathed a sigh of relief as he settled in for his long trip to Tarshish. He would be so far away from Nineveh there would be no way he would ever have to preach to them! Jonah may have thought he could run from God but that is not possible! (Psalm 139)
When a person believes in Jesus as their Savior they have been adopted by God. That person now belongs to God and He is their heavenly Father. Earthly fathers discipline their children for disobedience because they want their children to make wise choices and do what is right. Jonah belonged to God. God was His heavenly Father and He would discipline Jonah for his disobedience. (Hebrews 12:7-11)
Let’s read Jonah 1:4-5. Choose volunteer to summarize the verses in their own words.
These sailors were minding their own business doing what they normally do by sailing from Joppa to Tarshish carrying people and packages (cargo) that were being shipped from one port to another. Jonah’s sin of disobedience caused the sailors’ lives to be endangered. They were so afraid the ship would sink they all began to cry out to the different gods they worshiped. They also began to throw cargo overboard to help the ship not sink.
These sailors did not know the One True God and yet a man sleeping down below the deck did know Him. The captain of the ship must have been amazed not to see Jonah up on the deck praying and crying out to his god as they all feared death. Read Jonah 1:6.
How many of you have had a callous on your hand? If you haven’t raked before or haven’t raked in a long time when you use the rake it may cause you to have blisters on your hands. The blisters hurt a bit and make your hands uncomfortable. The more you rake the tougher your hands become and where you used to get blisters you get hardened skin called a callous.
When we obey God our hearts are tender. If we sin we become uncomfortable like the blister on our hands. That discomfort should cause us to go to God and confess to Him the sin we have done. He forgives our sin and our hearts are still tender to His voice and instructions to us. On the other hand, if we sin and don’t confess our sins our hearts begin to become calloused and we are no longer sensitive to God’s voice. We become sleepy and insensitive the needs of people around us and cannot serve in God’s kingdom as He wants us to.
Jonah’s disobedience caused him to be sleepy and insensitive to the needs of those around him. The sailors did not worship the One True God and if they were to die in that storm they would be separated from God for all eternity.
If we allow sin to control our hearts we will be sleepy and insensitive to those around us who are not saved and if they were to die they would be separated from God for all eternity. We need to have a clean heart before God so that we can be sensitive to the needs of others. God wants us to be His instruments to share the Good News with those who do not believe in Jesus.
The sailors wanted to know who was responsible for the danger they were in. They cast lots to find out who was responsible. Casting lots is like flipping a coin and the person who says ‘heads’ gets to go first. It also could be like putting names in a hat and the name that is drawn first is the person responsible. When the sailors cast lots they realized it was Jonah’s fault that they were suffering this terrible storm.
They asked Jonah who he was and where he came from. Let’s read Jonah’s response to their questions in Jonah 1:9. The sailors were frightened and as the storm gets worse and they ask Jonah what they should do to make the sea calm down.
Jonah knew why these people were suffering this difficulty and he told them to throw him into the sea and everything would calm down.
The sailors who didn’t worship the One True God had more compassion for Jonah than he did for others. They didn’t want to throw him overboard so they tried everything they could to try to sail back to the land. The storm only got worse. These sailors prayed to the One True God. Let’s read their prayer in Jonah 1:14. After praying they took Jonah and threw him overboard and immediately the sea became calm. The sailors were in awe at God’s power and they offered a sacrifice to Him and made vows to Him.
As Jonah sinks into the sea God provides a great fish to swallow him. Jonah stays inside this fish for three days and three nights. Our next lesson will continue in the book of Jonah so we hope you will be able to come back.
We have seen in our lesson today how Jonah’s disobedience had negative effects upon those around him. As we go through each day let’s pray for God to give us strength to be obedient to Him. Living an obedient life for God will have a positive impact on the lives of others.
We began our lesson with negative examples and their effects. Let’s close our lesson with ways positive examples affect others. (Allow students to volunteer positive things they can do. Share the Good News-people will know how they can be rescued from the punishment of sin. Say kind words-encourage others. Reach out to the person who has no friends in your class-encourage that person and also be an example to those who haven’t tried to be his/her friend.)
Close in prayer.
- Where did God tell Jonah to go? (Nineveh)
- Why did Jonah run away from God? (He didn’t want to go to Nineveh because they were Israel’s enemies)
- What city was Jonah sailing to? (Tarshish)
- How did others suffer because of Jonah’s disobedience? (The storm was causing the ship to break apart and the sailors were afraid)
- What was Jonah doing while all the sailors were praying to their gods? (Sleeping)
- How did the sea become calm? (Sailors threw Jonah overboard)
- What did God provide for Jonah? (A great fish)
(Personal Questions that students don’t answer out loud)
- What person do you not want to share the Good News with because they have been very hurtful to you? Will you pray that God will help you have compassion for that person as He does? He will enable you to love that person and give you the power to share the Good News.
- What actions or attitudes do you need to change so that others can see Jesus more clearly in your life?
- If you have been disobedient and have been a bad example to others around you will you confess that sin to God? He will forgive you and cleanse you from your sins and help you to do what is right.