Grades 3-6 Sunday School Lesson
Lesson 4: Under a Plant, Pouting
Author’s Notes: This week we’ll be finishing our series on the book of Jonah. And while a simple wrap-up of the book might be nice, it’s not what we’ll find. In fact, the book of Jonah will leave us with many unanswered questions: the biggest of which is whether Jonah’s heart ever softened toward the Ninevites. But while that question is not answered, we will get some insight into God’s nature; and how He felt about Jonah, and his lack of compassion.
[Since the book of Jonah seems to leave us without a proper ending, we’ll begin today’s lesson with a story. But we’re going to leave your students hanging, and won’t share the ending until the close of the lesson.]
(a retelling of the children’s classic The King, the Mice, and the Cheese by Nancy and Eric Gurney)
Once upon a time, in a land far away, lived a king. And this king loved one thing above all else. He loved cheese! And so, he had his servants bring him all of the best cheeses they could find from throughout his kingdom. There was so much cheese in the king’s palace that the smell of the cheese began to waft over the countryside.
Now, the king wasn’t the only one who loved cheese. For everyone knows that there’s another little creature who also loves nothing better to eat than cheese. All of the mice in the kingdom began to smell the king’s wonderful cheeses. And they ran straight for the palace, to get a taste of the delightful treat the king had brought in.
And it wasn’t just one or two little country mice who came to enjoy the feast. Hundreds and hundreds of them came from near and far. Big mice and little mice, fat mice and skinny mice all came to taste the king’s cheese. They were EVERYWHERE! In the kitchen, in the king’s bed, crawling on his throne and even in his beard! There were so many mice that the king’s servants could not possibly get rid of them all.
So the king called his wisemen. And they decided that the best way to get rid of the mice was to bring in some cats. So the wisemen went throughout the kingdom to find cats. They brought in big cats and little cats; fat cats and skinny cats; black cats and tiger cats…every kind of cat you could imagine. And just as the wisemen hoped, those cats chased away every single mouse from the palace.
But when the mice were gone, the cats did not leave. They decided they liked living in the king’s palace. They took over his bed and his couch; his favorite comfy chair; and even his throne. And the king didn’t know what to do to get rid of all the cats. So he called his wisemen together. And they decided that the best way to get rid of the cats was to bring in some dogs.
So the wisemen went throughout the kingdom to find dogs. They brought in big dogs and little dogs; fat dogs and skinny dogs; black dogs and yellow dogs…every kind of dog you could imagine. And just as the wisemen hoped, those dogs chased away every single cat from the palace.
But when the cats were gone, the dogs did not leave. They decided they liked living in the king’s palace. They took over his bed and his couch; his favorite comfy chair; and even his throne. There was dog hair everywhere! And the king didn’t know what to do to get rid of all the dogs. So he called his wisemen together. And they decided that the best way to get rid of the dogs was to bring in some elephants.
So the wisemen went throughout the kingdom to find elephants. They brought in big elephants and little elephants; fat elephants and skinny elephants; elephants with tusks, and some without…every kind of elephant you could imagine. And just as the wisemen hoped, those elephants chased away every single dog from the palace.
But when the dogs were gone, the elephants did not leave. They decided they liked living in the king’s palace. They took over his bed and his couch; his favorite comfy chair; his bath tubs and his fountains. And one even tried to sit on his throne! And the king didn’t know what to do to get rid of all the elephants. So he called his wisemen together.
And the wisemen knew there was only one way to get rid of an elephant.
But that’s where our story will end, for now, so we can get into today’s lesson on Jonah. And guess what… today’s lesson on Jonah is going to end a little bit like this story just ended. It almost seems like someone forgot to include the ending.
And that’s probably because what happened to Jonah was not as important to God as the lesson He wanted Jonah to learn. So let’s learn today’s memory verse. Then we’ll get into our last lesson from the book of Jonah. And if there’s time at the end, I’ll tell you how the king managed to get rid of his collection of elephants.
Today’s memory verse is the lesson God wanted Jonah to learn from his experience with the Ninevites. He wanted Jonah to forgive the Ninevites for what they’d done in the past; and be kind and compassionate toward them, just as He was. Let’s learn this important verse together.
Memory verse: (Have the children repeat this verse with you several times, until they are able to say it themselves. And encourage them to repeat it to others several times during the week, so that it’ll have a place in their hearts.)
“And be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ's sake hath forgiven you.” Ephesians 4:32
Opening prayer: Lord, thank You for each student who’s here, today. And thank You for Your Word, The Bible, where we can learn new truths about You, and Your plans for us. Help each one of us here, today, to be attentive to what You would have us learn. Give us open ears and hearts, ready to listen to Your words. Amen.
This Week’s Lesson: A withered plant, and a withered heart (Jonah 4)
In our last lesson, we learned that there was a great revival throughout the city of Nineveh. Everyone repented and turned to the Lord, from the king right down to the lowliest peasant. There had never before been a revival like it; and all because one man was faithful to obey God’s call.
Wouldn’t you think that such a revival would be just what a prophet of God would be hoping and praying for? Wouldn’t you think that an entire city turning to the Lord would just about make a preacher jump up and down for joy? You might think that. But today, we’re going to see that’s not how Jonah reacted, at all. Jonah was faithful, and God accomplished a great thing in Nineveh, through him. But that doesn’t mean Jonah was happy about the outcome.
We actually took a brief look at his reaction in our first lesson, several weeks ago. But today, we’re going to look a little more closely at Jonah’s obedient, but not-so-compassionate heart.
1But it displeased Jonah exceedingly, and he was very angry.
Do you know what “it” was that made Jonah so angry? Let’s go back, just for a moment to the end of chapter 3, and review what happened when Jonah preached to the people of Nineveh.
Jonah 3:10 says “Then God saw their works, that they turned from their evil way; and God relented from the disaster that He had said He would bring upon them, and He did not do it.” This is what displeased Jonah. He was angry that God chose to forgive the repentant Ninevites, rather than punish them. Here’s what Jonah said to the Lord:
2And he prayed unto the LORD, and said, I pray thee, O LORD, was not this my saying, when I was yet in my country? Therefore I fled before unto Tarshish: for I knew that thou art a gracious God, and merciful, slow to anger, and of great kindness, and repentest thee of the evil.
Let’s take just a moment to look at the way Jonah described God. He said that God is gracious. He showed that by sending Jonah to preach to Nineveh, and offer them a chance to repent. Jonah said God is merciful. Nineveh deserved to be destroyed for their wickedness. And yet, God held back His hand, and did not destroy them. Jonah said God is slow to anger. The Ninevites had been doing very wicked things for many years. Yet God had not yet punished them. Jonah said God shows great kindness. And again we can see that in Jonah being sent to warn them of the destruction that was coming. And Jonah said that God changes His mind when it comes to punishing those who rightly deserve it. And we can clearly see that in God’s decision not to destroy Nineveh at that time.
Were any of these things that Jonah complained about usually considered bad things? No! Those things describe a wonderful, loving God. But the result of His loving-kindness toward the people of Nineveh was what displeased Jonah most. The people of Nineveh were Jonah’s enemies, and he wanted God to punish them. In fact, Jonah was so angry with God for sparing the Ninevites that rather than watch them receive God’s grace, Jonah said he would rather die! Jonah must have really hated the people of Nineveh. Jonah said it this way,
3Therefore now, O LORD, take, I beseech thee, my life from me; for it is better for me to die than to live.
How would you describe the way Jonah was feeling? It sounds like he was angry with God. He was disappointed with the outcome for Nineveh. And he was depressed enough that he didn’t want to live any more, if things were going to be that way. That doesn’t sound like the things we’d expect to hear from a servant of God. And yet, when we have people in our own lives whom we have not forgiven, or those who seem to have gotten away with something, making us feel cheated, perhaps we feel the same way Jonah did…like they deserve to be punished.
When we’re feeling that way, we need to quickly remind ourselves that we, too, have done things that deserve punishment. But that God has forgiven us, and expects us to do the same for others. That’s why He asked Jonah this question:
4Then said the LORD, Doest thou well to be angry?
God was asking Jonah if he really had any right to be angry. What do you think? Did Jonah have the right to feel the way he did? Nineveh had done some terrible, wicked things in the past. But God was now looking at the present…at repentant, forgiven hearts. These were people who no longer had the penalty of sin hanging over them. They were covered in God’s forgiveness. And Jonah just couldn’t stand it. So here’s what he did…
5So Jonah went out of the city, and sat on the east side of the city, and there made him a booth, and sat under it in the shadow, till he might see what would become of the city.
Where did Jonah go? He headed out of the city; away from the people who were probably rejoicing in their great revival. Jonah was not in the mood to be cheerful. He wanted to pout. He’d wanted God’s wrath poured out on his enemies. And instead, He had poured out His mercy. And Jonah had no intention of congratulating them.
Did you catch what Jonah was doing from his perch, outside the city? Jonah was watching to see what might become of the city. Do you think he was hoping to see lively parades and celebrations? Or do you think he was hoping God would change His mind back, and send fire raining down on the Ninevites? I expect he was hoping for the fire-show. And that’s another reason why he probably kept his distance.
But instead, God had another little demonstration in mind for Jonah. Listen to what God did:
6And the LORD God prepared a gourd, and made it to come up over Jonah, that it might be a shadow over his head, to deliver him from his grief. So Jonah was exceeding glad of the gourd.
God knew that his prophet was suffering. He knew Jonah was disappointed and depressed; and that the heat of the day was probably making things worse. So God created a gourd that grew so fast and tall that it came right up and over Jonah, providing shade for him. How wonderful and compassionate our God is, that He sees when we are suffering; and wants to send comfort and relief.
But God also felt that Jonah had no right to wish punishment upon the Ninevites. He wanted Jonah to have compassion for them, just as He had done. So God came up with a way to teach Jonah about compassion.
7But God prepared a worm when the morning rose the next day, and it smote the gourd that it withered.
8And it came to pass, when the sun did arise, that God prepared a vehement east wind; and the sun beat upon the head of Jonah, that he fainted, and wished in himself to die, and said, It is better for me to die than to live.
What did God allow to happen to the gourd that was providing shade for Jonah? God made a worm that attacked the gourd, so that it would wither and no longer provide shade for Jonah. Then, to make sure that Jonah really got the impact of what God had done for him in providing the shade... He then sent a strong wind, and hot sun to once again make Jonah miserable. And did it work? Was Jonah miserable, again? Yes! Jonah was once again ready to die. It sure seems like it didn’t take much to make him happy. But he was also quick to fall back into his anger and depression.
That’s a good reminder to us to be careful about letting our emotions get the better of us. It often seems like those negative emotions can really get going with only a little nudge. And if we focus on them, on the thing that’s making us miserable, then we’ll only get more and more miserable. But God has a better plan! Instead of focusing on what’s making us angry or depressed, we can focus, instead, on the goodness of God. And that will change our whole outlook on life. Or at least it should. This is what God had to say to Jonah:
9And God said to Jonah, Doest thou well to be angry for the gourd? And he said, I do well to be angry, even unto death.
Notice in this verse that God asks Jonah the same question about that gourd that he asked about Nineveh. God asked Jonah whether he felt like he had any right to be angry. And what was Jonah’s response? It was the same as for the plight of Nineveh…he felt justified in his anger. Why do you think Jonah felt that way? Perhaps it was because he was only looking at how things affected him; how they made him feel. It doesn’t seem like Jonah stopped to consider God, and what He wanted. Jonah was only concerned for himself. That’s why he wanted the Ninevites to be punished – so he would feel like his country was avenged. And that’s why he felt bad about the gourd; not because he pitied the gourd. But because he was wallowing in self-pity. And God was not about to join Jonah’s pity party. Listen to the rest of God’s message to Jonah.
10Then said the LORD, Thou hast had pity on the gourd, for the which thou hast not laboured, neither madest it grow; which came up in a night, and perished in a night:
11And should not I spare Nineveh, that great city, wherein are more than sixscore thousand persons that cannot discern between their right hand and their left hand; and also much cattle?
What was God’s point to Jonah? What was He trying to get Jonah to understand? It seems like God wanted Jonah to take a good look at his heart. It seemed to have gotten more withered than the gourd. He had enough compassion in it for a plant that had given him shade. But could not muster up enough compassion for walking, breathing, dying human beings.
Some Bible scholars believe that the description of the one hundred twenty thousand who didn’t know their left from their right would refer to the children of Nineveh. Jonah did not even care about them. In his desire to see people of Nineveh punished, it didn’t seem to matter to him that hundreds of thousands of little children would perish, too.
But the good news is that God cared enough to spare them. His compassion and mercy, forgiveness and loving-kindness made a way for the Ninevites to have the opportunity to turn to Him. What a testimony to how wonderful our God is!
And that’s where the book of Jonah ends – with a question from God that leaves us without an answer. And speaking of stories that we’ve left unfinished, let’s take just a moment to wrap up our story about the king, the mice, and the cheese.
When we left our story, earlier, we left the king with a big elephant problem. Does anyone know what elephants are said to be afraid of? Yes! It’s mice! The only way for the king to solve his elephant problem was for the wisemen to bring the mice back to the palace. The king had hated those mice, and all the trouble they caused. But if the king wanted to keep enjoying his cheese, he would have to find a way to live, in peace, with the mice. And that’s just what he did. He invited the mice to come back to the palace. And those little bitty mice scared away each and every elephant. So the king let the mice stay; and even learned to share his cheese with them. And they all lived happily ever after.
Do you suppose that Jonah ever found a way to live in peace with the Ninevites? Do you think his heart ever softened toward them, as God’s did? The Bible does not tell us, if he did. So the important lesson the Lord wants for us to take away from this little book is the truth of His love and compassion for those who turn to Him in repentance, just as the city of Nineveh did. God’s Word also tells us that we should ask God to “forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors.” (Matthew 6:12) It was God’s desire that Jonah have at least as much compassion for the people of Nineveh as he did for the plant. God had forgiven Jonah’s sins, and the sins of the people of Israel. How could Jonah expect any less for Nineveh.
And since we didn’t get an answer from Jonah, what if God asked the same question of you? Are you willing to love and forgive your enemies the way God did? Jesus even forgave those who hung Him on the cross. And it’s His Spirit that lives in each one of us who is born again. We have the ability to love and forgive. Now…are we willing?
Let’s try to live this week with Ephesians 4:32 fresh in our hearts, so we can be those loving and forgiving Christians that God wants us to be.
Closing Prayer: Heavenly Father, thank You for being a God who invites us to come to You in prayer. And thank You for the way You show that You love us, by forgiving us when we come to You and confess our sins. Lord, help us this week to be truly thankful for the way You have forgiven us. Then help us to turn to those around us with compassion and forgiving spirits, too. For we ask in Jesus’ name. Amen.
Activity: (Review Questions)
Fill in the Blanks
True or False
1. Jonah was angry that God changed his mind about destroying Nineveh in 40 days. (true)
2. Jonah was surprised by God’s change of heart. (false – he knew God might show them mercy)
3. Jonah stayed in Nineveh to celebrate with the people. (false – he went outside the city to pout)
4. Jonah had pity on the plant when it died. ( true)
5. There is no sign that Jonah’s heart ever changed toward the Ninevites. (true)