Jonah, Prophet to Nineveh

Last week, kids at Antioch saw Hosea’s amazing love for his unfaithful wife that provided a picture of God’s greater love for His unfaithful people. This week, we will look at Jonah, which offers a powerful contrast.

The Book of Jonah is not primarily about Jonah and a big fish. While that part of the story sure is interesting, the story of Jonah centers around the mercy of God for people throughout the earth—even Israel’s worst enemies!

God spoke to Jonah. He said:  “Get up, go to the great city of Nineveh, and preach against it, because I see the evil things they do”(Jonah 1:2). Nineveh was the capital of Assyria, and the rulers of Nineveh were notoriously evil and cruel. No wonder Jonah ran the other way!

However, no one can outrun God. (Ps. 139:9-10) Through a storm and some time in the belly of a fish, God got Jonah’s attention. Jonah went to Nineveh. For three days, Jonah walked around the city. His message to the Ninevites was brief: “In 40 days Nineveh will be demolished!” He advised them to stop sinning and instead live like God instructs.

The people of Nineveh immediately repented—they begged God to forgive them, then they mourned their bad behaviors. They put on sack cloth and sat in ashes and cried out to God.  And God withheld His judgment. He did not demolish the city.

How did Jonah react? “This made Jonah very unhappy, and he became angry.” (Jonah 4:1). Jonah refused to thank God for the mercy He showed to the Ninevites, and refused to love the people of Nineveh, even when God did.

God was not pleased by this response and prompted Jonah to examine his heart. He left Jonah—and the reader—with a question to consider: “Shouldn’t I show concern for the great city Nineveh, which has more than one hundred twenty thousand people who do not know right from wrong, and many animals, too??” (Jonah 4:11).

God loves people—and, as kids will also observe, loves the animals He has made, too! His love never ends, and His mercies are new every morning (Lam 3:22-23). Mercy means “being treated better than you deserve”—the story of Jonah is filled mercy. God treated Jonah better than he deserved. God treated the Ninevites better than they deserved. And God treats us better than we deserve every single day! His love is unending and his kindness is real!

As you review this story with your child, we encourage you to reinforce these truths:

  • God loves people.
  • God sent Jonah to Nineveh because He loves people.
  • Jonah did not want to go to Nineveh.
  • God sent Jesus because He loves us.
  • What is God like? God is merciful and loving.
  • What is mercy? Being treated better than you deserve.

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