Jonah has 4 chapters and is divided neatly in 4 acts - like 4 acts of a play. Jonah is a relatively easy book to read, and reading it is the best way to get a feel for the story. But below we will give you a structure and some historical background of the book.
Act 1 - Jonah Disobeys God
God told Jonah to go preach a message of repentance to the people of Ninevah. Jonah was a prophet in Israel (the Northern Kingdom, see 2 Kings 14:25). Ninevah was a city in Assyria. It is important to note that the Northern Kingdom of Israel was at odds with Assyria and Ninevah was a great city in Assyria. Some time after this story of Jonah and the Ninevites, the Assyrians attacked Israel and led them into captivity. Assyria was responsible for the ultimate demise of the Northern Kingdom (we will learn about that in a future lesson).
Jonah was fleeing to Tarshish when his voyage was interrupted by the fish. Tarshish is 2200 miles away from Joppa. Ninevah was about 600 miles from Joppa. Jonah really wanted to run away!
Act 2 - Jonah Prays and God Delivers Him from the Fish
Jonah repented from inside the fish. He acknowledged who God was and committed to him that he would do what God asked him to do. This is where the story usually ends when people re-tell it. But there are 2 more acts to go!
Acts 3 - Ninevah Repents
Ninevah actually heard Jonah's message (not exactly a thoroughly-prepared "relevant" message: "In 40 days Nineveh will be destroyed."). The people fasted and prayed. The king of Ninevah got into the action as well and declared a city-wide fast (including the animals!). God responded by not destroying the city.
Acts 4 - God Relents and Jonah Sulks
Jonah preaches, an entire city repents, God relents, and Jonah is upset? Jonah left Ninevah and went to a place overlooking the city. He made a "booth", or a shelter to give himself shade and sat waiting to see if Ninevah was really going to be destroyed. First, God miraculously sent a vine (just like the sent a fish to swallow Jonah) to grow over Jonah's booth to make him more comfortable. But then he took it away by sending a worm and he sent a dry, hot wind. Jonah was more concerned with his own comfort than seeing God work in the lives of the Ninevites.
Most only concern themselves with Jonah and the fish in this story. But God actually sent at least 6 of His created things to accomplish his purpose. He sent Jonah to Ninevah, a storm to his boat, the fish to swallow Jonah, the vine to give Jonah comfort, the worm to destroy the vine, and the scorching east wind.
get your kids talking and engaged
Have you ever been fishing? What is the biggest fish you have ever caught? Or have you ever been swimming in a lake with fish?
Today, we are going to learn about a man named Jonah who got up close and personal with a fish for 3 days!
teach a holistic story
Read story from a Children's storybook Bible for younger children.
For older children, read the story from an age-appropriate Children's storybook Bible or tell the story yourself.
give them basic Bible skills
Scripture for Kids to Read Aloud: Jonah 1:1-17; Jonah 2:9-10; Jonah 3:1-5; Jonah 4:5-10
make sure they understand the story
First, ask the children if they have any questions about the story. What to do if you don't know the answer?
help them apply the story to their lives and open up a conversation about faith and the gospel; close with prayer
hide God's Word in their heartPray then like this: "Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven." Matthew 6:9-10