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Sunday School is a vital part of any ministry. In it, one is able to experience a deeper knowledge of God’s Word. We here at “Word For Life Says” want to help you help others. Below you will find resources to help you prepare for your upcoming lessons. May God bless you!
“God’s Universal Love!”
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Please Note: All lesson verses and titles are based on International Sunday School Lesson/Uniform Series ©2013 by the Lesson Committee, but all content/commentary written within is original to wordforlifesays.com unless properly quoted/cited. As always you are encouraged to do your own studies as well. Blessings!)
Lesson Text: Jonah 4:1-11
1) “But it displeased Jonah exceedingly, and he was very angry.
2) And 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.
3) Therefore now, O Lord, take, I beseech thee, my life from me; for it is better for me to die than to live.
4) Then said the Lord, Doest thou well to be angry?
5) So 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.
6) And 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.
7) But God prepared a worm when the morning rose the next day, and it smote the gourd that it withered.
8) And 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.
9) And 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.
10) Then 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:
11) And 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?”
In a previous article title, Don’t Blow Your Top, I wrote:
“Anger is one of those emotions that can really get the best of you if you let it. It can seep into every area of your life making you and those around you miserable. Anger also does another devastating thing. It gives “place to the devil.” Anger is an opened door that gives that old serpent an opportunity to manipulate you; pulling your strings as if you were some sort of marionette puppet.
That’s why the Bible encourages us to “let not the sun go down upon your wrath.” Resolving issues and not letting them fester closes the door so that the enemy can’t sneak in. Think about how much better we would feel to lie down in peace at night without those tumultuous thoughts running rampart in our heads.” (Word For Life Says)
Jonah may have escaped the sea but he couldn’t seem to escape the tumultuous thoughts he had regarding the enemy of his people, the Ninevites. The bitterness he felt for them didn’t wane because they repented. Rather, it festered to the point that he actually wished for his own death as a result. Jonah’s heart was hard but God’s mercy and love for all will always have the final say.
At the end of each of the chapters of the book of Jonah we have studied, the last verse always seems to hold a pivotal moment before its continuation to the next chapter. In the last verse of chapter 1, Jonah was swallowed by the great fish (Jonah 1:17). In the last verse of chapter 2, Jonah was spat up by the great fish (Jonah 2:10). In the last verse of chapter 3, God changed His mind about the destruction of Nineveh due to their repentant hearts (Jonah 3:10). And, at the end of chapter 4, the last verse will show us God’s universal love for all lost souls with a question that makes us examine our own hearts to see if we are as connected to God’s genuine concern for people as we think we are.
Moving from the end of chapter 3 to the beginning of our lesson here in chapter 4, the text opens with the word “but.” That word causes us to go backwards in our study to reevaluate what occurred before it and what occurred before it was God had cancelled the destructive order against the sinful city of Nineveh, as already stated. That three lettered word gives us a clear definition of Jonah’s attitude about God’s reversal of Nineveh’s judgment: he was not happy about it at all. Thus, the rest of the verse proceeds to say, “it displeased Jonah exceedingly, and he was very angry.”
God, in His sovereign love for the lost, extended another chance to those who needed it. But, this did not meet with Jonah’s approval. As if! From the beginning of the book of Jonah to the end, this prophet has struggled with his wrong attitude. He not only exhibited a wrong attitude toward those whom he considered being enemies, but he also held on to a wrong attitude about God and how God should operate and what God should do or think.
We are clearly shown in the Word of God, “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the LORD,” (Isaiah 55:8). In God’s economy regarding the way He views things it is vastly different than the ways of this world or even then the way we think. Try as we might, or get upset like Jonah did, we must always remember, it’s God’s way or no way! God’s way will always win out. When it comes to dealing with other people and receiving from God we must always be on guard against any and all self-focused attitudes, which is what Jonah was dealing with. He [Jonah], or we, may not always understand what God is doing, but we must rest in knowing that His plan is always right and get on board with that plan.
But, Jonah couldn’t seem to do that. The word “exceedingly” puts the emphasis on just how great his displeasure and anger was that God was willing to forgive the sins of this nation. Jonah seemed to totally forget what it was like to be in the position of needing that forgiveness in his own life from his own mistakes. None of that seemed to matter to him anymore. His past is behind him and he exhibits no hint of what it was like to need the mercy of God anymore. Thus, he was very angry with God and with His plan.
“Was not this my saying, when I was yet in my country? Therefore I fled . . . for I knew that thou art a gracious God, and merciful, slow to anger, and of great kindness, and repentest thee of the evil.” Now, normally one would get absolutely giddy at the review of all these wonderful attributes of God. Jonah confessed he knew of God’s grace, mercy, longsuffering and kind attitude. Jonah knew that God’s whole story in dealing with humanity was to place the offer of a second or more chance to them that turn to Him. Jonah knew very well that the heart of God will turn the situation from evil to one of peace at the onset of true repentance. Jonah himself got to experience all of those wonderful characteristics of our heavenly Father but Jonah didn’t want the people of Nineveh to have what God granted him.
I can’t help but compare Jonah’s attitude to that of the unmerciful servant in the parable Jesus told (read Matthew 18:21-35). In that story, the same man who had received forgiveness of debt that he and his family would not suffer could not do the same for his fellow man that owed him money. Rather, violently he laid his hands on him to choke him out and sent him to prison. Upon hearing what was done, his lord said to him, “O thou wicked servant, I forgave thee all that debt, because thou desiredst me: Shouldest not thou also have had compassion on thy fellowservant, even as I had pity on thee?” (Matthew 18:32-33).
Actions on the outside depict what the heart is truly like on the inside. This servant’s wicked actions accurately portray his heart and Jonah’s “prayer” to God shows that his heart is not willing to be as gracious as God had been to him. His heart is not so forgiving. His heart wants to see people suffer and not experience a pardon from their past mistakes, even though he did.
Jesus’ strict warning at the end of that parable should give us all pause for examination to make sure we are not expressing or carrying around in us that same Jonah spirit. He said, “So likewise shall my heavenly Father do also unto you, if ye from your hearts forgive not every one his brother their trespasses,” (Matthew 18:35).
God’s grace, mercy, and longsuffering is a beautiful thing which is probably why we are taught to exhibit the fruit of it in our Christian walk (see Galatians 5:22-23). People need to know this is real; that what God has to offer is real. As His workmanship, it is our responsibility to show the world they can have this kind of relationship with God too. They can find forgiveness. They can walk a new path that leads to heaven. Don’t be hinderers of that walk. Don’t try to stand in God’s way of that redemption plan as Jonah’s selfish attitude did.
Jonah continued with his spiritual lip hanging down in his almost juvenile behavior. He was literally pouting over God’s mercy for another human being and he couldn’t stand the thought of it so much that he uttered, “O LORD, take, I beseech thee, my life from me; for it is better for me to die that to live.”
Years ago I taught on the story of Jonah and I remember how weird I thought it was that someone who had a pretty successful ministry hated the prosperous results of it. After all, we are talking at least 120,000 souls turning to God. Most of us would shout for joy at those numbers. But, before we judge Jonah too harshly, let us too remember our heart toward those we consider enemies. How often do we heed the words of the Bible which tell us to, “Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you,” (Matthew 5:44).
Jonah’s problem wasn’t with God’s mercy. Jonah’s problem was with God’s mercy toward his enemies. Sometimes the worst people need the most love and God was willing to extend that love to anyone anywhere who wanted it, enemies, or not. He’s not worried about Jonah’s opinion about it or ours. God always knows what’s best even if we don’t agree with it.
God pointedly asked Jonah, “Doest thou well to be angry?” Jonah’s attitude had traveled past pouting like a child. God identified his issue. Jonah was angry (which appears 4 x’s as an issue in this chapter). He was filled with anger over the people’s repentance and over God’s mercy for them. He may have thought he was justified for how he feels, as many of us do, but God sees it differently.
Anger, if left unchecked, can act like a cesspool drowning the one trying to constantly swim in it. It leads to dangerous thinking and irrational choices (see Proverbs 14:17 and Ecclesiastes 7:9). And Jonah was definitely not thinking rationally when he dismissed the idea of others receiving the same mercy he did.
Continuing on in his way of thinking we are told, “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.” Just what was it Jonah was trying to see? Sitting in the shade of the shelter he constructed did he still possess a glimmer of hope that God was going to destroy Nineveh? Or, was he specifically seeing, in his backwards thinking, if God was going to allow these people to get away with all the past hurts and transgressions they committed toward his people and forgive them and show them mercy? What exactly was he up there looking for? If he suspected God was going to wholly spare them from destruction, why didn’t he just leave the area after he completed his mission? What exactly was he trying to witness with his eyes? His desire to “see what would become of the city” can tell us more about the inner workings of his heart of malice he held toward them then his desire to not go there at all.
But, God had a lesson to teach Jonah about his inner man; about the direction he allowed his heart and thinking to travel, and He also had a lesson to teach him about His love for all.
“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.” Most parents know what it is to see a child suffer from some wrong choice they made and want to make it all better. Hugs and kisses assure the child the choices they made didn’t disqualify them from the love of mom and dad. God’s compassion toward us is a million times better than that. Taking everything in with Jonah’s poor attitude it would have been very easy for God to just write him out of the story. But see, that’s NOT who God is. Even in Jonah’s state of being displeased with everything that was going on, God was concerned about him and specifically caused a gourd to grow and shade him for one purpose: “to deliver him from his grief.” God was concerned about Jonah. God still loved Jonah too and God wanted him to experience some relief. “So Jonah was exceeding glad of the gourd.”
Now, Jonah was happy but unfortunately, that happiness didn’t seem to move his heart in a positive way of thinking about everything. If you will allow me to speculate (emphasis on this is my personal speculation), what if God’s care for him during his angry state moved his heart to view the people differently? What if his thankfulness for the gourd caused him to get up and not want to continue to see what became of the city; rather, just trust God to do justly and leave? What if, God’s care for him in the heat changed his perspective on his life and the life of others, no matter who they are? Again, these are only questions of pure speculation on my part but it would have been awesome to witness an attitude transformation on his part after experiencing God’s great care.
As we find out in the story, Jonah’s attitude didn’t change and his happiness is short lived. “God prepared a worm when the morning rose the next day, and it smote the gourd that it withered.” His extra God-given shelter was gone. Whatever added protection it had given against the elements is now no more.
Next, “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.” God literally turned up the heat and caused it to blow his way. All adversity is not bad. Sometimes God sends things our way to teach us more of Him. Our ultimate goal and desire is to be where He is and we can’t do that carrying around destructive thought patterns that look for the demise of others rather than their reconciliation; thinking that goes against His ultimate plan to extend the offer of salvation to the whole world. “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life,” (John 3:16).
Therefore, God asked Jonah another question regarding his anger problem. He said, “Doest thou well to be angry for the gourd?” How could Jonah care more about a plant that was here today and gone tomorrow and not have an ounce of compassion for another human being? To be a prophet of God or anybody who identifies themselves as God’s people, this is very wrong thinking. He cared more about the temporary status of something he didn’t even plant than the eternal status of all those souls in that city he is perched up there to see be destroyed.
Previously, I wrote an article titled, Have a Warmer Heart than Usual. In it I said:
“How often have we really taken the time to see beyond the people to see the person, to really try to imagine you walking in the shoes of another? To see what’s going on inside the person without judging the outside? To show a tender heart instead of a wagging head, disapproving eyes and a simple tsk-tsk-tsk?
When it’s all said and done, “Mercy triumphs over judgment,” (James 2:13, NKJV). Thinking beyond oneself is going to win out hands down every single time. . .
Imitators of God are concerned with the person on the inside. An imitator of God is warmed to the plight of the human in humanity, and sees them for who they are. They are someone that God is concerned enough about to allow His Son to die. Shouldn’t we then have that same compassion for one another? (© Word For Life Says).
But, Jonah couldn’t see it that way. He was more concerned for a plant than for people. We can exhaust our time and care for the temporary things of this world or we can shoot for the eternal reward of seeing people saved.
God told Jonah, “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?” The people repented and God had the opportunity to save. Did Jonah really expect God to turn away those sincere hearts?
I remember the story of Abraham questioning God before the destruction of Sodom. Abraham went through a list of numbers that if God can find this many righteous, He would not destroy that awful city (read Genesis 18:22-33). Abraham started with asking about 50 righteous people (Genesis 18:26) and brought the number all the way down to 10 (Genesis 18:32). If God had found just 10 righteous people in that city it would have never been destroyed. Therefore, if God was willing to spare that place for 10 people, should not Jonah understand Him wanting to spare Nineveh where there are at least 120,000?
The Judge of all the earth will do what is right (Genesis 18:25) according to His perfect thinking regardless of how anybody else feels. “He is the Rock, his work is perfect: for all his ways are judgment: a God of truth and without iniquity, just and right is he,” (Deuteronomy 32:4).
Taking after His Holy Father in just judgment, Jesus said, “For the Son of man is not come to destroy men’s lives, but to save them,” (Luke 9:56). Considered to be wicked or not. Of Israel, or not. If they turn to God, He is ready to save. Jesus’ goal was always to save people. His goal was to build up, not to tear down. Too often in our daily lives our anger and haste over a disappointing situation can cause us to want to act the opposite of the way Jesus would act; opposite of the way God wants to deal with people. We must stop and ask ourselves what would Jesus do?
This lesson is reassuring in no matter who you are, God is in love with you. There is no situation He can’t heal and no place He can’t go to offer salvation if a person is truly seeking Him. His love is universal reaching beyond all borders and stereotypes; reaching beyond our outward mess into our inward heart. God is for you today! God is madly in love with you today! His love can reach beyond the labels of what people used to know you by (be it Ninevites, or whatever) to save your soul if you are willing to turn to Him.
At the same time, may we, who have been called by His grace, learn to also extend that same universal love God has shown us to others. May we reach out beyond the borders of our hearts to a world in need.
Standard Print PDF: God’s Universal Love Sunday School Lesson Summary Standard Print
Large Print PDF: God’s Universal Love Sunday School Lesson Summary Large Print
Below are activities to support this week’s lesson. Enjoy!
Draw the Scene: God’s Universal Love Draw the Scene
Memory Verse: God’s Universal Love Memory Verse
How Many Words?: God’s Universal Love How Many Words
Below are Activities/Links/Resources to support this week’s lesson. Enjoy!
“My Poor Gourd!” (Links to activities including coloring and printables. Enjoy!)
“Jonah Pouts but the LORD God Prepares a Gourd” (Printable activity sheets for children to put together thier own picture of Jonah and gourd. Comes with or without text versions. Enjoy!)
Below are some very cute and easy “Worm” activities and crafts. These can be used to supplement the lesson for your students to make and to help them remember this week’s lesson. You can even attach a verse to them. Enjoy!
Photo Credit: Pixabay