Sunday School Lesson

May 28

Lesson 13

Pervasive Love

Devotional Reading: Psalm 86:8-13

Background Scripture: Jonah 4

Jonah 4

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?

Key Verse

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?—Jonah 4:11

Lesson Aims

After participating in this lesson, each learner will be able to:

1. Summarize Jonah’s reactions to God’s sparing of Nineveh.

2. Explain why Jonah was not pleased at the success of his preaching.

3. Participate in a class project that reaches to a group having racial or cultural differences.

Lesson Outline

Introduction

A. The Fighting Deacon

B. Lesson Background

I. Jonah’s Pettiness (Jonah 4:1-4)

A. Reaction and Reminder (vv. 1, 2)

B. Request and Question (vv. 3, 4)

II. Jonah’s Protection (Jonah 4:5-8)

A. Hut and Plant (vv. 5, 6)

Ready and Acting

B. Worm and Wind (vv. 7, 8)

III. God’s Pronouncements (Jonah 4:9-11)

A. Question and Response (v. 9)

Flying Off the Handle

B. Rebuke and Reason (vv. 10, 11)

Conclusion

A. Running Ahead of God

B. Prayer

C. Thought to Remember

Introduction

 

A. The Fighting Deacon

He said that in his younger days he was known as “the fighting deacon.” This reputation was acquired by the fact that on two occasions in meetings of the church board he had “slugged” (his word) someone who disagreed with him. He no longer had such a violent temper, but he was almost proud of what he had done.

But anger can be a very toxic emotion. Mark Twain wrote that “anger is an acid that can do more harm to the vessel in which it is stored than to anything on which it is poured.” Some have rationalized their outbursts of anger by saying that they lose their tempers quickly and then calm down almost immediately. Billy Sunday, a famous preacher of the past, once encountered a lady who said, “I blow up, and then it’s all over.” Sunday replied, “So does a shotgun, and look at the damage it leaves behind.”

The Bible has much to say about anger (Proverbs 29:22; Ephesians 4:31; Colossians 3:8; James 1:19, 20; etc.). The words anger or angry occur several times in Jonah 4, the text for our lesson. Jonah had a problem with anger. As the Lord worked through him to bring the people of Nineveh to repentance, God also worked with Jonah to help him overcome this problem. Anger is not sinful in and of itself (note Jesus’ anger in Mark 3:5). But irrational anger needs corrective action, and that’s what God provides Jonah in today’s lesson.

B. Lesson Background

Since the background material noted in the three previous lessons applies here as well, that information need not be repeated. Much of that material is very weighty, so we shall close this series with some “lighter side” distinctive facts that help to make the book of Jonah memorable.

1. Jonah is the only prophet recorded to have traveled on the Mediterranean Sea.

2. Jonah is the only prophet recorded to have outright refused to undertake a mission from God. Other prophets revealed doubt from time to time (example: 1 Kings 19:3, 14), but Jonah stands alone in his flagrant rebellion.

3. When Nicodemus attempted to defend Jesus during a discussion, he was rebuked with the observation that “out of Galilee ariseth no prophet” (John 7:52). This overlooked the fact that Jonah was from Gathhepher (2 Kings 14:25), which was less than three miles northwest of Nazareth.

4. The book of Jonah, being primarily a narrative about the man, records just one predictive prophecy—a prophecy of only five words in Hebrew (Jonah 3:4, last week’s lesson).

5. The book of Jonah is the only prophetic book with miracles by God that involved the prophet personally—from the storm and the fish to the worm and the wind.

The traditional view of authorship for the book of Jonah is that Jonah himself wrote it. As he came to the end of it, he must have been greatly embarrassed about the prejudice and anger he had displayed so blatantly. Our lesson begins just after the point where God saw the repentance of the Ninevites and decided not to destroy the city (Jonah 3:10, last week’s lesson).

I. Jonah’s Pettiness

                                                                 (Jonah 4:1-4)

 

A. Reaction and Reminder (vv. 1, 2)

1. But it displeased Jonah exceedingly, and he was very angry.

The compassionate decision of God in Jonah 3:10 is not what the prophet wants to hear! He is very angry that his preaching results in the city’s being spared God’s destructive wrath. This is not the way a preacher would normally react when his message brings repentance by the thousands! The Lesson Background of lesson 11 explains the possible basis of Jonah’s anger.

As a bit of speculation, Jonah may wonder whether God will treat the people of his own nation likewise, should they repent when under threat of similar judgment. Historically, however, the people of Israel do not repent, in spite of the preaching of prophets (see 2 Kings 17:13, 14, 23). The sparing of Nineveh will not be repeated for Samaria a few decades later. But neither will it be repeated for Nineveh itself, as the prophet Nahum and historical records make clear.

We may also wonder exactly when Jonah is informed of God’s decision to spare Nineveh. Is it before the 40-day period of Jonah 3:4 is up, thereby implying that Jonah is displeased ... exceedingly for the remainder of that period? Or do it and the other events of Jonah 4 happen at the end of the 40-day period? Scholars disagree, but the last phrase of Jonah 4:5 may indicate that the 40 days are not yet completed.

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.

Jonah turns his anger into prayer, but his motivation is not to become compliant with what God has done. Instead, he seems to be trying to make God feel guilty for sending him on the mission trip to Nineveh.

How to Say It

Assyria Uh-sear-ee-uh.

Assyrian Uh-sear-e-un.

Galilee Gal-uh-lee.

Gathhepher Gath-hee-fer.

Jonah Jo-nuh.

Mediterranean Med-uh-tuh-ray-nee-un.

Nazareth Naz-uh-reth.

Nicodemus Nick-uh-dee-mus.

Nineveh Nin-uh-vuh.

Ninevites Nin-uh-vites.

Tarshish Tar-shish.

Jonah’s prayer includes an eloquent description of the great attributes of God. In that regard, the prayer mirrors Exodus 34:6 as Jonah affirms that God is gracious ... and merciful, slow to anger, and of great kindness. These were Jonah’s conclusions before he fled before unto Tarshish (Jonah 1:3). Able to list God’s outstanding characteristics, Jonah wants to be the one to decide to whom they will and will not apply. He had wanted to be saved when he was in the fish (Jonah 2:2), but he does not want the Ninevites to be saved from the doom prophesied for them. He wants God to do things Jonah’s way, not God’s way. (Regarding God’s repentance, see commentary on Jonah 3:9 in lesson 12.)

A certain parallel can be seen in churches where people enjoy Christianity’s benefits but are unwilling to support missionaries adequately. The sad result is to deny people in other lands and cultures the blessing of everlasting life through Jesus. After realizing how much the Lord has forgiven us, we should want others to know that there is a God who is willing to forgive them as well.

What Do You Think?

How can we avoid feeling resentful when God extends His mercy to others?

Talking Points for Your Discussion

When extended to backslidden Christians

When extended to those who have heard and rejected the gospel

When extended to those who have never heard the gospel

B. Request and Question (vv. 3, 4)

3. Therefore now, O Lord, take, I beseech thee, my life from me; for it is better for me to die than to live.

Jonah’s frustration with the flow of events overwhelms him—so much so that he expresses his preference for death over life. This contrasts with his attitude when he was inside the fish, for there he wanted to live and see God’s temple again (Jonah 2:2, 4, lesson 11).

Jonah has been spared from death himself, but now he is despondent and disappointed that the people of Nineveh have been spared from prophesied destruction. His inconsistent reasoning serves as a marvelous set-up for the memorable lesson God is about to teach him.

4. Then said the Lord, Doest thou well to be angry?

As with Job, the Lord responds with a question (compare Job 38:2). The fact that God’s interrogation begins with the issue of anger implies that an adjustment is necessary in that regard, as Jonah is led to look at himself in a mirror. There are indeed legitimate reasons for being angry. Do any of these form the basis for Jonah’s own anger?

We note that the Lord does not ask His question because He needs information—the Lord already knows everything. The question is designed to get Jonah to think. The fact that we see no response from him may indicate that he is compelled to do just that. On the other hand, a lack of response may indicate that Jonah is so aggravated that he cannot process the question.

What Do You Think?

What are some steps to take for moving from anger to mercy?

Talking Points for Your Discussion

Considering how God himself does so

Considering how God has treated us

Considering our motives

Other

II. Jonah’s Protection

                                                                   (Jonah 4:5-8)

 

A. Hut and Plant (vv. 5, 6)

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.

The previous verses reveal the emotional responses of Jonah. In this verse, physical actions take the spotlight.

If circumstances work against a person’s desires in some way, he or she may not take it well! Physically, these reactions may cover the spectrum from becoming very active (from fear, as in 1 Kings 19:3; from anger, as in Acts 7:57, 58; etc.) to becoming completely inactive (1 Kings 19:4, 5; 21:4). Jonah ends up in the latter as he seems to adopt an attitude of denial. Surely God did not mean it when He said He wouldn’t destroy Nineveh, did He? So Jonah takes the actions described here, a disposition we might call “watchful waiting.”

Jonah’s initial approach toward Nineveh would have been from the west. After crossing the Tigris River, he entered Nineveh to preach as he continued in an easterly direction. Today, some of the gates of ancient Nineveh have been restored in order to reflect the glory of the city’s past. Archaeology and terrain suggest that Jonah likely makes his exit through a gate at the southeastern part of a wall after he finishes his preaching tour on the east side of the city.

After he is out of the city, he probably finds a mound or high point that gives him a better view. There he builds a crude hut for shade where he can wait to see what will happen to the city. His food and water sources are not given. This waiting reflects disbelief of the Lord’s decision.

This sequence may confirm that the 40-day period (Jonah 3:4) is not over, for Jonah does not want to be in the city when time is up—just in case. Most people who want to pout seem to prefer solitude.

Ready and Acting

Benjamin Disraeli served Britain as prime minister from 1874-1880. He experienced many setbacks and once said, “I am prepared for the worst, but hope for the best.” The saying has been adapted to read “I am expecting the worst, but hoping for the best.” There seems to be no adaptation, however, for the saying to be “I am ready for the worst, but acting to bring about the best.”

What Jonah saw as the worst case—the repentance of the Ninevites—was actually the best case from God’s point of view. One would think that Jonah would have felt successful when his preaching brought about repentance. But his sinful attitudes blinded him to God’s desired end.

What is our own outlook regarding what we consider to be a worst-case scenario to be ready for and a best-case scenario to act to bring about? Jesus’ resurrection proved that God can take the worst the powers of this world can dish out and turn it into the best outcome possible. And Jesus described His forthcoming resurrection in terms of—of all things!—Jonah’s time inside the fish (Matthew 12:38-41).—C. R. B.

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.

Five events or special objects are mentioned in the book of Jonah as being prepared by God: a wind (Jonah 1:4), a fish (1:17), a gourd (4:6), a worm (4:7), and an east wind (4:8). We are now at the third of these five as the Lord God temporarily supplements Jonah’s protection from the sun by means of a rapidly growing gourd. One possibility is that this is a castor-oil plant. It grows rapidly to a height of about eight feet, and it has very large leaves (see also v. 10, below).

What Do You Think?

What can we do to improve our helping skills in preparing to be God’s instrument of comfort to others?

Talking Points for Your Discussion

For counseling adults

For counseling teenagers

For counseling preteens

The double layer of shade (shadow) for Jonah is better. He is exceeding glad of this additional blessing, which appears so suddenly and adds to his comfort. Jonah is certainly concerned for himself! But love for perceived enemies is still lacking. The teaching about loving your enemies is given by Jesus in Matthew 5:44; but Jonah has no excuse, even though he lives over 700 years before Jesus. By Jonah’s day, the enemy-love principle has already been stated in Exodus 23:4, 5 and Proverbs 25:21.

B. Worm and Wind (vv. 7, 8)

7. But God prepared a worm when the morning rose the next day, and it smote the gourd that it withered.

“Jonah and the Worm” is the title of one preacher’s sermon on Jonah. This title is intended to pique curiosity, since sermons on Jonah are usually about “Jonah and the Whale.” The latter is based on Matthew 12:40, which refers to “the whale’s belly.”

God used a great sea creature to correct Jonah’s attitude about a trip to Nineveh. Now He uses a small worm to teach His prophet a further lesson. First, the worm does what God programmed it to do: it begins eating the stalk of the gourd. The interpretation of “gourd” to refer to a castor oil plant fits well, since this plant withers very quickly if the main stalk is injured.

Visual for Lesson 13. Start a discussion by pointing to this visual as you ask, “What are some ways to meet this challenge in the week ahead?”

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.

With the plant now useless for shade, God increases Jonah’s discomfort further by means of a vehement east wind (compare Jeremiah 18:17). As the sun rises, all this works together to cause Jonah to become light-headed and dizzy. He temporarily forgets his anger, but remains self-centered as he expresses his wish to die. He is physically and spiritually miserable while far from home, in the foreign land of an enemy. Exhaustion from a preaching tour he had not desired is now multiplied by the possibility of heat stroke.

God has to this point used a storm and a great fish to encourage Jonah to go to Nineveh. Now God uses a worm and an east wind to move Jonah to where he should be in his attitudes toward those who are different.

What Do You Think?

What can we do to prepare for times that will be difficult to endure?

Talking Points for Your Discussion

Regarding emotional preparations

Regarding spiritual preparations

Regarding physical preparations

Other

III. God’s Pronouncements

                                                                   (Jonah 4:9-11)

 

A. Question and Response (v. 9)

9a. And God said to Jonah, Doest thou well to be angry for the gourd?

God is not finished with his efforts to correct Jonah’s thinking. Jonah is being challenged to think correctly about the mind-set a true prophet should have. The first six words of God’s question here are identical to the six words of His initial question in Jonah 4:4. The added words for the gourd here indicate God is probing deeper as He requires Jonah to think about something specific, something that is not associated with the city of Nineveh.

9b. And he said, I do well to be angry, even unto death.

Jonah’s answer is petty, defensive, and almost defiant. He attempts to bolster his position by asserting once again his preference for death.

Jonah’s peevishness indicates confidence that he has done nothing wrong. Further, he cannot comprehend why he has to suffer the loss of the gourd. Emotional people who learn to control their emotions can do well in telling others about the love of God. Jonah has not yet reached that point; he lacks any compassion for the Ninevites.

Flying Off the Handle

In America’s pioneer days, axheads were made in the industrialized East, then shipped to the frontier West for fitting with handles. The handles were often fashioned by unskilled handymen, yielding the deadly possibility that an axhead could fly off an ill-fitting handle when in use (compare Deuteronomy 19:5).

The suddenness of such an event became a metaphor for an outburst of anger: flying off the handle. Possibly the first such use of this figure of speech in print was in a satirical story by Thomas Haliburton in 1844. Haliburton was a Canadian who mocked human nature in general and American-Canadian relations in particular in essays in The Nova Scotian.

But the idea goes back much further than the year AD 1844! God’s directive for Jonah to preach in Nineveh seemed to strike a deep vein of resentment in that prophet; thus we see him “flying off the handle” at God. Do you deal with your anger any better than did Jonah? See James 1:19, 20.—C. R. B.

B. Rebuke and Reason (vv. 10, 11)

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.

God’s second question (v. 9a) is designed to soften Jonah’s attitude. But Job’s response (v. 9b) indicates further work is needed. God’s observations of fact challenge Jonah’s thinking by reminding the prophet that he had no ownership of the gourd, for he had neither planted nor tended it. These facts should compel the prophet to realize how absurd and small his defensive statements really are. But God has a bit more yet to say.

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?

The Lord’s final question demands that Jonah contrast his thoughts about the gourd with God’s thoughts regarding Nineveh. Jonah should feel embarrassed, for it is obvious that the population of a large city is more important than a single, solitary plant! Jonah’s self-centeredness is now so obvious that even he should see it.

The size and greatness of Nineveh is indicated by the number sixscore thousand, which is 120,000. There are two main lines of interpretation regarding this number. Some propose that it is the total population of the city. A city of this acreage (see commentary on Jonah 3:3 in lesson 12) can accommodate twice that number easily. Under this view, the declaration that they cannot discern between their right hand and their left hand has a spiritual dimension—that spiritually the Ninevites are somehow deficient in being able to distinguish good from evil. This viewpoint runs into trouble at Romans 1:20.

The other view is that the 120,000 refers to the number of children in Nineveh who are not yet old enough to tell right from left. That would boost the total population significantly when estimates of the number of older children and adults are added in. The grand total may be too much according to our analysis of Jonah 3:3, unless the villages in the immediate vicinity are included.

The reference to much cattle is a reminder that God is concerned for animals as well as people. The word translated cattle refers to livestock in general, given the word’s frequent translation “beast” elsewhere (Exodus 13:15; 22:19; etc.).

What Do You Think?

What Christian ministries can your church offer to those of the nearest “great city”?

Talking Points for Your Discussion

Considering demographic factors

In terms of priorities

In terms of defining ministry

Other

Conclusion

 

A. Running Ahead of God

In general, there are two mistakes we can make in our relationship with God. First, we can lag behind Him, failing to move as fast as He wants us to (example: Haggai 1:1-8). The other mistake is to run ahead of Him. This may involve making plans that are not His (example: 2 Samuel 7:1-13) or anticipating what we think He “must” do, as in today’s lesson.

It is so easy to run ahead of God and presume that He must do such and such! That presumption resulted in anger and pouting on Jonah’s part, and it can do the same to us.

Don’t run ahead of God!

B. Prayer

O God, may Your Word ever remind us of Your love for humanity! Enable us to do all we can to take the gospel to all, without bias or prejudice. We pray this in Jesus’ name. Amen.

C. Thought to Remember

When God loves, He loves the world!


June 4

Lesson 1

Deborah and Barak

Devotional Reading: Hebrews 11:29-40

Background Scripture: Judges 4, 5

Judges 4:1-10

1 And the children of Israel again did evil in the sight of the Lord, when Ehud was dead.

2 And the Lord sold them into the hand of Jabin king of Canaan, that reigned in Hazor; the captain of whose host was Sisera, which dwelt in Harosheth of the Gentiles.

3 And the children of Israel cried unto the Lord: for he had nine hundred chariots of iron; and twenty years he mightily oppressed the children of Israel.

4 And Deborah, a prophetess, the wife of Lapidoth, she judged Israel at that time.

5 And she dwelt under the palm tree of Deborah between Ramah and Bethel in mount Ephraim: and the children of Israel came up to her for judgment.

6 And she sent and called Barak the son of Abinoam out of Kedeshnaphtali, and said unto him, Hath not the Lord God of Israel commanded, saying, Go and draw toward mount Tabor, and take with thee ten thousand men of the children of Naphtali and of the children of Zebulun?

7 And I will draw unto thee to the river Kishon Sisera, the captain of Jabin’s army, with his chariots and his multitude; and I will deliver him into thine hand.

8 And Barak said unto her, If thou wilt go with me, then I will go: but if thou wilt not go with me, then I will not go.

9 And she said, I will surely go with thee: notwithstanding the journey that thou takest shall not be for thine honour; for the Lord shall sell Sisera into the hand of a woman. And Deborah arose, and went with Barak to Kedesh.

10 And Barak called Zebulun and Naphtali to Kedesh; and he went up with ten thousand men at his feet: and Deborah went up with him.

Key Verse

[Deborah] said, I will surely go with thee: notwithstanding the journey that thou takest shall not be for thine honour; for the Lord shall sell Sisera into the hand of a woman. And Deborah arose, and went with Barak to Kedesh. —Judges 4:9

Lesson Aims

After participating in this lesson, each learner will be able to:

1. Describe the relationship between Deborah and Barak.

2. List possible reasons for doubts and fears on the part of Barak and evaluate their legitimacy.

3. Commit to helping one fellow believer overcome doubts regarding his or her leadership role in a ministry project.

Lesson Outline

Introduction

A. “Let’s Ask Granny!”

B. Lesson Background

I. Cry to God (Judges 4:1-3)

A. Sin and Subjugation (vv. 1, 2)

What’s Right in Whose Sight?

B. Score of Suffering (v. 3)

II. Challenge Others (Judges 4:4-7)

A. Deborah’s Role (vv. 4, 5)

B. Barak’s Call (vv. 6, 7)

Prophets, True and False

III. Collaborate as Needed (Judges 4:8-10)

A. Barak Balks (v. 8)

B. Barak Backed (vv. 9, 10)

Conclusion

A. Pick Your Heroes Carefully!

B. Prayer

C. Thought to Remember


Standard Lesson Commentary 2016-2017 (KJV): StandardLessonCmy2016KJV.

"Suggestions for families are taken from Standardlesson.com,

Standard Publishing Group, LLC. Used with permission. More resources for families are available at Standardpub.com.


God Bless