You Cannot Run From God
Scripture: Psalm 139:23, Book of Jonah
Memory verse: Psalm 139:23
”Search me, God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts."
Begin this week’s session by asking the students if they have ever been to the ocean. Let several share their experiences of wading in the salty water or hunting for seashells along the shore. Ask if the students have ever seen or touched seaweed. (If possible, you might want to bring some seaweed to class. Also bring a long rope to class for use in the discussion about seaweed.)
If you are not able to bring seaweed to class, give the students a short description of it. There are many different kinds of seaweed. It can be green, red, or brown. Explain that seaweed grows very fast, and some types can grow as long as 50 kilometres. Seaweed is slimy because it contains a gummy substance. It would feel somewhat like a greased rope.
Show the students the long rope you brought. Ask the students how they would feel if they had a long piece of seaweed wrapped around their head. Then ask how they would feel if they were covered in seaweed while they were in a totally dark place such as a large airtight box at the bottom of the ocean. Let the students respond; then share your feelings.
Tell the students that this week’s lesson is about a man who had these same feelings. His head was bound with seaweed; he was in a dark place; and he was in the middle of the ocean! Through this experience the man learned an important lesson. His lesson is important for us to remember also.
Hearing God’s Word
God told Jonah to go to the city of Nineveh to preach against the wickedness of the people there. Jonah did not want to go. He decided to take the easy way out and do something else instead. The book of the Bible that bears his name tells us what happened because of this decision.
The Book of Jonah
The Book of Jonah is different from the writings of other prophets we have studied so far. The other writings contain messages the prophets gave to God’s people. The Book of Jonah is the account of Jonah himself.
Not much is known about Jonah’s early life. His name in the Hebrew language means “dove.” He came from the town of Gath Hepher, which is located in the northern part of Israel. He was a prophet during the reign of King Jerboam II. (Ask volunteers to read 2 Kings 14:23–25.) But the Book of Jonah is not about his ministry to the people of Israel, but rather to the people of Nineveh, the capital of Assyria.
God Sends Jonah to Nineveh
When God told Jonah to go to Nineveh to preach against its wickedness, Jonah ran the other direction. Nineveh was noted for its wickedness and cruelty. It was the last place Jonah wanted to go. He didn’t want to warn Nineveh of the coming judgement because he didn’t want the people to repent and be spared. Instead Jonah wanted God to destroy the city.
Jonah Runs From God
Instead of listening to God, Jonah went to Joppa and found a ship headed for a place called Tarshish. The Bible says he ran away from God. But is it really possible to find a place where God does not see you? (Ask a student to read Psalm 139:7–12.)
God knew exactly where Jonah was, and He sent a terrible storm to track him down. The sailors on the ship were frantic. They did everything they could to keep the ship from sinking. Everyone was praying—everyone except Jonah, that is. The captain found him asleep in the bottom of the ship.
The captain shook him. “How can you sleep in this terrible storm?” he cried. “Call on your God! Maybe He can save us from death.”
The sailors decided to cast lots to find out who had brought this evil upon them. The lot fell to Jonah. They asked Jonah many questions. Finally he told them the whole thing. “Throw me into the sea, and it will become calm,” Jonah said. “This is all my fault.”
The sailors did not want to throw Jonah overboard. They did their best to row to land, but the sea was too rough. Finally, the sailors threw Jonah into the water. Immediately the sea became calm.
Life in a Big Fish
As Jonah fell into the dark, stormy waters, he must have thought it was the end. Suddenly he felt himself being sucked inside a giant, dark form. He had been swallowed by a great fish, possibly a whale. Jonah lived inside that huge fish for three days and three nights. The whole time he was covered with seaweed and surrounded by total darkness. What a frightening time that must have been! Inside that fish Jonah began to cry out to God. He confessed his sins and prayed for deliverance from this dark, slimy prison. (If time allows, let volunteers read Jonah 2:1–9.) God loved Jonah and wanted to give him a second chance. He had the fish release Jonah.
When God asked Jonah the second time to go to Nineveh, Jonah obeyed. He had learned his lesson!
The Result of Jonah’s Message
Jonah’s message to Nineveh was short. What did he preach? (Ask a student to read Jonah 3:4.) The message was short, but it could not be misunderstood.
Ask: “How do you think the people of Nineveh responded? (Allow responses.)
They believed what Jonah said. They declared a fast, put on sackcloth, and sat in ashes to show how sorry they were for their sins. The king issued a proclamation urging everyone to turn from their evil ways. Because they repented and turned from their sins, God had compassion on them and spared them from destruction.
Jonah should have been happy with the positive response to his ministry, but he wasn’t. Instead he became angry at God.
Ask: “Why?” (Allow response.)
Even though Jonah was willing to do what God wanted, his opinion of the people living in Nineveh hadn’t changed. Jonah still wanted God to destroy the city.
Jonah went outside Nineveh and waited there to see what God would do. God caused a vine to grow up quickly to provide Jonah shade from the hot sun. The next day God sent a worm to chew the vine so it would wither. Jonah was even angrier now because he had no shade.
What did God say to Jonah about his actions? (Ask a student to read Jonah 4:10, 11.) Jonah got very upset when the vine died, but he had no concern about the thousands of people in Nineveh who would have died under God’s destruction. People are more important than plants. God spared the people of Nineveh when they repented. Instead of being angry and full of self-pity, Jonah should have been glad God spared the people.
Knowing and Doing God’s Will
All of us will meet people we do not particularly like. Some people may be rude or mean to us. These people seem impossible to get along with. But just because they are not nice to us, does that mean Jesus does not love them? No. He died for everyone, no matter what that person has done. Jesus wants us to love even our enemies. If we love them, we are examples of God’s love. We may be the key that leads them to salvation, just as Jonah was with the people of Nineveh. What about your daily actions? Do they bring honour to God and show His love? The Bible tells us that God wants us to love one another and to share the good news about Jesus. That is doing God’s will.
God has not given us rules to make us miserable. He made us, so He knows what will make us happiest. The Bible is like an instruction manual that comes with a new car or video camera. If we disregard the instructions, we may do something to ruin our purchase. If we disobey God’s instruction manual for living, we will suffer the pain and sorrow of our poor decisions, both now and in eternity.
Following God’s will for our lives may seem to be too difficult at times, but God does not expect us to do it in our own strength. He has sent the Holy Spirit to help us. Like Jonah, you can try to run away from God, but you can never be truly happy until you surrender your will to Him. True peace and happiness comes only when you make this week’s memory verse your daily prayer. (Repeat this week’s memory verse with the students several times.)
Follow God’s will for you every day by obeying His Word. Also try to follow His plan for your life—what He wants you to become in life. Continually seek God for direction. Avoid learning the hard way as Jonah did. Be sensitive to God’s will for you. He knows better than you what is best and you can trust Him in every part of your life.
Accepting God’s Word
Remind the students of the patience God showed to Jonah and the people of Nineveh. God was willing to give them a second chance to follow Him. God is always willing to forgive our sins, but we must first admit we are sinners, repent, and ask Jesus to come into our lives and be our Saviour. Ask if there are any who want to make that commitment now. Pray with each who responds.
The Soninke occupy a breadth of about 50 kilometres of dry, arid countryside. The Senegal River establishes their homeland's northern border.
After a two-hour drive, we arrived in Bakel, a city of 15,000 people in the heart of the Senegal Soninke homeland. The community is located on the Senegal River at the base of a high hill on which an old French lookout tower still stands. At the base of the hill is the local mosque, the most prominent building in Bakel.
One block away is an elementary school and near it, a youth centre. We were privileged to interact with some of the youth. Though being isolated geographically, they seemed to be in touch with the outside world through education and access to the Internet.
We stayed overnight in a house overlooking the river. The view was beautiful, and it reminded us that where there is water, there is life. This isolated setting also called our attention to the absence of the presence of Jesus, the giver of spiritual life. Although the community is Islamic, the people also acknowledge, pay homage to and fear a river god. Only Jesus' power will bring them the deliverance they desperately need.
REMEMBER TO PRAY!
Pray for Deliverance From Fear
1. Soninke youth to be exposed to the gospel of Jesus Christ through the Internet.
2. Youth to accept Jesus as their Saviour and be delivered from their fear of the Senegal river god.
3. Secondary school students who are believers in Jesus Christ to have the boldness to preach the gospel to fellow unbelieving Soninke students.
"You (God) will keep in perfect peace those whose minds are steadfast, because they trust in you" (Isaiah 26:3).
Remember: YOU CANNOT RUN FROM GOD
Memory verse: Psalm 139:23
”Search me, God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts."
1. God has a plan, a purpose for every believer to fulfil.
2. Rebelling against God's plan creates huge problems.
3. God knows best even though we do not always understand.
Pray for Soninke Youth's Deliverance From Fear.
Study 9 | All Peoples/The Prophets | africaatts.org/go-teach