Total Obedience: Examining the heart of Jonah

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Jonah and whale

BIBLE TEXT: Jonah 1-4    

girl reading bible QUESTION TO CONSIDER: Do you practice total obedience? Let’s learn to obey right away, all the way, and in a cheerful way.

BIBLE LESSON: God called His prophet Jonah to go to the city of Nineveh to preach to the Assyrian people. Jonah would rather have done just about anything else in the world than this! The Assyrians had developed  a bad reputation for being extremely rough and cruel, especially to any prisoners they captured in war. The Jewish people (including Jonah) did not like the Assyrians and would have been more than happy to see God wipe them out. This explains why Jonah hopped on the first ship he could find that was going as far away from Nineveh as he could get! Read Jonah 1:3 to see what city he was trying to flee to. 

Jonah soon realized that you cannot run from God. The Lord sent a great wind to blow against the ship Jonah was in which sent the waves of the sea crashing  severely against it. The crew was scared that the ship would be broken apart. Jonah knew it was his fault because he had disobeyed God. Read Jonah 1:11-12 to find out what Jonah told the crew to do to him.

After Jonah was thrown overboard in the storm and spent three long days and nights in the belly of a great fish which God had prepared, he decided he had better go and do what God said! What was Jonah doing while he was inside the great fish? Jonah 2:1  God had an interesting way of getting Jonah out of the fish and onto dry land. What did God make the fish do? Read Jonah 2:10. Even the very creation of God is obedient to His commands.

In Jonah 3:1, God calls Jonah for the second time and repeats the mission to go to Nineveh. God should not have had to tell Jonah twice, but He was being patient with Jonah, just as He is patient with us when we disobey.

  Jonah in Nineveh  Jonah arrived in Nineveh and delivered God’s message. Read Jonah 3:4 to find out what the message was. If the people of Nineveh did not repent, Jonah knew that God would destroy them. The people of Nineveh believed God and repented. Every one in the city put on sackcloth which was a sign of humility and sorrow, and the king made a proclamation to his subjects. Read the decree of the king in Jonah 3:7-9 . God saw the repentance of the people of Nineveh and was merciful to them.

Read Jonah 4:1. How did Jonah feel about Ninevah’s repentance? He did not want the people to repent. He wanted God to destroy them! He was probably raging in his heart as well that he ever came on this trip and delivered the message of repentance to people that he thought were wicked and undeserving of God’s mercy. God was not at all pleased with Jonah’s attitude, temper, or lack of compassion for others. God asked him the question, “Is it right for you to be angry?(Jonah 4:4)

Ninevah was a huge city full of many people. Read Jonah 4:11 to find out how many people lived there. God saw each and every one of these souls and showed mercy to them by giving them a chance to repent. Sadly, Jonah did not look at these people in the same way that God did. Jonah could only see them as enemies that he wanted destroyed and when he didn’t get what he wanted, he threw a temper tantrum at the Lord.

So, how would you answer the question – “Did Jonah obey God?” Technically, the answer is yes. He did (eventually) go to Nineveh and he did speak the words God told him to say. But did he really obey God? Was it total obedience? The answer would have to be no. Jonah was  doing what he absolutely had to in order to avoid further punishment to himself, but his heart was hard, unwilling, and full of anger. That is not the kind of obedience God wants in us. He wants us to cheerfully and willingly obey Him in all things.


  1. To which country did the city of Nineveh belong?
  2. What city did Jonah attempt to flee to?
  3. How did Jonah escape from the belly of the great fish?
  4. How many people lived in Nineveh?
  5. What was Jonah’s message to the people of Nineveh?


  • John 14:15If you love Me, keep My commandments.  (NKJV)
  • Ephesians 6:1-3Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. “Honor your father and mother,” which is the first commandment with promise: “that it may be well with you and you may live long on the earth.” (NKJV)


WORD OF THE WEEK:  OBEY – to hear, listen to  Scroll

Hebrew word – shama (shaw-mah’)    שָׁמַע

When we think of “hearing,” we think of it as being able to actually hear spoken words, but in the original Hebrew, it meant physical action was expected to follow. Deuteronomy 6:4-5 is often referred to as the shama:  Hear, O Israel! The people were being told to listen and obey.

*Hebrew was the original language of the Old Testament. Greek was the original language of the New Testament.


Nineveh DID YOU KNOW?   Nineveh was a very ancient city which was built by a man named Nimrod, the mighty hunter who was one of the leaders in the building of the tower of Babel. We first read about Nineveh in the Bible in Genesis 10:11. The book of Nahum prophesies about Nineveh’s eventual destruction which occurred in 612 BC, more than 150 years after Jonah’s visit. Nineveh was never rebuilt.



  1. To Obey or Not to Obey – This is an online activity for kids.  Read 10 different situations and decide if obedience or disobedience was the result and why.
  2. In the belly of the whale! – Here’s a pinterest link to make a life-size great fish to crawl inside. While sitting inside of it, discuss what it might have been like for Jonah as he spent three days and nights in the belly of the great sea creature.
  3. Thinking Cap Activity – Time to put your thinking caps on! How many Bible characters can you think of who were obedient to God? Disobedient to God? Can you think of any who disobeyed but then were penitent?
  4. Repentance – Repentance is an important Bible topic to study. Answer the following questions about this subject: 1) What is repentance? 2) What leads us to repentance? (Romans 2:4), (Acts 2:37-38) 3) What is a sign of repentance? (Matthew 3:8) 4) There are two kinds of sorrow. Which one leads to repentance? (II Corinthians 7:10) 5) What will happen to one who refuses to repent? (Luke 13:3)
  5. Jonah coloring page – Free printable coloring page

If you enjoy these Bible lessons, please visit our Product Catalog  page to view our “Growing Up in God’s Word Bible curriculum for children series. Each title is an in-depth Bible study including multiple enrichment activities with each lesson such as map work, research projects, application activities, crafts, and more.

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