(A brief overview for Sunday School teachers and Bible study leaders of Lifeway’s “Explore the Bible” lesson of Jonah 1:15-2:10 for Sunday, October 2, 2022, with the title, “No Escape.” A video version of this overview is available on YouTube at:
INTRO: The Teacher’s Book actually has a pretty good introduction to this lesson, but let me give you some more specifics on it. Joe Louis, the famous boxer, faced Billy Conn in June of 1946. Conn was 25 pounds lighter than Louis, and had faced him before, so his strategy was going to be to dodge and run, and not trade punches with Louis. Sportswriters asked Louis how he would deal with Conn, and Louis famously said, “He can run, but he can’t hide.” And he was right — Louis knocked him out in the 8th round of that fight!
That wouldn’t be a bad title for this lesson: “You Can Run, But You Can’t Hide.” That is definitely true of our relationship with God. And that’s definitely something the lesson this week teaches us. Jonah could run, but he could’t hide from God — and neither can we!
If you don’t use the Louis boxing illustration you could use another from your experience, or ask you class to share, times they/their loved ones tried to hide something that got found out. A famous one in our family was one of our sons, who got a bad grade on his report card, and so he told us the report card “hadn’t come out yet.” Every day Cheryl would ask if they gave him his report card yet, and every day he’d say “they aren’t out yet,” until she asked another parent, who told her “oh yeah they came out 3 days ago!” “You can run, but you can’t hide.”
Or the time Cheryl was trying to build communication with our boys, who, when they came home from school and she asked them “What happened at school today?”, would always answer, “Nothing.” So she read somewhere that a good question to ask your kids, to get them talking, was, “Who got in trouble at school today?” She thought, this is a GREAT question. So when Paul came home she asked him, “So … who got in trouble at school today?” His face turned white. HE DID! How did she know? Mom always knows! “You can run but you can’t hide!”
Feel free to use any of those stories, or you and your class can think of others like that you can share to help introduce this lesson, OR you can use them later on in the session as an illustration. (I’ve also got at the end of the lesson a Fox News story of a man in Massachusetts who was swallowed by a whale in 2021; you could also use that as an opening illustration if God leads you to.)
As we talked about a few weeks ago when we started this series on the 12 Minor Prophets, if there is ONE of these 12 books that our class members know something about, it’s Jonah. Most everyone at least knows the “big picture” of the book.
But there is SO much here: applications for missions, evangelism, repentance, values, life and practice — and we get TWO whole weeks with it! But we’ll try to make the most of those two weeks! (Now, I’d say as a pastor, if the Lord leads you to take a little more time with this book, because there’s so much here, do it — realizing that the flip side of that is, that time will have to come out of another book, in this case maybe Hosea, or one of the next books. But you do what God leads you to do.
The first mention of Jonah is actually in II Kings 14:25, during the reign of Joash, King of Israel, the Northern Kingdom. Joash was an evil king, but according to :25, he expanded the kingdom “according to the word of the LORD … which He spoke through His servant Jonah the son of Amittai, the prophet, who was at Gath-hepher.” So this is the same Jonah, whom Jonah 1:1 says was the son of Amittai. So Jonah was a prophet, who lived just after the death of Elisha, during the reign of the evil king Joash in Israel. He was from Gath-hepher, which Joshua 19:13 says was the border of the territory of the sons of Zebulun — in N. Central Israel, so Jonah lived in the Northern Kingdom and was a prophet there.
THIS time, God tells Jonah to go on a “mission trip” to Nineveh, to preach to them. Nineveh was an important city in Assyria (the nation who would eventually carry Israel, the N Kingdom, into captivity). They were known for their brutality.
This sets the background for Jonah, where God tells Jonah in 1:1, “Arise, go to Nineveh, the great city, and cry against it …”
But :2 says that Jonah rose up to flee to Tarshish from the presence of the LORD.”
Several things here:
— Be ready to show on a map where Nineveh is (far east of Israel on the Tigris River)
— Tarshish, many scholars believe is Spain — the far WEST end of the Mediterranean Sea! So Jonah went the opposite direction!
(I think of the classic movie, “It’s A Wonderful Life,” where George Bailey’s (played by Jimmy Stewart) mother wanted him to go to see Mary Hatch, and she pointed the direction to her house — but George promptly went off the exact OPPOSITE direction! That’s what Jonah did here. He went the exact opposite direction of where God told him to go!)
— but notice especially that it says he did it to flee “from the presence of the LORD”! That’s a key statement. Jonah was trying to run from God. And this statement “from the presence of the LORD” is repeated throughout Chapter 1: at the end of :3 it uses it again, saying he paid his fare to go to Tarshish, “From the presence of the LORD.” Then :10 says “the men knew that he was fleeing from the presence of the LORD because he had told them.”
So THREE TIMES here in Jonah 1 it uses this phrase, that Jonah was fleeing “from the presence of the LORD,” it’s really emphasizing that. When God repeats something, He’s emphasizing it. So this is a key theme here: Jonah was trying to run from God!
But look at the verses closely: the word “LORD” here is in all 4 capital letters, which means that in Hebrew, this is not “Adonai,” or “Lord,” but “Yahweh” (YHWH) the personal name of God.
Now, in those days, they believed that gods were “territorial”: when you were in Philistia, Dagon was the god who had power in that area, but when you were in Sidon, Asherah had control of that area, and so on. Each “god” had his own geographic region. (Possibly these were areas that particular demons had influence over.) But the Bible tells us that Yahweh made the heavens and the earth. He was not one of these “little geographical gods”! He is Lord of heaven and earth! So you can’t run from YHWH!
It’s just like Psalm 139:7-10 says “Where can I go from Your Spirit? Where can I flee from Your presence? If I ascend to heaven You are there. If I make my bed in Sheol, behold You are there. If I take the wings of the dawn; if I dwell in the remotest part of the sea, even there Your hand will lead me, and Your right hand will lay hold of me.” Those verses are just MADE for this Book of Jonah! And they are a good reminder for us today too. “You can run, but you can’t hide!” from God!
Now that fact can be both positive and negative:
— it can be extremely comforting that God is always with us. “I will fear no evil, for You are with me” — the central theme of Psalm 23. That’s comforting.
— but it can also be extremely convicting: you can’t get away from Yahweh God. “You can run, but you can’t hide.”
ILLUSTRATION/APPLICATION: You could use one of those illustrations we talked about earlier here — OR maybe you, or someone in your class, can share a testimony of a time when you were “running from God.” How did that work out?! Like Jonah, it doesn’t go very well! Share that story/let you class share to illustrate and apply this concept of “No Escape”/“You can run but you can’t hide.”
Also there’s a classic poem, called “The Hound of Heaven” by Francis Thompson:
I fled Him, down the nights and down the days;
I fled Him, down the arches of the years;
I fled Him, down the labyrinthine ways
Of my own mind; and in the mist of tears
I hid from Him, and under running laughter.
Up vistaed hopes I sped;
And shot, precipitated,
Adown Titanic glooms of chasmèd fears,
From those strong Feet that followed, followed after.
But with unhurrying chase,
And unperturbèd pace,
Deliberate speed, majestic instancy,
They beat—and a Voice beat
More instant than the Feet—
‘All things betray thee, who betrayest Me.’
The full poem is probably way too long to read in class (unless you’re all Oxford graduates!), but in the last stanza Thompson portrays God as saying:
“All which I took from thee I did but take,
Not for thy harms,
But just that thou might’st seek it in My arms.”
(You can get the text of this from my website at: www.shawnethomas.com)
Like Jonah we can run from God, but “The Hound of Heaven” will always find us. But the difficulties He sends us while we are running from Him, are “not for our harms,” “but that we might seek it in His arms.” It’s for our good. Because what we really need is not to run FROM God, but to run TO Him! But sometimes like Jonah, we have to learn it the hard way.
And be sure you’re applying this to your class. You might ask:
— Is there something God is calling YOU to do today, that you are reluctant to do? Teach a class, serve in some way, witness to someone, go on a mission trip (like Jonah!) Don’t run from God, run TO Him; He’s asking this for your & others’ good!
— Do you KNOW someone who is running from God right now?
Some of us may be able to share children, grandchildren, or other folks we know who are running from God. If several of these are shared in your class, have a time of prayer for them — either at this point, or before you close your class time.
But that theme of “running from God,” “No Escape,” “You Can Run But You Can’t Hide” is probably the #1 theme/application for this week.
THERE ARE SOME OTHER APPLICATIONS THOUGH:
ONE is the Sovereignty of God. That God is on the throne, and He is in charge of everything in this universe.
One activity you could do to emphasize this to your class, would be to have them scan Jonah 1, and point out each indicator that GOD is sovereign/in charge of events/elements of creation. There are several throughout this passage. For example:
— 1:4 “The LORD hurled a great wind on the sea”. There didn’t just “happen” to be a storm; it says GOD hurled it! HE controls the storms.
— 1:9 Jonah says “I fear YHWH God of heaven, who made the sea and the dry land.” God made it all; HE is sovereign!
— 1:17 “And the LORD (YHWH) appointed a great fish to swallow Jonah …”. There didn’t “just happen” to be a fish; GOD APPOINTED that fish!
— Then we see in 2:10 “the LORD commanded the fish, and it vomited Jonah up …”. The fish didn’t just “happen” to get sick; God COMMANDED him to throw Jonah up.
(If you want to jump ahead you can include 4:6-8, where it says GOD appointed a plant to grow; GOD appointed a worm to attack the plant; GOD appointed an east wind. GOD is sovereign over all this!)
So over & over here we see the sovereignty of God. God is in charge of nature/creation, events, “circumstances”, for His purposes. Ephesians 1:11 says He “works all things after the counsel of His will.” God is sovereign.
So how do we apply that? Is there any circumstance in your life right now, that might seem to be “random,” or “happened” to take place? Do you need to take another look at that, and say, God, what are YOU doing; what is YOUR purpose in it? This didn’t “just happen” to occur; God is sovereign. He has a purpose in everything. OUR responsibility is:
1) to believe that God is sovereign, and
2) to try to be fellow workers with Him in fulfilling His purposes for those things. What’s God trying to do in YOU, your family, your church, etc, through this situation?
But let there be no doubt: God is sovereign. Jonah, and the whole word of God, teach us that.
ANOTHER application in this text regards REPENTANCE.
We’ve talked about the importance of repentance before — and how it is a neglected concept in many churches and individual Christians today. We want God to “just forgive us” and let us keep going our own way. But God is not satisfied with that; He wants us to genuinely REPENT of our sins; to change our minds, and change our direction. (I think that’s a good definition of Biblical repentance: “a change of mind, that leads to a change in direction.”) The classic example of that of course is the Prodigal Son: Luke 15:17 says “He came to his senses” and said I’m dying here of hunger, I’m going to get up and go to my father. He had a change of mind. This is literally what the Greek word metanoieo means: “after/to think.” To think better of something; to change your mind. But that “change of mind”, if it is genuine, will also result in a change of direction: as the Prodigal Son “got up and came to his father.” (:20). So repentance is a change of mind, that leads to a change in direction.
We see that in Jonah here, don’t we? God told him to go preach to Nineveh, Jonah went the opposite way; God chastised him and had him swallowed by the fish; and in the fish, Jonah repents. JONAH 2 IS ANOTHER CLASSIC PICTURE OF REPENTANCE, like Luke 15 and the Prodigal Son. It is really the prayer of repentance that Jonah prayed to God in the belly of the fish. The climactic moment, I believe, is found in :9 where Jonah prays: “That which I have vowed, I will pay; salvation is from the LORD.” Jonah says, God, that which I have vowed, I will pay. God, I’ll DO what You told me to do. THAT is repentance. He changed his mind, and promised to change his direction (And then we DO see in Jonah 3:3 that when God tells Jonah again to go to Nineveh, he DOES go this time. He had a change of mind, that led to a change in direction. He really repented. And he is a great example for us all of what repentance really means.
So you can talk with your class: If you/someone you know has claimed to repent, to have “a change of mind” — has there been a corresponding “change of direction” also? There must be both for there to be genuine repentance.
A COUPLE OF OTHER THINGS THAT MIGHT HELP YOU FOR SUNDAY:
We do remember that the Bible does NOT say that Jonah was swallowed by a “whale,” though that is how many people describe the story. The Bible actually says “a great fish,” as you see here in Jonah 1:17.
Some people might scoff at such things, but last year there was a story on the Fox News website about a man in Massachusetts who was actually swallowed by a whale:
“A commercial lobster diver says he was swallowed whole by a whale off the Massachusetts coast Friday but made it out alive with only minor injuries following the life and death encounter.
Michael Packard, 56, of Wellfleet, was released hours later from a Cape Cod hospital following his scary encounter with a humpback whale. He told WBZ-TV he was 45 feet deep in the waters off Provincetown when the attack occurred.
He initially thought the whale was a shark but realized he was wrong when he didn’t feel any teeth or pain.
“All of a sudden, I felt this huge shove and the next thing I knew it was completely black,” Packard recalled Friday afternoon, according to the Cape Cod Times. “I could sense I was moving, and I could feel the whale squeezing with the muscles in his mouth.”
“I was completely inside (the whale); it was completely black,” he added. “I thought to myself, ‘there’s no way I’m getting out of here. I’m done, I’m dead. All I could think of was my boys, they’re 12 and 15 years old.”
Packard said he thinks he was in the whale’s mouth for about 30 seconds. He was able to breathe because he still had his breathing apparatus.
In an effort to save himself, Packard said he began shaking the whale’s head before the animal surfaced and ejected him. In a Facebook post, he said the whale “spit me out” and that he escaped with bruises and no broken bones.
Packard’s mate, Josiah Mayo, plucked him out of the water and headed back to shore. Fox News has reached to Packard but has not heard back.
Experts told the newspaper that humpback whales are not aggressive animals, especially toward humans.
“Based on what was described this would have to be a mistake and an accident on the part of the humpback,” said Jooke Robbins, director of Humpback Whale Studies at the Center for Coastal Studies in Provincetown.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
(Fox News website 6/11/21)
AND ALSO: remember what Jesus said in Matthew 12:40 in the New Testament: “for just as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the sea monster, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.”
So another application of Jonah is the PICTURE OF THE GOSPEL that it gives us: as Jonah was three days in the fish, so Jesus was three days buried in the earth. Jonah was “as good as dead”; Jesus was literally dead. But God raised Jonah up from the fish to new life, and even so Jesus rose again from the grave on the 3rd day, to new life, and to give eternal life to whoever will genuinely repent of their sin (have a change of mind that leads to a change in direction in their life) and put their faith in Him as their Lord & Savior. So this would be a great way to share the gospel this week.
I hope there’s some things here that you can use in this week’s overview. If YOU have something you are going to do that you think might be helpful to others, post it in the Comments section so that others can benefit from it.
And if you post anything in the Comments, I’ll be sure to pray for you/your class this weekend by name.
May God bless you as you help your class apply His word to their lives this week!
Per licensing agreement with Lifeway:
– These weekly lessons are based on content from Explore the Bible Adult Resources. The presentation is my own and has not been reviewed by Lifeway.
– Lifeway resources are available at: goExploretheBible.com and: goexplorethebible.com/adults-training
– If you have questions about Explore the Bible resources you may send emails to email@example.com
I want to thank you for the helps you give in preparing our lesson plan each week. You have down-to-earth suggestions, and I have used many of them over the past weeks!
Thank you Norma; I do want them to be “down to earth,” that people can use to help with the lesson. I’m grateful for the feedback. Praying for you and your group this week!
I really do appreciate your help with all the Sunday School lessons. May God continue to bless you! Thanks so much.
Thank you Doris; I appreciate you letting me know that it was helpful to you! And I’m praying for you this week!
Thank you for help with lesson planning!
Where can I get a map with The Jonah Travel Plan like you presented in the video?
Joan I just did an internet search for “Jonah Travel Map” and several came up. I just picked that one. I tried it again just now and it came up on the first page of results. Hope that helps. Let me know if you have any difficulty with it.
Thank you very much!
I have just started leading a Senior Sunday School class in June of this year. Your lesson overview has been a great help to me in preparing the lesson.
I’m so grateful that it is helpful to you Joan. Thank you for letting me know. I’m praying for you and your class this week!
Joan I just added the picture to my blog post in the place where I mention the map, hopefully you can copy/print it from there.
Pastor, Shawn, I lived in Bailey’s Prairie south of Angleton for 30 years and served at Second Baptist as teacher and lay leader. I currently teach a ladies SS class at Parkside Denison.
Your lessons from a physical locality and more importantly a spiritual locality give me comfort that our God is Sovereign wherever I am.