The Lord called Jonah to preach to the people of Nineveh, but Jonah fled and was swallowed by a great fish. After God delivered him, Jonah traveled to Nineveh and prophesied that the Lord would destroy the city because of its wickedness. The people of Nineveh repented, and God spared the city. The Lord then taught Jonah about His love for the people of Nineveh.
Ask students to think of one or more individuals whom they struggle to love or forgive.
Invite students to look for principles as they study the book of Jonah that can help them choose to love and forgive others.
Invite a student to read Jonah 1:1–2 aloud. Ask the class to follow along and look for what the Lord called Jonah to do.
What did the Lord call Jonah to do?
You may want to invite students to locate Bible Map no. 5, “The Assyrian Empire.” Explain that Jonah was from a place called Gath-hepher, located in Zebulun, a territory in Israel near Samaria (see Jonah 1:1; 2 Kings 14:25). Nineveh was a major city of the Assyrians, who were enemies of the Israelites. The Assyrian kings and soldiers were famous for their brutality, which included torturing and cruelly murdering the people they conquered.
If you had been Jonah, what thoughts or feelings might you have had about preaching in Nineveh?
Invite a student to read Jonah 1:3 aloud. Ask the class to follow along and look for what Jonah did in response to his call from the Lord.
What did Jonah do?
Explain to students that Joppa is a city on the coast of Israel and that Tarshish may have been located in present-day Spain.
Based on Jonah’s response, how do you think he felt about his call to go to Nineveh?
Invite a student to read Jonah 1:4 aloud. Ask the class to follow along and look for what the Lord did as Jonah was fleeing to Tarshish. Invite students to report what they find.
Summarize Jonah 1:5–9 by explaining that the men on the ship feared they might perish in the storm. They believed that Jonah was responsible, and they asked him why the storm had come upon them.
Invite a student to read Jonah 1:10–12 aloud. Ask the class to follow along, looking for the cause of the storm and Jonah’s instruction to the men on the boat.
What was the cause of the storm?
What did Jonah instruct the men on the boat to do?
Summarize Jonah 1:13–16 by explaining that the men reluctantly threw Jonah overboard. Once they had done so the storm ceased.
What can we learn from this account about trying to avoid the responsibilities the Lord has given us? (Help students identify a principle similar to the following: The Lord will hold us accountable for the responsibilities He gives us, even if we try to avoid them.)
What are some responsibilities the Lord gives people today that they may try to avoid? (You may want to list students’ answers on the board.)
What are some consequences that can come to individuals who try to avoid these responsibilities?
Invite students to read Jonah 1:17 silently and look for what happened after Jonah was cast into the sea. Ask students to report what they find.
Explain that Jonah 2 contains the prayer Jonah offered while he was in the fish’s belly.
Divide students into pairs, and invite them to read Jonah 2:1–9. Ask students to look for phrases in Jonah’s prayer that indicate his willingness to repent.
What phrases indicate Jonah’s willingness to repent?
You may want to explain that the phrase “I will look again toward thy holy temple” in verse 4 indicates that Jonah would no longer flee from the Lord. The phrase “I will pay that that I have vowed” in verse 9 indicates that Jonah promised to honor his commitments to the Lord.
How do these phrases indicate Jonah’s willingness to repent?
Ask a student to read Jonah 2:10 aloud. Invite the class to follow along and look for what the Lord did after Jonah expressed his willingness to repent.
How did the Lord show mercy to Jonah?
What principle can we learn from this chapter? (Students may use different words, but they should identify a principle similar to the following: If we cry unto the Lord and repent when we have sinned, we can receive His mercy.)
Invite a student to read aloud the following statement by President James E. Faust of the First Presidency:
“Many of us backslide, many stumble, and I believe firmly in the gospel of the second chance. But the gospel of the second chance means that having once been found weak, … thereafter we become steadfast” (“Stand Up and Be Counted,” Ensign, Feb. 1982, 71).
Testify of the Lord’s willingness to mercifully give us a second chance when we repent of our sins and commit to obey the Lord.
Invite a student to read Jonah 3:1–4 aloud. Ask the class to follow along, looking for how the Lord gave Jonah a second chance. Invite students to report what they find.
How did the Lord give Jonah a second chance?
How did Jonah respond this time?
Ask a student to read Jonah 3:5, 10 aloud. Invite the class to follow along, looking for how the people of Nineveh responded to Jonah’s preaching.
What did the people of Nineveh do?
Point out that the Joseph Smith Translation of Jonah 3:9–10 clarifies that the people of Nineveh declared, “we will repent, and turn unto God” (Joseph Smith Translation, Jonah 3:9 [in Jonah 3:9, footnote a]) and that “God turned away the evil that he had said he would bring upon them” (Joseph Smith Translation, Jonah 3:10 [in Jonah 3:10, footnote c]).
Write the following incomplete statement on the board: After the people of Nineveh repented, I felt because .
Invite students to imagine they are Jonah writing a journal entry following their successful mission to Nineveh. Invite them to complete the statement based on the feelings they think Jonah might have had.
Ask students how many of them completed the statement with a positive response. Then ask whether any students wrote a negative response. Invite a few students to read their statements and explain why they completed them that way.
Ask a student to read Jonah 4:1–3 aloud. Invite the class to follow along and look for how Jonah felt when the Lord spared the people of Nineveh.
What feelings did Jonah have?
What blessing did Jonah want to deny the people of Nineveh after he had received that same blessing?
You may want to suggest that students mark the Lord’s attributes listed in verse 2. Point out that although Jonah was blessed by these attributes when the Lord mercifully gave him a second chance, Jonah resented these attributes when the Lord gave the people of Nineveh a second chance. (Refer students to footnote b, which clarifies that the word repentest can mean “relentest.” Explain that Jonah knew that God could revoke the destruction pronounced upon Ninevah, but he apparently presumed that God would revoke the punishment even if the people did not repent.)
Explain that the remaining verses of Jonah 4 record what the Lord taught Jonah about love and forgiveness. To help students study these verses, copy the following chart on the board or provide it to students as a handout. You could complete the chart as a class or invite students to complete it on their own or with a partner. Invite students to read each scripture passage and then draw in the box below the scripture reference a simple picture of what the passage describes. As students complete the chart, you may want to explain that the word booth in verse 5 refers to a shelter and that the word gourd mentioned in verses 6–7, 9 refers to a large plant that could provide shade.
After sufficient time, invite one or two students to summarize what they learned. Then ask the class:
How did Jonah initially feel about the gourd? What feelings did he have after the gourd withered?
Invite a student to read Jonah 4:10–11 aloud. Ask the class to follow along and look for how the Lord used Jonah’s experience with the gourd to teach him about the Lord’s feelings for the people of Nineveh.
How did the Lord use Jonah’s experience with the gourd to teach Jonah about His feelings for the people of Nineveh? (The Lord helped Jonah understand that while Jonah had loved the gourd and was sad when it had withered, the Lord loved the people of Nineveh vastly more and did not want them to perish. The Lord was rebuking Jonah’s lack of charity for the people of Nineveh.)
According to this account, what must we do to become like the Lord? (Students may identify a principle such as the following: To become like the Lord, we must learn to love and forgive others as He does.)
To help students understand how this principle relates to them, invite them to recall the person or people they thought of at the beginning of the lesson whom they find difficult to love or forgive. Then read aloud the following statement by President Dieter F. Uchtdorf of the First Presidency:
“When it comes to hating, gossiping, ignoring, ridiculing, holding grudges, or wanting to cause harm, please apply the following:
“It’s that simple. We simply have to stop judging others and replace judgmental thoughts and feelings with a heart full of love for God and His children. …
“Because we all depend on the mercy of God, how can we deny to others any measure of the grace we so desperately desire for ourselves? …
“The pure love of Christ can remove the scales of resentment and wrath from our eyes, allowing us to see others the way our Heavenly Father sees us: as flawed and imperfect mortals who have potential and worth far beyond our capacity to imagine. Because God loves us so much, we too must love and forgive each other” (“The Merciful Obtain Mercy,” Ensign or Liahona, May 2012, 75–76).
When have you tried to love and forgive as the Lord does? How were you blessed for doing so?
Testify of the truths you have discussed today. Invite students to seek to become more like the Lord by choosing to love and forgive others, particularly individuals who may be difficult to love and forgive.