Sunday, January 15, 2012

The Story of Jonah, a Big Fish and Making Good Choices

The Story of Jonah, a Big Fish and Making Good Choices
The Book of Jonah
Props:  The Congregation

Divide the congregation into four groups, such as those sitting on the right side of the sanctuary, those on the left, the children and the choir.  Before beginning the story, instruct each group to make the sound or movement you give them each time they hear their assigned word.  The words are color-coded in the script.

God (green) - Ask the organist to strike the first chord of the Halleluia Chorus, and have the choir sing the first, "Halleluia!."  If this is too complicated, ask the choir or a group of the congregation to sing the first three words of "Holy, Holy, Holy!"  Be sure to clue in the choir in advance.
Jonah (blue) - The people in this group raise their hands each time the word "Jonah" is read, as if volunteering for a task.
Nineveh (orange) - The people say, "Beep!  Beep!" like taxis in a big city.
Ship (yellow) - The people rock back and forth as on a ship in a storm and sing the words, "Sailing, sailing!"
Now read the story and have fun!

One day long ago, God spoke to Jonah, "Up on your feet and on your way, Jonah!," God said.  "I need you to go to the big city of Nineveh!  Preach to the people there.  They're in a bad way and I can't ignore it any longer.  Something needs to change."

But Jonah was afraid to go to NinevehJonah got up and decided to go in the opposite direction from Nineveh, to the town of Tarshish.  He was running away from God.

Jonah went to the port and found a ship scheduled to sail to Tarshish.  He paid the fare and boarded the ship, joining the others also going to Tarshish--as far away from God as Jonah could get.

But God sent a huge storm at sea.  The waves towered over the ship.  The ship was about to break into pieces!  The sailors were terrified.  They called out in desperation.  They threw everything overboard that wasn't nailed down to lighten the ship.  Still, the storm raged and the ship was tossed on the high seas.

Meanwhile, Jonah was down below in the hold of the ship, taking a nap.  He was sleeping through the whole thing!  The captain of the ship found Jonah and woke him up.  "Pray to your god," the captain said.  "Maybe your god will see that we're in trouble and rescue us.

Then the sailors said to each other, "Let's get to the bottom of this and find out who on the ship is responsible for this disaster."

Well, eventually Jonah 'fessed up that he was the problem.  He had chosen to run away from God instead of going to Nineveh.  The sailors said to Jonah, "What are we going to do with you--to get rid of this storm?"  Jonah told them to throw him off the ship, into the sea.  The sailors didn't want to do it, but it seemed tossing Jonah overboard was the only choice they had.  They said a prayer to God, and tossed Jonah off the ship.  Immediately, the sea was quiet.

The sailors were impressed.  They were no longer terrified by the sea, but were in awe of God.  They worshipped God on the spot.

But God wasn't finished convincing Jonah that he needed to go to NinevehGod sent a huge fish to swallow Jonah.  The fish gulped up Jonah whole!  He lived in the belly of the fish for three days and three nights.  Finally, Jonah had had enough.  He turned to God in prayer.  From the belly of the fish, Jonah prayed to God.  He prayed a long prayer, thanking the Lord for God's goodness and constant care.  Then, at the end of the long prayer, Jonah said,

"I'll do what I promised I'd do!  I'll preach to the people of Nineveh."

Then the fish coughed up Jonah on the seashore.

Next, God spoke to Jonah again.  "Up on your feet and on your way to the big city of Nineveh!  Preach to them.  Tell them to make good choices and change their behavior!  They are in a bad way and I can't ignore it any longer."

This time, Jonah made a good choice himself!  He went straight to Nineveh, this time obeying God's instructions.

When Jonah arrived at Nineveh, he preached God's message.  The people listened, and made the good coice to follow God always.  The End.

Let's Pray:  All Loving Creator, help us to make the good choice to be your faithful people.  Amen.

The telling of this story is adapted from Eugene H. Peterson's Bible translation, The Message.


  1. I'd love to hear how this story works in your congregation! We did a similar treatment with Noah and the Ark several years ago, and it was very well received. Everyone had a ball hearing a well-known story in a new way.

  2. This is just what I was looking for today. A new way to tell an old, well known story. Our Luau will be much more fun and blessed with this story.

  3. Story is told well, but you left out a crucial part of the story, chapter 4.

    1. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

    2. Also left out how selfish Jonah was

    3. I agree. I think it is in Chapter 4 that a major point of the narrative comes together. Jonah is unsatisfied with the salvation of the Ninevites. He does not want them to receive God's grace and it is this heart issue that God addresses when He contrasts Jonah's reaction to the dead plant with His pity for Nineveh (Jon 4:10-11). Even though Jonah eventually complied and God's plan was fulfilled, the action itself was not what God was looking for in Jonah. God was not looking for obedience for obedience's sake; He could have made puppets to do that for Him. Rather, God wants us to do His will out of a love for Him and a desire to glorify our Lord. I would like to see children being taught to obey God and their parents because of a desire to express love, rather than simply for the sake of being obedient.

  4. Most of the Biblical narrative is told in layers. To deal with all of the layers at one time would be complicated and lengthy. There are certain limitations to the format of the 5 minute children's sermon. Dealing with Chapter 4 would be a good choice for the next time Jonah comes up in the Lectionary cycle. Thank-you for your insightful comments.

  5. I did this in church last Sunday and it was VERY well received by the youngest and the oldest in the congregation. It far exceeded my expectations for the amount of participation I would receive. It was awesome as an introduction into the story of Jonah and now we will explore it deeper over the next few weeks. Thanks for this posting!

  6. I love the interaction so a story is fresh and new. and talked about,any more like Jonah? congregation and kids all loved it,

  7. Search "Noah and the Noisy Ark" in this blog. Glad this technique works well for you!


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