Tags: Bible teachers, Biblical Parenting, children's church, children's ministry, Christian parenting, commentary on Matthew, Jonah, Jonah and the whale, Matthew 12, Sunday School lessons on Matthew
The are various ways to teach Bible stories (which are true, factual, historical events) to children, and various techniques that can be used. This is not going to be a lesson about how to use sock puppets, or how to talk in a funny voice to keep kids’ attention, or how to string out a story over several weeks with carefully designed “cliffhangers,” so they will want to come back each week to find out what happens next. There are people who are far better at those things than I am.
No, this is about the actual teaching of Scripture. Teaching means that you are focusing on what they are actually learning, not just making sure they are having fun or being entertained. Nor am I talking about showing off Bible knowledge, or giving out prizes for participation or accomplishment. I’m talking about actually finding out what God wants us to know about a particular Bible story: Why did God put this in there and command us to read and study it?
Therefore, the first thing to keep in mind when teaching Bible stories to children is: Don’t teach fables. Bible stories are not fables. They are not fairy tales, and their purpose is not always to teach a “moral lesson,” although we usually can glean moral lessons from them.
The problem with avoiding the fable-teaching method in children’s Bible studies is that you will be hard-pressed to find a children’s curriculum or lesson book that DOESN’T use this method. Take the story of Jonah for example.
“Jonah was told by God to go where? Nineveh. But he didn’t want to go there, did he? No. Where did he go instead? To Joppa and then to Tarshish. And when he boarded the ship for Tarshish, what happened? A big storm that resulted in him getting thrown overboard. What do we learn from this? That if you disobey God something bad will happen to you.”
That’s true – as far as it goes – but remember, there are people disobeying God all over the place like crazy, and they seem to be doing fine. Several of them hold the highest government offices in our land! The story of Jonah is not like the boy who cried wolf – he did something bad so he ended up facing the consequences.
Try this instead: “What happened to Jonah when he was thrown overboard? Did he drown? No, God sent a big fish to swallow him up. That’s terrifying, but it turned out to be better than drowning, because he lived in the fish’s belly for how long? Three days… hey, wait a minute… hmmm, that reminds me of someone else who was supposed to be dead, and went down somewhere for three days.”
Then certain of the scribes and of the Pharisees answered, saying, Master, we would see a sign from thee. But he answered and said unto them, An evil and adulterous generation seeketh after a sign; and there shall no sign be given to it, but the sign of the prophet Jonas: For as Jonas was three days and three nights in the whale’s belly; so shall the Son of man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth. The men of Nineveh shall rise in judgment with this generation, and shall condemn it: because they repented at the preaching of Jonas; and, behold, a greater than Jonas is here.
It turns out that the Holy Spirit, when describing what happened to Jonah, was not really primarily teaching a lesson about the consequences of disobeying God, or even about how God can comfort you when you are scared and alone, or even about how God controls His creation (weather and animals). No, what He was primarily teaching is that we all have disobeyed God, and we deserve to be thrown into the sea to die, and we have absolutely no ability to save ourselves, but God can save us, because He Himself went down into the grave (the “belly of the earth”) and rose again in His Own power. Furthermore, just like Jonah’s testimony of coming back from the dead was the sign that supported his preaching, for us, the Resurrection of Jesus from the dead is our “proof” that everything that Jesus said about our sin and His salvation is true.
We don’t want our kids to think of a cartoon man and a cartoon whale, and definitely not a cucumber swimming around with a talking tomato.
We want them to think of a real man and a real fish that God used to get people ready to recognize Jesus – the Christ – Who would one day fulfill what Jonah and the whale typified: sin, death, burial, resurrection, and Gospel preaching!
Tags: children's Bible, Jonah, Jonah 1, Jonah 2, Matthew 12, Megalodon, Pinocchio, Psalm 3, Psalm 37
The illustration in the children’s picture Bible seemed so accurate then. I have to laugh, though, when I think back on it now. There’s Jonah, the prophet, wearing a long robe, with his long hair and serious expression. He’s sitting on a wooden bench, with only a candle for light, intently reading his Bible, surrounded by huge white ribs and shadowy internal organs. The caption beneath the illustration proclaims that he’s in the belly of the whale.
When I read the Book of Jonah today I find that the swallower is not even called a whale (although Jesus referred to it as a “whale” in Matthew 12:40). In Jonah the swallower is called a “prepared fish” (prepared by the Lord.) I prefer to think it was a Megalodon shark, but what do I know?
The point is, it is not likely that Jonah sat calmly on a bench reading by candlelight during his three days and three nights in the fish’s belly.
Now the LORD had prepared a great fish to swallow up Jonah. And Jonah was in the belly of the fish three days and three nights.
In fact, Jonah was probably squeezed in there, alone in the dark, like a man buried alive in a submarine coffin.
Thankfully, though, this did not keep Jonah from reciting the Word of God. Jonah 2:9 (“But I will sacrifice unto thee with the voice of thanksgiving; I will pay that that I have vowed. Salvation is of the LORD.”) shows that Jonah had memorized Psalms 3:8 and 37:39.
There are many good reasons for memorizing Scripture (showing off is not one of them), but one of the best reasons for doing it is so that we can call out the promises of God in times of great peril. I pray that you will never find yourself in the belly of a great fish, but if you do find yourself alone and trapped and in the dark, you will be thankful if you have been long in the habit of spending time alone with God, letting Him sear upon your heart the light of His Word.