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Second chances

By looking at the story of Jonah, to consider how often we are given a second chance to put things right.

by Janice Ross

Suitable for Whole School (Pri)


By looking at the story of Jonah, to consider how often we are given a second chance to put things right.

Preparation and materials

  • If possible, have some bath toys such as a duck, wind-up swimming turtles, boats.
  • Be ready to tell the story of Jonah as below.


  1. Talk to the children about having baths. Ask some of the younger children what they like to play with in the bath? Show the items if you have them.

    Ask the children if they have ever heard Mum or Dad or another adult say, ‘Looks like there's been a whale in this bathroom!’ What do they mean?
  2. Explain that we are going to listen to a story about a man and a whale. It’s an old story from the Bible, so Jews, Christians and others think that it has something to say to us about how we should live our lives.

    Jonah and the Whale
    Retold by Janice Ross

    This story is about a man called Jonah and a whale called… well, we are not told its name actually, nor whether it was really a whale, but it was certainly a big sea creature! Now the likelihood of these two ever meeting was slim, especially in the waters around the Mediterranean Sea, but meet they did and here is the tale.

    Jonah was a preacher by profession. The story goes that he had been chosen by the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob to be his messenger. It was a fine and respectable job. People looked up to Jonah. People listened to him. He was important, respected in the community. He loved his job. That is, until one day God asked him to go to a place called Nineveh. Travelling was no problem, distance no trouble. It was the message that put Jonah off.

    ‘Go and tell the people of Nineveh that I am angry with them because they have been behaving very badly.’

    Now, who would want to hear that? Jonah knew that he was hardly likely to be welcomed with open arms. The more he thought about this hard message, the more he imagined what might happen. He might be booed. People might throw stones at him. He might be chased from the city. At the least people would laugh at him. No! This was a task that he didn’t really fancy, thank you, God. So he decided not to do it, not to go to Nineveh.

    Under cover of darkness, and with his head tucked under his cloak so that God wouldn’t spot him, he slunk down to the harbour, got on to a boat sailing in the opposite direction and hid in the deepest, darkest part of the ship. As if anyone can hide from God! Silly Jonah!

    Well, it wasn’t long before a storm brewed up, and oh my, was that some storm. The sailors were used to storms and were brave men, but it even had them on their knees praying. Jonah knew that it was his fault. After the sailors had thrown almost everything overboard, in an effort to make the boat lighter, Jonah owned up and told them his story.

    ‘I reckon this is all my fault. You’d better throw me overboard.’

    The sailors wasted no time. It was him or them, and we can all be selfish in situations like that!

    Just at that moment, when Jonah hit the water, God organized it that one of his rather large created creatures, a big fish or perhaps a whale, would be swimming that way. It opened its mouth and received Jonah into its belly.

    Now, who knows what it must have been like to be in there. No doubt dark and smelly and probably a very bumpy ride. We are told that Jonah was there for three days. Plenty of time to think, and pray, and pray he most certainly did.

    ‘I am sorry, God. I disobeyed you. You had an important message for the people of Nineveh whom you love. You asked me to take it and I disobeyed. Please forgive me. If you give me another chance I'll go.’

    He was hardly likely to get another chance, was he? But just at that moment, whether the fish had acid indigestion or just wanted to yawn we will never know, but it opened its huge cave of a mouth and spewed a rather smelly and very surprised Jonah on to a beach somewhere.

    And that’s how Jonah came to get a second chance. He did indeed go to Nineveh this time and he did indeed preach that hard message. The people of Nineveh didn’t laugh at him. They listened to his message and knew that they had been behaving badly and were determined to repent – that is, to do better in future.
  3. Just like Jonah, we all make mistakes. Sometimes we fail to do something we have been asked to do at home or at school. Sometimes we just know that we shouldn’t have acted in a particular way or said a particular thing. Sometimes we get a second chance and can put it right. Often it involves a little word, ‘Sorry’.

Time for reflection


Have I failed to do something I was asked to do recently?
How can I put that right?



Dear God,
Thank you that you love us even when we make mistakes.
Help us to see opportunities for a second chance



‘God who made the earth’ (Come and Praise, 10)

Publication date: May 2008   (Vol.10 No.5)    Published by SPCK, London, UK.
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