every morning went out to feed his chicken. Each morning, when it saw
the farmer approach, the bird got ready for breakfast. This scenario
happened over and over until, one morning, the farmer arrived and,
instead of feeding the fowl, wrung its neck.
The point is this: The past is no guarantor of the
future. Though things that have happened before, even regularly, can
and often do happen again, they don't, automatically, have to. The
unexpected does arise and often when least expected (which is part of
what makes it unexpected).
This concept was hard for many seventeenth- and
eighteenth-century Europeans to grasp. The tremendous advances in
science, particularly through the seminal work of Isaac Newton, led
many to believe that all of nature works through cold, uncaring, and
unvarying laws. Once these laws were understood, it was conceivable (if
enough other information were given) that a person could know
everything that would happen in the future because everything—from what
the king would want for dessert on New Year's Eve to the number of
hailstones in the next hailstorm over Paris—could be predicted with
By the early twentieth century, however, scientists
like Niels Bohr, Max Planck, and Erwin Schrodinger-with their
discoveries in quantum physics—brought these deterministic assumptions
into great question. According to quantum theory, reality at its most
fundamental level reveals itself in a transitory, elusive, even
statistical, manner, so that we can know only the probability of
events, nothing more. Gone, now, was the clockwork universe of the
previous few centuries. Einstein, responding incredulously to quantum
uncertainty, once said, "I shall never believe that God plays dice with
No, God doesn't. But He can be full of surprises, and
some of His most unexpected ones appear in the topic for this
quarter—the book of Jonah, which on the surface seems filled with the
uncertainty and surprise of the quantum realm, though, in fact, it is
based on a certitude more solid and constant than the physics of
seventeenth-and eighteenth-century Europe.
First, there's Jonah, a prophet who refuses to accept
his call—hardly the usual biblical paradigm, to be sure. Though a
Daniel he isn't, a prophet he, nevertheless, is: "He restored the coast
of Israel from the entering of Hamath unto the sea of the plain,
according to the word of the Lord God of Israel, which he spake by the
hand of his servant Jonah, the son of Amittai, the prophet,
which was of Gathhepher" (2 Kings 14:25, emphasis supplied). This is
the same Jonah, son of Amittai (hard as it, at times, might be to
believe), whom we'll be following for the next few months.
Next, this prophet flees from the Lord in a boat (A
prophet fleeing the Lord?), only to have the Lord send a storm that
threatens to sink the vessel. Amid the storm, it's the pagans, not the
Hebrew, who pray for deliverance (another surprise), and Jonah is
thrown overboard, only to get swallowed alive by a big fish that holds
him in its stomach for three days before spewing him out, alive, on the
Jonah, finally, after all this prodding, delivers the
message of warning to the Ninevites, who en masse repent from their
evil ways, sparing themselves divine condemnation (a rather surprising
turn of events, as well). But the greatest surprise comes next, because
Jonah becomes saddened, even angry, over their repentance. A
prophet angry over those who repent and turn away from sin?
(As said before, this book is full of surprises.)
Yet, the most important point of Jonah isn't found in
the surprises that spill out of its 48 verses but in the one thing
that's constant all the way through those verses, and that is, God's
incredible grace toward wayward, erring people, even wayward, erring
prophets like Jonah. If the Lord would continue to work with someone
who squandered privileges and ignored light, then there's hope for us,
we who surely have done as badly as this weak-willed, spiritual
pipsqueak of a prophet who should have known better than to do what he
did, even though he did it just the same. Of course, grace is the most
gracious when bestowed upon those who know better but do wrong anyway
(Who among us can't relate?).
The focus of Jonah, then, really isn't on the "great
fish" that swallowed Jonah alive but on "the great God" who prepared
that fish. The great God who never manifested His greatness more than
when He was the most "helpless"; that is, when in the person of His Son
He was nailed to the cross, His life crushed out for the sins of those
who don't know better and even, maybe especially, of those who do. In
one sense, it hardly matters which, because we're all spiritual charity
cases, taking where we don't give, receiving what we don't deserve, and
getting what we don't earn . . . like Jonah.
Many thanks to this quarter's able author, Dr. JoAnn
Davidson, assistant professor of theology, in the Department of
Theology and Christian Philosophy, at the Andrews University Seminary.
Her love for the book of Jonah, and especially for the God revealed in
that book, is apparent all through this Bible Study Guide.
Challenging, baffling, even occasionally disturbing,
the book of Jonah, with all its surprises—maybe even through those
surprises—reveals one truth that never changes: God's love, for even
the most unlovable, which, at times, is all of us.
(all lessons may not be posted)
School Study Helps
Jerry Giardina of Pecos, Texas, assisted by his wife,
Cheryl, prepares a series of helps to accompany the Sabbath School
lesson. He includes all related scripture and most EGW quotations.
Jerry has chosen the "New King James Version" of the scriptures this
quarter. It is used with permission. The study helps are
provided in three wordprocessing versions Wordperfect;
RTF for our
MAC friends; and HTML (Web
Last updated on September 11,
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Principal Contributors: JoAnn Davidson
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