The Son of Amittai

Sabbath School Commentary for discussion on July 25, 2015.

The main reason my wife and I recently moved from the East Coast back to the West Coast was to be near our children, and especially our young granddaughter. I am hoping that as she grows more comfortable being around me, I can tell her some stories that will rival her current interest in, and love for, Disney's Frozen.

Perhaps I will tell her my two favorite stories when I was growing up – Arthur Maxwell's The Secret of the Cave, and the biblical story of Jonah and the great fish. (The Bible doesn't say it was a whale and we need to be careful about what we assume the Bible says or doesn't, as we so clearly learned recently.) I’m sure I will get her interest as we count together the many miracles in this great story.

Many wonder today if the Jonah story really happened or whether it was just a parable – a fairytale – with a great moral.

Jesus mentions the book by name. (Give yourself bonus points for knowing how many Old Testament books Jesus mentions by name. Extra bonus points are available if you can name them.) If Jonah is fictitious, it seems unlikely that Jesus would mention it as He did. "No sign will be given an unbelieving generation," He stated, "except the sign of Jonah." Jesus goes on to equate Jonah's three nights and three days in the depths to His own coming experience in the grave. It has always bothered me that by our reckoning Jesus only spent one full day and part of another (He was gone by sunrise on Sunday) in the grave. It seems strange that we should not expect the days to be as literal as creation days if they are to be a sign to an unbelieving generation.

Does Jonah (or perhaps the great fish) represent God's people and remind them to be instrumental in saving others, even if they are way outside their comfort zone? The story has a great ending like any great movie. You can almost hear the music crescendo as the screen fades to black. In fact, it's an ending that would make PETA happy!

"And should not I pity Nineveh, that great city, in which there are more than 120,000 persons who do not know their right hand from their left, and also much cattle?” (4:11). One can easily make the observation that the people of Nineveh deserved no consideration, but God's mercy extended to the cows! It's a simple, but profound point. If God cares for the animals, don't ever assume He doesn't care for you! God cares for all of His creation. Why are we letting Pope Francis beat us, who keep the Sabbath as a memorial to creation, to this realization?

The story also contains maybe the greatest prayer of Scripture. His prayer causes the fish in the depths of the sea to explode (vomit actually) Jonah unto dry ground when he utters, "But I with the voice of thanksgiving will sacrifice to you; what I have vowed I will pay. Salvation belongs to the LORD!” (3:9)

Think of the effect it had on the people of Nineveh if they saw this! Think of the effect it would have on us. We will continue to wander around in the muck and the mire on this earth with the proverbial seaweed wrapped around our head until, like Jonah, we realize the same thing he did – from alpha to omega, salvation is God's act alone. Try thinking about the second coming as being vomited into heaven—it may be uncomfortable just before it happens, but when it’s over, talk about the relief! However you choose to visualize it, know that the transition is dramatic and entirely God's doing.

But why wasn’t Jonah willing to go to Nineveh in the first place? We know of the wickedness and viciousness of the people there. In facing a similar evil situation, even believing in the power of God's protection, it would give you pause. But what was the reason? Let me theorize on a few possibilities.

"Warn my enemies? You've got to be kidding!"

If Jonah really asked if he had to warn his enemies, God's answer was "absolutely!" Jesus Christ has only one completely original teaching and it's not the golden rule. The Greek philosophers had already enunciated that, though not in the positive – "don't do to others..." Jesus' one original teaching and one that makes Him unique is to "love your enemies."

Jonah is monumental for clearly demonstrating this character trait not only in God's expectation of us as humans, but in God’s treatment of His creations. In heavenly perspectives, no one is beyond the transforming power of His grace.

“I had a dream of being in heaven,” my aunt used to tell me (a story I thought was original with her until I heard it shared by many others), “and I was surprised by some of the people I ran into there. But when I spoke to them they were shocked to see me there.”

Wasn’t it Luther who said that he could see how someone could be saved? What he hadn’t figured out was how a person is lost. I grew up believing that God was watching every little move to keep you out of heaven. Jonah’s story demonstrates the lengths God will go to bring you back into His arms.

"As an evangelist, I have to think of my reputation."

While I admit it is unlikely that this was a principal concern of Jonah's, it probably would be today. Success as an evangelist is predicated on results, and then financial contributions. So research into possible baptisms, followed by good preparation on the ground, would be the smart move. Notoriety is also helpful, but there are very few evangelists who would take on a campaign with odds as daunting as these. However, God's response is clear. He seems to say, "This is not about your reputation, it's about Mine!" As one who worked in church public relations, I will confess that I could have remembered that more often.

"That is why I made haste to flee to Tarshish; for I knew that you are a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, and relenting from disaster."

Yes, I realize that Jonah actually said this, but I sincerely doubt that he meant it. These words came from the same man who prayed in the great fish, "Salvation comes from the Lord!" Then, only a short time later, Jonah is upset that the people of Nineveh were saved, and they were saved by realizing the same thing he did.

He’s so unnerved by this development, Jonah wants to die. I would've granted his wish after two, certainly three appeals. However, God demonstrates His love for Jonah in His lack of a punishing response.

So if you end up telling the story to someone, don‘t conclude with your listener just knowing the story of Jonah, the son of Amittai. Make sure your telling leads them to the greatest story ever told—the one about the love of God demonstrated in Jesus Christ, the Son of God. That will really make it a story worth telling and retelling.

Fred Kinsey, a former pastor, conference and division communication director, college professor, and speaker/director of the Voice of Prophecy, lives in California and is unemployed.


This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/6985
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I had never seen the story of Jonah in that light. Thank you for this. I honestly just know the gist of the story but I haven’t really ever truly connected it like you have. I’m adding it to my list of bibicial studies. :laughing:

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I have a family member who is a meth addict. I don’t want to deal with them - let them suffer the consequences. They don’t deserve grace! The situation is overwhelming, frightening, outside my comfort zone. The story of Jonah has made me rethink my feelings and ask God for the strength to share His grace with this family member, after all, there but for the grace of God, go I.

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Aren’t we all glad that God doesn’t do that with us? But I understand how you would feel that way. Many of us could probably identify with your sentiments. And yet we have the case of Manasseh, the most wicked king who ever occupied the throne of Judah. In the end, he did repent. If God can save him; there’s hope for your family member, and the family members many of us have who at times seem like hopeless cases.

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Carolyn
Addiction in itself is a life of Unmanageability.
Then to add Meth, or cocaine, or marijuana, or alcohol, or ALL 4 together, can REALLY make that person “crazy” and difficult to be around because every moment is in a whirl.
In Addiction, what we dont always know is that the Substance is being used as a self-medication. I have learned this by taking my addicted friends to AA and NA in my vehicle.

  1. Depression.
  2. Bi-Polar.
  3. ADD, ADHD.
  4. Some others.
    In a week end in Atlanta, one group had a breakout session for BOTH Bi-Polar [manic depressive] and for ADD-ADHD. In BOTH breakout sessions there were about 40 people who arrived and many told of their experiences. It was interesting to hear, almost to a man and woman, that they did not know they had these conditions UNTIL AFTER they began going to AA and NA and got off their drugs. Had no idea they were self-medicating. But after they recognized, then they went to health professionals and got some medications that REALLY dealt with their symptoms. And life is so much more pleasant without their Alcohol, without their Drugs.
    Thanks for Sharing [as they say in The Rooms].

PS-- In regards to Meth. From what I have read it really messes up a person’s Brain chemicals that allow for those “good feelings”. It can be seen on brain scans. It takes about 12 whole months AFTER a person quits Meth before the Brain gets back to “normal” producing those “good feel” hormones in a quantity to actually “feel good”.

Jonah was a real person.
See 2 Kings 14:25.
AND, Amittai must have been a prominent personage at the time.

Jonah is a very good friend of mine… And he is fascinating, because he is so real, so typical Adventist pastor. Full of suppressed anger that ultimately explodes into the face of God over something “major” as a withering plant. Will sound familiar to some of us. And with this ending it’s a story of healing…

One wonderful colleague once asked me - tongue in cheek and yet quite seriously: “Aren’t all theologians a little passive-aggessive?”

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Thanks Steve and Birder. It’s good to know that information. This person was breastfed by a mother who died from drug/alcohol asphyxiation when they were 3 months old, so they were somewhat susceptible to addiction.
This particular phrase from the article resonated with me “However, God demonstrates His love for Jonah in His lack of a punishing response”. I can at least try to do the same.

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This was a wonderful post - thanks so much! I especially liked the comment about the animals, and the point at the end that put Jonah’s protestation in a different light. This was a real eye-opener, reminded me why I read the Spectrum SS blog.

Delightful read, especially about God’s eye on individuals in Ninevah, His eye on individuals like Jonah, and even those who deny God works with animals. Thank you, Fred Kinsey.

Some great insights that we don’t often think about. Thank you.

It is interesting that the top down decree of the King of Ninevah for Repentance didn’t last long. Less than 20 years later, Assyria takes out the kingdom of Israel permanently. Food for thought on our current attempts to stipulate Revival and Reformation from the top down. It seems to me that it has to be personalised before it really becomes meaningful.

Even Jonah was frustrated with the graciousness of God. What a lesson that the most successful evangelist in all of history - ever - struggled with the grace of God. Who are we to place boundaries on who God will touch?

it could just be me, but the stained glass picture of the scary looking fish accompanying this article made me think instantly of mick fanning, the aussie surfer who survived a shark attack in jeffreys bay, about 700 km east of cape town…it’s just unbelievable he wasn’t hurt…i have no doubt the shark was a great white…s. africa is crawling with great white sharks…

in terms of jonah, i think we have to say it was some kind of whale that swallowed him…i don’t see how a shark could swallow a person without first biting him to pieces…

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Did anyone go into the Berean mode (ACTS 17:11) after reading…??

Was Jonah saved by prayer from the fish or by the fish?
How many prayers are referred to in Jonah chapter 2?
What words are the prayers?

All pastors/bible teachers need to have Neh 8:8 close by to constantly refer to.

that really was a heart-stopping moment…i saw it by chance online after the fact…i just happened to click onto a surfer competition link for some reason, and this mick fanning incident was the only thing being discussed and re-run, over and over again…

when we were little, my dad was a surfer big-time, sometimes in the port elizabeth area and down west, into the very area mick was attacked…somehow i don’t recall shark attacks in those days even though everybody knew about great white sharks…but i think they kept pretty much to the seal quarries on seal island off false bay, not far from cape town…actually they probably gobbled up penguins and other things, too…i’m not too sure why there’s so many shark attacks on people lately…a few years ago i was a bit further north, in durban, swimming way off-shore on my own - what was i thinking…

i’ll be in fort lauderdale in about a month, swimming non-stop all day…i guess i’ll have to keep an eye out for sharks now… earlier, the carolinas had multiple shark attacks with no life guard warnings at all…

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I would consider two statements as to WHY the story of Jonah was written down and saved.
Jonah 4:2
"…was this not my concern"? "… for I knew that you are a compassionate and merciful God slow to anger and abundant in everlasting love, one who feels grieved over calamity."
Jonah 4:11
"Should I not feel sorry for Nineveh, more than 150,000 men who do not know right from wrong, as well as their many animals."
This harkens back to Exodus 34 where God passed before Moses and declared himself.

From Sabbath school lesson (Tuesday):

“In the belly of the fish, Jonah began to pray. The captain had directed Jonah in vain to “call on your God” (Jon. 1:6, NKJV). Now in a hopeless situation, Jonah starts to pray, and seriously, too. It took something this desperate to get him finally to do what he should have been doing all along.”

Jonah 2:2 And said, I cried by reason of mine affliction unto the LORD, and he heard me; (when?) out of the belly of hell (where?) cried I, and thou heardest my voice.-
Jonah 2:5 The waters compassed me about, even to the soul: the depth closed me round about, the weeds were wrapped about my head.
Jonah 2:6 I went down to the bottoms of the mountains; the earth with her bars was about me for ever: yet hast thou brought up my life from corruption, O LORD my God.
Jonah 2:7 When my soul fainted within me I remembered the LORD: and my prayer came in unto thee, into thine holy temple. When was this prayer and for what??

Jonah is still in the fish when he is saying this.

Anyone notice different types and times of prayer recorded in Jonah 2?

So let’s ask the “So what?” question.
Is this apparent mismatch an issue essential to salvation?
The SDA denomination has a Sabbath school quarterly that is supplied to millions of SDA members and might be reviewed by the Sabbath school staff. How much is it reviewed? Does it matter? What other parts are not reviewed?
If an writer/editor can present something that gets this much exposure (SS lesson)…what other teaching can get out that is not supported by scripture?
How about teaching on what one might consider essential to salvation like themes of grace, justification and sanctification?

I’m not sure I follow you, gideon. I’ve gotten used to material in the quarterly that was off base, and if it’s blatant enough I bring it up in class; otherwise I ignore it. I only use the quarterly as a springboard for the most part anyway when I’m leading the discussion. I’m not particularly enamored with this quarter’s authorship, but since there is good Scriptural material to work with, I can get around it. I mean there’s a lot to be learned from Abraham, Jonah, Daniel, etc., with or without a good quarterly.

I will add another verse…
Jonah 2:4 “Then I said, I am cast out of thy sight; yet I will look again toward thy holy temple.” Look at how this verse is sandwiched between the 2 verses about the water. When did it occur?

The chapter 2 prayer has several rich facets and what is really significant is that it is an experience that many call “Come to Jesus moment”

I know what you mean about the SS lesson. It used to be called the quarterly and still is by many. It has been referred to as a bible study guide to defer it being so authoritarian. Yet so many take it as a dogmatic source anyway.

The tangential issues are what is significant. It comes down to subliminal and subtle influences. The times we live in are like those during Jesus time…
Credibility attacks and cynicism prevail… It is like when Pilate asked Jesus…“What is truth?” and when Jesus told his audience not to swear this or that. let your yes be yes…

He was dealing with the effects of reduced credibility and cynicism.

Another hint is the reaction verse after the sermon on the mount regarding lack of authority in teaching of the teachers of the day.

All of this comes into play with my catalyst post on challenging the writer on this Jonah 2 portion of the lesson.

As you continue…notice how the weekly discussion will deal with issues and topics other than what the theme/topic of this quarter should be about missions, , great commission, (see quarterly intro), outreach, evangelism.

Most sermons don’t promote it and neither does the Sabbath school.
This is because of lack of interest and lack of supervision by ministerial secretaries and Sabbath school superintendents. All comes under the umbrella of poor quality control.

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Apparently quite a bit, as was evidenced many years ago with the infamous quarterly written by Ron and Karen Flowers (GC Family Life leaders at that time), in which they tried to turn Song of Solomon into a family life seminar. I had to basically come up with my own lesson every week, since the quarterly was nearly useless. It was probably the worst quarterly I’ve seen in the 25 years I’ve been leading the discussion–and back then I had to do it every week–arrgh!. I notice the powers that be have not elected to tackle that book of the Bible again. If they did, it would be best to spend a couple of weeks on it, not an entire quarter.

There have been many questionable ideas incorporated into the Lesson Quarterly over the years. I don’t expect it to improve any time soon. Much depends on who the author is. The one on the Fruit of the Spirit by Richard O’Ffill a few years back was excellent. Ultimately those who lead out in the discussion need to be discerning, and not just accept whatever is written in the quarterly as accurate.