Wednesday, October 22, 2003

Insights to Lesson 4 - Qtr 4 : "The 'Dove' Flees"

Jonah’s name means “dove.” This week’s lesson focuses on the
flight of the “dove”. It’s a unique story in a dubious sort of way.
It’s the story of a prophet who fled “from the presence of the Lord”.
In all the Bible there is hardly a clearer example of rebellion on the
part of an entity that you would least expect to rebel.
Of course we can understand Jonah’s feelings. It’s his actions
that startle us. He has heard God’s audible voice speaking to him and
there is no doubt or question as to his duty. He knows it was the word
of the Lord. There are no questions of interpretation or
misunderstanding. Yet he purposes to go not only contrary to the
direction in which he has been commissioned, but to go exactly in the
opposite direction. He will go as far from the will of God as possible.
He will not deliver God’s message to the people who desperately need to
hear it. Why? Was he afraid of a fierce people with a reputation for
being cruel? If so, it does not come through in the narrative. Was he
so filled with prejudice that he did not want to help in the salvation
of Gentiles? If so, it is not the motive that he articulated. At the
end Jonah said, “I fled previously to Tarshish” because “I know that
You are a gracious and merciful God, slow to anger and abundant in
lovingkindness” (Jonah 4:2). In other words, Jonah didn’t want to
preach the message that God had given him to preach because he was
concerned that if the people repented, he would be called a false
prophet. Jonah’s reputation was too important for him to preach the
message that God had sent. Therefore, the “dove” fled. Jonah, how could
you do it?!!
We are tempted to judge him harshly. We are tempted to forget,
that “all we like sheep have gone astray. We have turned everyone to
his own way . . .” Before we pronounce a severe verdict against Jonah
and throw down the gavel, perhaps we should remember our own history.
In 1888 “the Lord in His great mercy sent a most precious message.”.
[1] It was the message that God “commanded to be given to the world.”
[2] There should have been no issues of misunderstanding or questions
of interpretation. We were assured that the message is true “because
the Bible is true.” [3]
Yet, instead of receiving the message and giving it to the world,
we did the exact opposite. “Our own people opposed the work of God by
refusing the light on the righteousness of Christ by faith.”[4] “The
light that is to lighten the whole earth with its glory was resisted,
and by the action of our own brethren has been in a great degree kept
away from the world.”[5] In all of sacred history there is no clearer
case of rebellion than that which has resulted in the suppression of
the message which God “commanded to be given to the world.”[6] The
rebellion of God’s messengers in these last days is every bit as
shocking as the flight of the “dove.”
What is the Lord to do? Would he cancel the mission to Nineveh
let the people perish? Would He modify the message to make it more
acceptable to His messenger? Would he fire the prophet Jonah and find
another messenger to go to Nineveh? No. No. No. None of these options
would meet the mind of our compassionate God. He loved the Ninevites
too much to cancel the mission. The message was perfect, essential and
unalterable, therefore He could not change the message. And He loved
and respected His messenger too much to let him go. It seems “the gifts
and calling of God are irrevocable” (Rom. 11:29, NKJV). Therefore, God
did what He has been doing since the beginning of sin, since the
beginning of the wandering of His wayward children. He began to pursue
the lost wayward messenger, just as He searched for Adam asking, “Adam
where are you?” (Gen. 3:9). He sought after Jonah just as He came to
“seek and to save that which was lost” (Luke 19:10). The Good Shepherd
leaves “the ninety and nine, and goeth into the mountains [and if need
be the ocean], and seeketh that which is gone astray” (Matt. 18:12).
“There is none that seeketh after God” (Rom. 3:11). But I am glad
there is a God seeking after man. He sought Jonah through the storm and
through the water and through the great fish. He was seeking him
through putrid digestive juices and slimy seaweeds and the frightful
motion of the fish’s belly. He was seeking Jonah through the awful
darkness and the terrible experience of his cruise into the depths of
“hell” (Jonah 2:2). And He was seeking Jonah through his miraculous
regurgitation from the mouth of the fish onto the seashore.
Now He is seeking us. He cannot cancel the gospel commission. He
cannot change the message He has given us to share. He cannot fire the
messenger and call someone else. Therefore, He must pursue. He has been
seeking us through all of our long flight, from 1888 until now. He was
seeking us in the fifties and the seventies, when we were more
concerned about our reputation among the churches of the world than we
were about sharing the message they need to hear. He is still seeking
us today. How long will He have to pursue? How far will we fly? Will
the ocean have to engulf us and the fish swallow us and the seaweeds
wrap about our neck before we understand that “the gifts and calling of
God are without repentance”? Will we have to be taken into the depths
of “hell” and brought back again before we truly begin to appreciate
the depths to which He has gone to save us and are willing to share the
message? How far will we fly?
In the Song of Solomon the Beloved refers to His lady as a
Ironically, or perhaps appropriately, we even find the expression in
the passage were she is too self-absorbed to respond to His pursuit. “I
sleep, but my heart waketh: it is the voice of my beloved that
knocketh, saying, Open to me, my sister, my love, my dove . . .” (Song
of Solomon 5:2). Can this be the voice of the True Witness knocking at
the door, the voice of the Beloved pursuing His bride-to-be? Can it be
that the story of Jonah is the story of Laodicea, and the bride is the
“dove”? If so, then the whole universe wants to know: How long will the
dove flee?
—Mark Duncan

Notes: [1)] Testimonies to Ministers, p. 91; [2] Ibid., p. 92; [3] The
Ellen G. White 1888 Materials, p. 1025; [4] Ibid., p. 1643; [5] Ibid.,
p. 1575; [6] Testimonies to Ministers, p. 92.

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