Thursday, October 30, 2003

Insights to Lesson 5 - Qtr 4 "Jonah": “A Hebrew Prophet and Heathen Mariners”

Dear Readers of Sabbath School “Insights”:

Have you ever been in a situation in which you were pointed out
the cause of a big problem? How did you feel at that moment? Did you
feel like saying “Pick me up and throw me into the sea. . . .”? (Jonah
1:12). Embarrassment can make us wish to be dead, and the sense of
responsibility for the mess that we’ve caused others is a weighty
burden indeed. This week we see Jonah in this very predicament! Could
we, too, be in the same?
In this week’s passage from Jonah (1:4-13), we look in on the
prophet of God aboard ship and bound for Tarshish. What will God do?
Will He let the Ninevites perish without hearing a last message of
mercy? Will He find another messenger and write Jonah off, leaving him
as a casualty to the worldly influences in Tarshish? Absolutely not! So
the Lord does the most merciful thing that could be done in the
situation. He decides to get Jonah’s attention. “The Lord sent out a
great wind on the sea” (1:4)--so great that the experienced, salty
sailors on board Jonah’s little boat were shaken up enough to pray to
their various gods. Not only this, but they were willing to part with
worldly wealth in order to save their lives--they “threw the cargo that
was in the ship into the sea to lighten the load” (1:5).
Question: Where was Jonah during this impromptu prayer meeting?
What was he doing while these stout men’s hearts were melting, while
they were throwing away dollars as it were? Why he was asleep!! As the
lesson quarterly points out, the Hebrew word used here means a
death-like stupor. The same word is used for the complacent, exhausted
sleep of Sisera in Judges 4:21. Jonah probably felt a bit like
Sisera--a man on the run who had finally found what he thought was a
safe place, out of the reach of God. That is, until he was rudely
awakened by the captain of the ship! How ironic that the prophet who
should have been leading the prayer meeting had to be exhorted to pray
by a man who did not know the Lord.
From here, things go downhill even further, because when the lots
are cast to determine who is responsible for all this, lo and
behold--the lot falls upon Jonah. Jonah explains more about who he is.
“I am a Hebrew, and I fear the LORD, the God of heaven, who made the
sea and the dry land” (1:9). Then the question: “Why have you done
this?” (1:10). A fair question indeed! One for which he did not have a
good answer. In the end, at his own request, Jonah is thrown into the
angry waves by the reluctant seamen, who were so desirous of sparing
the life of God’s prophet. What a shame that the prophet did not feel
the same way about those to whom he had been called to preach! And yet,
observe how God used this situation for good, in spite of Jonah. God
got the message through to the mariners by putting Jonah in a situation
where he had to give it. And apparently these heathen sailors accepted
it and “feared the Lord,” “offered a sacrifice to the Lord, and took
vows” (1:16).
What an encouragement to Seventh-day Adventists to see that God
still uses messengers who are headed the wrong direction. How thankful
I am that we are studying Jonah this quarter. As a pastor, it’s
encouragement that I needed! After all, do we not find ourselves in a
Jonah situation today? As others have pointed out this quarter, God
gave to us a “most precious message” to give to the world. That work
could have been finished in a few short years in the 1888 era had we
gone straight to work with the light from heaven. Ellen White said in
1898, “If God’s people had the love of Christ in the heart; if every
church member were thoroughly imbued with the spirit of self-denial; if
all manifested thorough earnestness, there would be no lack of funds
for home and foreign missions; our resources would be multiplied; a
thousand doors of usefulness would be opened, and we would be invited
to enter. Had the purpose of God been carried out by His people in
giving the message of mercy to the world, Christ would have come to the
earth, and the saints would ere this have received their welcome into
the city of God.”(Selected Messages, book 1, p. 82; italics supplied).
So, what happened as a result of our resistance to the message
given us from heaven at Minneapolis and in the years following? Could
it be that the Lord has sent out another “great wind on the sea”? The
twentieth century, which followed on the heels of our lost opportunity
has been the bloodiest, most disastrous ever recorded, and the
twenty-first has taken up right where the twentieth left off. Indeed,
the storm is getting worse. And where is God’s church today? Are we not
asleep? Aren’t we generally unconcerned that “men’s hearts [are]
failing them from fear, and the expectation of those things which are
coming upon the earth?” (Luke 21:26).
The time is coming when we will be rudely awakened, and the
uncomfortable questions will be asked--“For whose cause is this trouble
upon us?” “WHY HAVE YOU DONE THIS?” The ease that we thought to enjoy
in the Tarshishes of this world will be taken away--indeed, we will
loathe ourselves for what we have done and rather choose persecution
and death. “The work which the church has failed to do in a time of
peace and prosperity, she will have to do in a terrible crisis, under
most discouraging, forbidding, circumstances.” (Testimonies for the
Church, vol. 5, p. 463). Will God go looking for another movement to
carry His message? Nope! Wouldn’t it be better for us to awaken now and
embrace the message which God has given us!?
As you study Jonah this week, prayerfully consider our
responsibility in the unnecessary lengthening of earth’s history, and
let it bring you to your knees to ask Jesus for understanding of and
submission to the light that he has sent to us in his mercy. May God
bless your Sabbath School with a prayerful, thoughtful class this week!
--Skip Dodson

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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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Friday, October 17, 2003

Insights to Lesson 3: "Jonah and Judgment"

Except for the rise of sin, there would have been no necessity for judgment. Judgment is a phenomenon peculiar to falling away from moral rectitude. Judgment occurred in heaven upon Lucifer’s libel and slander of God’s word. Judgment came upon all men after the offense of one man, resulting in condemnation of all men. Therefore death spread to all men because the whole race of men was affected by that one man’s offense. But the judgment resulting in condemnation was executed upon the whole race in the person of one Man, resulting in justification of life to
the whole race.
God, the Judge of all, always contends or pleads (Hebrew: rib) with the offending the party before executing judgment (see Job 10:2; Psalm 35:1; 43:1; Prov. 22:23; 23:11; Isaiah 3:13; 49:25; 51:22; 57:16; Jer. 2:9; 50:34; Amos 7:4; Micah 6:1; 7:9). God not only pleaded and contended with Nineveh, and numerous other nations recorded in Isaiah and Jeremiah, but also with Cain, with the antediluvian world, with
Sodom, with Israel throughout their history. He pleads with mankind to
come into harmony with the everlasting covenant of the promised Seed who would reverse the condemnation of Adam’s offense. Isaiah describes a covenant lawsuit that God has with all nations, “because they have transgressed the laws, changed the ordinance, and broken the everlasting covenant” (24:5).
The great standard of all covenant lawsuits is the covenant itself which is the Ten Commandments. “And He wrote on the tablets the words of the covenant, the Ten Commandments” (Ex. 34:28). The covenant is God promise to restore that which was lost, and that which was lost at the Fall was the moral image of God in man. These ten words were the promise to restore the image of God in mankind. This promise was the everlasting covenant: “I will put my law in their minds and write it on
their hearts; I will be their God and they shall be My people” (Jer. 31:33). The covenant has been repeatedly broken by failing to comprehend the mystery of Christ and attempting to obey the law written on tables of stone.
There is good news concerning all covenant lawsuits embedded in
the mystery of Christ who could say “I delight to do your will, O God,
your law is written in My heart.” God would adopt, elect, and
predestine all men by sending His Son in the likeness of sinful flesh.
The judgment which came upon all men in Adam has been mediated by the
Seed of the covenant, namely, the Seed of the woman, the Seed of
Abraham, the Seed of David to whom the promise was made that He would
become heir of the world. At the cross the judgment of the world came,
and the ruler of this world was cast out (John 12:31). The judgment
from one man’s offense resulted in condemnation, but the righteous act
of One Man resulted in justification of life for all men (Rom. 5:16,
There is no partiality with God. By executing the covenant lawsuit with the world in the person of His Son at the cross, God has reversed the condemnation of Adam’s offense resulting in a legal acquittal for all men. Now God has a covenant lawsuit with all those who resist this unconditional good news. The question God places before the world is, “What have you done with My Son?” There is not a reason why anyone
should come out on the wrong side of the judgment and be lost, except they choose to spurn the gift given to the whole world. But those who truly embrace Christ will also embrace His cross and esteem the reproach of Christ to be greater riches than the treasures of self-esteem that comes from the world, except as it comes with
identifying with the meek and lowly One.
The good news has been proclaimed to the world since the Fall with the promise that the Seed of the woman would crush the head of the serpent. The same promise has been repeated through the ages with the patriarchs that “in your Seed all the nations of the earth would be blessed.” From Adam to Enoch to Noah to Abraham this same message has been set forth in greater and greater degrees of light even to the
brilliance of the cross, until at last it will illuminate the whole earth with His glory.
At the Great White Throne Judgment all those who are raised in the second resurrection will be speechless, and without excuse. Their own resurrection will be the final evidence to them that they were chosen in Christ from the foundation of the world for salvation, but they knowingly resisted and spurned the glimmers of greater and greater evidence at each exposure throughout their lifetime. At last every knee
will bow and every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord.
Jonah was commissioned with this responsibility to proclaim a message of repentance, but he resisted for a season. Finally Jonah himself responded to the call of repentance. God’s last day church has been commissioned with a “most precious message” and has resisted for a season (since 1888), but Revelation 3 says a call to repentance has been sounded by True Witness to the “angel to the church of the
Laodiceans.” The Lord will “cut the work short in righteousness” and the message will go forth that we are indeed living in the hour of God’s judgment. “Then shall the sanctuary be cleansed” and the blood of the everlasting covenant will have accomplished its work. Christ will have a church of people on whose foreheads the Father’s name is written.

--John W. Peters

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Thursday, October 09, 2003

Insights to Fourth Quarter 2003 Adult Sabbath School Lessons - Lesson 2: "People and Places"

Studying Jonah seems to some like a waste of time. Why spend 13
weeks poring over a simple children’s story about a man who was
swallowed by a big fish? Doesn’t seem like there’s much “gospel” in
those four short chapters, so why bother?
Well, we should “bother” because God chose to tell us the story for
a reason, or maybe many reasons. We can begin by asking: Do we find in
the book of Jonah any significant correlation to our day and current
spiritual condition? and Why did the Holy Spirit provide this lesson
fast on the heels of a study of the covenants and then the sanctuary?
Let’s begin our exploration to see if there’s anything significant
for us in this “children’s story” with a brief outline of points to

1. Jonah’s story seems to drop in on us from nowhere. It starts
abruptly: “The word of the Lord came unto Jonah.” For me, that phrase
started the wheels turning. A quick look at the concordance showed why.
a. The phrase “the word of the Lord came” appears 22 times in the
Bible, all in the Old Testament. Most are in Ezekiel and Jeremiah. But
the ones brought to my mind involved Elijah and King Abab. A similar
story, but with a very different outcome.
b. How similar? A prophet of God suddenly appears out of nowhere
confronts a sinful nation, speaks ominously, and walks away.
c. One nation repents immediately. The other rejects God’s word,
attempts to kill His messenger, resists His will and suffers the
consequence of obstinate disobedience until it does finally “hear the
word of the Lord.” Then the rain was poured out abundantly.

2. It’s an interesting parallel that two messengers appeared almost as
“out of nowhere,” at a General Conference Session of this church. They
were young, not the usual age for such speakers. Jones and Waggoner
were not “prophets,” but Ellen White characterized them as “the Lord’s
messengers,” “special messengers,” with “heavenly credentials.”
a. They were not “reluctant” messengers, but the “king and his
nobles” unto whom their message came were reluctant to accept the
message. “In a great degree,” says Ellen White, they rejected the
message and “shut [it] away from our people” (Selected Messages, book
1, pp. 234, 235).
b. If “the king and his nobles” in 1888 had received the message as
the Lord intended, a grand repentance would have followed, as with
Nineveh. “From the greatest of them even to the least of them,”
Seventh-day Adventists would have responded, for the people were ready
to accept the message. Then, according to God’s plan in 1888, the dark
world itself would have heard the message and many would have responded
(see The Great Controversy, p. 612). The parallel with Nineveh’s
repentance would have been striking.

3. Outside the book that bears his name, Jonah is only mentioned one
time in the Old Testament. From that one brief verse we learn that
Jonah is a prophet of God and that he preached also to the wicked
Israelite king, Jeroboam II (2 Kings 14:23-27).
This fact places Jonah preaching during a time of serious
backsliding among God’s people (like Elijah). Despite the military
advances made by Jeroboam in expanding the borders of Israel, the
relative political security enjoyed by the people, and the extravagant
outward display of religiosity, the northern kingdom was living in deep
moral corruption (see Amos 5:21, 22; 2:6-8; Hosea 6:6-10).
The spiritual condition of Israel at this time was parallel to that
of the seventh church, Laodicea, today. Prosperous, proud, but so sick
spiritually that it makes Jesus want to throw up (Rev. 3:14-21).

4. As we read through the narrative in the book of Jonah we find that
in each instance where Jonah gave his witness to pagan peoples, they
were converted from their pagan ideas, confessed faith in “the Lord,
the God of heaven, which hath made the sea and the dry land” and
changed their evil ways. Jonah was a powerful witness for the Lord,
even when he didn’t want to be, even when he was running away from God,
resisting the work that the Lord had given him to do.
We cannot dream of the wonders that would have attended the
proclamation of that “most precious message” if “we” had given it to
the world just after 1888.

5. “People and Places”--two nations contrasted. One claimed to have the
name and power of the living God on their side, while they were
actively resisting His will for their lives. The other nation was
recognized for its sinfulness, which was founded on the apostasy of
Nimrod--the desire to make a name for themselves; to make themselves a
“great nation” in defiance of the living God (Genesis 10:9-11; 11:2-4;
compare this to God’s promise to Abraham in Genesis 12:1-3).
a. Both are living in opposition to God’s will for them, but one
heard the word of the Lord preached to them, the other had not. One was
actively resisting, the other was living in ignorance.
b. Between these two nations stands a reluctant prophet, sent by
to preach righteousness to the fallen nation of Assyria. Here is where
the real contrast comes in to play. While Israel stubbornly resisted
God’s call to repent and remained in rebellion, Nineveh repented from
the top to the bottom with fasting, and sackcloth and ashes (compare
this to the language describing the day of atonement in Leviticus 16).

6. God used Jonah to show his rebellious people how easy it is to be
saved, if one will truly believe in the “word of the Lord” as it is
given to them.
--Ann Walper

(Produced by the editorial board of the 1888 Message Study Committee)

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