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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