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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