When I think of treasure, I think of pirates. I think of ships which go down in a storm filled with great treasure that is later recovered. I think of treasure that is lost because someone hid it and forgot where it was hidden, or died before it could be located. But my favorite treasure-hunt story is one that my dad told me. In the late 1890s a group of Adventists in the Dakotas were persuaded that there was great treasure (i.e. gold) in the hills of Idaho. They were promised that if they gave their money to a certain self-proclaimed leader, he would lead them to the Idaho gold mines. So the group gave their money to the leader. As they traveled to Idaho, the group periodically asked the leader to show them on the map where the gold mines were. They were always promised that when the right time came, they would have access to the map. Finally, one night, after they were in the mountains of Idaho, they insisted that they see the map. The leader agreed. The map would be available at breakfast-time. But when breakfast time arrived, the leader (and the map) had disappeared. The Adventists were left with nothing but the surrounding hills–no money, no leader, and no treasure. They settled down, because actually there was nothing else they could do, and established a settlement called “Advent Gulch,” not far from Cambridge, Idaho. By the time my grandfather homesteaded there about 20 years later, Advent Gulch was the largest Adventist settlement in Idaho and boasted of a well-established church and school. But there was no gold, and unfortunately little water. While the place still exists, the golden treasure that was sought was never found.
They had no understanding of what he had found and therefore could not comprehend his desire to make the land his own. In fact, they thought he was a madman.
Jesus must have liked the idea of treasure too, as He told a story about a man whose search for treasure was more successful than the Advent Gulch group. In Matthew 13:44, Jesus said: “The kingdom of heaven is like a treasure hidden in the field. When a man found it, he hid it again, and then in his joy went and sold all he had and bought that field.”In commenting on this parable, Ellen White indicates that Jesus was describing a man who sold all that he had to buy what looked like a worthless plot of ground to those who observed his actions. They had no understanding of what he had found and therefore could not comprehend his desire to make the land his own. In fact, they thought he was a madman. We expect treasure-seekers to act in certain ways. People who seek to be influential generally spend their lives climbing the proverbial ladder in order to reach the top. People seeking to be rich choose careers that promise high salaries and large benefits. People who seek to be known for their wisdom accumulate many degrees and opportunities to present their thoughts in public venues. We may even envy people who seek things, which give evidence of the “good life.” We note their acquisition of homes, cars, boats, clothing, and travel agendas, and we wonder why we do not have these assets. On the other hand, we question the sanity of those who would throw away a chance at enormous political power to travel across a wilderness with a group of complaining people, like Moses. Again, we, like Joseph’s brothers, anticipate that Joseph will use his power to seek revenge after his father’s death, and we are awed at his refusal to do the expected to those who sold him into slavery in Egypt. The question, however, still intrigues us: What is real treasure? Is it gold, hidden in the hills of Idaho? Is it political or economic power? Is it wealth and the ability to buy anything I want? If so, who can explain the actions of people who give up power and opportunities to gain at the expense of others? The man in Jesus’s story sold all that he had to acquire a field. What treasure is truly worth significant time and effort to find, even at the risk of being declared “mad” because of one’s dedication to this unexplainable task? In 1893, Anna Robertson Brown Lindsay, the first woman to earn a PhD in English at the University of Pennsylvania, wrote a book entitled What is Worthwhile? Lindsay argued that with only one life to live, we need to focus on what is vital, what will last, or as she put it, “we may let go all things which we cannot carry into eternal life."1 Lindsay urged that we drop pretense, worry, discontent, and self-seeking. Instead, we should focus on being wise with the use of time, and value work that strengthens one’s own character, or inspires others, or helps the world. She also recommended seeking happiness each day, cherishing love, keeping ambition in check, and embracing friendship. She cautioned that we should not fear sorrow, for the experience of sorrow helps us to “understand, love, (and) bless” others.2 Finally, she advised that we cherish faith. “Strong, serene, unquenchable faith in the loving kindness of God, the wisdom of Providence, the guidance of the Holy Spirit, and the redeeming love of Christ will enable us to look fearlessly toward the end of the temporal existence and the beginning of the eternal, and will make it possible for us to live our lives effectively, grandly!”3 Lindsay’s counsel echoes Ellen White, who indicated that the treasure referred to in Jesus’ parable is God’s word. White counseled that to understand God’s word that leads us to a relationship with God and results in our acceptance of His gift of eternal life is to find the greatest treasure of all.4
Jason Berger tells how, as a young family, they sought a canoe which would accommodate the parents and three children as they traversed remote lakes and camped in the wilderness. An elderly woman responded to their newspaper ad, indicating that she had a canoe that was very special to her, which she would be willing to sell if they would use it with love and care. The family went to the elderly woman’s house to see the canoe. It was a marvelous canoe, 18 feet in length, and beautiful beyond the wildest dreams of the family! The old woman shared pictures of herself and her husband, and confessed that he had courted her in that very canoe. Certain that the canoe was beyond their financial limit, the family timidly asked the price. The woman responded: “How much are you prepared to spend?” The family offered $75. The woman refused the offer with the words: “With your young family, I couldn’t possibly accept more than $35.” Gratefully, the family accepted her response, took the canoe home, and used it for many years. Finally, after the children were grown, they discovered a small brass plaque on the canoe which they had never before noticed. The canoe had been manufactured in 1907 and was actually a collector’s item, valued in the thousands of dollars. The family had a treasure in their possession! But when asked about the canoe’s unexpected monetary value, Berger stated: “The real value lies in the adventures our family had and in the memories we now treasure.”
“The real value lies in the adventures our family had and in the memories we now treasure.”
The same can be said of Advent Gulch. Today real estate agents seek to sell the land over the Internet. But I suspect that those who lived in that area, while laughing at the thought of treasure hidden in the ground, would speak highly of the true treasure—the friendships made and the happiness, love, as well as the sorrows shared in the school and church that graced that soil. My family would. Many Seventh-day Adventists living in the Idaho Conference and throughout the North Pacific Union area of the United States, could say the same.
While most people today measure treasure in monetary values, real treasure is seldom found in what is valued by the powerful or rich of this world. Real treasure, lasting treasure, is found in relationships with others, in friendship, in love, in faith, and most of all, in the word of God, the knowledge of which leads to eternal life. 1. Lindsay, Anna Robertson Brown (1893). What is Worth While? Thomas Crowell & Company. Reprinted by Pat Stephenson (2012), p. 2.
2. Ibid. p. 27.
3. Ibid. pp. 27, 28.
4. White, Ellen G. (1940). Christ’s Object Lessons. Washington DC: Review and Herald Publishing Association, pp. 103-114.
5. Berger, Jason S. “Our Treasured Canoe.” Reader’s Digest, vol. 144, no. 866. June, 1994, pp. 33-34,