Do Not Long for What Was Left Behind!
1. (a) What blessings lie immediately ahead for faithful servants of God? (b) Yet, what have some persons done?
FULFILLMENT of Bible prophecy unmistakably shows that we are today at the very threshold of God’s glorious new system of things. Soon the wicked world will be gone, and with it the heartache, the frustration and grief that it has caused. The earth will be transformed into a Paradise in which worshipers of the true God will be able to enjoy perfect human life forever. Regarding the certainty of his promises about these things, Jehovah said to the apostle John: “Write, because these words are faithful and true.” (Revelation 21:1-5) Yet, strange though it may seem, some persons who know these truths turn back to the way of life of the world that God says he is going to destroy. How sad! Why do they do it?
2. (a) To avoid such an outcome, what should a person do after first learning the truth? (b) If he fails to do this, what may dominate his thinking, and with what result?
2 When they first heard the good news about God’s Kingdom and what it will do, they gladly embraced it. But it is also important to press on to Christian maturity, deepening one’s understanding of God’s Word and seeking ways to apply it fully in one’s own life. (Hebrews 6:1, 11, 12) If lack of appreciation causes anyone to neglect doing this, he will not continue to regard as precious the privilege of serving God. Such a person may become impatient for the physical blessings that God has promised, while failing to appreciate his need for spiritual growth and the importance of sharing as fully as possible in the preaching and disciple-making work that God has given us to do now. Satisfying desires for material possessions and for what appears to be fun may begin to take more and more of his time. He puts spiritual interests in second place. Not all at once, but a little at a time, he gravitates back into the world.—1 Timothy 6:9, 10.
3. (a) Why is it dangerous to choose as friends persons who do not worship Jehovah? (b) When might a person easily find himself in relaxed association with such persons?
3 A person may say that he wants to survive into the “new earth,” to live in a world where righteousness dwells. But does his choice of associates back up what he says? Of course, every day there is unavoidable contact with people who do not serve Jehovah—at work, at school, when shopping, even at home. But during breaks at work, before and after school, when phoning or visiting friends, during times of recreation, whose company does he choose? Does it really make a difference? The Bible cautions: “Do not be misled. Bad associations spoil useful habits.” (1 Corinthians 15:33) But what are “bad associations”? Does it make any difference that certain people do not worship Jehovah, that they simply do what seems right in their own eyes? On the basis of what we have already learned, we know that persons of that sort will not survive into the “new earth.” Any who minimize Jehovah’s standards when choosing friends will soon find themselves back in the world that they once thought they were leaving behind. But the warning examples recorded in the Scriptures can protect us against such a course if we take them to heart.—1 Corinthians 10:11.
“WRITTEN FOR A WARNING TO US”
4. (a) What kind of life did Israel have in Egypt after the death of Joseph? (b) Why did “a vast mixed company” join Israel when they were delivered from Egypt? (c) How has that prophetic drama been fulfilled in our day?
4 When Jehovah delivered Israel from slavery in Egypt, what a relief it must have been for them! The cruel oppression they had experienced after the death of Joseph made Egypt seem like a hot furnace into which they had been hurled. (Exodus 1:13, 14; Deuteronomy 4:20) But then Jehovah brought ten blows, or plagues, on Egypt. The contrast between the true God and the gods of Egypt became evident. So, when Israel left the land, “a vast mixed company” of non-Israelites went with them, just as today the “great crowd” separates itself from the world and associates with the remnant of spiritual Israel. (Exodus 12:38) But what happened in the camp soon after the Exodus?
5. (a) Shortly after their deliverance, how did they ‘turn back to Egypt’? (b) Why did it happen?
5 The Christian disciple Stephen explained: “In their hearts they turned back to Egypt.” This was only a few months after their deliverance. (Acts 7:39, 40) What gave evidence of it? They made a golden calf—the sort of thing they were accustomed to in Egypt—and declared they were having “a festival to Jehovah.” But they were imitating the Egyptians. (Exodus 32:1-6) Jehovah was severely displeased with them. Their conduct was in direct conflict with the Law given at Mount Sinai. Thousands lost their lives. Why did it happen? Although they knew Jehovah’s commandments, they obviously had not built up heart appreciation for these and for the fact that the true God was in fact leading them.
6. (a) What provisions did Jehovah make for them in the wilderness? (1 Corinthians 10:3, 4) (b) Why did some begin to long for what they used to have in Egypt?
6 When they left Egypt, both Israel and the “mixed company” that went with them knew it was the right thing to do. But after a year had passed they were not yet in the Promised Land; they did not yet have homes in the “land flowing with milk and honey.” They all had ample to eat physically, and especially was there spiritual abundance. The pillar of cloud and of fire gave constant evidence that Jehovah was leading them. At the Red Sea and at Mount Sinai they had seen awe-inspiring evidence of Jehovah’s power. The Law covenant gave them spiritual nourishment and refreshment. It also provided much for them to do personally, showing them where they needed to adjust their conduct, their thinking, their motives, so that these would be pleasing to Jehovah. But instead of appreciating all that Jehovah was doing for them, they began to long for the physical things they had in Egypt. Selfish longing led to ruin for many.—Numbers 11:4-6, 31-34.
7. (a) When the spies brought back their reports, why did the people speak of returning to Egypt? (b) What was the outcome? (Hebrews 3:17, 19)
7 Shortly after this, Moses sent men to spy out the Promised Land. When they returned they all agreed that it was indeed “flowing with milk and honey.” But ten of the spies were afraid of the people there and were intimidated by their fortified cities. They did not trust in Jehovah with all their heart and they caused the hearts of others to quake with fear. Once again their thoughts went back to Egypt, and they spoke of plans to return there. For their lack of faith, that entire generation 20 years of age and older eventually died in the wilderness, never entering the Promised Land.—Numbers 13:27-33; 14:1-4, 29.
8. (a) For Lot and his family to be spared when Sodom was destroyed, what did they have to do? (b) Why was Lot’s wife turned into a pillar of salt? (c) What warning message does that contain for us?
8 Over 400 years earlier, that same lesson was highlighted in a different setting. Abraham’s nephew Lot had taken up living in Sodom, a morally corrupt but materially prosperous city. So gross was the immorality in Sodom and its district that Jehovah determined to destroy it, never to be built again. Angels were sent to deliver Lot and his household. When Lot warned his prospective sons-in-law, in their eyes “he seemed like a man who was joking.” But it was no joke. At dawn the angels hurried Lot and his family outside the city and told them to flee without looking back. Their lives depended on obedience. Lot and his two daughters did what they were told and were spared. But Lot’s wife evidently was reluctant to tear herself away from the material things being left behind. Turning to look back, she lost her life, becoming a pillar of salt. Have we personally taken to heart what that means? So that we would not miss the point, Jesus included it in a warning as to the urgency of flight from the old system in our day. It was when cautioning against being overly concerned about material possessions that he tersely said: “Remember the wife of Lot.” (Genesis 19:12-26; Luke 17:31, 32) What can protect us against the pitfalls that ensnared the Israelites and Lot’s wife?
“REACHING OUT FOR A BETTER PLACE”
9. What is faith, and how can we cultivate it?
9 To avoid being influenced to look back, we need to cultivate increasing faith in what is ahead. Hebrews 11:1 defines faith as “the assured expectation of things hoped for, the evident demonstration of realities though not beheld.” It is an assurance or a guarantee, like a title deed, that we will come into possession of what God has promised. Faith is based on powerful evidence, and as a result we have strong reasons for belief in that which cannot be seen with the physical eye. It is not credulity, or a readiness to believe simply because something sounds good. To have real faith, we must care enough to become personally familiar with the evidence that is the basis for it. We also need to consider carefully how what we are learning relates to our own lives and to cultivate genuine heartfelt appreciation for it.
10. (a) How did Abraham give evidence of his faith, and for how long? (b) How do we know that what he did was right?
10 Abraham had such faith. As a result, at Jehovah’s direction Abraham left behind the prosperous city of Ur in Chaldea and moved into distant Canaan, a land that he had never seen before. There he lived as an alien resident, not attaching himself for security to any of the city-kingdoms. “He was awaiting the city having real foundations [Jehovah’s Messianic Kingdom], the builder and maker of which city is God.” If he had kept longing for the life in Chaldea, he doubtless would have returned. Instead, he was “reaching out for a better place, that is, one belonging to heaven.” (Hebrews 11:8-16) It was not for just a few years, or even ten or twenty years, that Abraham reached out for that “better place.” He continued to do so right down to his death, 100 years or more after he had left Ur. He did not simply say he had faith; he showed it by his works. As a result his reward is assured. So certain is the prospect of a resurrection for him that, as Jesus said, ‘to God, Abraham is living.’—Luke 20:37, 38; James 2:18.
11. How did Isaac and Jacob show that they, too, had faith?
11 But what about Abraham’s son Isaac, and Isaac’s son Jacob? They had never tasted the Chaldean way of life. But they did not view this as a reason to find out for themselves what it was like. When they learned from their parents about Jehovah’s promises they took these to heart. They cultivated faith like Abraham’s. They, too, were “reaching out for a better place.” God was not ashamed of them.—Hebrews 11:9, 16, 20, 21; Genesis 26:24, 25; 28:20-22.
12. What led Esau and Dinah into serious difficulties?
12 On the other hand, Jacob’s brother Esau did not appreciate spiritual things. He married women who were not worshipers of Jehovah. Instead of treasuring sacred things, he sold his birthright for one meal. (Genesis 25:29-34; 26:34, 35; Hebrews 12:14-17) He was a person who wanted physical gratification now. Jacob’s daughter, Dinah, also got into serious difficulty. Why? Because she liked to associate with the pagan “daughters of the land.”—Genesis 34:1, 2.
13. (a) What is life really like for people who are part of the world today? (b) What will safeguard us against being drawn back into it?
13 If, like Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, you are really “reaching out for a better place,” for life under Jehovah’s Messianic Kingdom, do not allow yourself to be drawn back into the world. Remember, the world offers no lasting future. “But he that does the will of God remains forever.” And what a richly satisfying life that will be!—1 John 2:17.
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Remember the wife of Lot!