1, 2. According to Isaiah 2:3, what invitation is made in the last days, and to whom?
ISAIAH’S stirring prophecy concerning the last days holds out an invitation that should interest people of every nation. The invitation is to get to know the true God personally: “And the many peoples shall go and say: ‘Come, let us go up to the Mount of the LORD, to the House of the God of Jacob; that He may instruct us in His ways, and that we may walk in His paths.’”*—Isaiah 2:3.
2 This prophecy shows that in the last days, people of many nations worldwide would be guided to a common source of instruction to help them come to know the true God. What truths will they learn that serve to unite them in bonds of true peace?
3. How was an important feature of the Bible almost lost as a result of tradition?
3 An outstanding feature of the Bible, almost lost as a result of tradition, is that of establishing a relationship with God, our heavenly Father and Creator, in the most personal of terms, by addressing him by his name. Who is the person that has a dear and beloved friend whose name he refuses to use or even to mention when asked about it? Usually only an enemy is so despised that one prefers not to honor him by even mentioning his name. The special relationship that existed between ancient Israel and their God—whereby they knew him by his name—is beautifully expressed by the ancient psalmist: “Because he is devoted to Me I will deliver him; I will keep him safe, for he knows My name.”—Psalm 91:14.
Should We Use the Divine Name?
4, 5. What is the meaning of God’s name?
4 From the point of view of the Bible, there has never been any question as to the name of the true God. When God spoke to Moses, explaining that He would use him to lead the nation of Israel out of Egyptian bondage, Moses asked a logical question: “When I come to the Israelites and say to them ‘The God of your fathers has sent me to you,’ and they ask me, ‘What is His name?’ what shall I say to them?” God answered: “Thus shall you speak to the Israelites: The LORD [Hebrew, יהוה = YHWH = Yahweh, or, since the 13th century C.E., Jehovah], the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, has sent me to you: This shall be My name forever, this My appellation [memorial, JP] for all eternity.”—Exodus 3:13, 15, italics ours.
5 This name is full of meaning for one who speaks the Hebrew language. It comes from the basic Hebrew root הוה, h·w·h, meaning “to become.” However, the name is in the causative form, Hiph·ʽilʹ, according to Hebrew grammar. Therefore its basic sense is not relating to God’s eternal existence but rather to his causing things to come to be or to come about. This is especially true in a unique way regarding his purposes. As he purposed to free his chosen nation from Egyptian bondage, so he caused it to be. No power could stand in the way of his express will. Jehovah is the God who causes his purposes to be fulfilled. He thus causes himself to become the Fulfiller of his promises. This was also true of his purpose to free his nation from Babylonian captivity. The same is true regarding his purpose to bring paradisaic conditions to this earth. His very name gives meaning and a guarantee to these promises.—Isaiah 41:21-24; 43:10-13; 46:9, 10.
6-9. (a) How do we know that God does not forbid the use of his name? (b) How and when did a prohibition on the use of God’s name become part of Judaism?
6 But do not the Ten Commandments forbid the pronouncing of God’s name? By no means! Although many have interpreted the third commandment in this way, note what the Encyclopaedia Judaica comments: “The avoidance of pronouncing the name YHWH . . . was caused by a misunderstanding of the Third Commandment (Ex. 20:7; Deut. 5:11) as meaning ‘Thou shalt not take the name of YHWH thy God in vain,’ whereas it really means ‘You shall not swear falsely by the name of YHWH your God.’”5 Notice that the text does not forbid ‘taking up’ or pronouncing God’s name. However, even if it meant taking God’s name “in vain,” note what the Hebrew lexicon by Koehler and Baumgartner states regarding the Hebrew term translated “in vain” (Hebrew, lash·shawʹʼ): “name a name without reason . . . misuse a name.”6 Therefore, this commandment does not forbid the use of God’s name but, rather, its misuse.
7 But what of the argument that God’s name is “too holy to be pronounced?” Well, does it not seem reasonable that if God viewed his name as too holy for men to pronounce, he would not have revealed it in the first place? The very fact that in the original text of the Hebrew Scriptures, God’s personal name appears over 6,800 times shows that he wants men to know him and to use his name. Far from restricting the use of his name to prevent disrespect, God repeatedly encourages and even commands his people to use his name and to make it known. Doing so was evidence of their close relationship with him, as well as their love for him. (Psalm 91:14) The prophet Isaiah showed clearly what God’s will is in this matter when he stated: “Praise the LORD [Hebrew, יהוה = YHWH = Jehovah], proclaim His name. Make His deeds known among the peoples; declare that His name is exalted.”—Isaiah 12:4. See also Micah 4:5; Malachi 3:16; Psalm 79:6; 105:1; Proverbs 18:10.
8 If Jehovah did not want men to pronounce his name, he could have explicitly forbidden it. However, nowhere does the Bible forbid the proper use or the pronouncing of his name. Faithful men of Bible times used his name freely. (Genesis 12:8; Ruth 2:4; 4:11, 14) In fact, God repeatedly condemned those who would cause his people to forget his holy name.—Jeremiah 23:26, 27; Psalm 44:21, 22 (44:20, 21, NW).
9 But how did this prohibition become a part of Jewish thought, since it was so clearly not a part of the Bible? Comments by Dr. A. Cohen, a rabbi and author of the book Everyman’s Talmud, show that the tradition took hold gradually over a period of many centuries. Dr. Cohen writes: “In the Biblical period there seems to have been no scruple against its use in daily speech. The addition of Jah or Jahu to personal names, which persisted among the Jews even after the Babylonian exile, is an indication that there was no prohibition against the employment of the four-lettered Name. But in the early Rabbinic period the pronunciation of the Name was restricted to the Temple service.” Regarding further developments during this period, he remarks: “Instead of JHVH the Name was pronounced Adonai (my Lord) in the Synagogue service; but there is a tradition that the original pronunciation was transmitted by the Sages to their disciples periodically—once or twice every seven years (Kiddushin 71a). Even that practice ceased after a while, and the method of pronouncing the Name is no longer known with certainty.”7 Such was the effect of the “commandment of men.”—Isaiah 29:13; Deuteronomy 4:2; see the section “The Bible—Inspired by God?,” paragraphs 15-16.
Requirements for Those Who Bear the Name
10-14. (a) What does God require of those who would bear his name? (b) What forms of purity are required of those who desire to please God? (c) What foreign pagan influence left a deep impression on Judaism?
10 Obviously, just knowing or even using God’s name is not enough for a person to please God. Bearing God’s name as one of his true worshipers is a unique privilege, as the prophet Jeremiah proclaimed: “Your word brought me the delight and joy of knowing that Your name is attached to me.” (Jeremiah 15:16) But this grand privilege brings with it a weighty responsibility. Jehovah stated emphatically to kings of Gentile nations: “I am bringing the punishment first on the city that bears My name.” (Jeremiah 25:29) When Jehovah released the nation of Israel from 70 years of captivity in Babylon, he had already warned his people through the prophet Isaiah: “Turn, turn away, touch naught unclean as you depart from there; keep pure, as you go forth from there, you who bear the vessels of the LORD [יהוה]!” (Isaiah 52:11) What would be involved today in keeping pure as true worshipers, as bearers of the name of the most holy God, Jehovah?
11 Certainly a person who desires to please God in his worship would have to remain pure in conduct, especially with respect to the moral standards that God himself establishes. In contrast with the permissive standards of today’s society, the Scriptures leave no doubt or room for interpretation when expressing God’s condemnation of lying, stealing, fornication, adultery, homosexuality, murder, and every form of deceit. (Exodus 20:12, 13 [20:12-16, NW]; 23:1, 2; Leviticus 5:1; 19:35, 36; 20:13) The Scriptures condemn not only the wrong action itself but also the wrong thinking that leads to wrong conduct.—Exodus 20:14 (20:17, NW); Leviticus 19:17; Psalm 14:1-5; Job 31:1, 9-11.
12 In addition to moral purity, religious purity would certainly be required of those bearing Jehovah’s name. Repeatedly Jehovah warned the ancient nation of Israel not to be influenced by the religious thinking, practices, and customs of the neighboring nations, who worshiped other gods. In fact, it was on this condition alone—that they would not imitate the false worship of the nations—that they could remain in the Promised Land. (Leviticus 18:24-30; Deuteronomy 12:29-31) Not only idolatry was clearly forbidden but also all forms of superstitious practice and belief, such as astrology, spiritism, fortune-telling, magic, and praying to or inquiring of the dead, were prohibited.—Exodus 20:3-5; 22:17 (22:18, NW); Leviticus 20:27; Deuteronomy 18:9-13; Isaiah 8:19, 20; 47:13; Jeremiah 10:2.
13 Closely related to religious purity is the matter of doctrinal purity. The warning not to imitate the morals and worship of the nations around them applied more than just at the time when the nation of Israel took over the land from the Canaanites. Jehovah had revealed religious truth to his people. Only they worshiped the true God, Jehovah. (Exodus 19:5, 6; Deuteronomy 4:32-37; Psalm 147:19, 20) Only they knew this God personally and, being his witnesses, were in a position to teach others about him. (Isaiah 43:9-12; Psalm 105:1) In contrast, the religious customs and practices of other nations reflected a basic lack of knowledge of God.—Isaiah 60:2.
14 Despite its good start, the nation of Israel was repeatedly enticed by foreign religious ideas. (Judges 2:11-13; 1 Kings 18:21; Jeremiah 2:11-13; Ezekiel 8:14-18) While the Canaanite and Babylonian cultures left their mark, by far the greatest challenge ever to face Judaism came during the period of Hellenization by the Greek Empire.* Summing up this prolonged period of Greek cultural influence, extending from the fourth century B.C.E. well into the early centuries of the Common Era, the Jewish author Max Dimont remarked: “Enriched with Platonic thought, Aristotelian logic, and Euclidian science, Jewish scholars approached the Torah with new tools. . . . They proceeded to add Greek reason to Jewish revelation.”
Does Man Have an Immortal Soul?
15-17. (a) What does the Bible teach about death and the soul? (See the box “Death and the Soul—What Are They?”) (b) What hope does the Bible hold out for those who have died?
15 Were Judaism’s doctrines and religious beliefs influenced during this period? The Encyclopaedia Judaica frankly admits: “It was probably under Greek influence that the doctrine of the immortality of the soul came into Judaism.”8 The Hebrew Scriptures teach simply and clearly that God originally intended for men to live forever in perfect health on this earth. (See the section “What Is God’s Purpose for Mankind?,” paragraphs 2-4.) At Genesis 2:7 we read: “The LORD God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul.” (JP) Notice that the text does not state that man was given a soul but, rather, that he became a soul. Because of disobediently rebelling against God, the first man, Adam, was sentenced to death. Therefore, Adam, as a human soul, died. No part of him continued living in another realm. Thus, the concept of an immortal soul is not a Bible teaching.* The Bible says plainly: “The soul that sinneth, it shall die.”—Ezekiel 18:4, JP.
16 What the Scriptures reveal about the condition of the dead harmonizes with the Bible teaching that the soul dies. At Ecclesiastes chapter 9, verses 5 and 10, we read: “The living know they will die. But the dead know nothing . . . For there is no action, no reasoning, no learning, no wisdom in Sheol [mankind’s common grave], where you are going.” (Compare Psalm 146:3, 4.) Death was given as a punishment by God. (Genesis 2:17) It is the opposite of life, not another form of life. Since this is true, we should not be surprised to discover that nowhere do the Scriptures speak of a burning punishment of hellfire (geh hin·nomʹ). This too is a concept absorbed from Greek philosophy and pagan doctrine. Respecting the Jewish mystical belief in reincarnation, The New Standard Jewish Encyclopedia states: “The idea seems to have originated in India. . . . In Kabbalah [mystical books of Judaism] it first emerges in the book Bahir, and then, from the Zohar onward, was commonly accepted by mystics, playing an important role in Hasidic belief and literature.”9
17 Since death is the opposite of life and the soul does not live on in another realm, what hope is there for those who have died? God’s Word clearly teaches that after the restoration of paradisaic conditions to mankind on earth by the intervention of the Messianic King appointed by God, the majority of the dead will be brought back to life. This Bible teaching is often referred to as ‘the resurrection of the dead.’ The resurrected ones will include not only those who faithfully served God but also many millions, even billions, who never received a full opportunity to learn about him and serve him in truth.—Daniel 12:2, 12 (13, NW, JP); Isaiah 26:19; Job 14:14, 15.
18, 19. Why should a person come to know the true God, and how can he do so?
18 Is not this Bible hope of the resurrection to perfect life on earth powerful motivation for people of all nations to search for and come to know the true God? But where is the true source of instruction from Jehovah for these last days, as mentioned at Isaiah 2:2, 3? Who can instruct people in Jehovah’s ways, that they “may walk in His paths”? Can either Judaism or Christendom provide such instruction, in the light of the Bible information considered up to this point?
19 According to prophecy there would be a group of people bearing Jehovah’s name in purity, who would truly serve both as his Witnesses and as a source of spiritual light to the nations.—Isaiah 60:2, 3.
A casual reading of this prophecy could give the impression that in the last days, there will be a massive conversion to Judaism. However, the context itself, as well as current events, shows that this is not the correct view. The discussion in this section and the next will also be of aid in understanding why we reach this conclusion.
From the time of Alexander the Great’s rule (336-323 B.C.E.), the Greeks made a concerted effort to spread their philosophy, culture, and language to all lands encompassed by the Greek Empire. Those who adopted Greek culture and thought were considered Hellenized. This effort to win other cultures over to that of Greece was perpetuated under the Roman Empire, which, although having conquered Greece, found its culture and philosophy appealing. Even among many of those who ostensibly fought diligently to resist this tidal wave of Greek influence, we find clear evidence of their adopting Greek philosophical ideas, reasonings, and doctrines.
In Biblical Hebrew the word translated “soul” is neʹphesh. However, in Judaism today, the Hebrew word nesha·mahʹ is often considered the part of man that continues to exist after death. But a careful study of the Scriptures reveals that the word nesha·mahʹ never conveyed such a meaning; it simply refers to the breathing process or a breathing creature, man or animal.—Genesis 7:22; Deuteronomy 20:16; Joshua 10:39, 40; 11:11; Isaiah 2:22.