Why Should Jehovah Have Witnesses?
JEHOVAH’S WITNESSES are known worldwide for their persistence in talking to people everywhere about Jehovah God and his Kingdom. They also have the reputation of being a people who hold to their beliefs despite all manner of opposition, even death.
“The principal victims of religious persecution in the United States in the twentieth century were the Jehovah’s Witnesses,” says the book The Court and the Constitution, by Archibald Cox (1987). “Jehovah’s Witnesses . . . have been harassed and persecuted by governments the world over,” states Tony Hodges. “In Nazi Germany they were rounded up and sent to concentration camps. During the Second World War, the [Watch Tower] Society was banned in Australia and Canada. . . . Now [in the 1970’s] the Jehovah’s Witnesses are being hounded in Africa.”—Jehovah’s Witnesses in Africa, 1985 Edition.
Why the persecution? What is the objective of the preaching? Have Jehovah’s Witnesses really been commissioned by God? Why would Jehovah have witnesses anyway—and imperfect human witnesses at that? The answers have to do with issues being tried in a universal court case—by far the most crucial case ever to be argued. We must examine these issues in order to understand why Jehovah has witnesses and why these witnesses are willing to endure even the most intense opposition.
Jehovah’s Sovereignty Challenged
These vital issues involve the rightfulness of the sovereignty, or supreme rulership, of Jehovah God. He is the Universal Sovereign by reason of his Creatorship, his Godship, and his Almightiness. (Gen. 17:1; Ex. 6:3; Rev. 4:11) He thus has rightful domination over everything in heaven and on earth. (1 Chron. 29:12, ftn.) But he always administers his sovereignty in love. (Compare Jeremiah 9:24.) What, then, does he ask in return from his intelligent creatures? That they love him and show appreciation for his sovereignty. (Ps. 84:10) Yet, thousands of years ago a challenge was hurled against Jehovah’s rightful sovereignty. How? By whom? Genesis, the first book of the Bible, sheds light on the matter.
It reports that God created the first human pair, Adam and Eve, and gave them a beautiful garden home. He also laid this command upon them: “From every tree of the garden you may eat to satisfaction. But as for the tree of the knowledge of good and bad you must not eat from it, for in the day you eat from it you will positively die.” (Gen. 2:16, 17) What was “the tree of the knowledge of good and bad,” and what would eating of its fruit signify?
It was a literal tree, but God employed it for a symbolic purpose. Because he called it “the tree of the knowledge of good and bad” and because he commanded that the first human pair not eat from it, the tree fittingly symbolized God’s right to determine for humans what is “good” (pleasing to God) and what is “bad” (displeasing to God). The presence of this tree thus tested man’s respect for God’s sovereignty. Sadly, the first human pair disobeyed God and ate of the forbidden fruit. They failed this simple yet profound test of obedience and appreciation.—Gen. 3:1-6.
This seemingly small act constituted rebellion against Jehovah’s sovereignty. How so? Understanding the way we humans are made is a key to understanding the significance of what Adam and Eve did. When Jehovah created the first human pair, he gave them a remarkable gift—free will. Complementing this gift, Jehovah gave them mental abilities that included the powers of perception, reason, and judgment. (Heb. 5:14) They were not like mindless robots; nor were they like animals, which act mainly on instinct. Their freedom, though, was relative, subject to the rule of God’s laws. (Compare Jeremiah 10:23, 24.) Adam and Eve chose to eat of the forbidden fruit. They thus abused their freedom. What led them to this course?
The Bible explains that a spirit creature of God had taken a willful course of opposition and resistance to God. This one, who later came to be known as Satan, spoke through a serpent in Eden and led Eve and, through her, Adam away from subjection to God’s sovereignty. (Rev. 12:9) By eating of the tree, Adam and Eve placed their judgment above God’s, indicating that they wanted to judge for themselves what is good and what is bad.—Gen. 3:22.
The issue thus raised was, Does Jehovah have the right to rule humankind, and does he exercise his sovereignty in the best interests of his subjects? This issue was clearly implied by the Serpent’s words to Eve: “Is it really so that God said you must not eat from every tree of the garden?” The implication was that God was wrongfully withholding something good from the woman and her husband.—Gen. 3:1.
The rebellion in Eden raised another issue: Can humans under test be faithful to God? This related issue was put in clear focus 24 centuries later in connection with faithful Job. Satan, the ‘voice’ behind the serpent, challenged Jehovah to His face, saying: “Is it for nothing that Job has feared God?” Satan charged: “Have not you yourself put up a hedge about him and about his house and about everything that he has all around? The work of his hands you have blessed, and his livestock itself has spread abroad in the earth.” Satan thus intimated that Job’s uprightness was motivated by self-interest. He further charged: “Skin in behalf of skin, and everything that a man has he will give in behalf of his soul.” Since, as Jehovah had noted, ‘there was no one like Job in the earth,’ Satan was really claiming that he could turn any servant of God away from Him. (Job 1:8-11; 2:4) All of God’s servants were thus indirectly challenged regarding their integrity and loyalty to His sovereignty.
Once raised, the issues had to be settled. The passage of time—about 6,000 years now—and the miserable failure of human governments clearly demonstrate that humans need God’s sovereignty. But do they want it? Are there humans who will manifest heartfelt recognition of Jehovah’s righteous sovereignty? Yes! Jehovah has his witnesses! But before we consider their testimony, let us first examine what is involved in being a witness.
What It Means to Be a Witness
The original-language words translated “witness” provide insight into what it means to be a witness for Jehovah. In the Hebrew Scriptures, the noun rendered “witness” (ʽedh) is derived from a verb (ʽudh) meaning “return” or “repeat, do again.” Regarding the noun (ʽedh), the Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament says: “A witness is one, who by reiteration, emphatically affirms his testimony. The word [ʽedh] is at home in the language of the court.” A Comprehensive Etymological Dictionary of the Hebrew Language for Readers of English adds: “The orig[inal] meaning [of the verb ʽudh] prob[ably] was ‘he said repeatedly and forcefully.’”
In the Christian Scriptures, the Greek words rendered “witness” (marʹtys) and “bear witness” (mar·ty·reʹo) also had a legal connotation, although in time they took on a broader meaning. According to the Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, “the concept of witness [is used] both in the sense of witness to ascertainable facts and also in that of witness to truths, i.e., the making known and confessing of convictions.” So a witness relates facts from direct personal knowledge, or he proclaims views or truths of which he is convinced.*
The faithful course of first-century Christians carried the meaning of “witness” a step farther. Many of those early Christians witnessed under persecution and in the face of death. (Acts 22:20; Rev. 2:13) As a result, by about the second century C.E., the Greek word for witness (marʹtys, from which is also derived the word “martyr”) acquired the meaning that applied to persons who were willing to “seal the seriousness of their witness or confession by death.” They were not called witnesses because they died; they died because they were loyal witnesses.
Who, then, were the early witnesses of Jehovah? Who were willing to proclaim “repeatedly and forcefully”—in words and by the way they lived—that Jehovah is the rightful, worthy Sovereign? Who were willing to maintain integrity to God, even to death?
Early Witnesses of Jehovah
The apostle Paul says: “We have so great a cloud [Gr., neʹphos, denoting a cloud mass] of witnesses surrounding us.” (Heb. 12:1) This ‘cloud mass’ of witnesses began forming shortly after rebellion against God’s sovereignty in Eden.
At Hebrews 11:4, Paul identifies Abel as the first witness of Jehovah, saying: “By faith Abel offered God a sacrifice of greater worth than Cain, through which faith he had witness borne to him that he was righteous, God bearing witness respecting his gifts; and through it he, although he died, yet speaks.” In what way did Abel serve as a witness for Jehovah? The answer centers around why Abel’s sacrifice was of “greater worth” than Cain’s.
Put simply, Abel made the right offering with the right motive and backed it up by right works. As his gift, he gave a blood sacrifice representing the life of the firstlings of his flock—whereas Cain offered lifeless produce. (Gen. 4:3, 4) Cain’s sacrifice lacked the motivation of faith that made Abel’s offering acceptable. Cain needed to modify his worship. Instead, he manifested his bad heart attitude by rejecting God’s counsel and warning and by murdering faithful Abel.—Gen. 4:6-8; 1 John 3:11, 12.
Abel displayed the faith that his parents lacked. By his faithful course, he made known his conviction that Jehovah’s sovereignty is righteous and worthy. During the century or so that he lived, Abel demonstrated that a man can be faithful to God to the point of sealing his testimony by death. And Abel’s blood continues to ‘speak,’ for the inspired record of his martyrdom was preserved in the Bible for future generations!
About five centuries after Abel’s death, Enoch began ‘walking with God,’ pursuing a course in harmony with Jehovah’s standards of good and bad. (Gen. 5:24) By then, rejection of God’s sovereignty had led to a proliferation of ungodly practices among humankind. Enoch was convinced that the Supreme Sovereign would act against ungodly persons, and God’s spirit moved him to proclaim their future destruction. (Jude 14, 15) Enoch remained a faithful witness even to death, for Jehovah “took him,” apparently sparing him a violent death at the hands of his enemies. (Heb. 11:5) Enoch’s name could thus be added to the growing list of the ‘great cloud of witnesses’ of pre-Christian times.
A spirit of ungodliness continued to pervade human affairs. During the lifetime of Noah, who was born about 70 years after Enoch’s death, angelic sons of God came to the earth, evidently materializing in human form, and cohabited with attractive women. The offspring they produced were known as Nephilim; they were giants among men. (Gen. 6:1-4) What was the result of this unnatural union of spirit creatures with humans and of the hybrid race thus produced? The inspired record answers: “Consequently Jehovah saw that the badness of man was abundant in the earth and every inclination of the thoughts of his heart was only bad all the time. So God saw the earth and, look! it was ruined, because all flesh had ruined its way on the earth.” (Gen. 6:5, 12) How sad that the earth, God’s footstool, was “full of violence.”—Gen. 6:13; Isa. 66:1.
In contrast, “Noah was a righteous man,” one who “proved himself faultless among his contemporaries.” (Gen. 6:9) He demonstrated his submission to God’s sovereignty by doing ‘just as God commanded.’ (Gen. 6:22) Acting in faith, he “constructed an ark for the saving of his household.” (Heb. 11:7) But Noah was more than a builder; as “a preacher [or herald] of righteousness,” he warned of the coming destruction. (2 Pet. 2:5) Despite Noah’s bold witnessing, however, that wicked generation “took no note until the flood came and swept them all away.”—Matt. 24:37-39.
Following Noah’s day, Jehovah had witnesses among the post-Flood patriarchs. Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Joseph are mentioned as an early part of the cloud of pre-Christian witnesses. (Heb. 11:8-22; 12:1) They demonstrated their support of Jehovah’s sovereignty, doing so by keeping integrity. (Gen. 18:18, 19) They thus contributed to the sanctification of Jehovah’s name. Rather than seek security in some earthly kingdom, they “publicly declared that they were strangers and temporary residents in the land,” in faith “awaiting the city having real foundations, the builder and maker of which city is God.” (Heb. 11:10, 13) They accepted Jehovah as their Ruler, anchoring their hope in the promised heavenly Kingdom as an expression of his rightful sovereignty.
In the 16th century B.C.E., Abraham’s descendants were slaves needing deliverance from Egyptian bondage. It was then that Moses and his brother Aaron became key figures in a ‘battle of the gods.’ They appeared before Pharaoh and delivered Jehovah’s ultimatum: “Send my people away.” But proud Pharaoh hardened his heart; he did not want to lose a great nation of slave workers. “Who is Jehovah,” he replied, “so that I should obey his voice to send Israel away? I do not know Jehovah at all and, what is more, I am not going to send Israel away.” (Ex. 5:1, 2) By that disdainful response, Pharaoh, who was believed to be a living god himself, refused to recognize Jehovah’s Godship.
The issue of godship having been raised, Jehovah now proceeded to prove that he is the true God. Pharaoh, through his magic-practicing priests, summoned the combined power of the gods of Egypt in defiance of Jehovah’s power. But Jehovah sent ten plagues, each announced by Moses and Aaron, to demonstrate his dominion over earth’s elements and creatures as well as his supremacy over Egypt’s gods. (Ex. 9:13-16; 12:12) Following the tenth plague, Jehovah brought Israel out of Egypt by “a strong hand.”—Ex. 13:9.
It took much courage and faith for Moses, the ‘meekest of all men,’ to appear before Pharaoh, not once, but many times. (Num. 12:3) Moses, however, never watered down the message that Jehovah commanded him to deliver to Pharaoh. Not even the threat of death could silence his testimony! (Ex. 10:28, 29; Heb. 11:27) Moses was a witness in the true sense of the word; he testified “repeatedly and forcefully” to the Godship of Jehovah.
Following that deliverance from Egypt in 1513 B.C.E., Moses wrote the book of Genesis. Thus began a new era—the era of Bible writing. Since Moses evidently wrote the book of Job, he had some discernment of the issue between God and Satan. But as Bible writing progressed, the issues involving God’s sovereignty and man’s integrity would be put clearly on the record; thus all concerned could gain full knowledge of the great issues involved. Meanwhile, in 1513 B.C.E., Jehovah laid the groundwork for producing a nation of witnesses.
A Nation of Witnesses
In the third month after their leaving Egypt, Jehovah brought the Israelites into an exclusive covenant relationship with him, making them his “special property.” (Ex. 19:5, 6) Through Moses, he now dealt with them as a nation, giving them a theocratic government founded on the Law covenant as their national constitution. (Isa. 33:22) They were Jehovah’s chosen people, organized to represent him as their Sovereign Lord.
However, in the centuries that followed, the nation did not always acknowledge Jehovah’s sovereignty. After becoming settled in the Promised Land, Israel at times fell away to worshiping the demonistic gods of the nations. Because of their failure to obey him as rightful Sovereign, Jehovah allowed them to be plundered, and thus it appeared that the gods of the nations were stronger than Jehovah. (Isa. 42:18-25) But in the eighth century B.C.E., Jehovah openly challenged the gods of the nations in order to clear up that misimpression and settle the question, Who is the true God?
Through the prophet Isaiah, Jehovah issued the challenge: “Who is there among them [the gods of the nations] that can tell this [prophesy accurately]? Or can they cause us to hear even the first things [that is, things in advance]? Let them [as gods] furnish their witnesses, that they may be declared righteous, or let them [the peoples of the nations] hear and say, ‘It is the truth!’” (Isa. 43:9) Yes, let the gods of the nations furnish witnesses who could testify regarding the prophecy of their gods, “It is the truth!” But none of such gods could produce true witnesses to their godship!
Jehovah made clear to Israel their responsibility in settling the question, Who is the true God? He said: “You are my witnesses, . . . even my servant whom I have chosen, in order that you may know and have faith in me, and that you may understand that I am the same One. Before me there was no God formed, and after me there continued to be none. I—I am Jehovah, and besides me there is no savior. I myself have told forth and have saved and have caused it to be heard, when there was among you no strange god. So you are my witnesses, . . . and I am God.”—Isa. 43:10-12.
So Jehovah’s people Israel constituted a nation of witnesses. They could emphatically affirm Jehovah’s rightful, worthy sovereignty. On the basis of their past experiences, they could proclaim with conviction that Jehovah is the Great Deliverer of his people and the God of true prophecy.
Witnessing Concerning the Messiah
Despite the abundant testimony of that ‘cloud mass’ of pre-Christian witnesses, God’s side of the issues was not completely settled. Why not? Because at God’s own appointed time, after it has been clearly demonstrated that humans need Jehovah’s rulership and that they cannot rule successfully on their own, Jehovah must execute judgment upon all who refuse to respect his rightful authority. Furthermore, the issues raised reach far beyond the human sphere. Since an angel had rebelled in Eden, the question of integrity to God’s sovereignty reached up to and involved God’s heavenly creatures. Hence, Jehovah purposed for a spirit son to come to the earth, where Satan would have full opportunity to put him to the test. That spirit son would be given the opportunity to settle, in a perfect way, the question, Will anyone be faithful to God under whatever trial may be brought against him? Having thus proved his loyalty, this son of God would be empowered as Jehovah’s great vindicator, who would destroy the wicked and fully accomplish God’s original purpose regarding the earth.
But how would this one be identified? In Eden, Jehovah had promised a “seed” that would bruise the serpentlike Adversary in the head and vindicate God’s sovereignty. (Gen. 3:15) Through the Hebrew prophets, Jehovah provided many details about that Messianic “seed”—his background and activities, even the time he would appear.—Gen. 12:1-3; 22:15-18; 49:10; 2 Sam. 7:12-16; Isa. 7:14; Dan. 9:24-27; Mic. 5:2.
By the middle of the fifth century B.C.E., with the completion of the Hebrew Scriptures, the prophecies were in place, waiting for the arrival of the Messiah to fulfill them. The testimony of this witness—in fact, God’s greatest witness—will be considered in the following chapter.
For example, some first-century Christians could bear witness to historical facts about Jesus—concerning his life, death, and resurrection—from firsthand knowledge. (Acts 1:21, 22; 10:40, 41) However, persons who later put faith in Jesus could bear witness by proclaiming to others the significance of his life, death, and resurrection.—Acts 22:15.
[Blurb on page 11]
Humans can choose to benefit from Jehovah’s sovereignty. But first they must hear about it
[Blurb on page 13]
Abel was the first witness of Jehovah
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Enoch bore witness about God’s judgment against the ungodly
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Jehovah made clear to an entire nation their responsibility as his witnesses
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“You are my witnesses, . . . and I am God”
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The events in Eden raised important issues: Is Jehovah’s sovereignty righteous? Will his creatures be faithful to him?
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Noah was a preacher of righteousness before God destroyed the world by means of a deluge
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Moses and Aaron testified forcefully to Pharaoh about Jehovah’s Godship