Jehovah Teaches Us for Our Good
1. How do wise ones respond to Jehovah’s words?
WHEN Jehovah speaks, those who are wise listen with great respect and respond to his words. Everything that Jehovah says is for our benefit, and he is keenly interested in our welfare. For example, how heartwarming it is to consider the way Jehovah addressed his ancient covenant people: “O if only you would actually pay attention to my commandments!” (Isaiah 48:18) The proven value of God’s teachings should move us to listen to him and follow his guidance. The record of fulfilled prophecy dispels any doubt about Jehovah’s determination to fulfill his promises.
2. For whom were the words of Isaiah 48 recorded, and who else can benefit from them?
2 The words of the 48th chapter of the book of Isaiah were evidently written for the sake of the Jews who would be exiles in Babylon. Further, these words contain a message that Christians today cannot ignore. In Isaiah chapter 47, the Bible foretold the fall of Babylon. Now Jehovah describes what he has in mind for the Jewish exiles in that city. Jehovah is grieved by the hypocrisy of his chosen people and their stubborn disbelief in his promises. Still, he wants to instruct them for their good. He foresees a period of refinement leading to the restoration of a faithful remnant to their homeland.
3. What was wrong with Judah’s worship?
3 How far Jehovah’s people have deviated from pure worship! Isaiah’s opening words are sobering: “Hear this, O house of Jacob, you who are calling yourselves by the name of Israel and who have come forth from the very waters of Judah, you who are swearing by the name of Jehovah and who make mention even of the God of Israel, not in truth and not in righteousness. For they have called themselves as being from the holy city, and upon the God of Israel they have supported themselves, Jehovah of armies being his name.” (Isaiah 48:1, 2) How hypocritical! “Swearing by the name of Jehovah” is clearly no more than using God’s name in a formalistic way. (Zephaniah 1:5) Before their exile in Babylon, the Jews worshiped Jehovah at “the holy city,” Jerusalem. But their worship was insincere. Their hearts were far removed from God, and their acts of worship were “not in truth and not in righteousness.” They did not have the faith of the patriarchs.—Malachi 3:7.
4. What kind of worship is pleasing to Jehovah?
4 Jehovah’s words remind us that worship should not be perfunctory. It must be heartfelt. Mere token service—perhaps performed just to please or impress others—does not constitute “deeds of godly devotion.” (2 Peter 3:11) A person’s calling himself a Christian does not in itself make his worship acceptable to God. (2 Timothy 3:5) Recognizing that Jehovah exists is vital, but it is only a beginning. Jehovah wants worship that is whole-souled and motivated by deep love and appreciation.—Colossians 3:23.
Foretelling New Things
5. What are some of “the first things” foretold by Jehovah?
5 Perhaps those Jews in Babylon need to have their memories refreshed. Hence, Jehovah once again reminds them that he is the God of true prophecy: “The first things I have told even from that time, and out of my own mouth they went forth, and I kept making them heard. Suddenly I acted, and the things proceeded to come in.” (Isaiah 48:3) “The first things” are things that God has already accomplished, such as liberating the Israelites from Egypt and giving them the Promised Land as an inheritance. (Genesis 13:14, 15; 15:13, 14) Such predictions go out from God’s mouth; they are of divine origin. God causes men to hear his decrees, and what they hear should move them to be obedient. (Deuteronomy 28:15) He acts suddenly to perform what he has foretold. The fact that Jehovah is the Almighty ensures that his purpose is fulfilled.—Joshua 21:45; 23:14.
6. To what extent have the Jews become “stubborn and rebellious”?
6 Jehovah’s people have become “stubborn and rebellious.” (Psalm 78:8) He frankly tells them: “You are hard and . . . your neck is an iron sinew and your forehead is copper.” (Isaiah 48:4) Like metals, the Jews are hard to bend—unyielding. That is one reason why Jehovah reveals things before they occur. Otherwise, his people will say of the things Jehovah has done: “My own idol has done them, and my own carved image and my own molten image have commanded them.” (Isaiah 48:5) Will what Jehovah is now saying have any effect on the unfaithful Jews? God says to them: “You have heard. Behold it all. As for you people, will you not tell it? I have made you hear new things from the present time, even things kept in reserve, that you have not known. At the present time they must be created, and not from that time, even things that before today you have not heard, that you may not say, ‘Look! I have already known them.’”—Isaiah 48:6, 7.
7. What will the exiled Jews have to admit, and what can they expect?
7 Long in advance Isaiah recorded the prediction about the fall of Babylon. Now as exiles in Babylon, the Jews are prophetically commanded to contemplate the fulfillment of the prediction. Can they deny that Jehovah is the God of fulfilled prophecy? And since the inhabitants of Judah have seen and heard that Jehovah is a God of truth, must they not also declare this truth to others? Jehovah’s revealed word foretells new things that have not yet come to pass, such as Cyrus’ conquest of Babylon and the release of the Jews. (Isaiah 48:14-16) Such startling events seemingly come out of nowhere. No one could have foreseen them merely by considering the developing world conditions. They arrive as though created out of nothing. Who causes these events? Since Jehovah foretells them some 200 years in advance, the answer is obvious.
8. What new things do Christians today hope for, and why do they have complete confidence in Jehovah’s prophetic word?
8 Moreover, Jehovah carries out his word according to his own timetable. Fulfilled prophecies prove his Godship not only to the Jews in ancient times but also to Christians today. The record of numerous prophecies that were fulfilled in the past—“the first things”—is an assurance that the new things promised by Jehovah—the coming “great tribulation,” the survival of “a great crowd” through that tribulation, the “new earth,” and much more—will come to pass. (Revelation 7:9, 14, 15; 21:4, 5; 2 Peter 3:13) That assurance motivates righthearted ones today to speak about him zealously. They share the feelings of the psalmist, who said: “I have told the good news of righteousness in the big congregation. Look! My lips I do not restrain.”—Psalm 40:9.
Jehovah Exercises Self-Control
9. How has the nation of Israel been a “transgressor from the belly”?
9 The Jews’ disbelieving response to Jehovah’s prophecies has prevented them from heeding his warnings. That is why he goes on to say to them: “Moreover, you have not heard, neither have you known, nor from that time on has your ear been opened. For I well know that without fail you kept dealing treacherously, and a ‘transgressor from the belly’ you have been called.” (Isaiah 48:8) Judah’s ear has been shut to Jehovah’s glad tidings. (Isaiah 29:10) The way God’s covenant people have acted shows the nation to be a “transgressor from the belly.” From its birth and for its entire history, the nation of Israel has built up a record of rebellion. Transgression and treachery are inveterate faults of the people, not mere occasional sins.—Psalm 95:10; Malachi 2:11.
10. Why will Jehovah restrain himself?
10 Is all hope lost? No. Even though Judah has been rebellious and treacherous, Jehovah is always true and faithful. For the honor of his own great name, he will limit the outpouring of his wrath. He says: “For the sake of my name I shall check my anger, and for my praise I shall restrain myself toward you that there may be no cutting you off.” (Isaiah 48:9) What a contrast! Jehovah’s people, both Israel and Judah, have been unfaithful to him. But Jehovah will sanctify his name, acting in a way to bring praise and honor to it. For this reason, he will not cut off his chosen people.—Joel 2:13, 14.
11. Why will God not allow his people to be utterly destroyed?
11 Righthearted individuals among the exiled Jews are awakened by God’s reprimand and become determined to heed his teachings. To such ones the following declaration is most reassuring: “Look! I have refined you, but not in the form of silver. I have made choice of you in the smelting furnace of affliction. For my own sake, for my own sake I shall act, for how could one let oneself be profaned? And to no one else shall I give my own glory.” (Isaiah 48:10, 11) The trialsome ordeals—as in the “furnace of affliction”—that Jehovah has allowed to come upon his people have tested and refined them, revealing what is in their hearts. Something similar happened centuries earlier when Moses said to their ancestors: “Jehovah your God made you walk these forty years in the wilderness, in order to humble you, to put you to the test so as to know what was in your heart.” (Deuteronomy 8:2) Despite their rebellious attitude, Jehovah did not destroy the nation at that time, and he will not utterly destroy the nation now. Thus his name and honor will be upheld. If his people were to perish at the hands of the Babylonians, he would be untrue to his covenant and his name would be profaned. It would appear that the God of Israel is powerless to save his people.—Ezekiel 20:9.
12. How were true Christians refined during the first world war?
12 In modern times too, Jehovah’s people have needed refining. Back in the early days of the 20th century, many of the small group of Bible Students served God out of a sincere desire to please him, but some had wrong motives, such as a desire for prominence. Before that small group could spearhead the worldwide preaching of the good news prophesied for the time of the end, they would need to be cleansed. (Matthew 24:14) The prophet Malachi prophesied that just such a refining work would be accomplished in connection with Jehovah’s coming to his temple. (Malachi 3:1-4) His words were fulfilled in 1918. True Christians had gone through a period of fiery testing in the heat of the first world war and that testing culminated in the imprisonment of Joseph F. Rutherford, then president of the Watch Tower Society, and some of its leading officers. Those sincere Christians benefited from the refining process. They came out of World War I more determined than ever to serve their great God in whatever way he indicated.
13. How have Jehovah’s people responded to persecution in the years since the first world war?
13 Since those days, Jehovah’s Witnesses have time and again faced the most vicious forms of persecution. This has not made them doubt the word of their Creator. Rather, they have taken note of the words of the apostle Peter to persecuted Christians of his day: “You have been grieved by various trials, in order that the tested quality of your faith . . . may be found a cause for praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.” (1 Peter 1:6, 7) Fiery persecution does not destroy the integrity of true Christians. Instead, it reveals the purity of their motives. It adds to their faith a tested quality and shows the depth of their devotion and love.—Proverbs 17:3.
‘I Am the First, I Am the Last’
14. (a) In what way is Jehovah “the first” and “the last”? (b) What mighty works did Jehovah accomplish by means of his “hand”?
14 Now Jehovah warmly appeals to his covenant people: “Listen to me, O Jacob, and you Israel my called one. I am the same One. I am the first. Moreover, I am the last. Moreover, my own hand laid the foundation of the earth, and my own right hand extended out the heavens. I am calling to them, that they may keep standing together.” (Isaiah 48:12, 13) Unlike man, God is eternal and does not change. (Malachi 3:6) In Revelation, Jehovah declares: “I am the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end.” (Revelation 22:13) Before Jehovah there was no almighty God and after him there will be none. He is the Supreme and Eternal One, the Creator. His “hand”—his applied power—established the earth and stretched out the starry heavens. (Job 38:4; Psalm 102:25) When he calls his creations, they stand ready to serve him.—Psalm 147:4.
15. In what way and to what end has Jehovah “loved” Cyrus?
15 A solemn invitation is addressed to both Jews and non-Jews: “Be collected together, all you people, and hear. Who among them has told these things? Jehovah himself has loved him. He will do what is his delight upon Babylon, and his own arm will be upon the Chaldeans. I—I myself have spoken. Moreover, I have called him. I have brought him in, and there will be a making of his way successful.” (Isaiah 48:14, 15) Jehovah alone is all-powerful and able to foretell events accurately. None among “them,” the worthless idols, is able to tell these things. Jehovah, not the idols, has “loved him,” Cyrus—that is, Jehovah has chosen him for a specific purpose. (Isaiah 41:2; 44:28; 45:1, 13; 46:11) He has foreseen Cyrus’ appearance on the world stage and has singled him out as the future conqueror of Babylon.
16, 17. (a) Why can it be said that God has not given his predictions in secrecy? (b) How has Jehovah publicized his purposes today?
16 In an inviting tone, Jehovah continues: “Come near to me, you people. Hear this. From the start I have spoken in no place of concealment at all. From the time of its occurring I have been there.” (Isaiah 48:16a) Predictions from Jehovah have not been given in secrecy or made known only to a few initiates. Jehovah’s prophets were forthright speakers on behalf of God. (Isaiah 61:1) They publicly declared the will of God. For example, events connected with Cyrus were not new to God or unforeseen by him. Some 200 years in advance, God openly foretold them through Isaiah.
17 In the same way today, Jehovah is not secretive about his purposes. Millions of people in hundreds of lands and islands of the sea proclaim from house to house, on the streets, and wherever else they can the warning of the coming end of this system of things and the good news of blessings to come under God’s Kingdom. Truly, Jehovah is a God who communicates his purposes.
“Pay Attention to My Commandments!”
18. What is Jehovah’s desire for his people?
18 Empowered by Jehovah’s spirit, the prophet declares: “The Sovereign Lord Jehovah himself has sent me, even his spirit. This is what Jehovah has said, your Repurchaser, the Holy One of Israel: ‘I, Jehovah, am your God, the One teaching you to benefit yourself, the One causing you to tread in the way in which you should walk.’” (Isaiah 48:16b, 17) This loving expression of Jehovah’s care should reassure the nation of Israel that God is going to deliver them from Babylon. He is their Repurchaser. (Isaiah 54:5) Jehovah’s heartfelt desire is that the Israelites restore their relationship with him and pay attention to his commandments. True worship is based upon obeying divine instructions. The Israelites are unable to walk in the right way unless they are taught ‘the way in which to walk.’
19. What heartfelt appeal does Jehovah make?
19 Jehovah’s desire that his people avoid calamity and enjoy life is beautifully expressed: “O if only you would actually pay attention to my commandments! Then your peace would become just like a river, and your righteousness like the waves of the sea.” (Isaiah 48:18) What a heartfelt appeal from the almighty Creator! (Deuteronomy 5:29; Psalm 81:13) Instead of going into captivity, the Israelites can enjoy peace that will be as bountiful as the water flowing in a river. (Psalm 119:165) Their deeds of righteousness can be as innumerable as the waves of the sea. (Amos 5:24) As the one really interested in them, Jehovah appeals to the Israelites, lovingly showing them the way in which they should walk. Oh, if only they will listen!
20. (a) What is God’s desire for Israel despite their rebelliousness? (b) What do we learn about Jehovah from his dealings with his people? (See box on page 133.)
20 What blessings would come if Israel would repent? Jehovah says: “Your offspring would become just like the sand, and the descendants from your inward parts like the grains of it. One’s name would not be cut off or be annihilated from before me.” (Isaiah 48:19) Jehovah reminds the people of his promise that Abraham’s seed would become many, “like the stars of the heavens and like the grains of sand that are on the seashore.” (Genesis 22:17; 32:12) However, these descendants of Abraham have been rebellious, and they do not have the right to receive the fulfillment of the promise. Really, their record has been so bad that by Jehovah’s own Law, they deserve to have their name as a nation cut off. (Deuteronomy 28:45) Still, Jehovah does not desire the annihilation of his people, and he does not want to forsake them utterly.
21. What blessings can we experience today if we seek Jehovah’s instruction?
21 The principles embodied in this powerful passage apply to Jehovah’s worshipers today. Jehovah is the Source of life, and he knows better than anyone how we should use our lives. (Psalm 36:9) He has given us guidelines, not to rob us of enjoyment, but to benefit us. True Christians respond by seeking to be instructed by Jehovah. (Micah 4:2) His directives protect our spirituality and our relationship with him, and they shield us from Satan’s corrupting influence. When we appreciate the principles behind God’s laws, we see that Jehovah teaches us for our good. We realize that “his commandments are not burdensome.” And we will not be cut off.—1 John 2:17; 5:3.
‘Go Forth Out of Babylon!’
22. What are faithful Jews urged to do, and what assurances are they given?
22 When Babylon falls, will any Jews manifest the right heart condition? Will they take advantage of God’s deliverance, return to their homeland, and restore pure worship? Yes. Jehovah’s next words show his confidence that this will happen. “Go forth, you people, out of Babylon! Run away from the Chaldeans. Tell forth even with the sound of a joyful cry, cause this to be heard. Make it to go forth to the extremity of the earth. Say: ‘Jehovah has repurchased his servant Jacob. And they did not get thirsty when he was making them walk even through devastated places. Water out of the rock he caused to flow forth for them, and he proceeded to split a rock that the water might stream forth.’” (Isaiah 48:20, 21) Jehovah’s people are prophetically urged to depart from Babylon without delay. (Jeremiah 50:8) Their redemption must be made known to the very ends of the earth. (Jeremiah 31:10) After the Exodus from Egypt, Jehovah provided for the needs of his people as they walked through the desert lands. Similarly, he will provide for his people as they make their way home from Babylon.—Deuteronomy 8:15, 16.
23. Who will not enjoy God-given peace?
23 There is another vital principle that the Jews must bear in mind regarding Jehovah’s saving deeds. The righteously inclined may suffer because of their sins, but they will not be destroyed. It is different, though, for the unrighteous. “‘There is no peace,’ Jehovah has said, ‘for the wicked ones.’” (Isaiah 48:22) Unrepentant sinners will not receive the peace that God has reserved for those who love him. Acts of salvation are not intended for the stubbornly wicked or the unbelieving. Such acts are only for those who have faith. (Titus 1:15, 16; Revelation 22:14, 15) Peace from God is not the possession of the wicked.
24. What brought rejoicing to God’s people in modern times?
24 In 537 B.C.E., the opportunity to leave Babylon brought great joy to faithful Israelites. In 1919 the release of God’s people from Babylonish captivity led to rejoicing on their part. (Revelation 11:11, 12) They were filled with hope, and they seized the opportunity to expand their activity. True, it required courage for that little band of Christians to take advantage of the new possibilities of preaching in a hostile world. But with Jehovah’s help, they got down to the work of preaching the good news. History testifies that Jehovah blessed them.
25. Why is it important to pay close attention to God’s righteous decrees?
25 This part of Isaiah’s prophecy stresses that Jehovah teaches us for our good. It is very important to pay close attention to God’s righteous decrees. (Revelation 15:2-4) If we remind ourselves of God’s wisdom and love, it will help us to conform to what Jehovah says is right. All his commands are for our benefit.—Isaiah 48:17, 18.
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Almighty God Restrains Himself
“I shall check my anger . . . I shall restrain myself,” Jehovah told the apostate Israelites. (Isaiah 48:9) Such statements help us see that God sets a perfect example in never abusing power. It is true that no one has greater power than God. That is why we refer to him as the all-powerful One, the omnipotent One. He rightly applies the title “Almighty” to himself. (Genesis 17:1) Not only does he have unlimited strength but he has all authority because of his position as the Sovereign Lord of the universe, which he created. That is why no one can presume to check his hand or say to him, “What have you been doing?”—Daniel 4:35.
God is slow to anger, however, even when there is a need to express his power against his enemies. (Nahum 1:3) Jehovah can ‘check his anger’ and is correctly described as being “slow to anger” because love—not anger—is his dominant quality. His anger, when expressed, is always righteous, always justified, always controlled.—Exodus 34:6; 1 John 4:8.
Why does Jehovah act this way? Because he balances his almighty power perfectly with his three other cardinal attributes—wisdom, justice, and love. His use of power is always consistent with these other qualities.
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Isaiah’s message of restoration provides a ray of hope for faithful Jews in exile
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The Jews had a tendency to attribute Jehovah’s acts to idols
1. Ishtar 2. A glazed brick frieze from Babylon’s Processional Way 3. Dragon symbol of Marduk
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A “furnace of affliction” can reveal whether or not our motives for serving Jehovah are pure
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True Christians have faced the most vicious forms of persecution