Foreigners Gathered to God’s House of Prayer
1, 2. What thrilling announcement was made in 1935, and of what was this a part?
ON FRIDAY, May 31, 1935, Joseph F. Rutherford addressed a convention crowd in Washington, D.C. He discussed the identity of the “great crowd,” or “great multitude,” seen in vision by the apostle John. At the climax of Brother Rutherford’s talk, he asked: “Will all those who have the hope of living forever on the earth please stand?” According to one of those attending, “over half of the audience stood.” Then the speaker said: “Behold! The great multitude!” Another who was present recalls: “There was at first a hush, then a gladsome cry, and the cheering was loud and long.”—Revelation 7:9; King James Version.
2 That was an outstanding moment in the ongoing fulfillment of a prophecy written down some 2,700 years earlier and appearing in our Bibles as Isaiah chapter 56. As with many other prophecies in Isaiah, this one contains both comforting promises and stern warnings. In the first application, it is addressed to God’s covenant people of Isaiah’s own day, but its fulfillment extends over the centuries to our day.
What Salvation Requires
3. If the Jews seek salvation from God, what must they do?
3 Isaiah chapter 56 begins with admonition to the Jews. However, all true worshipers should take heed of what the prophet writes. We read: “This is what Jehovah has said: ‘Keep justice, you people, and do what is righteous. For my salvation is at hand to come in, and my righteousness to be revealed. Happy is the mortal man that does this, and the son of mankind that lays hold of it, keeping the sabbath in order not to profane it, and keeping his hand in order not to do any kind of badness.’” (Isaiah 56:1, 2) The inhabitants of Judah who seek salvation from God must obey the Mosaic Law, observing justice and leading righteous lives. Why? Because Jehovah himself is righteous. Those who pursue righteousness enjoy the happiness that comes from having Jehovah’s favor.—Psalm 144:15b.
4. Why is Sabbath observance of importance in Israel?
4 The prophecy highlights Sabbath observance because the Sabbath is an important feature of the Mosaic Law. Indeed, one of the reasons why the inhabitants of Judah eventually go into exile is their neglect of the Sabbath. (Leviticus 26:34, 35; 2 Chronicles 36:20, 21) The Sabbath is a sign of the special relationship Jehovah has with the Jews, and those who observe the Sabbath show that they value that relationship. (Exodus 31:13) Further, observing the Sabbath would remind Isaiah’s contemporaries that Jehovah is the Creator. Such observance would also bring to mind his mercies toward them. (Exodus 20:8-11; Deuteronomy 5:12-15) Finally, keeping the Sabbath would provide a regular, structured arrangement for worshiping Jehovah. Resting once a week from their regular work would give the inhabitants of Judah opportunity for prayer, study, and meditation.
5. In principle, how can Christians apply the counsel to keep the Sabbath?
5 What, though, of Christians? Does the encouragement to observe the Sabbath apply to them? Not directly, since Christians are not under the Law and are therefore not required to observe the Sabbath. (Colossians 2:16, 17) Still, the apostle Paul explained that there is “a sabbath resting” for faithful Christians. This “sabbath resting” involves having faith in Jesus’ ransom sacrifice for salvation and ceasing to rely on works alone. (Hebrews 4:6-10) Hence, the words of Isaiah’s prophecy regarding the Sabbath remind Jehovah’s servants today of the vital need to have faith in God’s arrangement for salvation. It is also a fine reminder of the need to cultivate a close relationship with Jehovah and to pursue a course of regular, consistent worship.
Comfort for the Foreigner and the Eunuch
6. What two groups now receive attention?
6 Jehovah now addresses two groups who want to serve him but who under the Mosaic Law are disqualified from coming into the Jewish congregation. We read: “Let not the foreigner that has joined himself to Jehovah say, ‘Without doubt Jehovah will divide me off from his people.’ Neither let the eunuch say, ‘Look! I am a dry tree.’” (Isaiah 56:3) The foreigner’s fear is that he will be cut off from Israel. The eunuch’s concern is that he will never have children to preserve his name. Both groups should take courage. Before we see why, let us consider what standing they have under the Law in relation to the nation of Israel.
7. What limits does the Law put on foreigners in Israel?
7 Uncircumcised foreigners are excluded from sharing in worship with Israel. For example, they are not allowed to partake of the Passover. (Exodus 12:43) Foreigners who do not flagrantly break the laws of the land enjoy justice and hospitality, but they have no permanent ties with the nation. Of course, some fully embrace the Law, and as a sign of this, the men get circumcised. Then they are proselytes, privileged to worship in the courtyard of Jehovah’s house and considered a part of the congregation of Israel. (Leviticus 17:10-14; 20:2; 24:22) However, even proselytes are not full participants in Jehovah’s covenant with Israel, and they have no land inheritance in the Promised Land. Other foreigners may turn to the temple in prayer, and evidently they may offer sacrifices through the priesthood as long as the sacrifices conform to the Law. (Leviticus 22:25; 1 Kings 8:41-43) But Israelites are not to associate closely with them.
Eunuchs Receive a Name to Time Indefinite
8. (a) Under the Law, how were eunuchs viewed? (b) How were eunuchs used in pagan nations, and to what can the term “eunuch” sometimes refer?
8 Eunuchs, even if they are born of Jewish parents, are denied full membership of the nation of Israel.a (Deuteronomy 23:1) Among some pagan nations of Bible times, eunuchs had a special place and it was the custom to castrate some of the children taken captive in war. Eunuchs were appointed as officials in the royal courts. A eunuch might be a “guardian of the women,” a “guardian of the concubines,” or an attendant of the queen. (Esther 2:3, 12-15; 4:4-6, 9) There is no evidence that the Israelites followed such practices or that eunuchs were specially sought out for employment in the service of Israelite kings.b
9. What consoling words does Jehovah address to physical eunuchs?
9 In addition to being able to share in only a limited way in the worship of the true God, physical eunuchs in Israel suffer the great humiliation of being unable to father children to carry on their family name. How comforting, then, are the next words of the prophecy! We read: “This is what Jehovah has said to the eunuchs that keep my sabbaths and that have chosen what I have delighted in and that are laying hold of my covenant: ‘I will even give to them in my house and within my walls a monument and a name, something better than sons and daughters. A name to time indefinite I shall give them, one that will not be cut off.’”—Isaiah 56:4, 5.
10. When did the situation of eunuchs change, and what privilege has been open to them since then?
10 Yes, the time will come when being even a physical eunuch will no longer be an impediment to being fully accepted as Jehovah’s servant. If obedient, eunuchs will have “a monument,” or a place, in Jehovah’s house and a name, better than sons and daughters. When does this happen? Not until after the death of Jesus Christ. At that time the old Law covenant was replaced by the new covenant, and fleshly Israel was replaced by “the Israel of God.” (Galatians 6:16) Since then, all of those exercising faith have been able to render acceptable worship to God. Fleshly distinctions and physical condition no longer count. Those who endure faithfully, whatever their physical state, will have “a name to time indefinite . . . one that will not be cut off.” Jehovah will not forget them. Their names will be written in his “book of remembrance,” and in God’s due time, they will receive life everlasting.—Malachi 3:16; Proverbs 22:1; 1 John 2:17.
Foreigners Worship With God’s People
11. To receive blessings, what are foreigners encouraged to do?
11 What, though, of the foreigners? The prophecy now returns to these, and Jehovah has words of great comfort for them. Isaiah writes: “The foreigners that have joined themselves to Jehovah to minister to him and to love the name of Jehovah, in order to become servants to him, all those keeping the sabbath in order not to profane it and laying hold of my covenant, I will also bring them to my holy mountain and make them rejoice inside my house of prayer. Their whole burnt offerings and their sacrifices will be for acceptance upon my altar. For my own house will be called even a house of prayer for all the peoples.”—Isaiah 56:6, 7.
12. What was the understanding once held regarding Jesus’ prophecy of the “other sheep”?
12 In our time “the foreigners” have made their appearance gradually. Before the first world war, it was understood that a greater number of individuals would receive salvation than the number of those with the hope of ruling in heaven with Jesus—the ones we recognize today as the Israel of God. Bible students were aware of Jesus’ words recorded at John 10:16: “I have other sheep, which are not of this fold; those also I must bring, and they will listen to my voice, and they will become one flock, one shepherd.” These “other sheep” were understood to be an earthly class. But most Bible Students believed that the other sheep would make their appearance during the Millennial Reign of Jesus Christ.
13. Why was it reasoned that the sheep of Matthew chapter 25 must appear during the concluding days of this system of things?
13 Eventually, progress was made in the understanding of a related scripture that speaks of sheep. In Matthew chapter 25, there is a record of Jesus’ parable of the sheep and the goats. According to that parable, the sheep receive everlasting life because they support Jesus’ brothers. Hence, they are a class separate and distinct from the anointed brothers of Christ. In 1923, during a convention in Los Angeles, California, U.S.A., it was explained that those sheep must make their appearance, not during the Millennium, but during the concluding days of this system of things. Why? Because Jesus gave the parable as part of his answer to the question: “When will these things be, and what will be the sign of your presence and of the conclusion of the system of things?”—Matthew 24:3.
14, 15. How was progress made in understanding the position of the other sheep in the time of the end?
14 During the 1920’s, some individuals who were associated with the Bible Students came to feel that Jehovah’s spirit was not witnessing to them that they had a heavenly calling. Yet, they were zealous servants of the Most High God. In 1931 the position of these was better understood when the book Vindication was published. As part of a verse-by-verse discussion of the Bible book of Ezekiel, Vindication explained the vision of “the man” with the writer’s inkhorn. (Ezekiel 9:1-11) This “man” is seen going through Jerusalem and marking the foreheads of those sighing and crying over the abominations being committed there. “The man” represents Jesus’ brothers, the remnant of anointed Christians alive on earth during the time of judgment of antitypical Jerusalem, Christendom. Those marked are the other sheep living during that time. In the vision they are spared when Jehovah’s executioners bring vengeance on that apostate city.
15 In 1932 a deeper understanding of the prophetic drama of King Jehu of Israel and Jehonadab, a non-Israelite supporter, indicated how these other sheep act in support of Christ’s anointed brothers—just as Jehonadab went along and supported Jehu in his destruction of Baal worship. Finally, in 1935 the other sheep living during the time of the end of this system of things were recognized as being the great crowd seen in vision by the apostle John. This was first explained at the aforementioned convention in Washington, D.C., when Joseph F. Rutherford pointed to those with an earthly hope as “the great multitude.”
16. What privileges and responsibilities do “the foreigners” enjoy?
16 Thus it was gradually seen that “the foreigners” have a large part to play in Jehovah’s purposes during these last days. They come to the Israel of God in order to worship Jehovah. (Zechariah 8:23) With that spiritual nation, they offer acceptable sacrifices to God and enter into the sabbath resting. (Hebrews 13:15, 16) Moreover, they worship at God’s spiritual temple, which, like the temple at Jerusalem, is “a house of prayer for all the nations.” (Mark 11:17) They exercise faith in the ransom sacrifice of Jesus Christ, ‘washing their robes and making them white in the blood of the Lamb.’ And they serve Jehovah constantly, “rendering him sacred service day and night.”—Revelation 7:14, 15.
17. How do the modern-day foreigners lay hold of the new covenant?
17 These modern-day foreigners lay hold of the new covenant in the sense that by associating with the Israel of God, they enjoy benefits and blessings that come through the new covenant. While they are not participants in that covenant, they submit wholeheartedly to the laws associated with it. Thus Jehovah’s law is within their hearts, and they come to know Jehovah as their heavenly Father and the supreme Sovereign.—Jeremiah 31:33, 34; Matthew 6:9; John 17:3.
18. What gathering work is being accomplished during the time of the end?
18 Isaiah’s prophecy continues: “The utterance of the Sovereign Lord Jehovah, who is collecting together the dispersed ones of Israel, is: ‘I shall collect together to him others besides those already collected together of his.’” (Isaiah 56:8) During the time of the end, Jehovah has collected “the dispersed ones of Israel,” those of the anointed remnant. In addition, he is collecting others, those of the great crowd. Together they worship in peace and harmony under the oversight of Jehovah and his enthroned King, Christ Jesus. Because of their loyalty to Jehovah’s government by Christ, the Fine Shepherd has made them into a united, joyful flock.
Blind Watchmen, Voiceless Dogs
19. What invitation is extended to the wild animals of field and forest?
19 The foregoing warm, upbuilding words are followed by a striking, almost shocking, contrast. Jehovah is prepared to act with mercy toward foreigners and eunuchs. But many who claim to be members of God’s congregation are condemned and are in line for judgment. More than that, they are not even deserving of a decent burial and are fit only to be devoured by ravenous beasts. Thus, we read: “All you wild animals of the open field, come to eat, all you wild animals in the forest.” (Isaiah 56:9) What are these wild animals going to feast on? The prophecy will explain. In doing so, it may remind us of the fate awaiting those who oppose God at the coming war of Armageddon, whose slain bodies are left for the birds of heaven to devour.—Revelation 19:17, 18.
20, 21. What failings make the religious leaders useless as spiritual guides?
20 The prophecy continues: “His watchmen are blind. None of them have taken note. All of them are speechless dogs; they are not able to bark, panting, lying down, loving to slumber. They are even dogs strong in soulful desire; they have known no satisfaction. They are also shepherds that have not known how to understand. They have all of them turned to their own way, each one for his unjust gain from his own border: ‘Come, men! Let me take some wine; and let us drink intoxicating liquor to the limit. And tomorrow will certainly turn out just as today, great in a very much larger way.’”—Isaiah 56:10-12.
21 The religious leaders of Judah profess to worship Jehovah. They claim to be “his watchmen.” But they are spiritually blind, voiceless, and sleepy. If they cannot keep on the watch and sound the warning of danger, what good are they? Such religious watchmen are without understanding, in no position to give spiritual direction to sheeplike people. Moreover, they are corrupt. They have insatiable selfish desires. Instead of following Jehovah’s direction, they seek their own way, pursue unjust gain, overindulge in intoxicating liquor, and encourage others to do the same. So oblivious are they of God’s impending judgment that they tell people that things will be fine.
22. How are the religious leaders of Jesus’ day like those of ancient Judah?
22 Earlier in his prophecy, Isaiah used similar imagery to describe the unfaithful religious leaders of Judah—spiritually drunk, drowsy, and lacking in understanding. They burdened the people with traditions of men, spoke religious lies, and trusted in Assyria for help rather than looking to God. (2 Kings 16:5-9; Isaiah 29:1, 9-14) They have clearly learned nothing. Sadly, the same sort of leaders were present in the first century. Instead of embracing the good news brought to them by God’s own Son, they rejected Jesus and conspired to have him put to death. Jesus frankly called them “blind guides,” adding that if “a blind man guides a blind man, both will fall into a pit.”—Matthew 15:14.
Watchmen of Today
23. What prophecy of Peter regarding religious leaders has been fulfilled?
23 The apostle Peter warned that false teachers would also rise up to mislead Christians. He wrote: “There also came to be false prophets among the people [of Israel], as there will also be false teachers among you. These very ones will quietly bring in destructive sects and will disown even the owner that bought them, bringing speedy destruction upon themselves.” (2 Peter 2:1) What has been the result of the false teachings and sectarianism of such false teachers? Christendom, whose religious leaders today pray for God’s blessing on their political friends and then promise a bright future. Christendom’s religious leaders have proved to be blind, voiceless, and asleep with regard to spiritual things.
24. What unity exists between spiritual Israel and the foreigners?
24 However, Jehovah is bringing millions of foreigners to worship with the last ones of the Israel of God in his great spiritual house of prayer. These foreigners, although from many nations, races, and languages, are at unity with one another and with the Israel of God. They are convinced that salvation can come only from Jehovah God through Jesus Christ. Motivated by love for Jehovah, they join Christ’s anointed brothers in giving voice to their faith. And they are deeply comforted by the words of the inspired apostle who wrote: “If you publicly declare that ‘word in your own mouth,’ that Jesus is Lord, and exercise faith in your heart that God raised him up from the dead, you will be saved.”—Romans 10:9.
a The term “eunuch” also came to refer to a court official, without reference to sexual mutilation. Since the Ethiopian baptized by Philip appears to have been a proselyte—he was baptized before the way was opened to uncircumcised non-Jews—he must have been a eunuch in this sense.—Acts 8:27-39.
b Ebed-melech, who came to Jeremiah’s aid and who had direct access to King Zedekiah, is called a eunuch. This would appear to have reference to his being a court official rather than his being physically mutilated.—Jeremiah 38:7-13.
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The Sabbath would provide opportunity for prayer, study, and meditation
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The position of the other sheep was clearly explained at a convention in Washington, D.C., in 1935 (baptism pictured below, program right)
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The wild animals are invited to come to feast
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The foreigners and the Israel of God are at unity with one another