1. How did those in Jerusalem in Zephaniah’s day feel about Jehovah’s standards?
“JEHOVAH will not do good, and he will not do bad.” That is how people in Jerusalem felt in Zephaniah’s day. They reasoned that Jehovah did not expect them to live up to any particular standards. Zephaniah said that they were “congealing upon their dregs,” the particles that settle to the bottom of stored wine. He meant that the people wanted to be settled in their comfortable way of life, undisturbed by any declaration of divine intervention in their affairs. Yet, God told those Jews that he would “carefully search Jerusalem with lamps” and “give attention to” those who ignored his standards. Yes, Jehovah has standards, and he cares how his people view them.—Zephaniah 1:12.
2. Where you live, what is the general attitude toward having standards?
2 Today, too, many people loathe the thought of conforming to standards. You may hear them say, “Just do as you please!” Some reason, ‘If I don’t have enough money or can’t satisfy my desires, it’s OK to do whatever I need to do to change that.’ They pay little heed to how God feels or what he may require of them. What about you? Does the Creator’s setting of standards sound appealing to you?
3, 4. Why do you appreciate having standards?
3 Many who reject the idea of having to live up to God’s standards readily accept man’s standards in various aspects of life. For example, what about the quality of water? Most governments set standards for the quality of water that they want to be available. But what if the standards are too low? That may cause diarrhea and other waterborne diseases, with children being especially affected. More likely, though, you are benefiting from the high standards set for drinking water. “If there were no standards, we would soon notice,” says the International Organization for Standardization. “We are usually unaware of the role played by standards in raising levels of quality, safety, reliability, efficiency and interchangeability—as well as in providing such benefits at an economical cost.”
4 If you agree that there is value in having standards in various aspects of life, is it not reasonable to expect God to have high standards for the people called by his name?—Acts 15:14.
ARE DIVINE STANDARDS REASONABLE?
5. How did Jehovah demonstrate through Amos the importance of meeting His standards?
5 When you are building a house, standards are important. If one wall is not vertical, the entire building may tilt. Or gaps between the walls may make the house uninhabitable. That was the idea of a vision that Amos, prophesying in the ninth century B.C.E., had regarding the condition of the ten-tribe nation of Israel. He saw Jehovah stationed on a wall with “a plummet in his hand.” God said: “Here I am setting a plummet in the midst of my people Israel. I shall no more do any further excusing of it.” (Amos 7:7, 8) A plummet is a weight that hangs on a cord; it is used to determine vertical accuracy. The figurative wall on which Amos saw Jehovah standing was “made with a plummet.” That wall stood upright, or plumb. However, by Amos’ day the Israelites no longer met the test of spiritual uprightness—they were like a tilting wall that needed to be torn down before it fell.
6. (a) What is a key idea in the writings of the 12 prophets? (b) What basis do you have for saying that God’s standards are reasonable?
6 As you study the 12 prophets, you will find this recurring point: It is vital to conform to God’s standards. The messages in those books were not all denunciations of a people not measuring up to God’s high standards. At times, when he examined them, Jehovah determined that his people did meet his standards. That they could do so bears out that his standards are reasonable; it is possible for imperfect humans like us to meet them. Consider an example.
7. How does Zechariah help us to see that it is possible for imperfect humans to meet Jehovah’s standards?
7 After the repatriated Jews laid the temple foundation, their rebuilding work ground to a halt. So God sent his prophets Haggai and Zechariah to encourage the people to resume the project. In one vision to Zechariah, Jehovah described Zerubbabel, governor of Judah, as having “the plummet in [his] hand” when he placed the headstone that gave the temple its finishing touch. The temple was built in harmony with divine standards. (Zechariah 4:10) But consider this interesting detail concerning the completed temple: “These seven are the eyes of Jehovah. They are roving about in all the earth.” God saw Zerubbabel put the headstone in place, and with all-perceiving eyes, He saw that the rebuilt temple withstood His scrutiny, met His standards! The point is that even though Jehovah has high standards, humans can meet them. With encouragement from Haggai and Zechariah, Zerubbabel and his people had done so. Like Zerubbabel, you too can live up to God’s expectations. How reassuring it is to know that!
WHY ACCEPT JEHOVAH’S STANDARDS?
8, 9. (a) Why is it appropriate for Jehovah to set standards for humans? (b) Why was it fitting that God required the Israelites to keep his commandments?
8 As the Creator, God has the right to set standards for mankind and to expect us to observe them. (Revelation 4:11) Jehovah does not have to spell out everything, for he gave humans a conscience as a valuable guide. (Romans 2:14, 15) God did tell the first humans not to eat from “the tree of the knowledge of good and bad,” which represented God’s right to set standards of good and bad. You are familiar with what happened. (Genesis 2:17; 3:1-19) Alluding to the wrong choice that Adam had made, Hosea wrote: “[The Israelites] themselves, like earthling man, have overstepped the covenant.” (Hosea 6:7) Thus Hosea shows the deliberate nature of the Israelites’ sin.
9 What was that sin? “They have broken the [Law] covenant.” (New International Version) By rescuing his people out of Egypt, God became their owner and clearly had the right to set standards for them. The Israelites accepted the covenant with Jehovah, thus agreeing to live according to those standards. (Exodus 24:3; Isaiah 54:5) Still, many of them failed to practice the Law. They became guilty of bloodshed, murder, and fornication.—Hosea 6:8-10.
10. How did God try to help those who failed to measure up to his standards?
10 Jehovah sent prophets like Hosea to help His dedicated people. At the conclusion of his prophetic book, Hosea declared: “Who is wise, that he may understand these things? Discreet, that he may know them? For the ways of Jehovah are upright, and the righteous are the ones who will walk in them; but the transgressors are the ones who will stumble in them.” (Hosea 14:9) Earlier in Hosea chapter 14, we find that the prophet highlighted the need to return to Jehovah. The wise ones would understand that Jehovah outlined upright ways in which his people should walk. As a dedicated servant of God, you no doubt sincerely desire to remain as such, walking in the ways of Jehovah.
11. Why do you want to keep God’s commandments?
11 Hosea 14:9 also turns our attention to the positive aspects of observing an upright course. Blessings and benefits come from measuring up to God’s requirements. As the Creator, he knows our makeup. What he expects of us is for our good. To illustrate the relationship between us and God, we might think of an automobile and its manufacturer. The maker knows how the auto is designed and put together. He knows that the car requires an oil change every so often. What would happen if you ignored that standard, perhaps reasoning that the car is running well? Much sooner than might otherwise be so, the engine would deteriorate and fail. The same is true of humans. Our Creator has given us commandments. Keeping them is for our benefit. (Isaiah 48:17, 18) Appreciating that we do benefit gives us additional reason to live up to his standards, to keep his commandments.—Psalm 112:1.
12. How can walking in God’s name strengthen our bond with him?
12 The greatest reward for observing God’s commandments is having a stronger bond with God. When we live by his standards and see how reasonable and beneficial they are, our affection for their Author deepens. The prophet Micah beautifully depicted that deepened relationship: “All the peoples, for their part, will walk each one in the name of its god; but we, for our part, shall walk in the name of Jehovah our God to time indefinite, even forever.” (Micah 4:5) What a privilege we have to walk in the name of Jehovah, supporting his reputation and recognizing his authority in our life! As a natural consequence, we want to reflect his qualities. Individually, let us work to strengthen our bond with God.—Psalm 9:10.
13. Why is fearing God’s name not negative or bad?
13 Those who live up to God’s standards and walk in the divine name are said to fear God’s name. That is not negative or bad. Jehovah assures such ones: “To you who are in fear of my name the sun of righteousness will certainly shine forth, with healing in its wings; and you will actually go forth and paw the ground like fattened calves.” (Malachi 4:2) In the fulfillment of this prophecy, “the sun of righteousness” is Jesus Christ. (Revelation 1:16) He shines forth now with spiritual healing and, in time, will shine forth with physical healing for mankind. The joy of the healed ones is likened to that of fattened calves that “go forth and paw the ground,” excited and delighted to be free. Have you not already experienced a large measure of such liberation?—John 8:32.
14, 15. In what ways do you benefit from adhering to Jehovah’s standards?
14 Another way that you can benefit from adhering to God’s standards is in improved relations with fellow humans. Habakkuk declared five woes—against those who coveted, those who went after dishonest gain, those who shed blood, those who schemed to commit sexual wrongs, and those who worshipped idols. (Habakkuk 2:6-19) The fact that Jehovah declared these woes shows clearly that he has set standards as to how we should live our life. But note this point: Four of the wrongs mentioned have to do with how we treat our fellow man. If we cultivate God’s view, we will not harm our neighbors. Thus, our relationship with most of them should improve.
15 A third way that we benefit involves family happiness. People today often view divorce as the ultimate solution to marital discord. Yet, through the mouth of the prophet Malachi, Jehovah stated: “He has hated a divorcing.” (Malachi 2:16) We will consider Malachi 2:16 in more detail later, but at this point note from it that God has wisely set standards to be observed by members of the family; to the extent that they do so, peace will prevail. (Ephesians 5:28, 33; 6:1-4) Admittedly, we are all imperfect, so problems will arise. Yet, in the book of Hosea, the One “to whom every family in heaven and on earth owes its name” gave an object lesson that reveals how to solve even some extreme marital problems. That too we will examine in a later chapter of this book. (Ephesians 3:15) Let us now see what else is involved in observing God’s standards.
“HATE WHAT IS BAD, AND LOVE WHAT IS GOOD”
16. How does Amos 5:15 relate to God’s standards?
16 The first man, Adam, made a foolish choice as to whose standards of good and bad were best. Will we choose more wisely? Amos admonished us to have strong feelings about this, urging: “Hate what is bad, and love what is good.” (Amos 5:15) William Rainey Harper, late professor of Semitic languages and literatures at the University of Chicago, noted about this verse: “The standard of good and evil, in [Amos’] mind, is conformity with Yahweh’s will.” This is a central concept that we can learn from the 12 prophets. Are we willing to accept Jehovah’s standards of good and bad? Those high standards are revealed to us in the Bible and explained by mature, experienced Christians who make up “the faithful and discreet slave.”—Matthew 24:45-47.
17, 18. (a) Why is it vital to hate what is bad? (b) Illustrate how we can cultivate strong hatred for what is bad.
17 Our hating what is bad helps us to refrain from things that displease God. For example, a man may be aware of the dangers of Internet pornography and try to turn away from viewing it. Yet, how does ‘the man he is inside’ feel about the content of pornographic Web sites? (Ephesians 3:16) By applying the divine exhortation found at Amos 5:15, he will find it easier to cultivate hatred for what is bad. He may thus be victorious in his spiritual struggle.
18 Consider another example. Can you imagine prostrating yourself before idols of sex worship? Just the thought of it is repugnant, is it not? Still, Hosea spoke of the Israelites’ forefathers committing immorality in front of Baal of Peor. (Numbers 25:1-3; Hosea 9:10) Apparently, Hosea mentioned this incident because Baal worship was a major sin of the ten-tribe kingdom of Israel. (2 Kings 17:16-18; Hosea 2:8, 13) We can just imagine the disgusting scene: The Israelites were bending down to idols during sexual orgies. Our knowing how God condemned that can help each one of us to fight against snares that Satan sets via the Internet. Today, many are idolizing beautiful women and handsome men who are featured in popular entertainment. How different, though, for those of us who have learned from the prophets’ warnings about idol worship!
KEEP GOD’S WORD IN MIND
19. What can you learn from Jonah’s actions in the belly of a big fish?
19 As you work at upholding God’s high standards amid temptations and difficulties, you may at times feel incapable or at a loss to know what to do. If your mental or emotional power seems scanty, how can you face a critical situation successfully? (Proverbs 24:10) Well, there is something to learn from Jonah, whom we know was an imperfect man with failings. Recall what he did in the belly of a big fish. He prayed to Jehovah. Notice the content of his prayer.
20. How could you equip yourself to do what Jonah did?
20 When Jonah prayed to God “out of the belly of Sheol,” he used many words and phrases that he was familiar with, words of the psalms. (Jonah 2:2) He was severely distressed and beseeched Jehovah for mercy, yet the words of David came to Jonah’s lips. For example, compare the words of Jonah 2:3, 5 with those of Psalm 69:1, 2.* Is it not clear that Jonah had become acquainted with psalms of David that were available to the prophet? The words and expressions of inspired psalms welled up within him. Jonah had God’s inspired word ‘in his inward parts.’ (Psalm 40:8) If you are confronted with an emotionally draining situation, can you call to mind some appropriate sayings of God? Your now becoming ever more familiar with God’s Word may well prove to be extremely helpful in the future as you face decisions and resolve problems in line with God’s standards.
HAVE A HEALTHY FEAR OF GOD
21. What do you need to cultivate in order to stick to God’s standards?
21 Of course, just having the Word of God in your treasure store is not enough to make you stick to Jehovah’s standards. The prophet Micah gives added insight into what you need in order to apply the Word of God: “The person of practical wisdom will fear your name.” (Micah 6:9) To be a person of practical wisdom, one who can apply in his own life what he knows, you must cultivate fear of God’s name.
22, 23. (a) Why did Jehovah send Haggai to the repatriated Jews? (b) You have what reason for confidence that you will be able to observe God’s standards?
22 How can you learn to fear God’s name? Well, consult the postexilic prophet Haggai. In his very short book, only 38 verses long, he used the name Jehovah 35 times! When Jehovah commissioned Haggai to prophesy, in 520 B.C.E., 16 years had passed with little work done on the rebuilding of the temple in Jerusalem. God’s people had become disheartened because of opposition by their enemies. (Ezra 4:4, 5) The people reasoned that the time to rebuild the temple had not come. Jehovah admonished them: “Set your heart upon your ways. . . . Build the house, that I may take pleasure in it and I may be glorified.”—Haggai 1:2-8.
23 Governor Zerubbabel, High Priest Joshua, and “all the remaining ones of the people began to listen to the voice of Jehovah their God, . . . and the people began to fear because of Jehovah.” At that, God responded: “I am with you people.” What reassurance! With the help of God’s spirit, the people “began to enter in and to do the work in the house of Jehovah.” (Haggai 1:12-14) The healthy fear of displeasing God moved people who had been fainthearted to act despite opposition.
24, 25. Using specific examples, illustrate how you can apply the principles set out in this chapter.
24 How about you? If you realize what the divine standards are in the situation you face, will you have the courage needed to fear Jehovah instead of men? Perhaps you are a young woman, and on the job, there is a man who does not share your godly principles. Still, he is kind and attentive. Will a scripture come to mind, reminding you of Jehovah’s standards and the dangers of ignoring them? What about Hosea 4:11? “Fornication and wine and sweet wine are what take away good motive.” Combined with that, will your fear of God move you to stick to his standard and say no if that man invites you to some social event? If he starts to flirt, fear of displeasing your loving God can help you to ‘take to flight.’—Genesis 39:12; Jeremiah 17:9.
25 Now let us return to the example of a man trying to resist the pull of Internet pornography. Will he recall the words of Psalm 119:37, which are in the form of a prayer? “Make my eyes pass on from seeing what is worthless.” And will he mentally review Jesus’ words in the Sermon on the Mount? “Everyone that keeps on looking at a woman so as to have a passion for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” (Matthew 5:28) Having fear of Jehovah and the desire to live up to his standards should move a Christian to turn away from what can corrupt. Whenever you are tempted to think or act contrary to God’s standards, try to cultivate increased godly fear. And bear in mind what Jehovah tells you through Haggai: “I am with you.”
26. What will we yet consider?
26 Yes, you can serve Jehovah according to his high standards and be benefited in doing so. As you continue to examine the 12 prophetic books, God’s standards, or what he requires of each of us, will become ever clearer. The next section of this book will take up three major areas in which Jehovah sets admirable standards: our conduct, our dealings with others, and our family life.