1. Why do Jehovah’s Witnesses in general enjoy a happy family life?
JEHOVAH’S WITNESSES are well-known for enjoying a happy family life. Professor Bryan Wilson of Oxford University wrote: “The Witnesses offer a wide range of practical advice . . . on marital relations, moral issues, the rearing of children, and other practical matters. [They] have a great deal to offer by way of firm advice substantiated in Holy Writ and integrated into a coherent philosophy of life.” Undoubtedly, you have personally learned much from God’s Word about how to enjoy a wholesome family life.
2. (a) What have you observed about families in the world today? (b) In which books of the Bible are we going to look for some guidance about family life?
2 As the day of Jehovah draws near, Satan is attacking families in particular. Hence, many people have lost trust in members of their own family, as was so in the days of Micah. He wrote: “Do not put your faith in a companion. . . . From her who is lying in your bosom guard the openings of your mouth. For a son is despising a father; a daughter is rising up against her mother; a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law; a man’s enemies are the men of his household.” (Micah 7:5, 6) You live in a world where the family arrangement has deteriorated, yet you have fought hard against being negatively influenced. Thus, your family life has been rendered more pleasant, more pleasing to God. Likely, you have applied such texts as Deuteronomy 6:5-9; Ephesians 5:22–6:4; and Colossians 3:18-21. Have you ever, though, viewed the books of the 12 prophets as a source of counsel on happy family life? In this chapter, we will note a few examples of such counsel in these books. But do not stop at just considering those specific points of counsel. Seek to discern from these examples a basic approach that you can use in drawing other lessons from these books. At the end of this chapter, some texts are cited that will give you practice in doing that, drawing lessons from those 12 books.
“HE HAS HATED A DIVORCING”
3, 4. (a) How do many people today try to solve their marital problems? (b) What deplorable attitude toward marriage existed in Malachi’s day?
3 A logical first area of interest is the bond between husband and wife. Until recent times, most people did not consider divorce as an easy solution to marital problems. Obtaining a divorce was usually difficult; in 19th-century England, it required an act of Parliament to obtain a divorce. Such views tended to protect families from disintegrating. Now, though, things are quite different. The Encyclopædia Britannica observes: “Divorce rates have markedly increased in many countries since World War II . . . Attitudes toward divorce have changed dramatically . . . with the general trend toward tolerance of the practice.” Divorce is becoming a social phenomenon even in countries like Korea, where until a decade ago, divorce was frowned upon. Today, people in many lands feel that divorce is a viable option for mates in a troubled marriage.
4 During Malachi’s day in the fifth century B.C.E., divorce was rampant among the Jews. Malachi told them: “Jehovah himself has borne witness between you and the wife of your youth, with whom you yourself have dealt treacherously.” Because of treacherous dealings on the part of husbands, the altar of Jehovah was covered with the tears of betrayed wives, “with weeping and sighing.” And corrupt priests condoned such cruelty!—Malachi 2:13, 14.
5. (a) How does Jehovah view divorce? (b) Why is acting treacherously toward one’s marriage mate so serious?
5 How did Jehovah view the deplorable attitude toward marriage in Malachi’s time? “‘He has hated a divorcing,’ Jehovah the God of Israel has said,” wrote Malachi. He also affirmed that Jehovah ‘has not changed.’ (Malachi 2:16; 3:6) Do you see the point? God had earlier taken a position against divorce. (Genesis 2:18, 24) He did so in Malachi’s day. And he still does today. Some people may decide to walk out of their marriage simply because they are not satisfied with their mate. Treacherous though their heart may be, Jehovah searches through it. (Jeremiah 17:9, 10) He is aware of any deceit or malicious scheming behind a divorce, however one may rationalize it. Yes, “all things are naked and openly exposed to the eyes of him with whom we have an accounting.”—Hebrews 4:13.
6. (a) How can having Jehovah’s view of divorce help you? (b) What was the thrust of Jesus’ advice about divorce?
6 Your marriage may not be facing the crisis of a divorce, yet you do well to keep in mind Jehovah’s view. No one is perfect, so we can expect difficulties and disagreements in marriage. However, would you consider divorce an option, an easy way out? In the heat of a dispute, would you mention the possibility of a divorce? Many have, but the divine view of the marriage bond recommends that people try more seriously to make their marriage work. Granted, Jesus Christ said that there is one legitimate grounds for divorce—fornication, that is, all types of sexual intercourse outside of marriage. Apart from that, what was the thrust of Jesus’ admonition? He told listeners: “What God has yoked together let no man put apart.” Yes, Jesus upheld Jehovah’s unchanging standard, which Malachi had mentioned some 450 years earlier.—Matthew 19:3-9.
7. In harmony with admonition found in the book of Malachi, how can you maintain a strong marriage bond?
7 How, then, can Christian mates maintain a strong bond? Malachi provided this key: “You must guard yourselves respecting your spirit, and you must not deal treacherously.” (Malachi 2:16) That means watching the impelling inclination that we have within ourselves. If we are ‘guarding our spirit,’ we will shun temptations to give undue attention to anyone who is not our spouse. (Matthew 5:28) For example, what if we inwardly enjoy receiving the attentions of or flattery from someone else of the opposite sex? This would mean that we are lowering our guard as respects our spirit. Hence, a key lesson from the 12 prophets that will contribute to our enjoying a strong marriage bond is to give attention to ‘our spirit.’
8, 9. Why was the episode of Hosea and Gomer included in the Bible?
8 No doubt you are determined to keep your marriage intact. Still, you are not immune to problems in married life. How can you best deal with any that arise, especially if you feel that most of the fault lies with your mate? Remember what was mentioned earlier in this book, in Chapters 2 and 4, about Hosea. His wife, Gomer, became “a wife of fornication” and then ‘chased after her passionate lovers.’ Later she was forsaken, becoming impoverished and enslaved. Hosea took Gomer back at a cost, and he was urged to love her. Why? To depict graphically what was taking place between Jehovah and Israel. Jehovah was a “husbandly owner,” and his people were joined to him as a wife.—Hosea 1:2-9; 2:5-7; 3:1-5; Jeremiah 3:14; Isaiah 62:4, 5.
9 From early times, the Israelites hurt Jehovah’s feelings by following after other gods. (Exodus 32:7-10; Judges 8:33; 10:6; Psalm 78:40, 41; Isaiah 63:10) The northern ten-tribe kingdom was especially reprehensible for calf worship. (1 Kings 12:28-30) In addition, the Israelites did not rely on their Husbandly Owner, Jehovah, but, rather, looked to political lovers. At one time, like an obstinate zebra in heat, they went after Assyria. (Hosea 8:9) How would you feel if your mate acted that way?
10, 11. How can you imitate Jehovah if you faced a marital situation in which your mate appeared to be in the wrong?
10 By Hosea’s time, over 700 years had passed since the Israelites had come into a covenant relationship with Jehovah. Nevertheless, God was willing to forgive them, provided that they returned to him. Hosea is thought to have started prophesying before 803 B.C.E., so Jehovah’s forbearance continued for some 60 more years for Israel and almost 200 years for Judah! Using Hosea’s family situation as an illustration, Jehovah was still inviting his covenant people to repent. He had legitimate reasons to terminate his marriage with Israel, yet he kept sending prophets to help his figurative wife come back, even at a cost to himself.—Hosea 14:1, 2; Amos 2:11.
11 If you faced a marital situation in which your mate appeared to be in the wrong, would you react as Jehovah did? Would you initiate efforts to restore your marriage to its former condition? (Colossians 3:12, 13) Doing so requires humility. What a wonderful example Jehovah set in his dealings with the Israelites! (Psalm 18:35; 113:5-8) God ‘spoke to the Israelites’ heart,’ even pleading with them. As imperfect humans, do we not have greater reason to speak to our mate’s heart, striving to resolve problems and overlook mistakes? Significantly, Jehovah’s efforts brought some results. A remnant of the nation opened their heart while in the wilderness of their exile in Babylon, and they later returned to their homeland, calling Jehovah “My husband.”—Hosea 2:14-16.*
12. In what way can your meditating on Jehovah’s handling of his figurative wife benefit your marriage?
12 In the event that a serious problem arises, your genuine efforts to restore your relationship with your mate may well bear fine fruit. God was willing to forgive even the gross sin of spiritual fornication on the part of his figurative mate. Most marital problems among true Christians have not reached such a crisis. Many problems start with harsh or hurtful words. So if your mate’s stabbing words have caused hurt feelings, consider what Hosea, and Jehovah himself, went through. (Proverbs 12:18) Might that not help you to forgive?
13. What lesson can we learn from the fact that Jehovah required repentance on the part of his wayward people?
13 There is yet another aspect of this historical account. Was God willing to restore his relationship with his people while they kept committing fornication? God told Hosea about the adulterous nation: “She should put away her fornication from before herself and her acts of adultery from between her breasts.” (Hosea 2:2) The people needed to repent and “produce fruit that befits repentance.” (Matthew 3:8) In this regard, focus on your own shortcomings rather than those of your mate. If you have wronged your mate, why not seek to restore the relationship by sincerely apologizing and changing your course? You may be rewarded with forgiveness.
“THE CORDS OF LOVE”—A BASIS FOR GIVING DISCIPLINE
14, 15. (a) In view of Malachi 4:1, why should you take seriously the responsibility of teaching your children? (b) How can you help your children get to know Jehovah?
14 Regarding family life, we can learn even more from Jehovah’s dealings with the Israelites as mentioned in the 12 prophets. Those books contain indications as to how to help your children. To say the least, bringing up children today is not easy. Parents must take their responsibility seriously. We read: “‘The day that is coming will certainly devour [people],’ Jehovah of armies has said, ‘so that it will not leave to them either root or bough.’” (Malachi 4:1) In that day of accounting, young children (boughs) will be dealt with justly according to Jehovah’s assessment of their parents (roots), who are responsible for minor children. (Isaiah 37:31) How parents are living may decide the future of their young ones, either for good or for bad. (Hosea 13:16) If you (the root) are not maintaining a good standing with Jehovah, what may happen to your young ones (the boughs) on the day of his fury? (Zephaniah 1:14-18; Ephesians 6:4; Philippians 2:12) Conversely, your faithful efforts to have God’s approval can benefit your young ones.—1 Corinthians 7:14.
15 After quoting Joel’s prophecy regarding the need to call on the name of Jehovah, the apostle Paul wrote: “How will they call on him in whom they have not put faith? How, in turn, will they put faith in him of whom they have not heard?” (Romans 10:14-17; Joel 2:32) Paul was speaking about our public ministry, but you can apply the principle to teaching your children. How can they put faith in Jehovah without hearing about him? Do you spend enough time from day to day teaching your children how good Jehovah is, engendering in them deep love for him and his guidance? It is likely that young ones will thrive if they constantly hear about Jehovah in the family environment.—Deuteronomy 6:7-9.
16. In line with Micah 6:3-5, how can you imitate Jehovah when disciplining your children?
16 When children are very young, it may be relatively easy to get them to Christian meetings. However, as they grow older, they begin to have a mind of their own. How can you deal with your children if occasionally they show rebellious tendencies? You can learn from the 12 prophets, noting how Jehovah dealt with Israel and Judah. (Zechariah 7:11, 12) For example, as you read Micah 6:3-5, consider its tone. The Israelites were in the wrong; still God addressed them as “my people.” He pleaded: “O my people, remember, please.” Instead of harshly accusing them, he tried to reach their hearts. Can you imitate Jehovah even when disciplining your children? However in the wrong they may have been, treat them as an integral part of your family, not addressing them in demeaning terms. Rather than condemning them, make tender pleas. Ask questions to draw them out. Strive to reach their heart so that they open up.—Proverbs 20:5.
17, 18. (a) What should motivate you to discipline your children? (b) How can you maintain “the cords of love” with your children?
17 Why do you discipline your children? Some parents do it because they do not want the family’s reputation jeopardized. Jehovah showed the motive behind his discipline, declaring: “I taught Ephraim to walk, taking them upon my arms . . . With the ropes of earthling man I kept drawing them, with the cords of love.” (Hosea 11:3, 4) In this instance, Hosea likens the relationship between Jehovah and Israel to that of a father and a son. Can you picture a loving parent, leading the child with cords in hand, trying to help a wobbly infant to walk? The cords are a support if the baby stumbles, a guide when he wanders.—Jeremiah 31:1-3.
18 Will you imitate God’s love for the Israelites? Again and again they turned their back on him, but he did not quickly let go of those cords of love. Young ones may seem inclined to stray at times and to stumble over little things, but try to maintain the ties of love between you and them. Bear in mind that Jehovah was not blinded by favoritism to overlook the wrongdoing of his people. He faced the situation squarely, lovingly disciplined them, and took the time to make needed help available. If you note that your son or daughter seems to be drifting from the way of the truth, do not ignore that. Try to lead him or her back, as if with guiding cords, providing warm help during this problematic period. Spend time with your troubled children. This cannot be overemphasized—spend time with them!
19. Why should you not give up on your children?
19 Hosea foresaw that a remnant of Israelites would accept discipline: “The sons of Israel will come back and certainly look for Jehovah their God, and for David their king; and they will certainly come quivering to Jehovah and to his goodness in the final part of the days.” (Hosea 3:5) Yes, God’s disciplinary action worked with a remnant of his people. Be optimistic that this will be so with your children. Try to see the good in them. Be kind when you talk to them yet firm in holding to Bible principles. Even if a wayward child does not respond favorably now, who knows when he may come to his senses?
BEWARE OF BAD ASSOCIATIONS!
20. What question regarding associations can young ones find answered in the books of the 12 prophets?
20 What can you young ones learn from the 12 prophets? One of the most-quoted scriptures in discussions between you and your parents may be 1 Corinthians 15:33 about avoiding bad associations. ‘But is being friends with those who do not worship Jehovah really that bad?’ some of you might wonder. Well, you can find the answer to that question in these 12 books.
21-23. (a) What can young people learn from the course the Edomites took? (b) Who really are your friends?
21 While the books of the 12 prophets were directed mainly toward God’s people, the book of Obadiah addressed the Edomites, who had been referred to as the Israelites’ brothers.* (Deuteronomy 2:4) Unlike most of the other books of the 12 prophets, Obadiah uses the pronoun you in reference to the Edomites. Now think about the Edomites. The time is about 607 B.C.E. when Jerusalem is being besieged. Although the Edomites are blood relatives of Jacob, they team up with the Babylonians! “Lay it bare! Lay it bare!” the Edomites jeer. (Psalm 137:7; Obadiah 10, 12) They plan to take over the land of Judah. They even eat food with the Babylonians, which in the Orient can indicate that the two parties are in a covenant relationship.
22 Notice what Obadiah foretells about the Edomites: “The very men [the Babylonians] in covenant with you have all deceived you. The men at peace with you have prevailed against you. Those eating food with you will place a net under you as one in whom there is no discernment.” (Obadiah 7) What actually happened to the Edomites, who deserted their brother, Jacob, and chose as companions the Babylonians? Eventually, the Babylonians under Nabonidus destroyed the Edomites. By Malachi’s day, God had made the mountains of Edom a desolated waste and Edom’s inheritance for the jackals.—Malachi 1:3.
23 Now think about your so-called friends who do not worship Jehovah. Have you not observed that ‘the very boys [or girls] in covenant,’ or bonds of friendship, often deceive one another and “place a net under” their so-called friends? If the deception comes to light, what do they say? They might consider the friends they deceived to be naive, not discerning enough to see through another’s wiles. How like the Babylonians with their companions, the Edomites! Do you feel that such “friends” would really care about you when you faced problems? (Obadiah 13-16) On the other hand, think of Jehovah God and his people today. Jehovah is always there to help you. He will sustain you through difficult periods. His people too prove to be ‘true companions loving all the time,’ like faithful ones “born for when there is distress.”—Proverbs 17:17.
VALUE THE MOST IMPORTANT BOND OF ALL
24, 25. What must be foremost in our life?
24 Yes, family ties are important and worth strengthening. We can draw numerous lessons about them from the 12 prophets. You may want to go through those books and apply the method we have used here. This will enable you to draw from them even more lessons about improving your family life. Still, is having a happy family life the matter of foremost importance for God’s worshippers today?
25 Interestingly, with regard to the coming of Jehovah’s day, Joel prophesied: “Gather the people together. Sanctify a congregation. . . . Let the bridegroom go forth from his interior room, and the bride from her nuptial chamber.” (Joel 2:15, 16) Everyone in the household was to be gathered together for the worship of Jehovah. Even the newlyweds, who are naturally distracted, were no exception! Nothing should come ahead of our gathering to God. With the day of Jehovah fast approaching, having a good standing with him must be foremost in our life. In the final section of this book, we will consider what we should joyfully be doing today.
In a case where a Christian’s mate is guilty of adultery, the innocent partner has to decide whether to forgive or not.—Matthew 19:9.
The other exception is the book of Nahum, directed to the Ninevites.