1, 2. (a) What can we learn from Jonah’s reaction to Jehovah’s decision about Nineveh? (b) Why should we examine God’s mercy and his view of life?
JEHOVAH was glad. The prophet was gloomy. God had mercifully spared the lives of thousands of people. Jonah would have let them perish! Jehovah chose to forgive and preserve those who had been his people’s enemies.
2 As we can see from Jonah’s case, at times it may be hard for humans to grasp the scope of God’s forbearance and to reflect His desire that people gain life. Jonah found Jehovah’s decision to spare the Ninevites “highly displeasing, and he got to be hot with anger.” Is it possible that Jonah was more concerned with his own feelings than with mercy and the saving of lives? He may have imagined that if the Ninevites were spared, he would lose face. (Jonah 4:1, 10, 11) What about our time, as Jehovah’s day of judgment fast approaches? You might ask: ‘How can I deepen my appreciation for God’s forgiveness, and how can I help repentant wrongdoers to benefit more fully from his tenderness? Yes, how can I imitate God’s desire that people gain life?’
JUSTICE AND MERCY WITH LIFE IN VIEW
3. Is there a contradiction between God’s justice and his mercy? Explain.
3 Some people feel that these 12 prophetic books, page after page, talk about God’s wrath and his punishing of people, his executing of justice. They might ask: ‘Where is Jehovah’s mercy? Does he care about saving lives?’ In reality, rather than contradicting each other, God’s justice and his mercy work together and contribute to the saving of lives. Justice and mercy are two facets of his perfectly balanced personality. (Psalm 103:6; 112:4; 116:5) By undoing the wrongs of the wicked, God is showing mercy toward the rightly disposed. That evidences his perfect justice. On the other hand, being fully just, Jehovah in his mercy allows for the limitations of imperfect humans. You might put it this way: judgment where needed, mercy wherever possible. In the prophets’ messages, you can find many statements that bear out this perfect balance, showing that God wants people to gain life. Let us examine this and in the process find lessons that we can apply in practical ways today.
4. What evidence is there that God wants people to gain life?
4 The prophet Joel conveyed a message of denunciation, yet he also confirmed that God “is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abundant in loving-kindness.” (Joel 2:13) About a hundred years later, in the eighth century B.C.E., Micah stressed how much we need Jehovah’s forgiveness. After asking “Who is a God like you?” Micah described Jehovah this way: “He will certainly not hold onto his anger forever, for he is delighting in loving-kindness. He will again show us mercy.” (Micah 7:18, 19) As we can see from Jonah’s account of the Ninevites, God is willing to reconsider bringing punishment on objects of his wrath if they back up their remorse with works befitting repentance.
5. What aspects of God’s mercy and his interest in saving lives do you find most heartwarming? (See also “They Made Themselves Available.”)
5 We are not living in the time of the 12 prophets. Yet, are we not touched by such indications of Jehovah’s mercy and his interest in saving lives? Your feeling that way can strengthen your attachment to God and increase your interest in helping others to gain life. Though most people today pursue a bad course, we are assured that God “does not desire any to be destroyed but desires all to attain to repentance.” (2 Peter 3:9) Such a desire on Jehovah’s part is illustrated in the warm expressions uttered by Hosea upon receiving his adulterous wife back. Jehovah ‘spoke to the heart’ of his people. God was not obligated to show forgiveness, but he was willing to do so of his “own free will.” (Hosea 1:2; 2:13, 14; 3:1-5; 14:4) Do you know why God’s attitude and actions in this regard are so important? Because lives are involved. You can see further evidence of God’s mercy and of his desire that people gain life when you look at the Christian congregation, which is doing something that you are involved in.
HELPING PEOPLE GAIN LIFE
6. In what key way does God show that he desires that people gain life?
6 Why do you share in the public ministry? One main reason is so that you can help others come to know the true God. Here is something important to know about Jehovah: He provides clear warnings before inflicting punishment. This shows his merciful interest in people, interest that they not die but, rather, gain life. The 12 prophets let wrongdoers know that God was offering them the opportunity to mend their ways and to escape his righteous anger. We are involved in a similar work today. As a Christian, you have the privilege of proclaiming the warning of God’s coming day of vengeance. While you do that, avoid any feelings of vindictiveness, wanting to see unreceptive people “get what is coming to them.” Remind yourself that to a large extent, you are preaching so that some can get on the road to life.—Joel 3:9-12; Zephaniah 2:3; Matthew 7:13, 14.
7. (a) Why is sharing in the witnessing work vital? (b) If we face apathy, how can thinking about Jehovah’s attitude help us?
7 Every time you share Bible truths on the doorstep, at school, at your workplace, or elsewhere, you are offering help to a person who urgently needs God’s mercy and forgiveness. (Hosea 11:3, 4) Granted, you may face apathy and indifference. Yet, by persevering despite that, you imitate our merciful God, who through Zechariah said to His wayward people: “Return, please, from your bad ways and from your bad dealings.” (Zechariah 1:4) Who knows how many people might respond as you tell them about God’s mercy and point the way to life? Again, try to keep in mind that you are preaching because Jehovah wants people to gain life, and you do too.
8. Why is it heartening to recall how some have responded to God’s mercy?
8 You may find it heartening to call to mind this fact: There have almost always been people who respond to God’s messages. Thus, Hosea could speak of those who realized that “the ways of Jehovah are upright.” The prophet added: “The righteous are the ones who will walk in them.” (Hosea 14:9) Down through the centuries, many have been touched by God’s invitation: “Come back to me with all your hearts.” (Joel 2:12) That was said to a people who had known Jehovah, but it also reflects God’s interest in those who are just learning about him. Yes, God has not lost confidence in humans’ ability to feel sorry for their past wrong course, to repent, and to turn to doing what is right. That puts them in line for survival.—1 Timothy 4:16.
9. The response of the Ninevites shows that what is necessary?
9 There is another element in Jehovah’s forgiving the Ninevites. We read that the people took the message of imminent divine judgment seriously, and they “began to put faith in God.” (Jonah 3:5) Faith, not merely fear of judgment, was necessary in order to keep living. Because of Jehovah’s keen desire to see people repent and act in faith, he has allowed us to be preachers helping people to make a choice. With what result? We read in connection with the Ninevites: “The true God got to see their works, that they had turned back from their bad way; and so the true God felt regret over the calamity that he had spoken of causing to them; and he did not cause it.” (Jonah 3:10) Jehovah cannot be deluded by mere words or token gestures. The Ninevites must have been genuine in their expression of remorse displayed by their works. God could see that they made a real change; they showed genuine repentance combined with faith.
10. What were some situations in which Jehovah offered salvation?
10 Never should we conclude that Jehovah’s interest in saving lives benefited only the Ninevites. At Jerusalem’s destruction in 607 B.C.E.—after the ministry of Obadiah, Nahum, and Habakkuk—Jehovah provided escape for obedient Jeremiah and a group of his faithful companions. (Jeremiah 39:16-18) And God’s prophets predicted that a repentant remnant would return from Babylon and restore pure worship. (Micah 7:8-10; Zephaniah 3:10-20) Those prophecies have had a grand fulfillment in modern times. After World War I, anointed Christians, many of whom had become lax as to true worship, were restored to zealous activity and to Jehovah’s favor, with life in view. Today, too, people from “many nations” are becoming “joined to Jehovah.” (Zechariah 2:11) These have the prospect of surviving the approaching end of this system of things. Hence, your public ministry is not a mere act of obedience that you do because Christians were so commanded. Nor is it something done just to fulfill prophecy. (Matthew 24:14; 28:19, 20) The focus of your public ministry is helping people to learn about Jehovah, to exercise faith, and to gain life.
LIFE FOR THOSE RETURNING TO JEHOVAH
11, 12. How can God’s mercy benefit those who were once his worshippers?
11 Jehovah is interested in new ones and wants them to gain life, yet he does not forget those who have already been serving him. We too should be interested in such ones and want them to continue in the way of life. In practical ways, how can we manifest our interest?
12 You may know of some who learned about Jehovah, exercised faith in him, and became active in true worship but are not presently serving him. The messages Jehovah sent through the 12 prophets show that he was willing to extend mercy to those who were once among his people but who did not persist in true worship. The same is true today, whether such ones have drifted away, have been drawn away, or have fallen away into wrongdoing and need to repent. (Hebrews 2:1; 3:12) Though they may not be happy while away from Jehovah, they may find it difficult to return. God appeals to them, as in the words of his prophet: “This is what Jehovah of armies has said: ‘Return to me,’ is the utterance of Jehovah of armies, ‘and I shall return to you.’” (Zechariah 1:3) How reassuring are Hosea’s words! He says: “Do come back, O Israel, to Jehovah your God, for you have stumbled in your error. Take with yourselves words and come back to Jehovah. Say to him, all you people, ‘May you pardon error; and accept what is good.’” Yes, even those who committed gross sins but who then returned to God in true repentance could experience forgiveness leading to full recovery. (Hosea 6:1; 14:1, 2; Psalm 103:8-10) That was so in the prophets’ days, and it is true in our day.
13. What reasons do we have to show mercy toward those whom God has forgiven?
13 What, though, does that mean for Christians who have remained on the road to life? How can we show that we have Jehovah’s view of others? Jehovah expects us to show mercy, both to new ones and to those who may have lapsed in their service to him. God stated through Hosea what He wants from us: “In loving-kindness I have taken delight, and not in sacrifice.” Jesus Christ drew on those words and expressed the thought this way: “Go, then, and learn what this means, ‘I want mercy, and not sacrifice.’” (Hosea 6:6; Matthew 9:13) Our demonstrating such mercy is critical to maintaining our own relationship with God. Note how the apostle Paul linked being forgiving with imitating God: “Become kind to one another, tenderly compassionate, freely forgiving one another just as God also by Christ freely forgave you. Therefore, become imitators of God, as beloved children, and go on walking in love.” (Ephesians 4:32–5:2) How are you doing as to imitating God in this respect?
14, 15. Under what type of circumstances may our attitude toward Jehovah’s forgiveness be tested?
14 What if a brother who sinned gravely was unrepentant and had to be expelled from the congregation? Such a thing occurred back in the first century; Christians who became unrepentant sinners had to be disfellowshipped. If that happened while Jesus’ apostles were still present, it is not surprising that it occasionally happens today. In such cases, loyal ones in the congregation accept the Bible’s direction not to associate with someone who has been expelled. Their loyalty to Jehovah may help the wrongdoer to see the seriousness of his wrong course, and he may be moved to repent. We read in the Bible that a man in Corinth who was expelled did later repent and turn around, and he was reinstated. (1 Corinthians 5:11-13; 2 Corinthians 2:5-8) When that happens today, how do you feel, and how can you show your interest in others’ gaining life?
15 A repentant wrongdoer may be ashamed and in despair, needing reassurance that both God and his brothers love him and want him to gain life. See how tenderly God reassured his ancient people who were willing to repent: “I will engage you to me in faithfulness; and you will certainly know Jehovah.” (Hosea 2:20) Since that is how God feels, we should display that we are in harmony with the one whom Zechariah described as the God who ‘shows mercy.’—Zechariah 10:6.
16. How should we react when someone is reinstated?
16 God wants people to gain life, so he is glad when a sinner repents or a formerly inactive servant renews his zeal.* (Luke 5:32) In the case of the reinstated Corinthian man mentioned earlier, Paul exhorted the congregation to forgive and encourage him, letting him know that they really loved him: “This rebuke given by the majority is sufficient for such a man, so that . . . you should kindly forgive and comfort him, that somehow such a man may not be swallowed up by his being overly sad. Therefore I exhort you to confirm your love for him.” (2 Corinthians 2:6-8) Remember that Hosea quoted Jehovah as saying regarding former sinners: “I shall heal their unfaithfulness. I shall love them of my own free will.” (Hosea 14:4) Will we imitate Jehovah, being happy to contribute to such healing and the everlasting life to which it can lead?
17, 18. How can we lovingly assist those who have returned to Jehovah or family members of one who has been disfellowshipped?
17 Jehovah makes it clear that he treats with dignity those who do return, accepting them back as full recipients of his love, just as Hosea readily received back his formerly unfaithful wife. Jehovah tells of the way he treated his servants: “I became to them as those lifting off a yoke on their jaws, and gently I brought food to each one.” (Hosea 11:4) How heartwarming is the affection by which Jehovah gently draws such returnees! We can imitate him by our not being rigid or cool toward one who manifested godly sadness and genuine repentance. Once he has been accepted back into the congregation, rather than displaying resentment or holding any grudge against him over his past errors, we should speak consolingly to him as needed.—1 Thessalonians 5:14.
18 Can you think of other ways to imitate Jehovah in connection with a disfellowshipping from the congregation? If someone had to be expelled, can we be of help to loyal ones in his family, perhaps a faithful mate and the children? They may be struggling to keep up their meeting attendance and ministry. Will we give them the special support that they may need? Another way to show tender mercy is to use “good words, comforting words,” opening up encouraging conversation with such faithful ones. (Zechariah 1:13) There are many opportunities for that before and after meetings, while together in the ministry, or at other times. They are fellow workers, dear members of our congregation who should not feel shunned or isolated. In some cases, just the children of a disfellowshipped parent are striving to serve Jehovah. We truly want them to gain life. How can we show that?
“A FATHERLESS BOY IS SHOWN MERCY”
19. Zephaniah provided what spiritual assistance to one who might be compared to “a fatherless boy”?
19 You can find a pattern of providing help in the ministry of Zephaniah, who served in the mid-seventh century B.C.E. He may have been of the royal family of Judah, possibly a distant cousin of King Josiah. The king’s father had been assassinated, forcing eight-year-old Josiah to the throne. He faced a challenging task: The nation was mired in idolatry and detestable practices. (Zephaniah 3:1-7) Young, fatherless Josiah needed skillful guidance and sound advice to rule that wayward nation. Jehovah provided wise direction through Zephaniah and other prophets, as was mentioned in earlier chapters of this book. Significantly, while Jehovah through his prophet spoke against “the princes” of Judah, He did not criticize the king himself. (Zephaniah 1:8; 3:3) This may indicate that young King Josiah had already shown himself to be inclined toward pure worship. The prophet’s admonition undoubtedly helped Josiah to galvanize his determination to purge Judah of unclean worship.
20. How can spiritual mentoring help “fatherless” ones in the congregation?
20 Zephaniah’s interest in Josiah illustrates for us Jehovah’s interest in needy, vulnerable young ones, such as children whose parent may have been disfellowshipped. Hosea declared: “By [God] a fatherless boy is shown mercy.” (Hosea 14:3) Do you know of any other “fatherless” boys and girls in need of spiritual and practical mentoring? They might be spiritual orphans, children of single-parent families, or young ones who serve Jehovah without the support of their family. Quite often, the extent to which such ones stay close to the congregation and go on to mature spiritually is affected by the presence or absence of a spiritual mentor. Many “a fatherless boy” has blossomed into a balanced, spiritual adult after being shown loving interest by mature Christians in the congregation.—Psalm 82:3.
21. Mature Christians can offer what assistance to young ones?
21 A single mother, for example, may be helped if mature Christians show interest in her children. (James 1:27) While showing due respect for headship and consideration for propriety, overseers and others can offer spiritual support to members of disadvantaged families. Perhaps you and your mate or family can spend time with a fatherless boy or girl. Can you act in a considerate way toward young ones who might be plagued by loneliness? They may need empathy and confidential talk, which you could give ear to while sharing with them in the public ministry. You are no doubt busy, so your rendering such help to a young one with regularity over a period of time can be “a test of the genuineness of your love.” (2 Corinthians 8:8) Your efforts will reflect your interest in others’ gaining life.
22. How do you feel about Jehovah’s interest in others’ gaining life?
22 How reassuring it is to reflect on God’s interest in people, his wanting them to gain life everlasting! He would rather display his affection for righteous people who love him and grant them life than express his displeasure toward those who choose to be irreformable and unworthy of everlasting life. As we eagerly await the day of Jehovah, let us imitate him in helping others get on the way to life.
Three heartwarming illustrations show God’s intense concern for those of his people who have strayed—the illustrations of the lost sheep, the lost coin, and the prodigal son.—Luke 15:2-32.