1, 2. Those who follow “the popular course” often have what attitude, and why should you be different?
OBEDIENCE is not in style in today’s world. Many do not make decisions according to even a general guideline, such as ‘Do what is right.’ Rather, their thinking might be summarized as ‘Do what you want’ or ‘Do what you can get away with.’ You can see this when drivers disobey traffic signals, investors violate finance statutes, and high officials break laws that they may have helped establish. Such charging ahead in “the popular course,” even though it is wrong and harmful, was common in Jeremiah’s day too.—Jer. 8:6.
2 You realize that those desiring the favor of Almighty God must not just follow “the popular course.” Significantly, Jeremiah presented a contrast between those who had “not obeyed the voice of Jehovah” and those who wanted to obey Him. (Jer. 3:25; 7:28; 26:13; 38:20; 43:4, 7) We individually should analyze where we stand in this regard. Why? Satan’s attacks on the integrity of true worshippers have become particularly virulent. He is like a snake that silently lies in wait for its prey and suddenly strikes with a potentially fatal bite. Our determination to obey the voice of Jehovah helps to move us away from the fangs of that snake. But how can we strengthen our resolve to obey Jehovah? The writings of Jeremiah can help us.
THE ONE TO WHOM WE OWE OBEDIENCE
3. Why does Jehovah deserve our obedience?
3 Why does Jehovah deserve our strict obedience? Jeremiah reveals one reason by calling Him “the Maker of the earth by his power, the One firmly establishing the productive land by his wisdom.” (Jer. 10:12) Jehovah is the Sovereign of the universe. We should fear him above all other rulers. He has the absolute right to call on us to comply with his wise commands, which are really in our permanent best interests.—Jer. 10:6, 7.
4, 5. (a) What truth did the Jews learn during times of drought? (b) How did Judah’s inhabitants waste “living water” from Jehovah? (c) How can you drink “living water” provided by God?
4 Jehovah, however, in addition to being the Universal Ruler, is the Sustainer of life—our life. This was dramatically made plain to the Jews of Jeremiah’s time. The land of Egypt depended a great deal on the waters of a river, the Nile, but the situation was different in the Promised Land. To a large extent, God’s people depended on seasonal rains, often storing runoff water in underground cisterns. (Deut. 11:13-17) Only Jehovah could send rain to moisten the soil so that it would produce. On the other hand, he could also withhold the needed rain. Hence, in Jeremiah’s day disobedient Jews experienced a series of devastating droughts that left their fields and vineyards parched, their wells and cisterns dry.—Jer. 3:3; 5:24; 12:4; 14:1-4, 22; 23:10.
5 While those Jews valued literal water, they rejected the “living water” that Jehovah freely offered them. They did this by deliberately disobeying God’s Law and relying on alliances with surrounding nations. Like those who when water is scarce pour it into a cistern that is cracked and cannot hold water, the Jews suffered the consequences. (Read Jeremiah 2:13; 17:13.) We certainly have reason not to bring great calamity upon ourselves by pursuing a similar course. Jehovah continues to provide us with an abundance of guidance based on his inspired Word. Obviously, that “living water” benefits us only if we regularly study it and strive to live by it.
6. (a) Describe King Zedekiah’s attitude toward obeying Jehovah. (b) Why, do you think, was the king unwise?
6 As God’s day of reckoning with Judah drew near, obedience became increasingly important. If individual Jews were to receive Jehovah’s favor and protection, they had to repent and start obeying him. King Zedekiah faced this issue. He was not firm for doing what was right. When his subordinates told him they wanted to kill Jeremiah, he did not have the backbone to resist them. As we noted in the preceding chapter, the prophet survived that attempt on his life with the help of Ebed-melech and later urged Zedekiah: “Obey, please, the voice of Jehovah.” (Read Jeremiah 38:4-6, 20.) Clearly, for his own good, the king had to make up his mind: Would he obey God?
Why was it fitting for Jeremiah to urge the Jews repeatedly to obey God?
OBEYING JEHOVAH IS AN URGENT MATTER
7. What are some situations in which your obedience might be tested?
7 Obedience is as important today as it was in Jeremiah’s day. How strong is your resolve to obey Jehovah? If you were inadvertently exposed to a pornographic Internet Web site, would you keep looking at it, or would you fight any temptation and escape from that site? What if an unbeliever at work or at school asked you for a date? Would you have the strength to refuse? Would apostate literature or Internet sites intrigue you or repulse you? In these or other situations, bear in mind the words of Jeremiah 38:20.
8, 9. (a) Why is it wise to listen when the elders try to help you? (b) How should you view repeated counsel from the elders?
8 Jehovah often sent Jeremiah to His people with exhortations, such as: “Turn back, please, each one from his bad way, and make your ways and your dealings good.” (Jer. 7:3; 18:11; 25:5; read Jeremiah 35:15.) Comparably, Christian elders today do their best to help fellow believers in spiritual danger. If at some time the elders offer you counsel about avoiding an unwise or wrong course, listen to them. Their goal is like that of Jeremiah.
9 The elders may remind you of Scriptural principles that they have already shown you. Realize that repeating counsel is never easy, but doing so becomes far more difficult if the one needing help displays an attitude like that of many of the Jews who heard Jeremiah. Try to view the elders’ repeated efforts to help you as expressions of Jehovah’s love. Recognize, too, that Jeremiah would not have needed to repeat his warnings if there had been an appropriate response. Yes, the way to avoid repeated counsel is to apply the counsel promptly.
JEHOVAH’S FORGIVENESS—FREELY GIVEN BUT NOT AUTOMATIC
10. Why does Jehovah not forgive sins automatically?
10 We cannot obey Jehovah perfectly in this system of things, however hard we try. So we thank him that he shows a willingness to forgive our failings. Still, he does not pardon sins automatically. Why not? Because sin is repugnant to Jehovah. (Isa. 59:2) Therefore, he wants to be sure that we are worthy of his forgiveness.
11. Why is it impossible to get away with secret sins?
11 As we have noted, many Jews in Jeremiah’s time habitually disobeyed God and thus abused his patience and mercy. Could one of God’s servants today develop a similar tendency? Yes, if he or she ignores Jehovah’s reminders and begins practicing sin. In some cases, this has happened openly, as when someone enters into an adulterous marriage. But even if a sin is unseen by other humans, the one disobeying Jehovah is on a dangerous course. A person leading a double life might think, ‘No one will find out.’ Yet, the reality is that God looks inside minds and hearts and can see what happens behind closed doors. (Read Jeremiah 32:19.) What should be done if, in fact, one has truly disobeyed God?
12. What must the elders sometimes do to protect the congregation?
12 Many Jews scorned the help Jehovah offered time and again through Jeremiah. Similarly, one guilty of serious sin today may be unrepentant, rejecting the help of the elders. In that case, the elders must follow the Scriptural direction to protect the congregation by disfellowshipping the wrongdoer. (1 Cor. 5:11-13; see the box “Living Without Law,” on page 73.) But does that mean that he or she would be forever beyond hope, never able to return to Jehovah’s favor? No. The Israelites were long rebellious; still God said: “Return, you renegade sons. I shall heal your renegade condition.” (Jer. 3:22)* Jehovah invites wrongdoers to return to him. Indeed, he directs them to do so.
Why is it the sensible course to seek God’s forgiveness when we err?
OBEY JEHOVAH BY RETURNING TO HIM
13. If someone wants to return to Jehovah, what must he recognize?
13 To return to God, as Jeremiah indicated, a person needs to ask himself, ‘What have I done?’ Then, in the light of Scriptural standards, he should accept the honest answer. The unrepentant Jews of Jeremiah’s time dodged that question. They refused to acknowledge the extent of their sins, so Jehovah did not—could not—forgive them. (Read Jeremiah 8:6.) In contrast, a repentant sinner recognizes that in disobeying Jehovah, he has brought reproach on God’s name and on the Christian congregation. A person who is truly repentant is also deeply saddened by the harm he may have caused innocent people. He should recognize that only when he acknowledges the full effects of his bad actions will his request for forgiveness have weight with Jehovah. Still, returning to God’s favor involves more.
14. How does a person “return clear to Jehovah”? (Include the box “What Is Repentance?”)
14 A truly repentant person searches out his motives, desires, and habits. (Read Lamentations 3:40, 41.) He will examine areas of his life where he displays weakness, such as in his friendships with the opposite sex, his use of alcohol or tobacco, his use of the Internet, or his business dealings. As a housewife scrubs even the hidden corners of her kitchen to keep her home clean and sanitary, a repentant person should work hard to clean up his thoughts and private actions. He must “return clear to Jehovah” by fulfilling God’s requirements and conforming to His standards. Some Jews in Jeremiah’s time returned to Jehovah “falsely.” They pretended to be remorseful but never changed their hearts or lives. (Jer. 3:10) Unlike them, one whose request for forgiveness is genuine does not try to fool Jehovah and His congregation. Rather than merely wanting to save face or to regain association with relatives or others in the truth, he wants to turn his back completely on the wrongs he has committed and merit God’s forgiveness and favor.
15. What kind of prayers does a truly repentant person offer to God?
15 Prayer is a vital part of repentance. In ancient times, it was not uncommon for people to lift their hands toward heaven when praying. Today, when a truly repentant person prays, he ‘raises his heart along with his palms to God,’ as Jeremiah expressed it. (Lam. 3:41, 42) Feeling regret motivates the repentant sinner to bring his conduct in line with his plea for forgiveness. His prayers are sincere, springing from his very heart.
16. Why is it reasonable to return to God?
16 You undoubtedly realize that a sinner who truly acknowledges his errors may have to overcome his pride. But this is a key fact: Jehovah wants sinners to come back to him. When God sees genuine contrition in a human heart, his own heart responds. He becomes “boisterous” with tender emotions because he wants to forgive all who repent of their sins, even as he did for the Israelites who returned from exile. (Jer. 31:20) How reassuring to know that God holds out peace and hope for those who obey him! (Jer. 29:11-14) They can once again have a place among God’s devoted servants.
OBEDIENCE CAN PROTECT YOU
17, 18. (a) Who were the Rechabites? (b) As depicted on page 77, for what are they known?
17 Strictly obeying Jehovah is the safe course. We can see that by the example of the Rechabites in Jeremiah’s day. Over two centuries earlier, their Kenite forefather Jehonadab, who loyally took sides with Jehu, had given them a number of restrictive commands. One was against drinking wine. Jehonadab was long dead, but the Rechabites kept obeying him. As a test, Jeremiah took them to a dining room in the temple and placed wine before them, urging them to drink. They told him: “We shall drink no wine.”—Jer. 35:1-10.
18 To the Rechabites, obeying their long-dead ancestor was important. With even greater diligence, true worshippers should obey the commands of the living God. The Rechabites’ resolve to obey impressed Jehovah, and it stood in stark contrast to the Jews’ disobedience. God promised the Rechabites protection from the coming calamity. Applying that lesson today, is it not reasonable that those who strictly obey Jehovah are assured of his protection during the great tribulation?—Read Jeremiah 35:19.
Why is repenting over serious sin an important aspect of obedience? How can obedience help one to avoid needing to repent?
THOSE WHO OBEY JEHOVAH ARE NOT ALONE
19. What protection can God provide you if you obey him?
19 God’s protective care of his people should not be viewed as limited to the past. Even now, Jehovah protects obedient ones from spiritual danger. As a high wall protected ancient cities from attack, God’s law protects those who study it and constantly apply it. Will you stay inside the protective wall of God’s moral regulations? You can be sure that it will go well with you if you do. (Jer. 7:23) Many experiences testify to that fact.—See the box “Obeying Jehovah Brings Protection.”
20, 21. (a) Of what can you be sure as you serve Jehovah? (b) How did King Jehoiakim react to God’s message through Jeremiah?
20 Whether they are in your family, at your workplace or school, or among authorities where you live, opposers make serving God a challenge. You can be sure, though, that if in all cases you strictly obey Jehovah, he will support you through even the most difficult situations. Do not forget—God promised to sustain Jeremiah amid the fierce opposition he would encounter, and Jehovah did just that. (Read Jeremiah 1:17-19.) One of the times when God’s support became evident was in the days of King Jehoiakim.
21 Few rulers of Israel opposed God’s spokesmen with fury like that of Jehoiakim. We can see this in the case of the prophet Urijah, Jeremiah’s contemporary. Wicked King Jehoiakim was willing to have him pursued across international borders. When Jehovah’s prophet Urijah was brought back, the king had him slain. (Jer. 26:20-23) In the fourth year of Jehoiakim’s reign, Jehovah commanded Jeremiah to write down all the words He had spoken up to that time and then to read them aloud at the temple. Jehoiakim obtained Jeremiah’s scroll and had a court official read it to him. As the reading proceeded, the king tore up the document and threw it into a fire piece by piece, though some of the princes urged him not to. He then sent men to arrest Jeremiah and Baruch. What happened? “Jehovah kept them concealed.” (Jer. 36:1-6; read Jeremiah 36:21-26.) Jehovah did not allow Jehoiakim to harm those two faithful men.
22, 23. The experience of a Witness in central Asia shows you what about God’s support?
22 If Jehovah sees fit, he can also hide his modern-day servants from danger. But more often, he gives them the courage and wisdom to obey him and to continue preaching the good news. A single mother whom we shall call Gulistan has four children. She has received Jehovah’s support. For a time, she was the only Witness in a wide area of central Asia where the authorities oppose the Kingdom preaching. The nearest congregation is over 250 miles (400 km) away, hence Gulistan rarely has the companionship of mature Christians. Despite opposition and other problems, she preaches from house to house and finds many interested ones. According to a recent report, she was conducting Bible studies with up to 20 people and giving attention to a growing group of Jehovah’s sheep.
23 Just as he helped Jeremiah and such Witnesses as Gulistan, God is ready to help you and his other obedient servants. Be resolved to obey him as Ruler rather than men. Then, opposition and other obstacles will not keep you from publicly praising the only true God before those in your territory.—Jer. 15:20, 21.
24. What benefits does obedience bring you now?
24 Real joy and satisfaction in life are unattainable if we live independently of our Creator. (Jer. 10:23) After studying what Jeremiah wrote about obedience, do you see ways in which you can let Jehovah direct your steps more fully? His commands make up the only guide for living that leads to complete happiness and success. “Obey my voice,” urges Jehovah, “in order that it may go well with you.”—Jer. 7:23.
In your relationship with God, how can you apply lessons about obedience found in the book of Jeremiah?
Jehovah was here addressing the northern kingdom of Israel. Those of that ten-tribe kingdom had been in exile for some 100 years when Jeremiah delivered this message. He acknowledged that down to his day, that nation had not repented. (2 Ki. 17:16-18, 24, 34, 35) Nevertheless, individuals could return to God’s favor and even return from exile.