A God of Warning
“Thou shalt hear the word at my mouth, and warn them from me.”—Ezek. 33:7.
1. Does God strike without warning? What instances show it?
JEHOVAH God never strikes without warning. Did he deluge the first world in watery destruction without warning? Did he burn out depraved Sodom and Gomorrah in a fiery downfall without warning? Did the Almighty take Egypt unawares as he sent wave after wave of destructive plague through the land? When Jehovah maneuvered the overthrow of Israel and Judah by foreign invasions, were the victims unwarned? Mighty Babylon that ruled like a glamorous queen over peoples and nations, should she have been surprised and caught flat-footed when enemy hosts took her by storm? And what of the desolation that struck Jerusalem during the first century A.D., did that blow fall without warning? To each one of these questions the facts shout the answer, No!
2. Does God warn personally or by agents, and why?
2 This is not to say that Jehovah God personally visits the earth to deliver a warning. That in itself would spell destruction for man, for if he can be painfully burned and temporarily blinded by a comparatively small sun nearly 93,000,000 miles away, how could he possibly survive a visit from the “Father of lights”? (Jas. 1:17; Ex. 33:20) Out of consideration for man’s perishable frame of flesh Jehovah God sends his warnings by messengers in human form, messengers that the warned ones can comfortably listen to and question for details. Of this practice we read, at Jeremiah 7:13, 25, 28: “I spoke to you early and late, but you would not listen, and I called you, but you would not answer . . . I sent all my servants the prophets, early and late, from the day that your fathers came out of the land of Egypt even to this day . . . ‘This is the nation that would not listen to the voice of the LORD its God, the nation that took no warning.’”—An Amer. Trans.
3, 4. What number heed the warning, as shown by the flood?
3 Jehovah’s warnings have seldom been heeded by a majority, though patiently sounded over long periods of time. Prior to the flood “GOD saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that the whole imagination [purposes and desires] of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually” and that “the earth also was corrupt”. (Gen. 6:5, 11, margin) He determined to cleanse the filth from the earth, not by a mere Saturday night bath of a few minutes’ duration, but by a torrential shower of forty days and nights whose waters were not dried from off the earth till ten months and thirteen days!
4 Jehovah indicated this destruction 120 years in advance. More than twenty years pass, and Noah has three sons. The sons grow to manhood and marry, as perhaps fifty or sixty more years slip by. Then Jehovah God tells Noah of the impending flood and instructs that righteously disposed man to build the ark for the preservation of himself and his family. For some forty or fifty years before the deluge Noah gave a warning witness of its coming, and thereby earned the designation “preacher of righteousness”. (Gen. 6:3, 13, 18; 2 Pet. 2:5) But the vast majority of mankind scoffed and looked upon Noah as a false weather prophet and doubted the possibility of an earth-wide flood. God created the earth, he was able to give it a bath. After giving a warning witness through Noah, Jehovah did so bathe the earth to wash from existence the filth that had collected on its surface.
5. How was this shown in connection with Lot at Sodom?
5 Several centuries later the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah are so saturated with grievous sin that their destruction is set. Not even ten righteously inclined persons reside there, and when angels materialized as men stay overnight with Lot sex crimes against their persons are attempted by a mob of men and boys. Their being smitten with blindness should warn them of their wickedness, but they still grope for their victims. When the angels instruct Lot to give a witness concerning the impending destruction of Sodom, his message makes him seem as one who mocks or jests. Even his own household is divided, his wife not taking the instructions seriously enough to gain preservation. Only Lot and his two daughters escape when there “rained upon Sodom and upon Gomorrah brimstone and fire from the LORD out of heaven; and he overthrew those cities, and all the plain, and all the inhabitants of the cities, and that which grew upon the ground”.—Gen. 18:20, 32; 19:4-28.
6. How did Jehovah warn Egypt, and with what response?
6 Down in Egypt in the sixteenth century B.C. Jehovah God gives a series of warnings to Pharaoh through His witness Moses. Before each of the plagues the ruler is warned; after each his heart hardens. With devastating effect the ten plagues roll through the land: rivers turn to blood, frogs come over the land, lice everywhere as dust, swarms of flies next, then murrain of beasts, plaguing boils, destructive hail, followed in rapid succession by plagues of locusts and darkness, then the woeful tenth—the death of Egypt’s firstborn! These physical facts in fulfillment of the warning witness given by Moses the pagan religious leaders of Egypt try to counteract and misinterpret, unsuccessfully in the end. The plagues were seen and felt throughout the land of that first world power, and the Egyptians certainly had noised among them the witness given by Moses. The Israelites had contact with the Egyptians, talked with them, and found many hearing ears, so much so that when they finally made their exodus from Egypt “a mixed multitude went up also with them” and witnessed the destruction of Pharaoh’s armies in the Red sea.—Ex. 12:38; 7:1-14:31.
ISRAEL AND JUDAH WARNED OF THEIR FALLS
7. How did the ten-tribe kingdom of Israel get warning? Why?
7 Long after the Israelites had entered Canaan, after the centuries in which judges ruled, after the nation had split into two kingdoms, the ten-tribe kingdom of Israel with capital at Samaria received repeated warnings from God. By the prophets Isaiah, Micah and particularly Amos a witness is given to Israel of captivity to come. (Isa. 10:5, 11; Mic. 1:6; Amos 5:27; 7:11) But through the dash and fire of Hosea’s words of rebuke and alarm streams the most powerful witness against the ten-tribe kingdom. How heavy her guilt!—the land polluted with blood, robber bands troop over the countryside, priests murder and commit lewdness, physical and spiritual whoredoms are rampant, idols for demon-worship defile the populace, like “a silly dove without heart” her trust shuttles from Egypt to Assyria but never rests in Jehovah God. “They have sown the wind, and they shall reap the whirlwind!” Hosea cries. “They are gone up to Assyria . . . The Assyrian shall be his king . . . Samaria shall become desolate; for she hath rebelled against her God: they shall fall by the sword: their infants shall be dashed in pieces, and their women with child shall be ripped up.” (Hos. 6:8-11; 7:1-11; 8:7-9; 11:5; 13:16) Israel had warning, before Assyria carried her captive in 740 B.C.
8, 9. How was the kingdom of Judah warned, and how refuted?
8 One hundred and thirty-three years later the kingdom of Judah, centered at Jerusalem, fell to Babylon. Caught unawares? Jehovah’s prophets Hosea, Micah, Zephaniah, Habakkuk, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel—all of them gave witness of the coming calamity. Micah, Hosea and Isaiah gave witness some 150 years before the fall. (Mic. 3:10-12; 4:10; Hos. 5:5; Isa. 3:8; 5:13; 39:6, 7) During the forty years prior to desolation Jeremiah withstood abuse and mockery, beating and imprisonment, to witness to the doomed city till the time it fell. He even warned of the length of desolation: “Thus saith the LORD of hosts; Because ye have not heard my words, behold, I will send and take all the families of the north, saith the LORD, and Nebuchadrezzar the king of Babylon, my servant, and will bring them against this land, and against the inhabitants thereof, and against all these nations round about, and will utterly destroy them, and make them an astonishment, and an hissing, and perpetual desolations. And this whole land shall be a desolation, and an astonishment; and these nations shall serve the king of Babylon seventy years.”—Jer. 25:8, 9, 11.
9 Destruction was determined for this city that bore God’s name because it had abandoned Jehovah’s worship, offered incense to Baal, poured drink-offerings to heathen gods, sacrificed children to Molech, and mocked the prophets sent to warn them. Yes, this Jeremiah and the others like him were calamity-howlers, social misfits, fanatics, malcontents, against everything and everybody, said the people. Down through the years the prophets prophesied doom, and down through the years the people mocked. They said: “The LORD will not do good, neither will he do evil.” They said: “The LORD seeth us not; the LORD hath forsaken the earth.” They said: “The days go on, and every vision comes to nothing. . . . The vision which he sees is for many days hence; he is prophesying of times far off.” (Zeph. 1:12; Ezek. 8:12; 12:22, 27, An Amer. Trans.) But God himself refutes them: “The days are at hand when every vision shall be fulfilled. No longer shall there be any empty vision . . . For I the LORD will speak a word, and it shall be fulfilled—it shall no longer be delayed—for in your days, O rebellious house, I will both speak a word and fulfil it.”—Ezek. 12:23-25, 28, An Amer. Trans.
10. Upon whom was the warning to be fulfilled? And was it?
10 The smart people were wrong! The prophets of God were right! The witness of doom was not for the distant future, for times far off. It was for their day, and by repeated visions of the impending desolation Ezekiel was qualified as a watchman to sound warning: “I have set thee a watchman unto the house of Israel; therefore thou shalt hear the word at my mouth, and warn them from me.” (Ezek. 33:7) Also through Habakkuk Jehovah revealed that it would come not in distant days but upon those hearing the warning witness: “I will work a work in your days, which ye will not believe, though it be told you. For, lo, I raise up the Chaldeans, that bitter and hasty nation, which shall march through the breadth of the land, to possess the dwellingplaces that are not theirs. . . . They shall gather the captivity as the sand.”—Hab. 1:5-9.
11, 12. Why should not Babylon and Assyria have felt surprised on falling?
11 Jehovah God foretold the victorious rise of Babylon against Judah, but he also forecast her fall. Babylon took approving note of the prophecies favoring her and showed special consideration to Jeremiah because of them, but she forgot the accompanying prediction of her fall: ‘It shall come to pass, when seventy years are accomplished, that I will punish the king of Babylon, and that nation, saith the LORD, for their iniquity, and the land of the Chaldeans, and will make it perpetual desolations.” (Jer. 25:12) Unheeded went Habakkuk’s words that retributive justice would return upon Babylon’s head. (Hab. 2:8) But most amazing was Isaiah’s witness concerning Babylon’s collapse, given some two hundred years in advance. At length he taunts powerful Babylon about her fall, in detail he tells how it will come about. The conquerors will be the Medes and Persians, the chief militarist will be Cyrus, and before him the city’s two-leaved gates will be found carelessly left open. (Isa. 21:2, 9; 45:1-4; Isa chaps. 13, 14, 47) So Babylon should not have been startled when in 539 B.C. Daniel read the handwriting on the wall that was a last-second witness of doom.—Dan. 5:25-31.
12 Nor should mighty Assyria have been shocked when it came her turn to taste the bitter pill she had once forced upon Israel, namely, the overthrow that she suffered from Nebuchadnezzar in 625 B.C. Jehovah’s prophets Micah, Isaiah and Zephaniah had mentioned it, and Nahum bore advance and detailed witness of it.—Mic. 5:6; Isa. 10:12-16; Zeph. 2:13-15; Nahum chaps. 1-3.
THE WARNING IN JESUS’ DAY
13. With what message did Jesus sound warning, and why?
13 But the restoration of true worship at the rebuilt temple in Jerusalem following release from captivity was not permanent. As years passed formalistic ceremony and rabbinic traditions grew, till by the time Christ Jesus appeared centuries later true worship had been all but smothered and choked out by such rank, entangling growths. Time for another warning! Time for another witness for true worship! Christ Jesus was not slow to fill the need. After his immersion and as he pioneers through the province of Galilee the electrifying cry breaks from his lips: “The kingdom of heaven is at hand!” With burning zeal he catches up this arresting cry once sounded by John the Baptist and touches off an explosive campaign of warning and witnessing that is to dwarf all preceding efforts. A warning against the quagmires of religious traditions into which multitudes were sinking to their destruction, a witnessing to the facts and prophecies that identified him as Jehovah’s Messiah Christ!
14. Where did he preach, and why there?
14 He struck at the heart of the densely populated areas. From house to house he went, warning and witnessing. But time was short, multitudes must be reached. So he preached in the streets, in the public squares, in the synagogues—anywhere, everywhere. As he goes from village to village, city to city, the listening crowds increase and his fame spreads, till multitudes flock to hear him, not only from Galilee but from Samaria and the southernmost province of Judea and even from beyond Jordan. The press of growing crowds causes him to move from cramped city areas to hold public meetings in wide open spaces able to accommodate the growing throngs of thousands. On seashores, by riverbanks, in deserts, at mountains, all these places played their part as Jesus witnessed to Kingdom blessings and warned of rabbinical snares.—Matt. 4:12-25; 5:1; 9:35; 14:13-15; 15:32, 33; Mark 4:1; 8:1-4; Luke 8:1; 20:1.
15. With what directness of speech did he warn, and why?
15 Christ Jesus did not feint and spar and shadowbox with diplomatic doubletalk when he proclaimed God’s warning. This warning was a matter of life or death, and it was given plain and blunt, undiluted. The false religious leaders of that day were blind guides, leading other blind ones to the ditch of destruction, teaching traditions that voided God’s word, coveting flattering titles, donning showy robes, projecting themselves into the public eye, praying long-windedly for effect, doing works to be seen of men, gnat-straining but camel-swallowing hypocrites that appeared piously holy outwardly but were blasphemously filthy within. Backed by the facts, he branded them liars and fools, serpents and vipers, and sons of Satan, the chief serpent. He warned those wicked clerics that bloodshed would come upon their generation, that their house would be left desolate and at the temple not one stone would be left atop another, and searchingly he inquired of them: “How can ye escape the damnation of hell?”—Matt. 15:1-14; 23:1-38; 24:1, 2; John 8:44.
16. What was the reaction to Jesus’ and his disciples’ preaching?
16 So devastating to the religious pastures of the scribes and Pharisees was the warning and witnessing of Christ Jesus that they wailed to one another: “Perceive ye how ye prevail nothing? behold, the world is gone after him.” (John 12:19) Under satanic prompting they stilled his tongue in death. But by that time Jesus had selected and trained apostles and disciples to follow in his footsteps, and they pushed on with the campaign. They copied his methods, used the same places, and were blessed with the same success. An increase of Kingdom publishers was accomplished by preaching “publickly, and from house to house”. (Acts 20:20; 18:28) They, like Christ Jesus, incurred the wrath of the persecuting scribes and Pharisees. Why? Because the result of their intensive warning work was similar to that of Jesus’ whirlwind witnessing campaign, as reflected in the anguished cry of stung religionists that the apostles and disciples had “turned the world upside down”. (Acts 17:6) Meaning their little religious world built on the false foundation of pomp and ceremony, on the shifting sands of oral tradition. They favored maintaining the status quo in the religious business of their day.
17. Did the unheeding warned ones escape? And why?
17 Nevertheless, their place and their nation that they sought to save by shedding the blood of Jesus and his followers were not saved. The flood victims could not nullify Noah’s warning by turning the waters back to their heavenly abode. The Sodomites could not quench the rainfall of fire. Furious Pharaoh had no antidote for the ten plagues. Judah was as helpless to hurl back the Babylonians as Israel before her had been to ward off the invading Assyrians. Nor could those heathen nations in their turn prove God a liar by existing beyond the time set for their collapse. Neither could the Jewish nation at the time of Christ turn back void the warning Jehovah had heralded abroad through the preaching of his beloved Son. (Isa. 46:10, 11; 55:11) The “generation of vipers” did see in their lifetime the loss of their place and nation, the overthrow of their city and temple, and did not escape the “damnation of hell” or “judgment of Gehenna”.—Matt. 23:33, Am. Stan. Ver., margin.
18. So how about “this present evil world”?
18 And neither will “this present evil world” escape the destructive violence of Armageddon that she is being warned of right now!