Questions From Readers
● On one occasion Jesus cast a demon out of a boy that his disciples had failed to cure, and when the disciples later asked Jesus why they could not expel the demon Jesus said: “Because of your little faith. For truly I say to you, if you have faith the size of a mustard grain, you will say to this mountain, ‘Transfer from here to there,’ and it will transfer, and nothing will be impossible for you.” (Matt. 17:20, NW) Can the use of a small amount of faith move a literal mountain? Just what did Jesus mean?—R. C., United States.
The Jews used a mustard grain to represent something very small, and by using it here he emphasized how little faith the disciples really had manifested in their effort to heal the demon-possessed boy, although previously they had healed the sick and had cast out demons. (Luke 9:1-6; 10:1, 17-20) So first Jesus stressed their need for more faith. They had a little faith, but they needed to expand that faith. Even the tiny mustard seed had a great potential for expansion, for Jesus said elsewhere that it is the “tiniest of all the seeds, but when it has grown it is the largest of the vegetables and becomes a tree, so that the birds of heaven come and find lodging among its branches.” Just as the mustard seed, when watered and cultivated in good soil, would grow into a vegetable so large as to be treelike; so a little faith, when nourished by private study and meeting attendance and service, would expand and increase.—Matt. 13:32, NW.
But the great power of faith, which is at first “the size of a mustard grain,” is shown by its ability to move a mountain. Does this mean a literal mountain? Yes, doubtless the mount of transfiguration, had it been God’s will. The term “mountain” may also be used to refer to vast, imposing obstacles and difficulties blocking progress in our service of Jehovah. However, it would mean something as unsurmountable and irremovable as a great literal mountain. We have Bible examples of mountains used in this sense. When Isaiah was foretelling the time of Judah’s restoration from Babylonian captivity and a faithful remnant’s return to Jerusalem, he said: “Let every valley be raised up, and every mountain and hill brought low; let the uneven ground become a plain, and the rugged heights a valley.” This was the symbolical way of saying that barriers to their return would be removed.—Isa. 40:4, AT.
Zechariah 4:7 (AT) says: “What are you, O great mountain? Before Zerubbabel, become a plain!” What was this mountain? A literal one? No, it was opposition to the work of theocratic reconstruction under governor Zerubbabel, who had returned at the head of the thousands of faithful Israelites after the Babylonian captivity. Opposition to the rebuilding of the temple arose from neighboring adversaries, and after years of interference the Samaritans maneuvered the imposing of an official ban on the work by the Persian government. All of this was like a great mountain blocking the path of reconstruction, but before Zerubbabel and the courageous Israelites this mountain was moved or leveled to become a plain, because in faith they kept on in the work, refusing to be stopped. Finally the mountainous obstacle of government ban was removed and the enemies subdued.
If we have faith today Jehovah will bless us in his work, and our faith will show its liveliness by pushing ahead in service, trusting in Jehovah for victory over all obstacles. As we work in faith, trusting in Jehovah, we should increase our faith. The mustard seed of faith in our hearts must be watered and cultivated and encouraged in growth, so that it will expand to maturity and strength and fruitfulness in good works, able to do mighty works because of its growth, works it could not do while remaining small and dormant and unfruitful of right works. To persons who lack faith a molehill looks like a mountain, but strong faith shrinks mountains to molehills. So strive to increase faith by study and association with Jehovah’s people. And when the task is too big for us we must look to Jehovah for help, ask for his help, never doubt that he will give it, but ask in confident faith, never doubting, as James 1:5-8 states. To ask in faith means to ask and then work toward making it come to pass, for only such faith accompanied by work is alive, only such faith has the conquering power necessary for moving mountains.