The Challenge of the “Good News”
1. Which is the best news to be heard today, and why so?
EVERYONE likes to hear good news. How happy is the husband when he hears that his wife has successfully given birth to their firstborn son! How happy we are to hear of an impending visit to our home of good friends or dearly loved members of the family, mother or father perhaps! How happy is the farmer when he hears good news from the fields, that the seed sown is beginning to sprout! How happy is the man who, after searching many months for employment, finally obtains a job! Once again he will have money to provide the necessities of life for himself, his wife and children. Yes, there are many events that can mean good news for us, but of all the news that is good none could be better than the “good news of [God’s] kingdom,” since it holds out the hope of eternal blessings of life and peace for obedient mankind in a new world.—Matt. 24:14.
2. What often comes with hearing good news? Illustrate.
2 But note that along with good news there often comes responsibility. It presents a challenge. It calls on the receiver of the good news to act, to do something to show his appreciation for the good news so that he may fully benefit by it. The arrival of a firstborn is good news to the husband and wife, but by this miracle of birth they become father and mother. It calls for them to adjust their lives to the new situation and shoulder the responsibility of parenthood. The arrival of guests means work for the householder, though it is happy work, providing the needed hospitality. The springing up of a new crop in the farmer’s fields is a challenge to him. It requires his time and attention—scaring off the birds that might attack the new growth, hoeing out the weeds and watering the young plants. It spells hard work as he cares for the new crop until it grows to maturity and is successfully harvested. The good news of employment for the unemployed man brings with it responsibility. Now he has a contract of work to which he must be loyal in order to retain his job. The challenge to him is, Will he prove to be a good workman?
3. (a) What does the “good news” tell us of the future of this earth? (b) What questions do sincere persons now ask?
3 Likewise with the “good news of the kingdom.” The hearing of this good news is a challenge—it calls upon those hearing it to do something that will demonstrate they appreciate it. And what good news it is! God’s kingdom under Christ Jesus to destroy this wicked system of things; to bring to an end hatred and war, sickness, disease and death; to restore this earth to a paradise populated by perfect, healthy men and women in peace and happiness, and to bring this about in the very near future, within this generation. (See Daniel 2:44; Psalm 37:10, 11; 46:9; Isaiah 9:6, 7; Revelation 21:3, 4; Matthew 24:3-14, 32-34.) Without doubt you are already somewhat familiar with this good news. The fact that you are reading these pages indicates your interest in the “good news” and in God’s purpose by means of his kingdom. Without doubt it is your wish to live under that best of kingdoms and eternally enjoy its blessings. If this is your sincere desire, then it is natural for you to ask, “What will this require of me? If I accept the good news of God’s kingdom, how will it affect my life now?”
4. What kind of conduct is now required of those who wish to gain life under God’s kingdom, and why does this mean a change?
4 We can all agree that the words of the apostle Paul at Ephesians 5:16 are true of our time: “The days are wicked.” Yes, we most certainly live in a wicked world, a world of unrighteousness, where men’s thoughts and deeds are bad. The conduct of men and nations does not bring glory to God and is unworthy of his kingdom. We have grown up in this world, amidst its traditions and customs, many of which are contrary to God’s righteous principles, and in company with people whose conduct falls far short of the standards we find in the Bible, God’s Word. This has all had its effects on us and on our way of life. Also, having grown up in a divided world we have acquired different loyalties—loyalties to family, tribe, race and nation—often resulting in division, hatred, suspicion and false pride, a feeling of superiority over others. But when we read about God’s kingdom from the Bible we learn of another loyalty that is required of those who will gain everlasting life. This is loyalty to Jehovah, the Supreme Ruler of the universe, and to his kingdom under Christ Jesus, and we learn of a new way of life in obedience to the rule of that kingdom. This calls for conduct different from that of the world. It calls for one to “behave in a manner worthy of the good news.”—Phil. 1:27.
5. What does it mean for us to accept the “good news of the kingdom”?
5 It is important to appreciate that the “good news” concerns a kingdom, God’s kingdom. A kingdom is a government and thus exercises rule or governs those who are its subjects. Just as other governments have laws to govern their subjects, so God’s kingdom has laws or rules governing the conduct of its subjects. Therefore, acceptance of the “good news” really means to accept the responsibility of being a subject of God’s heavenly kingdom, to be submissive to it and humbly to accept and obey the commands of the Sovereign Ruler of the universe, Jehovah God. Only by doing this could one be “counted worthy of the kingdom of God.”—2 Thess. 1:5.
6. Why is this a very urgent matter today?
6 This is a matter that requires the urgent attention of all persons living upon the earth. The “good news of the kingdom” is now being preached worldwide—that cannot be denied. This is because we are living in the “last days” of this present world, and a time of final judgment for all living on the earth is at hand. What will decide between life and death for you is how you listen to the “good news” and whether you are willing to be obedient to it and bring your life into harmony with it. Very soon now Christ Jesus as King of God’s kingdom, along with his holy angels, is due to bring “vengeance upon those who do not know God and those who do not obey the good news about our Lord Jesus.”—2 Thess. 1:7-10.
THE GOOD NEWS DECLARED TO ISRAEL
7. What good news was declared to the nation of Israel while they were in Egypt?
7 The Israelites, descendants of Jacob or Israel, the son of Isaac, son of Abraham, resided for many years in the land of Egypt. There they became numerous. There, in that land of the Pharaohs, they came to be hated and persecuted. They were reduced to being a slave people and suffered much oppression. But in the midst of their affliction there came to them good news! That is why many years later they were spoken of as the people “to whom the good news was first declared.” (Heb. 4:6) Jehovah God, through his spokesman Moses, addressed this thrilling message to the Israelites: “I shall bring you up out of affliction by the Egyptians to the land of the Canaanites . . . to a land flowing with milk and honey.” (Ex. 3:17) What a comforting message! And with what joy the Israelites heard it! What joy too when they later beheld the miraculous deliverance that Jehovah wrought for them as he demonstrated his almighty power on their behalf by means of the ten plagues and finally in destroying the Egyptians at the Red Sea, while the Israelites under the command of Moses walked through on dry land to safety! (Exodus, chapters 7 to 15) While still down in Egypt Moses had been further commanded to declare to this people: “Therefore say to the sons of Israel, ‘I am Jehovah, and I shall certainly bring you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians and deliver you from their slavery, and I shall indeed reclaim you with an outstretched arm and with great judgments. And I shall certainly take you to me as a people, and I shall indeed prove to be God to you; and you will certainly know that I am Jehovah your God who is bringing you out from under the burdens of Egypt.’” (Ex. 6:6, 7) Here was the blessed promise to the Israelites of being brought into a special relationship with Jehovah as his people, and this would most certainly require of them conduct worthy of that great privilege.
8. (a) How would the Israelites show appreciation for the good news declared to them? (b) What quality did the nation demonstrate that led to their deliverance from Egypt?
8 Appreciation for this good news and the privilege of having Jehovah as their God would surely cause the nation of Israel to be eager and willing to do obediently all that Jehovah commanded them. The opportunity to demonstrate such obedience came very soon, when, through Moses, Jehovah commanded the people while still in Egypt to celebrate the Passover. Each family had to assemble in its own home on the night of Nisan 14 (Jewish calendar). A lamb was to be slain and the blood sprinkled on the doorposts. (Ex. 12:1-23) After receiving these instructions from Moses “the sons of Israel went and did just as Jehovah had commanded Moses and Aaron. They did just so. (Ex. 12:28) The obedience of the Israelites on this occasion resulted in their homes being “passed over” when the angel of Jehovah struck down all the firstborn of the Egyptians. “And it came about on this very day that Jehovah brought the sons of Israel together with their armies out of the land of Egypt.”—Ex. 12:51.
9. (a) What did Jehovah say the nation of Israel would become? (b) What did he require of them?
9 In the third month after their leaving Egypt the Israelites came to Mt. Sinai and there Jehovah, again through Moses as his spokesman, made clear to them the new relationship into which they were now to enter as his people. “And Moses went up to the true God, and Jehovah began to call to him out of the mountain, saying: ‘This is what you are to say to the house of Jacob and to tell the sons of Israel, “You yourselves have seen what I did to the Egyptians, that I might carry you on wings of eagles and bring you to myself. And now if you will strictly obey my voice and will indeed keep my covenant, then you will certainly become my special property out of all other peoples, because the whole earth belongs to me. And you yourselves will become to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.” These are the words that you are to say to the sons of Israel.’ So Moses came and called the older men of the people and set before them all these words that Jehovah had commanded him. After that all the people answered unanimously and said: ‘All that Jehovah has spoken we are willing to do.’”—Ex. 19:3-8.
10. To what extent did Jehovah make laws governing his covenant people?
10 The nation of Israel was unique. The whole nation, every man, woman and child, came under that covenant arrangement, often called the law covenant, and by it they literally became a separate nation or people for Jehovah. Indeed, Jehovah was their King and so exercised the right to make laws governing the lives of his subjects covering every aspect of life. The laws given to them through Moses concerned their worship of God, the making of offerings and sacrifices; there were laws concerning eating, concerning spiritual and physical cleanness, concerning proper moral behavior; laws were given regarding the proper relationship in marriage, the duties of husbands and wives, and parents and children; there were laws and principles guiding their relationship with one another as neighbors, emphasizing the need for honesty and justice as well as mercy and love in dealing with one another.
11. What law concerning blood did God give to Israel, and on what previous command was this law based?
11 Some of these laws merely enlarged principles or laws already given previously and which were, and still are, binding on all men as descendants of Adam and Noah. For example, laws concerning the sanctity of blood given to Israel were based on the divine command given by God to Noah following the flood, at Genesis chapter 9. “Every moving animal that is alive may serve as food for you. As in the case of green vegetation, I do give it all to you. Only flesh with its soul—its blood—you must not eat. And, besides that, your blood of your souls shall I ask back. From the hand of every living creature shall I ask it back; and from the hand of man, from the hand of each one who is his brother, shall I ask back the soul of man. Anyone shedding man’s blood, by man will his own blood be shed, for in God’s image he made man.” (Gen. 9:3-6) The reason for showing such respect in the use of blood was that blood represented life, or soul; and since life is a gift of God, he has the right to require men to respect the lives of other men and women and also animals. Though man was allowed to kill animals for food, there was to be no wanton slaughter of animals for sport. Hence in God’s law to the Israelites respect for life was emphasized, including respect for blood as representing life. Jehovah commanded: “As for any man of the house of Israel or some alien resident who is residing as an alien in your midst who eats any sort of blood, I shall certainly set my face against the soul that is eating the blood, and I shall indeed cut him off from among his people. For the soul of the flesh is in the blood, and I myself have put it upon the altar for you to make atonement for your souls, because it is the blood that makes atonement by the soul in it. That is why I have said to the sons of Israel: ‘No soul of you should eat blood and no alien resident who is residing as an alien in your midst should eat blood.’ As for any man of the sons of Israel or some alien resident who is residing as an alien in your midst who in hunting catches a wild beast or a fowl that may be eaten, he must in that case pour its blood out and cover it with dust. For the soul of every sort of flesh is its blood by the soul in it. Consequently I said to the sons of Israel: ‘You must not eat the blood of any sort of flesh, because the soul of every sort of flesh is its blood. Anyone eating it will be cut off.’” In the sixth of the Ten Commandments the sacredness of life was again emphasized in the words, “You must not murder.”—Lev. 17:10-14; Ex. 20:13.
12. What is set out in the Ten Commandments, which Jehovah wrote on the stone tablets?
12 The Ten Commandments stated ten basic laws or rules governing the Israelites. They were inscribed by God himself by the power of holy spirit on two stone tablets that were given to Moses on Mount Sinai. Rightly they occupied the preeminent place in the law code given to Israel, though remaining part of it. They set out basic laws or principles, rules of conduct governing first the relationship of the Israelites to God and then their relationship to the family unit and to one another. The first four emphasized the need for wholehearted and exclusive worship of Jehovah as God and obedience to his commandments. The fifth showed the need for family unity, the children respecting the father and mother; and the remaining five related to dealings with fellow creatures: not to murder, not to commit adultery, not to steal, not to testify falsely against another, not to covet, that is, not to desire wrongfully something that belongs to another.—Ex. 20:1-17.
NATION OF ISRAEL PROVIDES WARNING EXAMPLE
13, 14. (a) What would result to Israel by obedience to God’s laws? (b) What blessing did come to them, and why did this not last?
13 Obedience to Jehovah’s laws would bring untold blessings to the Israelites. His commandments would guide them in wholesome conduct that would promote unity in the nation, good health and happiness. But most important of all, they would direct them in right worship, in right conduct that would be pleasing to Jehovah their God, and would ensure his favor. Their obedience would protect them from false religion and from immoral practices that would lead to sin and rebellion and eventually rejection by God.
14 True to his promise, God did lead the Israelites to a land flowing with milk and honey. (Ex. 3:8; Num. 13:27) After many experiences the nation was settled in the Promised Land, Canaan or Palestine, and it is reported that under the rule of King Solomon “peace itself became his in every region of his, all around. And Judah and Israel continued to dwell in security, everyone under his own vine and under his own fig tree, from Dan to Beer-sheba, all the days of Solomon.” (1 Ki. 4:24, 25) But such blessings did not last. Repeated disobedience to God’s law finally reaped its proper reward—rejection by God as his people. Instead of blessings, there came upon the nation the curses that God had foretold for such disobedience.
15. (a) Upon what two basic commands was the relationship of Israel to Jehovah based? (b) Why would any hypocritical form of worship not deceive Jehovah?
15 While the law covenant had the Ten Commandments as a foundation, the relationship of the nation with God was based really on two fundamental principles—love of God and love of neighbor. (Deut. 6:5-9; Lev. 19:18) Faithfulness to these two principles was most essential to remaining in God’s favor. Weakness or temporary failure due to human imperfection, while bringing correction and reproof, could still be forgiven, but when the nation lost its love for God and no longer served him with a whole heart this could only lead to disaster. (1 Chron. 28:9; Prov. 4:23) No hypocritical form of worship could deceive him, for Jehovah is a God who ‘sees the heart’ and who is ‘searching the hearts’ of men. The hearts of the greater number of the people of Israel turned from love of God and neighbor to love just for themselves, and Jehovah discerned this. He could see the wicked deeds performed, first in the dark and then openly in the daylight, as the hearts of the people became hardened in bad conduct.—1 Sam. 16:7; Jer. 17:10.
16. (a) How did calamity come upon that nation? (b) How did the prophet Jeremiah explain the reason for this?
16 The Israelites entered the Promised Land in 1473 B.C., and the land was finally subdued under them in the time of King David, whose reign of forty years ended in 1037 B.C. Forty years later the nation was torn in two by jealousy and rivalry, and so, following the death of King Solomon in 997 B.C., the original nation of Israel was divided into two kingdoms, the ten-tribe kingdom of Israel to the north with Samaria as capital, and the two-tribe kingdom of Judah to the south with Jerusalem as capital. The northern ten-tribe kingdom was destroyed by the Assyrians in 740 B.C., and then in 607 B.C. the kingdom of Judah was destroyed by the Babylonians. Not long before this end to the kingdom of Judah, Jeremiah uttered to them these words: “‘“For I solemnly admonished your forefathers in the day of my bringing them up out of the land of Egypt and down to this day, rising up early and admonishing, saying: ‘Obey my voice.’ But they did not listen or incline their ear, but they kept walking each one in the stubbornness of their bad heart; and so I brought upon them all the words of this covenant that I commanded them to do, but that they did not do.’” Furthermore, Jehovah said to me: ‘Conspiracy has been found among the men of Judah and among the inhabitants of Jerusalem. They have returned to the errors of their forefathers, the first ones, who refused to obey my words, but who themselves have walked after other gods in order to serve them. The house of Israel and the house of Judah have broken my covenant that I concluded with their forefathers. Therefore this is what Jehovah has said, “Here I am bringing upon them a calamity that they will not be able to get out of; and they will certainly call to me for aid, but I shall not listen to them.”’”—Jer. 11:7-11. Compare Deuteronomy 6:12-15 and Deut 28:15, 45-47.
17. What temporary restoration did the Israelites receive?
17 Jehovah, in his great mercy and in fulfillment of his promise and purpose, did restore a remnant of the nation from Babylon back to the Promised Land after a period of seventy years’ desolation. Once again good news of this deliverance came to the people of Israel while in a captive state. This remnant of natural Israel was returned to Palestine in order that Jehovah’s worship might be restored there, though they were not restored as an independent nation, a separate kingdom.
18. Did the nation of Israel prove “worthy of the good news” that was proclaimed to them?
18 Did that ancient nation of Israel in the end prove “worthy of the good news” that had been preached to them by Moses down in Egypt? Did they fulfill the promise made by their forefathers to do all that Jehovah commanded them and to be truly his people, doing his will? The inspired Record answers No! Their complete unworthiness as a nation was clearly seen by their attitude toward Jesus, the promised Messiah, whom they rejected and had impaled on a stake. Just before his death Jesus pronounced judgment upon the nation when he said: “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the killer of the prophets and stoner of those sent forth to her,—how often I wanted to gather your children together, the way a hen gathers her chicks together under her wings! But you people did not want it. Look! Your house is abandoned to you.”—Matt. 23:37, 38; Luke 23:18-25; Acts 2:23.
19. (a) What great privilege had the Israelites enjoyed while they were faithful? (b) When God finally rejected that nation, did this mean the end of God’s dealings with mankind?
19 The Israelites had enjoyed the high privilege of being a nation of Jehovah’s witnesses. (Isa. 43:10-12) Not that they were commanded to preach concerning Jehovah to all the other nations of the earth; but they had been set apart for Jehovah’s exclusive service and worship. By the wonderful works that Jehovah performed on behalf of them and by their practicing true worship when they were faithful, Jehovah made a great name for himself. But they could only continue as his witnesses by holding to true worship and honoring the covenant he made with them and by obeying his commandments. This they failed to do. So Jehovah cast off natural Israel. The law covenant arrangement with them came to an end, being fulfilled in Jesus and its law being nailed to the torture stake. (Col. 2:14) But this did not bring to an end all of God’s dealings with men. Now, with Christ Jesus as Mediator, a new covenant arrangement was inaugurated, not with natural Israel, but with a nation producing the right fruits, whose conduct would be worthy of a heavenly kingdom of God with Christ as King.—Heb. 8:6; Matt. 21:43.