The Sure Word of God
Is the Bible reliable? How can we be sure?
IN THESE troublous times that face mankind, how reassuring it is to have the comforting Word of God! Despite man’s gloomy prediction that nuclear weapons will soon annihilate the human race, God promises that He will make “wars to cease to the extremity of the earth.” According to his Word, the earth will then enjoy an “abundance of peace until the moon is no more.”—Ps. 46:9; 72:7.
But can we be sure of the Word of God? Can we rely on its promises? Will God actually cause wars to cease and usher in permanent peace earthwide? Jesus Christ, the wisest man to walk the earth, found no reason to question the reliability of God’s written Word. He believed what it said. In fact, he repeatedly quoted it as an authority, and, in appreciative prayer to his Father, confessed: “Your word is truth.”—John 17:17.
Long before Jesus’ day other outstanding leaders expressed similar confidence in God’s Word. Noteworthy are the words of aged Joshua, the military leader used by God to bring the Israelites into the Promised Land. Shortly before his death at the advanced age of 110 years, he said: “Now, look! I am going today in the way of all the earth, and you well know with all your hearts and with all your souls that not one word out of all the good words that Jehovah your God has spoken to you has failed. They have all come true for you. Not one word of them has failed.”—Josh. 23:14.
Joshua and his fellow Israelites were eyewitnesses to the fulfillment of many promises contained in God’s Word. These things that God had spoken in advance came to pass before their very eyes! It was miraculous! What assurance it was to them that God’s Word could be trusted and relied upon! A consideration of those words of God that did not fail in Joshua’s day will be strengthening to our confidence in the Word of God today.
EARLY COMPILATION OF THE SURE WORD
At the time of Joshua’s farewell address to his people the written Word of God included the first five books of the Bible, known as the Pentateuch. Moses had finished writing these books some forty years earlier, just prior to his death. He compiled much of the information from previously written documents, one of which he identifies as “the book of Adam’s history.” (Gen. 5:1) In all, Moses used eleven of such books or historical documents as source material for the first thirty-six chapters of Genesis. From that point on Moses could gather information regarding events before his time from his father Amram and other older Israelites.—Gen. 2:4; 6:9; 10:1; 11:10, 27; 25:12, 19; 36:1, 9; 37:2.
One of those early historical documents that Moses consulted told of God’s curse upon Noah’s grandson Canaan, evidently stated by Noah because of some immoral act on Canaan’s part. At Genesis 9:25 and 26 it is recorded: “Cursed be Canaan. Let him become the lowest slave to his brothers. . . . Blessed be Jehovah, Shem’s God, and let Canaan become a slave to him.”
Joshua and the Israelites, who were descendants of Shem through Abraham, were well acquainted with this inspired curse stated many years before. Would it be fulfilled? In obedience to God’s instructions Joshua and his people crossed the Jordan River to take possession of the land inhabited by the descendants of the cursed Canaan. After the Israelites had defeated the cities of Jericho and Ai, Canaanites from the city of Gibeon came out to sue for peace. “We are your servants. And now conclude a covenant with us,” they said to Joshua.—Josh. 9:11.
In keeping with their request Joshua concluded a covenant with them, and said: “And now you are cursed people, and a slave’s position and being gatherers of wood and drawers of water for the house of my God will never be cut off from you.” What striking fulfillment of God’s Word! “And it came about that Israel grew strong and proceeded to set the Canaanites to forced labor.” For hundreds of years the Canaanites served the Israelites, proving God’s Word to be true.—Josh. 9:23; Judg. 1:28; 1 Ki. 9:20, 21.
PROMISES TO ABRAHAM
But why did Jehovah instruct the Israelites to take possession of the land of the demon-worshiping Canaanites? someone might wonder. It was because of a promise made over 400 years before to faithful Abraham. When Abraham obeyed God’s instructions to leave his home in Ur of the Chaldeans and travel to the land of Canaan, Jehovah said to him: “Raise your eyes, please, and look from the place where you are, northward and southward and eastward and westward, because all the land at which you are looking, to you and to your seed I am going to give it until time indefinite. And I will constitute your seed like the dust particles of the earth, so that, if a man could be able to count the dust particles of the earth, then your seed could be numbered.”—Gen. 13:14-16.
What an amazing promise to make to a childless man! Even when Abraham reached eighty-five years of age and his beloved wife Sarah seventy-five, they were still childless. At that time it was decided that Abraham should take Sarah’s handmaid Hagar in order to produce an heir. In time, Ishmael was born, but when he reached thirteen years of age God told Abraham that he was not to be the heir to whom the land would be given. Jehovah said: Ishmael “will certainly produce twelve chieftains, and I will make him become a great nation. However, my covenant I shall establish with Isaac, whom Sarah will bear to you at this appointed time next year.”—Gen. 17:20, 21.
Although Joshua and the Israelites did not personally witness the birth of Isaac, its occurrence was certainly evidence to them of the reliability of God’s Word. But what about the promise that Ishmael would produce twelve chieftains? The inspired record says: “Now these are the names of the sons of Ishmael, by their names, according to their family origins: Ishmael’s first-born Nebaioth and Kedar and Adbeel and Mibsam and Mishma and Dumah and Massa, Hadad and Tema, Jetur, Naphish and Kedemah.” Yes, Ishmael had twelve sons, in keeping with God’s promise!—Gen. 25:13-15.
Joshua had firsthand evidence that the word of God did not fail, for peoples bearing the names of Ishmael’s sons existed in his day. For example, in the book of Job, evidently written in Joshua’s day by Moses, “the caravans of Tema” are spoken about, and the prophet Isaiah wrote concerning “the land of Tema.” Kedar is repeatedly mentioned in the Bible, and, on one occasion, the Israelites fought against “Jetur and Naphish.” Ishmael did indeed “become a great nation,” just as Jehovah said.—Job 6:19; Isa. 21:14, 16, 17; Jer. 49:28; 1 Chron. 5:19.
PROPHECIES OF ISAAC AND JACOB
Abraham’s son Isaac had two sons, the twins Jacob and Esau. In a prophecy concerning his son Esau, Isaac said under God’s inspiration: “Behold, away from the fertile soils of the earth your dwelling will be found, and away from the dew of the heavens above. And by your sword you will live, and your brother you will serve. But it will certainly occur that, when you grow restless, you will indeed break his yoke off your neck.”—Gen. 27:39, 40.
Joshua and the Israelites were eyewitnesses to the trueness of this word of God. They could see that “Esau [also called Edom] took up dwelling in the mountainous region of Seir,” away from the fertile soils of the earth. In time the rest of this prophecy also had its fulfillment. An ancient trade route between Palestine and Arabia ran through their territory and the Edomites made their living by robbing and pillaging the caravans. They lived by the sword.—Gen. 36:8.
Later, in fulfillment of the prediction that they would serve their Israelite brothers, “all the Edomites came to be servants of David.” However, in keeping with the final part of the prophecy, in the days of King Jehoram of Judah “Edom revolted from under the hand of Judah.” Truly, not one word that God spoke failed!—2 Sam. 8:14; 2 Ki. 8:20-22.
Under the direction of God’s spirit Isaac’s son Jacob blessed his twelve sons and his grandsons Ephraim and Manasseh. By this time Jacob and his large household had moved down to Egypt, and it was there that Jacob uttered his deathbed blessing. “The scepter [symbol of kingship] will not turn aside from Judah, neither the commander’s staff from between his feet,” Jacob foretold. And, true to this word, when the rulership came into Judah’s line with the crowning of David, it did not turn aside from the tribe of Judah.—Gen. 49:8-10.
Although Joshua did not live to see the fulfillment of this prophecy, he saw the prediction concerning Manasseh and Ephraim come to pass before his very eyes. Jacob had foretold: Ephraim “will become greater than [Manasseh], and his offspring will become the full equivalent of nations.” When the Israelites left Egypt about two hundred years later, the census showed that the tribe of Ephraim outnumbered the tribe of Manasseh by some thousands, and toward the end of the wilderness march Moses spoke of “the tens of thousands of Ephraim,” but only “the thousands of Manasseh.”—Gen. 48:19; Num. 1:33-35; Deut. 33:17.
FROM EGYPT TO THE PROMISED LAND
Joshua and his fellow Israelites saw many more marvelous fulfillments of God’s Word as they moved out of Egypt and on to the Promised Land. Jehovah had told Abraham: “Your seed will become an alien resident in a land not theirs,” but “they will go out with many goods.” Later, while the Israelites were still captives in that “land not theirs,” Jehovah said to Moses: “I am proceeding to go down to deliver them out of the hand of the Egyptians and to bring them up out of that land . . . And I will give this people favor in the eyes of the Egyptians; and it will certainly occur that when you go, you will not go empty-handed.”—Gen. 15:13, 14; Ex. 3:8, 21, 22.
How exciting were the following developments! When Pharaoh refused to let Israel leave Egypt, Jehovah sent his messenger Moses to warn him that Jehovah was turning the Nile River to blood. True to God’s word, the Nile River became like blood, killing the fish and making the water undrinkable. Repeatedly God warned Pharaoh of plagues to come, and when, each time, Pharaoh became obstinate, Jehovah brought the plague according to his word. Not once did his word fail!—Exodus chapters 7 to 12.
After the tenth plague, which struck dead every firstborn in Egypt, Pharaoh urged the Israelites to leave. Did they “go out with many goods” as God had foretold hundreds of years before? They certainly did! “Jehovah gave the people favor in the eyes of the Egyptians, so that these granted what was asked; and they stripped the Egyptians.” How impressive it was to young Joshua to see Jehovah’s word repeatedly come true!—Ex. 12:35, 36.
In the wilderness Jehovah’s word continued to prove reliable. One month after bringing them out of Egypt, God promised: “Here I am raining down bread for you from the heavens; and the people must go out and pick up each his amount day for day.” And, sure enough, God provided that ‘bread from heaven.’ “When the sons of Israel got to see it, they began to say to one another: ‘What is it?’” It was the bread that Jehovah had promised, which the Israelites called “manna.”—Ex. 16:2-36.
After a while the Israelites complained because all they had to eat was this manna. They wanted meat. So Jehovah promised: “Sanctify yourselves for tomorrow, as you will certainly eat meat.” Although it seemed impossible to supply such a multitude in that wilderness, Jehovah kept his word. He caused a wind that “began driving quails from the sea and letting them fall above the camp.” The number of birds was staggering!—Num. 11:4-33.
Finally the Israelites came to the boundaries of the Promised Land. Because of their disobedience they had wandered forty years in the wilderness. Would God now give them this land, in keeping with his promise to Abraham? Even though the Canaanite inhabitants were a mighty foe, Jehovah encouraged: “You must take possession of the land and dwell in it, because to you I shall certainly give the land to take possession of it.” How reassuring to Joshua was this sure word of God!—Num. 33:50-53.
Years later, after the conquest of the land of the Canaanites, aged Joshua reminded his people: “You took possession of their land, just as Jehovah your God had promised you.” That is the point Joshua wanted to impress upon their minds: Rely on Jehovah’s word, for it always comes true! “You well know with all your hearts and with all your souls,” Joshua emphasized, “that not one word out of all the good words that Jehovah your God has spoken to you has failed. They have all come true for you. Not one word of them has failed.”—Josh. 23:1-14.
Do you doubt God’s Word? Can you point to any promise of His that was due for fulfillment that failed to be fulfilled at His appointed time? It is impossible to do so, for “they have all come true.” You therefore have every reason to put confidence in the sure Word of God. Believe it. Live according to its righteous principles, and enjoy everlasting life in God’s peaceful new system of things.