Believers in Good Luck
Are they wise? What is their destiny?
SURPASSING strange it is that a people with such a long history of divine acts of blessing and protection, the Jews, should be addressed by God’s prophet in these words: “But you men are those leaving Jehovah, those forgetting my holy mountain, those setting in order a table for the god of Good Luck and those filling up mixed wine for the god of Destiny.” (Isa. 65:11) Yet they had indeed forgotten Mount Zion, where a holy temple stood, as the place of exclusive worship of Jehovah. Oh, they still went through a form of worship there, but their hearts were not in it. Pagan superstitions and human reasonings had completely degraded their view of Jehovah’s holy mountain. To them the presence of the temple in their capital city was a token that Jehovah was obligated to protect and bless them regardless of their failure to walk in his statutes. It was like a talisman.—Jer. 7:1-15.
Picture for yourself that beautiful complex of buildings situated upon a prominent plateau, constructed of gleaming white stone, ornamented with plates of beaten gold that catch and reflect the rays of the sun!1 Imagine how resplendent would be the sight! If such a structure were located in the capital city of your native land and were closely identified with your religion, how proud you would be!
Keep in mind this impressive backdrop as you read the account recorded at Luke 21:5, 6: “Later, as certain ones were speaking concerning the temple, how it was adorned with fine stones and dedicated things, he [Jesus] said: ‘As for these things that you are beholding, the days will come in which not a stone upon a stone will be left here and not be thrown down.’” Few Jews of that day would ever give credence to such a forecast. Were they not the natural descendants of Abraham and therefore the favorites of God? Was it not their destiny to become a great nation, the greatest, in fact? So no matter how degraded or corrupt they became, if only they stuck close to the holy temple and city they would get by somehow.
One can well imagine how such believers in shrines would consider Jesus’ further words of warning: “Furthermore, when you see Jerusalem surrounded by encamped armies, then know that the desolating of her has drawn near.” (Luke 21:20) Yet that same generation was to fill up the measure of their wickedness, beyond the point of Jehovah’s merciful long-suffering, by rejecting and violently killing his own Son, the Messiah. God’s goodwill was about to run out. Their rejection was nearer than they thought. God’s decree against them would be executed: “And I will destine you men to the sword, and you will all of you bow down to being slaughtered; for the reason that I called, but you did not answer; I spoke, but you did not listen; and you kept doing what was bad in my eyes, and the thing in which I took no delight you chose.”—Isa. 65:12.
In the writings of the Jewish historian Josephus we can read of the astounding fulfillment of Jesus’ prophecy as it began to unfold just thirty-three years after Jesus stated it. This Josephus became a prisoner of war to the Romans and an unwilling witness of the many terrible woes that engulfed his own people. There were many factions among the Jews, many radical fanatics, sowers of sedition against the Roman domination, restless seekers after innovation in all spheres of life. Roman legions under Cestius Gallus were finally dispatched in the year 66 C.E. to quell rebellion and punish offenders. His armies penetrated the suburbs of Jerusalem spreading havoc, but most of the inhabitants retired behind the city walls and prepared for siege. The rank and file would gladly have opened the gates to Cestius. However, a group of extreme revolutionists were in control, and they would hear of no capitulation. The enemy armies surrounded the city. Then came a most unexpected development, as recorded by Josephus: “It then happened that Cestius was not conscious either how the besieged despaired of success, nor how courageous the people were for him; and so he recalled his soldiers from the place, and by despairing of any expectation of taking it, without having received any disgrace, he retired from the city, without any reason in the world.”2
WARNING SIGN IGNORED
How proudly exultant the Jews would be at this apparent victory! They doubtless assumed that Jehovah had been with them and that this was another evidence that they were justified in hoping for the best. They should, in fact, have been giving attention to Jesus’ urgent warning: “Then [when they had seen Jerusalem surrounded by armies] let those in Judea begin fleeing to the mountains, and let those in the midst of her withdraw, and let those in the country places not enter into her because these are days for meting out justice, that all the things written may be fulfilled.” (Luke 21:21, 22) Only a few thousands, followers of the despised Jesus of Nazareth and the few who were influenced by them, took note of the warning signal of surrounding encamped armies and fled to the mountains of Gilead across Jordan soon after Cestius’ troops withdrew.
On the other hand, the faithless, superstitious Jews stuck with their holy city and temple, while other multitudes moved in from the country places for fear of expected reprisals by the Romans. In fact, at Passover time in the year 70 C.E. a vast crowd from all over Palestine swelled the population far beyond normal. At this juncture the legions of General Titus laid siege to the city. The historian relates how Titus determined to “build a wall round about the whole city, which was, he thought, the only way to prevent the Jews coming out any way. . . . So all hope of escaping was now cut off from the Jews, together with the liberty of going out of the city.”3
Josephus relates how, at one critical point, as the Romans sought to capture the temple hill, fanatical Jews, worn out by hunger and the ardors of the siege, still staged a desperate attempt to save their holy house from desecration. Despair, mingled with a wild belief that somehow at the last moment Jehovah would step in and fight for them, galvanized them to fierce onslaughts against the invaders. Soon, however, against Titus’ expressed wish, the temple was in flames, and as Josephus puts it, “thus the holy house burnt down without Caesar’s (Titus’) approbation.”4 A melancholy sight it must have been for the Jews still surviving to see their glorious holy place reduced to a blackened stone shell filled with the charred and smoking remains of all the beautiful carved cedar furnishings.
Shortly the entire city was at the mercy of the Romans. Over a million Jews had perished, either in the fighting or in the famine occasioned by the siege. Some 97,000 captives were shipped off as slaves to Egypt and other faraway places. Parents, who had endured the misery of helplessly watching their young children waste away and die of starvation, now also had to suffer the anguish of having surviving children torn from them and sent into slavery with little hope of any future reunion. How terribly accurate had been the prophecy by Jesus: “Woe to the pregnant women and the ones suckling a baby in those days! For there will be great necessity upon the land and wrath on this people; and they will fall by the edge of the sword and be led captive into all the nations.” (Luke 21:23, 24) Where now was their favored status with God—to hope for the best?
Josephus then reports that “Caesar gave orders that [his legions] should now demolish the entire city and the temple . . . This was the end which Jerusalem came to by reason of the madness of those who were for innovations [fanatical, rebel Jews], a city otherwise of great magnificence, and of mighty fame among all mankind.”5 Truly, not a stone upon a stone was left there, just as Jesus had forewarned. Even the sacred vessels and the furniture, all they could lay their hands on, were carried off by the enemy to grace the victory procession of General Titus at Rome.
WHERE DO WE STAND?
Yet, still in our critical era, people are heard to say, ‘There’s nothing we can do but just hope for the best.’ They are mere believers in Good Luck. How foolish to permit ourselves the vain idea that we are lucky to have been born into some certain race or nation; that we are safe as long as we stick close to some great and imposing religious organization; that our particular nation is the superior one, the favorite of the gods, with a glorious destiny ahead! Is our case any stronger than that of the Jews? Their advantages failed them. They had to witness their dream of a glorious destiny dissolve into rubble and ashes because they disobeyed God.
The wise course is to take stock of our position and ascertain how we may flee, separate ourselves, from a doomed system of things, as did those faithful followers of Christ who forsook Jerusalem at the opportune time. They were the ones who survived and who could gain comfort from the expectation aroused by Jesus when he added to his prophecy: “And Jerusalem will be trampled on by the nations, until the appointed times of the nations are fulfilled.” (Luke 21:24) Instead of worshiping at the altars of Good Luck and Destiny, we should turn to the one Creator God, Jehovah, and worship him in spirit and in truth, for he it is who can and will replace the corrupt rule of the nations with his glorious Kingdom rule, which will be for the blessing of men and women of every race and nation who fear him and work righteousness.—Acts 10:34, 35.
1 Wars of the Jews, Book V, chap. v, par. 6.
2 Ibid., Book II, chap. xix, par. 7.
3 Ibid., Book V, chap. xii, pars. 1-3.
4 Ibid., Book VI, chap. iv, par. 7.
5 Ibid., Book VII, chap. i, par. 1.