Pay Attention to Prophecy
“PAY attention to yourselves,” said Jesus when instructing his disciples on proper attitude toward his prophecy concerning the time of the end. (Luke 21:34) Such a strong warning is especially appropriate now, because world developments have caused individuals and even governments to realize the desirability of looking into the future. They have many “prophets”: students of history and politics, news analysts and even astrologers, an inheritance from ancient Babylon. But these have failed, just as they failed ancient Babylon, and they continue to fail to be able to foretell the future with accuracy and dependability.—Isa. 47:12-15; 44:25, 26.
PROPHECIES PROCLAIMED EARTH WIDE TODAY
Unlike the prophecies or forecasts of men, which are at best only educated guesses, the prophecies of Jehovah are from the mind of the One who created the universe, the One powerful enough to direct the course of events to fulfill his word. Jehovah’s prophecies are in his Word, the Bible, available to all persons. All have opportunity, if they desire, to take heed and sincerely seek understanding of them. Those who do not read can hear, for God has on earth today a prophetlike organization, just as he did in the days of the early Christian congregation. (Acts 16:4, 5) He designates these Christians as his “faithful and discreet slave.” (Matt. 24:45-47) This “slave” group is strictly commanded: “Do not treat prophesyings with contempt.” (1 Thess. 5:20) This has proved true of Jehovah’s anointed witnesses on earth. They pay attention to prophecy with the greatest respectfulness. They have corrected themselves when prophecy revealed their own shortcomings. They have not held back when prophecy has condemned practices followed even in Christendom. (Isa. 58:1) Yes, they have proclaimed the prophecies written in God’s Word even though this has brought world hatred toward them.—Matt. 24:9.
JEHOVAH’S PROPHECY COMES TRUE
For outstanding proof of the need to pay attention to prophecy, let us look briefly into a section of history near the end of the kingdom of Judah, ruled by kings of the line of David. We break in at the time of King Manasseh, fourteenth king after David. Succeeding his father, good King Hezekiah, to the throne, he ruled for fifty-five years. He had ample opportunity to know the history of the nation and the prophecies that Jehovah had caused to be fulfilled toward his forefathers. God had prophesied concerning any king on the throne of David: “When he does wrong, I will also reprove him with the rod of men and with the strokes of the sons of Adam.” Directly contrary to God’s word and prophecy, Manasseh turned to Babylonish religion, such as astrology, magic, omens, sorcery, divinations and professional foretellers of events. He even performed human sacrifice, of his own royal sons, to the Canaanite god Baal. He set up altars for the worship of the sun, moon and stars in two courtyards of Jehovah’s own temple in Jerusalem, and also set up “the carved image that he had made” in this holy temple. God’s prophecy, therefore, came true on him through the heavy hand of Assyria, the Second World Power, as God’s instrument to fulfill the prophecy.—2 Sam. 7:14; 2 Chron. 33:1-7.
But Manasseh’s contempt for God’s word through Moses and his other prophets brought more than punishment on Manasseh himself. His rebelliousness led Judah to act more wickedly than the pagan inhabitants of the land. Jehovah God sent a stinging prophecy that should have opened his ears: “Here I am bringing a calamity upon Jerusalem and Judah, of which if anyone hears both his ears will tingle. . . . and I shall simply wipe Jerusalem clean just as one wipes the handleless bowl clean, wiping it clean and turning it upside down. And I shall indeed forsake the remnant of my inheritance and give them into the hand of their enemies.”—2 Ki. 21:10-15.
Manasseh’s stubborn course resulted in the shedding of innocent blood in the land “in very great quantity.” (2 Ki. 21:16) This, according to the literature of the Jewish rabbis, included the blood of Isaiah, whom they say was sawed apart at King Manasseh’s command. Manasseh despised a very similar prophecy that Isaiah brought from Jehovah stating: “Look! Jehovah is emptying the land and laying it waste, and he has twisted the face of it and scattered its inhabitants. . . . Without fail the land will be emptied, and without fail it will be plundered, for Jehovah himself has spoken this word. The land has gone to mourning, has faded away. . . . And the very land has been polluted under its inhabitants, for they have bypassed the laws, changed the regulation, broken the indefinitely lasting covenant [based on the Ten Commandments]. That is why the curse itself has eaten up the land, and those inhabiting it are held guilty. . . . And its transgression has become heavy upon it, and it must fall.”—Isa. 24:1-20.
Manasseh’s acts of wickedness caused God to determine that now Jerusalem and the land of Judah were so defiled that they could not escape being emptied and desolated for a period of time. (2 Ki. 23:26, 27) But, for ignoring God’s word and prophecy, Manasseh first had to be punished. We read: “Jehovah kept speaking to Manasseh and his people, but they paid no attention. Finally Jehovah brought against them the chiefs of the army that belonged to the king of Assyria,a and so they captured Manasseh . . . and took him to Babylon [which the king of Assyria had made one of his residences].” Manasseh’s subsequent repentance and attempt to restore true worship and God’s response with mercy to him are recorded at 2 Chronicles 33:10-17.
ATTENTION TO PROPHECY BRINGS PROTECTION
Manasseh was succeeded by his son Amon, who resumed pagan idolatry. He was murdered, but the people loyally stuck to the house of David and put his eight-year-old son Josiah upon the throne. Thus David’s line retained the throne, as God had prophesied. (2 Chron. 33:18-25) At nineteen years of age King Josiah began to cleanse the whole kingdom of false worship. He paid attention to Jehovah’s prophets. (2 Chron. 34:1-7) Therefore the Second World Power, Assyria, was never able to take Judah and Jerusalem into captivity. Josiah saw Assyria itself fall in 633 B.C.E., fulfilling the prophecy of Nahum concerning Nineveh, capital of Assyria, which was destroyed by the kingdom of Media and its allies. (Nah. 1:1; 3:1, 5, 7; 1:15) This proves that Jehovah the God of prophecy is true and is the Universal Sovereign.
Present at Nineveh’s fall was the commander of the Chaldean army, Nebuchadnezzar, son of King Nabopolassar, who had been a general of King Assurbanipal of Assyria. Nabopolassar had taken over the kingship of Babylon at the time Assurbanipal died. He was a Chaldean by descent, a Semite (the Assyrians were also Semites). He established a dynasty of kings that ended with Belshazzar. After the fall of Nineveh, Nebuchadnezzar was associated with his father in the kingship of Babylon.b
Josiah took six years to complete his work of cleansing the land of Judah and the temple of Jehovah at Jerusalem of false worship, which included Babylonish astrology and professional foretellers of events. While having Jehovah’s temple repaired, High Priest Hilkiah found the “book of Jehovah’s law by the hand of Moses.” This was doubtless the original book of the law written by Moses, which would cause a sensation. (2 Chron. 34:8-15) The book climaxed with the words: “And it must occur that just as Jehovah exulted over you to do you good and to multiply you, so Jehovah will exult over you to destroy you and to annihilate you; and you will simply be torn away from off the soil to which you are going to take possession of it. And Jehovah will certainly scatter you among all the peoples from the one end of the earth to the other end of the earth . . . ” On hearing this read, conscientious King Josiah was terrified.—Deut. 28:63-65; 2 Chron. 34:19.
Josiah with great earnestness sent High Priest Hilkiah with a delegation to “inquire of Jehovah in my own behalf and in behalf of what is left in Israel and in Judah concerning the words of the book that has been found, for great is Jehovah’s rage that must be poured out against us . . . ” God answered them through the prophetess Huldah in Jerusalem: “This is what Jehovah has said, ‘Here I am bringing calamity upon this place and its inhabitants, all the curses that are written in the book that they read before the king of Judah, due to the fact that they have left me and gone making sacrificial smoke to other gods, in order to offend me with all the doings of their hands and that my rage may pour forth upon this place and not be extinguished.’”
But Jehovah showed loving-kindness and considerateness to King Josiah, saying: “Here I am gathering you to your forefathers, . . . and your eyes will not look upon all the calamity that I am bringing upon this place and its inhabitants.”
King Josiah then held a meeting of all the people at the temple in Jerusalem, reading to them “all the words of the book of the covenant, which had been found at the house of Jehovah.” Then he led the people in concluding a covenant of faithfulness to Jehovah. The good results of the king’s respectfulness for Jehovah’s word and prophecy were: “All his days they did not turn aside from following Jehovah the God of their forefathers.”—2 Chron. 34:21-33.
After reigning thirty-one years, Josiah inadvisedly took action that resulted in his death, in 628 B.C.E. It came about in this way: The one-time First World Power, Egypt, had been overthrown by Esarhaddon, king of Assyria, and, after a revolt, had been reconquered by his son Assurbanipal. But Nineveh was later destroyed and southern Assyria and also the title to Egypt, Palestine and Syria had fallen to Babylonia under King Nabopolassar. Now, Nechoh (Necho), Pharaoh or king of Egypt, asserted himself against domination by Babylon, Assyria’s successor as the new world power. He led his armies northward toward Carchemish on the Euphrates River about fifty miles west of Haran.
King Josiah led his armies out, evidently to block the passage of the armies of Nechoh. Pharaoh Nechoh tried to dissuade Josiah, saying: “Refrain for your own sake because of God, who is with me, and do not let him bring you to ruin.” However, “Josiah did not turn his face away from him, but to fight against him he disguised himself and did not listen to the words of Necho from the mouth of God. So he came to fight in the valley plain of Megiddo.” Besides ignoring God’s warning, Josiah’s move was bad in that it favored Babylon, ever the enemy of Jerusalem. Josiah’s disguise did not shield him, for an Egyptian arrow found him and he died.—2 Chron. 35:20-25.
Josiah’s younger son Jehoahaz then ruled badly for three months and was captured by Pharaoh Nechoh, who made Jehoahaz’ older brother Eliakim king of Judah, changing his name to Jehoiakim. Jehoiakim’s unrighteous reign lasted eleven years.—2 Chron. 36:1-5; 2 Ki. 23:30-37.
JERUSALEM SUFFERS FOR IGNORING PROPHECY
At the beginning of King Jehoiakim’s rule God sent word to His prophet Jeremiah that He would make His temple like the tabernacle set up in the city of Shiloh, forever bereft of the sacred ark of God’s covenant. So far had Judah drifted from the worship of Jehovah that the priests, prophets and people considered this true prophet treasonous and laid hold of Jeremiah, saying: “You will positively die.” But when Jeremiah made his defense before the princes of Judah, they found no basis for putting him to death and set him free for the time being.—Jer. 26:1-24; 7:1-34.
In 625 B.C.E. Nebuchadnezzar became king of Babylon, the Third World Power. In that year he defeated Pharaoh Nechoh the king of Egypt in battle at Carchemish by the Euphrates River. (Jer. 46:1, 2) In that year Jeremiah, by inspiration, foretold a seventy-year-long desolation of Jerusalem and the land of Judah for despising the word of Jehovah and his prophets. Jeremiah warned: “Therefore this is what Jehovah of armies has said, ‘For the reason that you did not obey my words, here I am sending and I will take all the families of the north, . . . even sending to Nebuchadrezzar the king of Babylon, my servant, and I will bring them against this land and against its inhabitants and against all these nations round about . . . And all this land must become a devastated place, an object of astonishment, and these nations will have to serve the king of Babylon seventy years.’” (Jer. 25:1-11) The age-old enmity between these two cities was approaching unavoidable military clash, which will be discussed in the next article of this series.
In the prophecy King Nebuchadnezzar was likened to a drinking cup of Jehovah’s rage. Jeremiah said: “This is what Jehovah the God of Israel said to me: ‘Take this cup of the wine of rage out of my hand, and you must make all the nations to whom I am sending you drink it. And they must drink and shake back and forth and act like crazed men because of the sword [of Nebuchadnezzar] that I am sending among them.’”—Jer. 25:15, 16.
NATIONS TO DRINK CUP OF JEHOVAH’S RAGE
In a symbolic way Jeremiah, by prophesying, passed the cup to the nations, making them drink the prophetic message before drinking its fulfillment: “I proceeded to take the cup out of the hand of Jehovah and to make all the nations drink to whom Jehovah had sent me: namely, Jerusalem and the cities of Judah and her kings, her princes, to make them a devastated place, an object of astonishment, something to whistle at and a malediction, just as at this day.” After putting Jerusalem first in the order of being served with the cup of wine of divine rage, Jeremiah mentions in rapid order the countries of Egypt, Uz, Philistia, Edom, Moab, Ammon, Tyre, Sidon, Dedan, Tema, Buz, Arabia, Zimri, Elam, Media. Yes, “and all the other kingdoms of the earth that are on the surface of the ground.”—Jer. 25:17-26.
Finally Jeremiah climaxes the serving of the cup from Jehovah’s hand by adding: “And the king of Sheshach himself will drink after them.” (Jer. 25:26) Jewish tradition has it that this name Sheshach is a cipher for the Hebrew name Babel (or Babylon), on the system by which the last letter of the Hebrew alphabet (taw) is substituted for the first letter of the alphabet (aleph), and the next to the last letter (shin) is substituted for the second letter of the alphabet (beth), the third last letter (resh) for the third (gimel), and so on.c Besides, the name Sheshach has the thought of humiliation, which was due for Babylon. Another suggestion is that Sheshach means “copper-gated,” which description was true of Babylon. This prophecy would mean, then, that the king of Babylon would cease to be the symbolic cup in Jehovah’s hand, but would, in turn, have the symbolic cup of wine, in the form of another king, put to his own lips. In that case it would be exclaimed: “O how Sheshach has been captured, and how the Praise of the whole earth gets to be seized! How Babylon has become a mere object of astonishment among the nations!”—Jer. 51:41.
So God would use Babylon as a convenient executional instrument, yet for Babylon, his bitter all-time enemy, the hater of Jerusalem, the city that stood for his name, Jehovah prophesied utter desolation: “And it must occur that when seventy years have been fulfilled [on Jerusalem and the land of Judah] I shall call to account against the king of Babylon and against that nation, . . . their error, even against the land of the Chaldeans, and I will make it desolate wastes to time indefinite. And I will bring in upon that land all my words that I have spoken against it, even all that is written in this book that Jeremiah has prophesied against all the nations. For even they themselves, many nations and great kings, have exploited them [Jehovah’s people] as servants; and I will repay them according to their activity and according to the work of their hands.”—Jer. 25:12-14.
According to the Christian apostle Paul, even the events that we have just reviewed are themselves prophetic, typical of something greater. Here was a people that had God’s name upon them and who went farther than the pagan nations in bringing reproach upon his name. Christendom has taken God’s name and that of his Son Jesus Christ, yet has brought more reproach upon the name of God and Christ than the pagan nations. Also, in Babylon, the ancient hater of God and his people, there is pictorial significance of the world empire of false religion, always God’s bitter enemy. The prophecy of Jehovah came to be true upon Jerusalem and later upon Babylon. His words cannot fail today, to bring destruction upon those who despise his Word. Those who pay attention to prophecy by diligently studying and quickly acting as prophecy directs will receive his favor. Jehovah is “the One telling from the beginning the finale.” He commands: “Listen, and your soul will keep alive.” So, if you wish to keep alive, pay attention to prophecy!—Isa. 46:10; 55:3.
a In Esar-haddon’s list of twenty-two tribute-paying kings of the Westland we find “Manasseh of Judah.”—The Encyclopedia Americana, edition of 1929, Volume 2, page 440b. Manasseh appears also in a list of kings tributary to Assurbanipal.
b See pages 4, 5, 300 of Nebuchadnezzar, of 1931 edition, by G. R. Tabouis. However, Tabouis gives the date of Nineveh’s fall as 612 B.C.E., which is not in agreement with our date of 633 B.C.E
c See footnote on Jeremiah 25:26, page 269, of Volume 4, of the New World Translation of the Hebrew Scriptures, 1958 edition. Also, Lexicon for the Old Testament Books, by Koehler and Baumgartner, Volume 2, page 1014a, edition of 1953.