Recovery Still Possible
“‘Return to me, and I will return to you,’ Jehovah of armies has said.”—Mal. 3:7.
1. For what two reasons should we give special heed to God’s Word today?
THERE is every reason to believe that the Bible is indeed the Word of God, the divinely inspired record telling us of the purpose and the personality of the true God, Jehovah. There is also every reason to believe that it was primarily written for our day. Why? Because it can be proved from the Scriptures that we are living in the “last days” of the present system of things, with its “critical times hard to deal with.” This is the period of judgment concerning which Jesus gave his great prophecy, recorded at Matthew chapter 24, stated in reply to the question: “What will be the sign of your presence and of the conclusion of the system of things?” For these two reasons we are keenly interested in ascertaining the Bible’s message for our day, and in giving that message utmost respect.—2 Tim. 3:1; Matt. 24:3.
2. (a) What proves that the Bible was written primarily for the “last days”? (b) How did Jesus illustrate the judgment work instituted at his return?
2 Since the Bible shows that God foresaw this critical time, it is only reasonable to expect that he would give special enlightenment concerning it, partly because of the many dangers and pressures peculiar to our day, also because of the tremendous witness to be given and work to be done before the complete end. (Matt. 24:14) But we are not left to conjecture about this. The apostle Paul says that “all the things that were written aforetime were written for our instruction,” and that “they were written for a warning to us upon whom the ends of the systems of things have arrived.” There is also the promise that “the path of the righteous ones is like the bright light that is getting lighter and lighter until the day is firmly established.” Additionally, when Jesus gave his great prophecy, he rounded this out with three prophetic illustrations, each telling of a work of judgment that he would institute and direct at the time of his return. He tells how he, as the bridegroom, would deal with the virgins who should be ready to meet him on his arrival for the marriage feast. Again, he tells how he, as the master, would, on his return, reckon with those to whom he had given talents with which to trade during his absence. Lastly, he tells how he, on being enthroned as king, would separate the people of all nations “as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats,” meting out a due reward or recompense to each class.—Rom. 15:4; 1 Cor. 10:11; Prov. 4:18; Matt. 25:1-46.
3. What further illustrations have particular meaning for our day?
3 There are other prophetic parables that find their fulfillment in this day, “in the conclusion of the system of things,” as Jesus said in explaining the illustration of the weeds being separated from the wheat at the harvesttime. There is also the illustration of the nobleman, picturing Christ Jesus, who travels to a distant land to receive kingly power and then returns and metes out judgment to his slaves to whom he had given silver money (minas), and to the citizens who did not want him to be king over them.—Matt. 13:36-43; Luke 19:12-27.
4. (a) What feature is common to all of these parables? (b) Are our individual destinies already fixed, giving rise to what possibility and problem?
4 All these parables find their fulfillment in “the last days” and all have a common feature. In each case two classes are made manifest, one approved and the other disapproved. Beyond doubt, we are well advanced in these “last days.” (2 Tim. 3:1) In fact, it has lasted much longer than we originally anticipated. But that does not mean that our destinies, as individuals, are already fixed, as finally approved or disapproved. For those who become conscious of their spiritual need, recovery is still possible. Of course, as Jesus said, it would be good for all to be ever “conscious of their spiritual need,” realizing their dependence on Jehovah and his provisions. (Matt. 5:3) But, apart from that, it is still possible for a person to come to his senses, so to speak, even in this late day, and realize his need to change his course of action radically, at the same time wondering if there is any hope in his case. With this problem in mind, let us search further in the Scriptures for enlightenment and guidance.
HOPE OF RECOVERY
5. In what three ways do many prophecies, including Malachi’s, and their application or fulfillment?
5 Turning to the prophecy of Malachi, we find in chapters three and four one of the most forceful passages concerning the “last days.” Like many other prophecies, Malachi had a message for the nation of Israel at the time it was given. It also had a measure of fulfillment when Jesus was on earth, as proved by quotations from it in the Greek Scriptures. (See Malachi 3:1; 4:5, 6, and Matthew 11:10, 14; 17:10-13; Luke 1:76.) But, as with other prophecies, it finds its major fulfillment in this greatest of all critical periods, as shown by the reference to the “coming of the great and fear-inspiring day of Jehovah,” with the impending danger of Jehovah’s ‘actually striking the earth with a devoting of it to destruction.’—Mal. 4:5, 6.
6. Why was Malachi’s judgment message so strong, leading to what questions?
6 The message of judgment here is strong and direct. No words are wasted. Jehovah says: “I will come near to you people for the judgment, and I will become a speedy witness” against the various wicked ones mentioned who “have not feared me.” (Mal. 3:5) The general tenor throughout this book of Malachi shows that conditions called for such a strong word, revealing the low spiritual ebb that the Jews had reached, specially the priests, who had become self-righteous and indifferent to a marked degree. Was there no hope for anyone? Was it useless for God to make any further appeal? Notice what immediately follows Jehovah’s warning:
7. (a) How does Malachi 3:6 show Jehovah’s consistency? (b) Being God’s chosen people entailed what?
7 “For I am Jehovah; I have not changed. And you are sons of Jacob; you have not come to your finish.” (Mal. 3:6) Jehovah is consistent. Because these people were the children of their beloved forefathers, he would not hastily cast them off, though deserving it. Yes, they had been deserving it a long time, as Jehovah next reminds them, saying: “From the days of your forefathers you have turned aside from my regulations and have not kept them.” (Mal. 3:7) While it was an advantage to be God’s chosen people, it also entailed a definite responsibility, as he told them: “You people only have I known out of all the families of the ground. That is why I shall hold an accounting against you for all your errors.” (Amos 3:2) So in view of such a bad deflection in Malachi’s day, we again ask, Was there any hope of recovery? What does Jehovah next say?
8. What appeal did Jehovah make to Israel, and on what basis?
8 “‘Return to me, and I will return to you,’ Jehovah of armies has said.” (Mal. 3:7) What a merciful appeal! Though the nation and its leaders had “turned aside” and lapsed into corrupt practices, yet any who came to their senses were reminded that Jehovah, on his part, was inviting and just waiting for them to return to him. Notice, the appeal was not made to those who had never known God, but to those in covenant relationship with him and who had badly misused their opportunities and wandered far off in sinful indulgence. As Jehovah said to them: “I have spread out my hands all day long to a stubborn people, those who are walking in the way that is not good.”—Isa. 65:2.
9. (a) To whom is Jehovah ready to extend help and how? (b) Why does he do this, and why should we be interested?
9 Hence, having taken the wrong way, these people had, of course, to make the first move in returning to God. The same is true today. God does not turn his face in favor toward those who persistently reject him. But as regards those who are honest and humble enough to recognize their plight and start making steps in the right direction, they find a divinely provided means that gives them the necessary incentive to continue retracing their steps until fully restored to God’s favor in union with him. It is by making such a merciful provision that Jehovah does his part in the matter of the two-way returning, so that it becomes a mutual approach. (Mal. 3:7) Otherwise, it is to be feared that not many would make it. This merciful provision concerns us all. Hence we are keenly interested to learn what it is, so that we can take advantage of it ourselves and help others to do so. The answer is found in the remaining part of Malachi’s prophecy, which we will briefly review.
THE INCENTIVE TO RETURN TO JEHOVAH
10. (a) What characteristic marks the latter part of Malachi’s prophecy? (b) What charge and what invitation and promise are given at Malachi 3:8-12?
10 As we look through the passage of Scripture from Malachi 3:7 to 4:6, we note a striking series of short, sharp sentences of adverse judgment, but in each case there is added a word of fine promise and encouragement, building up within us a great desire and incentive to share in the good things foretold. First, the people are told how they had robbed and cursed God. This is followed by an invitation to bring all their dues, or tithes, into his storehouse, with the promise of an abundant blessing, “until there is no more want.” Such bringers of tithes are additionally promised an unfailing fruitage, and they would be recognized by “all the nations” as a happy people, living under delightful conditions.—Mal. 3:8-12.
11. What contrast is made and what fine promise given at Malachi 3:13-18?
11 Next, Jehovah takes issue with those who had spoken strong words against him. In contrast, this criticism is followed by a description of how Jehovah pays close attention to “those in fear of Jehovah” and “those thinking upon his name.” He kindly has a “book of remembrance” written up on their behalf. He gives them the fine promise: “They will certainly become mine . . . at the day when I am producing a special property.” They are shown compassion, “just as a man shows compassion upon his son who is serving him.” A clear distinction is made between those serving God and the wicked who refuse to serve him. That is, one class is manifestly approved and the other disapproved.—Mal. 3:13-18.
12. What judgment and what blessing are pronounced at Malachi 4:1-3?
12 Next follows a vivid passage describing what awaits the presumptuous and the wicked ones. However, those who fear Jehovah’s name will enjoy the healing benefits of the sunshine of his favor and will stand out as a spiritually strong and prosperous people, triumphant in the face of their enemies.—Mal. 4:1-3.
13. From the foregoing, how can we summarize what Jehovah will do for those who truly fear him?
13 The accumulative effect of the passages just considered is to build up in our minds a clear and inviting picture of a people in close union with Jehovah and enjoying his favor, like sons happy in the service of their father. Jehovah causes them to stand out distinct from all others, dwelling in their own land, as it were, in peace and happiness and prosperity. What a grand incentive to return to Jehovah!
14. (a) Who today meet these qualifications, and how? (b) How are Jehovah’s witnesses being used by him in this judgment day?
14 Is there such a people to be found in this day of the prophecy’s major fulfillment? Yes, indeed. In all the earth there is just the one body of people who are “in fear of Jehovah” and constantly “thinking upon his name.” (Mal. 3:16) In fact, they count it the greatest privilege and honor to bear his name as his witnesses, as mentioned at Isaiah 43:10-12. In the spirit of whole-souled devotion and dedication to Jehovah they bring their due support of his worship into his storehouse, that is, into his organization and its ministry. As a result, they are enjoying all the good things we have just reviewed, but not in a selfish way. They stand out distinct from Christendom and all the world, but they are not selfishly exclusive. They recognize their commission to preach the message of God’s kingdom in all the earth, “publicly and from house to house,” including the invitation to those who have wandered far off to return to Jehovah. (Acts 20:20) In this way Jehovah’s witnesses are being used to represent him who says: “Return to me, and I will return to you.” (Mal. 3:7) Through them he is carrying out his part of the promise in the matter of a mutual return on behalf of those who, for their part, have come to their senses and realize their need to return to him. We might add that the fact that Jehovah becomes a “speedy witness” in this inspection time implies the need for a speedy return on their part, but it is not too late. The appeal to return to Jehovah is still sounding forth.—Mal. 3:5, 7.
15. How does God’s Word make a strong appeal, for what purpose, and how related to his name?
15 It can truly be said that there is much in God’s Word that makes a strong appeal, both by direct word and by prophetic dramas and parables, expressed in very moving terms, as we shall see. These appeals abundantly confirm in unmistakable language the Creator’s own description of what his name stands for, as when he declared to Moses: “Jehovah, Jehovah, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abundant in loving-kindness and truth, preserving loving-kindness for thousands, pardoning error and transgression and sin, but [when necessary] by no means will he give exemption from punishment.” (Ex. 34:6, 7) These appeals are set forth in the Bible, not only to enlighten and guide those striving to serve God acceptably, but also to catch the attention of those who have fallen by the way, but who are not beyond hope of recovery.
16, 17. (a) How does God’s Word apply individually, and why is this important? (b) What prayer is appropriate, and what difficulty might this involve?
16 In this connection there is another aspect worth remembering. Though the Scriptures often deal with God’s people collectively, as a nation, or prophetically portray certain classes or groups, yet they always have their appeal to the individual reader. It is important to appreciate this, for though, as in Malachi’s day, adverse judgment is pronounced against a people persisting in its evil ways, yet that does not prevent an individual from coming to his senses and turning his heart to God. This must be backed up by the individual’s also turning his feet into the right way, the “path of life.” Such a one might well pray, as did David: “The sins of my youth and my revolts O do not remember. . . . For your name’s sake, O Jehovah, you must even forgive my error, for it is considerable. Who, now, is the man fearful of Jehovah? He will instruct him in the way that he will choose.”—Ps. 16:11; 25:7, 11, 12.
17 You may feel that it is not easy to pray under such circumstances, wondering if your prayer will be heard after you have gone so far in the wrong way. For your encouragement, we invite you to consider the following remarkable provision that exactly meets such a need.
PROVISION FOR PRAYER FORESHADOWED
18. At the inauguration of the temple, how did Solomon pray to Jehovah?
18 On completion of the temple and after the Ark, representing Jehovah’s presence, had been placed in the Most Holy of the temple, then King Solomon voiced a prayer of inauguration. He mentioned various circumstances under which prayer might be made “toward this place” (the temple), and asked that Jehovah would hear and answer such prayers. Solomon included the prayers of individuals, and he even mentioned the “foreigner,” so that, when he “actually comes and prays toward this house, may you yourself listen from the heavens . . . and you must do according to all that for which the foreigner calls to you.”—1 Ki. 6:1; 8:11, 22, 30, 38, 41-43.
19. How was Israel to petition Jehovah when in captivity, this teaching what lesson?
19 In line with our inquiry, Solomon also mentioned what would happen if, following a bad and sinful course, Jehovah became incensed and abandoned the people to captivity to the enemy. He prayed that, if “they indeed come to their sensesa . . . and they indeed return to you with all their heart,” and they pray in the direction of “the house that I have built to your name; you must also hear . . . their prayer and their request for favor, and you must execute judgment for them.” This would lead to the opening of the way for their return to their own land. (1 Ki. 8:46-53) How well this confirms the course of action that is possible for one who has wandered far off in a self-indulgent course and who feels abandoned’ If, in his distress, he faces up to his bad situation and comes to appreciate his need, then, without fail, he should call on Jehovah.
20. What conditions were involved, and with what assurance of being heard?
20 But, like Israel of old, he must recognize the channel that Jehovah is using for hearing and answering such prayers. The Israelites could not turn to any temple. Of course not. There was just the one built to Jehovah’s name at his chosen city, Jerusalem. For complying with this requirement, what assurance was given that such prayers would be heard? Notice what Jehovah said to Solomon: “I have heard your prayer and your request for favor . . . I have sanctified this house that you have built by putting my name there to time indefinite; and my eyes and my heart will certainly prove to be there always.”—1 Ki. 9:3.
21. What corresponds today with Israel’s temple of old?
21 How does this apply today? There is no religious building, either at Jerusalem or anywhere else, that is built to Jehovah’s name or is being used by him as a visible link between himself and those who wish to approach him. However, there is a temple that is visible today, though not located at any one spot on earth. The apostle Paul spoke of the Christian congregation as forming this temple, as shown by what he wrote to the congregation at Ephesus: “You have been built up upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, while Christ Jesus himself is the foundation cornerstone. In union with him the whole building . . . is growing into a holy temple for Jehovah . . . a place for God to inhabit by spirit.”—Eph. 2:20-22; see also 1 Pet. 2:4, 5.
22. Who now comprise the temple class, and how are they used by Jehovah?
22 Yes, Christ Jesus is primarily the channel, as he said: “No one comes to the Father except through me.” He also said that all requests to the Father must be “in my name.” (John 14:6; 16:23, 24) But, on the practical side, in answering such prayers and aiding those who desire to be recovered and restored to his favor and service, Jehovah is using that same temple class today as Paul described. There is still a remnant of that class on earth, forming the nucleus of Jehovah’s witnesses. Closely associated with them now is a “great crowd” who have come into God’s favor, fittingly described as “rendering him [God] sacred service day and night in his temple.” (Rev. 7:9, 15) All of these were formerly in need of recovery. If you feel a similar need, you too can join their ranks. They are not a limited company, but an unnumbered great crowd.
23. What favored, happy position does this temple class occupy?
23 This temple or sanctuary class is identified as being the same as the people in Malachi’s prophecy, who bring all the “tenth parts” or tithes of support into God’s organization in devotion to him and who constantly think upon his name. Can the same be said of this class as Jehovah said of the house built by Solomon: “My eyes and my heart will certainly prove to be there always”? (1 Ki. 9:3) Yes. Of this people Jehovah says: “Owing to the fact that you have been precious in my eyes, you have been considered honorable, and I myself have loved you.” “Jehovah your God is in the midst of you. . . . He will exult over you with rejoicing.”—Isa. 43:4; Zeph. 3:17.
24, 25. (a) In what way is Jehovah revealing himself more fully today? (b) What encouragement is given to the individual, involving what? (c) From what source can we expect to find further enlightenment?
24 As already noted, God’s Word makes a strong appeal to the individual. It is likewise true that in this greatest of all inspection times Jehovah, on his part, is revealing himself more fully as the great Individual who, from his heart, is appealing to our hearts, to our whole-souled love and devotion. He is supremely worthy of it. He is not inaccessible. As Paul said to the men of Athens, God “set limits of the dwelling of men, for them to seek God, if they might grope for him and really find him, although, in fact, he is not far off from each one of us.” As God also said to the Jews when in exile in Babylon: “You will certainly call me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. And you will actually seek me and find me, for you will search for me with all your heart. And I will let myself be found by you . . . and I will bring you back.” Finally, recall Jehovah’s grand word of encouragement, with its matchless appeal to the individual: “In the height and in the holy place is where I reside, also with the one crushed and lowly in spirit, to revive the spirit of the lowly ones and to revive the heart of the ones being crushed.” Observe that in every case the heart must be involved; there must be a going much deeper than a mere mental recognition of one’s need. Certainly it can be said of those sincerely seeking Jehovah and desiring to return to him, that he, on his part, will return to them. Recovery is still possible for such.—Acts 17:26, 27; Jer. 29:12-14; Isa. 57:15.
25 There are other interesting and important aspects to consider on this subject, and there is much we can learn for our guidance and encouragement from the Bible. We will therefore look into one of Jesus’ parables. It is particularly appropriate to our theme and has its own distinctive appeal. We refer to the well-known parable, or illustration, of the prodigal son.
a Literally: “they indeed cause a returning to their heart.”—NW, margin, 1955 edition.