Jehovah—a God of Love and Patience
“Jehovah is not slow respecting his promise, . . . but he is patient with you because he does not desire any to be destroyed but desires all to attain to repentance.”—2 Pet. 3:9.
1. (a) In what way is Peter’s second letter similar to Malachi’s prophecy? (b) How did both Jesus and Peter stress the certainty of God’s Word?
IN THE closing part of his second letter Peter warns that “in the last days there will come ridiculers with their ridicule,” asking scoffingly: “Where is this promised presence of his? As in Malachi’s prophecy, Peter mentions some pointed truths regarding “the day of judgment and of destruction of the ungodly men.” From a human viewpoint, Jehovah might seem “slow respecting his promise,” but make no mistake. “Jehovah’s day will come as a thief,” catching the ungodly ridiculers unaware. Interestingly, Peter links the passing away of the symbolic ‘heavens and earth that are now’ with the certainty of God’s sure word of promise. Similarly, when Jesus gave his great prophecy, he said: “Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will by no means pass away.” We, therefore, should pay the greatest respect to God’s Word and its message for today. “Happy is the man that . . . in the seat of ridiculers has not sat. But his delight is in the law of Jehovah.”—2 Pet. 3:3-10; Luke 21:33; Ps. 1:1, 2.
2. Of what is Jehovah’s seeming slowness a proof?
2 Jehovah’s seeming slowness is actually a marvelous proof of his love and patience, “because he does not desire any to be destroyed but desires all to attain to repentance.” Likewise, we should “consider the patience of our Lord as salvation.” (2 Pet. 3:9, 15) If it had not been for the love and patience of Jehovah and Jesus Christ, we would not be witnessing today the fulfillment of what eventually happened to the prodigal son. Some of that class today have already experienced salvation due to the Lord’s patience. Is there yet time for others to do so? Can we help in any way? Is there any good reason why we should not be glad and eager to help?
3. (a) How is life an evidence of God’s love? (b) How has time proved to be an evidence of his patience? (c) How have these “means of living” been both used and misused?
3 Jehovah’s love and patience help us to see how, as told in the illustration of the prodigal son, he “divided his means of living” to the class with the heavenly hope, also to the one with the earthly hope, these classes being pictured by the two sons. (Luke 15:12) Two things are involved, life and time. Life is a gift from God. We might say it forms part of his grand estate, divided and distributed between his sons. It is an evidence of his love. In these “last days” God has also divided, or apportioned off, a period of time as evidence of his patience. (2 Tim. 3:1) How? The days of tribulation commenced on Satan’s organization in 1914 and, with justification, could have continued without letup, culminating in the Biblical battle of Armageddon. But, as Jesus said, “those days will be cut short,” else “no flesh would be saved.” (Matt. 24:22) This precious interval of time, commencing in 1918 and ending with Armageddon, is still with us, continuing far longer than we had once expected. During this time period the faithful remnant with the heavenly hope have gladly spent their life and time in the service of their Father, like the older son. Many of the “other sheep” of John 10:16 have done likewise. But those pictured by the younger son have selfishly grasped the God-given gifts of life and time and converted them into means of gratifying the corrupt desires of the fallen flesh.
THE COURSE OF ABANDONMENT AND ITS OUTCOME
4. How and why has the “younger son” class taken a course of abandonment?
4 Warning of those who are deliberate enemies of God’s people, Peter says that “they consider luxurious living in the daytime a pleasure. . . . Abandoning the straight path, they have been misled.” (2 Pet. 2:13, 15) That well describes the course taken by the younger son, even though at no time becoming a willful opposer, forfeiting all hope of redemption. Those of that class today do not start out with the evil intention of doing any damage or hurting anyone. They just want a good time, without restraint or anyone’s frowning on them. The world offers excitement and glamour with its city life and night life. So they leave home, perhaps not literally, but they quit association or fellowship with either Jehovah or his people. They go far off to “a distant country.”—Luke 15:13.
5. Why does going to a “distant country” not entail a long journey?
5 This does not entail a long journey literally. Satan’s system of things is all around us, but its condition and spirit are far off from Jehovah and foreign to his spirit. To the Pharisees, listening to the illustration given by Jesus, the younger son pictured the sinners and tax collectors who, in their own land, were in the employ of distant Rome. Worse still, in their work the tax collectors often defrauded their fellow countrymen, hence being viewed by the Pharisees as completely abandoned and beyond hope.
6. What might easily happen to one taking a course of abandonment?
6 Once in the distant country, it did not take long for the young man to ‘squander his property by living a debauched life.’ He was certainly a prodigal son. No details are given, but we can imagine just about what happened. The older son later said that his brother “ate up your [the father’s] means of living with harlots,” and no one contradicted him. Here is a straight warning. Though the “younger son” class are not willfully wicked, they come perilously near to being so by reason of their close association with such in a course of “luxurious living” and “abandoning the straight path.” Do not get the wrong idea. No single illustration covers every possibility. Do not say, “I will have a jolly good time with my friends in the world and then come to my senses and take life seriously.” A push, a step too far while one is in such company, and one can slip into the class from which there is no return or recovery. And think of this too! What if Armageddon comes while you are running with this crowd? Then there is no time for repentance.—Luke 15:13, 30; 2 Pet. 2:13, 15.
7. What happened to the young man when famine occurred, involving what difficulties?
7 Returning to the illustration, we next read that “a severe famine occurred,” and the young man, having spent all, finally got a job herding swine. (Luke 15:14-16) For a Jew, as we imagine him to be, this would be degrading and defiling. The pig was an animal the Jews were forbidden to eat or even touch, dead or alive. “They are unclean for you.” (Lev. 11:7, 8; Deut. 14:8) The prodigal son would have to stifle his conscience. He could not expect his employer, a ‘citizen of that country,’ to be bothered with any question of conscience on the part of a down-and-out swineherd. Why, he was not even allowed to fill his belly with their lowly diet of carob pods! “No one would give him anything.”—Luke 15:16.
8. (a) How has famine hit Christendom since 1918? (b) How has this affected the “prodigal son” class?
8 It is not difficult to see the fulfillment of this part of the illustration. The Scriptures speak of “a famine, not for bread, and a thirst, not for water, but for hearing the words of Jehovah.” Such a famine has hit Christendom specially since 1918. From then on the religious leaders, like those in Israel, “have rejected the very word of Jehovah, and what wisdom do they have?” As Jesus said to them in his day: “You have made the word of God invalid because of your tradition.” Today, throughout the world empire of false religion, all its inhabitants are spiritually starved. The ruling factors, or official citizens, of Satan’s world, have only their own human schemes to offer, such as the United Nations organization, supported by the religious leaders. The “prodigal son” class, having gone the way of the world, join up with such schemes, hoping thereby to find relief and sustenance. But there is nothing for the spiritually sick, who are left starving and destitute and abandoned. That is the dark side of the picture.—Amos 8:11; Jer. 8:9; Matt. 15:6; 2 Cor. 4:4.
THE YOUNGER SON COMES TO HIS SENSES
9. (a) Does God send evil to bring us to our senses? (b) What enabled the younger son to come to his senses?
9 Telling what happened to the younger son, Jesus next said simply: “When he came to his senses,” followed by a statement of how the younger son reasoned within himself. (Luke 15:17-19) The clergy of Christendom often say to those suffering adversity that God sends such experiences to teach a lesson, to bring them to their senses. That makes God responsible for the permission of evil and a party to it. Such a teaching is unscriptural and brings much reproach on God’s name. God’s Word says that “with evil things God cannot be tried nor does he himself try anyone,” that is, with evil things. God tests and disciplines, but not by using evil instruments. The scripture continues: “But each one is tried by being drawn out and enticed by his own desire.” (Jas. 1:13, 14) Just so with the prodigal son. True, he would not likely have come to his senses while enjoying himself, but what enabled him to start using his senses properly was his recollecting certain information that was at the back of his mind. As with the Israelites when abandoned to the enemy, they knew where to turn. So also did the young man, as shown by his subsequent reasoning.
10. What is shown by the prodigal’s words at Luke 15:18, 19, throwing what light on the father’s attitude?
10 Learning there was no famine in his own country, the young man said to himself: “I will rise and journey to my father and say to him: ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy of being called your son. Make me as one of your hired men.’” (Luke 15:18, 19) His words indicate far more than merely the desire to escape the famine and be well fed. First, he acknowledged within himself that he had sinned, not only against his father, but against God in heaven. His words also show that he had but one goal in mind, and that was to go back and live and serve under his father at home. He knew his father and he knew what home was like. When he previously left home, if his father had turned on him and angrily shouted at him, he would not have been so single-minded as to what he should do. He could have decided to return and expect to find work somewhere in the country, without having to face up to his father. But no such thought entered his mind. It was home for him! No place like it!
11. How do those of the “prodigal son” class today come to their senses?
11 The same is true of those pictured by the young man. By reason of their earlier contact with Jehovah’s people and the message of truth, they have a basis on which to come to their senses. True, while things are going well with them, they do not stop to think about it. All the same, they have a mental picture at the back of their minds of what “home” life was like with God’s people in their theocratic organization. When they experience the frustration and beggarly emptiness of Satan’s world, then they can make the contrast. Further, as implied in the illustration, they get current news of the continued prosperity of the dedicated servants of Jehovah, that they are, spiritually speaking, “abounding with bread” and all the happy activity connected with a home where there is plenty. (Luke 15:17) In fact, it is common knowledge that Jehovah’s witnesses are enjoying those very things to a marked degree.
12. What right decision do they now make?
12 Having come to their senses and made the contrast in their minds, then they make the right decision. They now make a dedication on a sound basis of knowledge and appreciation. They are ready to say Yes with deep meaning and sincerity to the two questions asked of all the candidates before every baptism service. Like the young man, they make full confession of their unclean, sinful condition, and offer themselves to the heavenly Father in unreserved dedication to do his will and serve him. With what outcome? What happened to the young man in the illustration?
13. What incidents mark the return home of the prodigal son?
13 We come now to the most moving part. Imagine the scene. The long journey back to his home country has been a grim ordeal, but his determination and the goal in mind keep him going. At last, ‘while yet a long way off,’ he comes in sight of home. What does he see? His father, shading his eyes, looking in his direction! Ah, how often his father must have done that! Though the boy is far off, the father recognizes him and runs to meet him. Filled with pity, he embraces and tenderly kisses him. Arriving home, the son makes his confession and offers his services as ‘one of the hired men.’ But the father decides that first his son must be made presentable with the best clothing; then all are invited to enjoy themselves in a feast, “because this my son was dead but has come to life again; he was lost but has been found.”—Luke 15:20-24.
14. What principle is thus stressed, leading to what conclusions?
14 How forcefully Jesus here illustrated the Bible principle: “Return to me, and I will return to you.” (Mal. 3:7) If only those who have gone astray would realize what great joy their returning home would cause! Doubtless their sense of shame often holds them back. But if they stay and starve in Satan’s famine-stricken world, what happiness does that give to anyone? None at all! What can we do to help these ones? Do we want to help them, or are we going to make the same bad mistake as did the older son in the illustration?
15. (a) How has Jehovah’s attitude compared with that of the prodigal’s father? (b) How have those in harmony with Jehovah shown their appreciation?
15 We can best help those who have gone astray by noting what Jehovah has done, as indicated in the illustration, and acting accordingly. In the story, Jesus made very plain the attitude and course taken by the father. He did not wait for his son to arrive home and then say, “Well, what have you to say for yourself?” No. He was anticipating his son’s return and had been on the lookout for him. Jehovah has shown this same attitude by causing to be recorded long ago in his Word the many prophecies and illustrations foretelling the return of this class and the joy it would bring to him and all in his homelike organization. Just when needed, he caused these scriptures to be understood, back in 1943. Their meaning was given through the “faithful and discreet slave” class, the anointed remnant, as part of the spiritual food to be dispensed “at the proper time.” (Matt. 24:45-47) Those in harmony with Jehovah, at home with him, were very grateful for the understanding thus given. They did not keep it to themselves, but published it abroad by every possible means, thus reflecting their Father’s keen interest and compassion toward those showing signs of coming to their senses.
16. How was an earthly class made progressively manifest and encouraged?
16 Briefly reviewing the progress thus made, we note that in 1923, for the first time, The Watchtower gave the true explanation of the “sheep and goats” illustration. The identity of the “sheep” was shown to be an earthly class who are gathered to the King’s right hand with the prospect of eternal life under his rule. (Matt. 25:31-46) In 1931 this same class was identified with those “sighing and groaning over all the detestable things” done in Christendom. These receive a ‘mark on their foreheads,’ signifying their knowledge of the truth and open acknowledgment thereof, leading to their preservation at Armageddon. (Ezekiel, chapter 9) In 1932 this class was identified with Jonadab, who gladly joined with King Jehu in his chariot on his way to the execution of Baal worshipers, picturing the execution of all false worshipers at the destruction of Babylon the Great and at Armageddon. It was stressed that the way was still open for interested people to join in the service of the King Jesus Christ, the Greater Jehu, in his chariotlike organization. (2 Ki. 10:15-27) In the years 1933 and 1934 practical help was given on behalf of this class by the institution of the back-call work, that is, return calls on interested people, opening the way for spiritual feeding through the regular home Bible study arrangement. The fitness of their taking the step of dedication, followed by water baptism, was made clear in 1934.
17. In what way was the development of this class marked in 1931 and 1935?
17 Since 1931 a steady increase was seen in these sheeplike ones’ taking a definite stand with Jehovah’s anointed witnesses and sharing in field service with them. Many, like the prodigal son, had wasted earlier opportunities of entering into dedicated relationship with Jehovah and serving him. In the development and recovery of this class, however, the year 1935 appears to be the most decisive. In that year something took place that corresponded to the return of the prodigal son and the generous treatment accorded him by his father, amounting to an open and public acknowledgment of a long-lost son who had returned home. He had actually arrived and been made to look fit to be the appropriate cause for feasting and rejoicing. What occurred in 1935 to correspond with this?
18, 19. How did events at the 1935 assemblies fulfill the picture, leading to what question?
18 Our attention is focused on a convention held in May of that year at Washington, D.C. Significantly, in the preliminary Watch Tower notices, those known as Jonadabs were specially invited to attend.a At that convention it was clearly proved from the Scriptures that the “great crowd” of Revelation 7:9 was not a sort of secondary spiritual class, as previously understood, but was now shown to be of the same earthly class as referred to in those other scriptures we have just reviewed. Further, those in attendance who saw themselves to be of this “great crowd” were asked to stand, and a large number responded. It was a marked time for spiritual feasting and rejoicing. A like procedure was followed at other assemblies, with similar results. The “great crowd” of “other sheep” had arrived! There they were!
19 But you will say that all this happened thirty years ago. What is the situation today? Before answering, let us consider the last part of Jesus’ illustration, featuring the attitude and course of the older son over his brother’s return.
NO JUST CAUSE FOR STUMBLING
20. What course did the older son take on his brother’s return, and how did the father plead with him?
20 It happened that the older son was absent when his brother arrived home. On approaching the house he asked a servant as to the meaning of the music and dancing. On being told, he became very angry and would not go in. His father begged him to come and join in the celebrations. But no! The older son accused his father of unjust treatment, in being soft and partial to that scamp of a prodigal, also in denying what was due to him, a kid never having been given to him so that he could enjoy himself with his friends. In pleading tones the father again appeals, at the same time correcting the older boy on both counts, saying: “Child, you have always been with me, and all the things that are mine are yours; but we just had to enjoy ourselves and rejoice, because this your brother was dead but has become alive, and he was lost but has been found.” (Luke 15:25-32) There the story ends, leaving the door open for the older boy to come in, after thinking it over and coming to his senses.
21. Who are here pictured by the older son, as we keep in mind what circumstances?
21 In this regard the older son does not picture the entire remnant of the “little flock” yet on earth, but only those who adopt an attitude similar to his. How is this seen? Keep in mind that right down to 1931 attention was centered almost solely on the ingathering of those with the heavenly hope. An earthly class had been foreseen, but it was not understood that this class would be specifically dealt with by God and organized this side of Armageddon. No work of gathering and instructing the “other sheep” prior to Armageddon was then envisaged, especially any who had wasted their opportunities, like the prodigal son. Besides, some held extreme views as to how Jehovah was preparing them for their heavenly inheritance, believing that their every experience was supervised down to the last detail, along the lines of development of a sweet disposition. This made them self-centered and overly important in their own eyes. They became egotistical in a humble sort of way. They saw only themselves in the picture, as was evident with the older son.
22. How has Jehovah shown recognition of the “younger son” class, and with what result?
22 Was Jehovah under any obligation to delay his good pleasure, waiting on these self-centered ones to get the right viewpoint and show the right spirit? Not at all. He went forward in providing a feast of fat things for the “younger son” class when the time was ripe for their public recognition. He provided them, spiritually speaking, with a fine robe, a ring and sandals, signifying his identification of them as prospective earthly sons, now having a good standing in his organization, with their “feet shod with the equipment of the good news of peace.” (Eph. 6:15) But the “older son” class did not appreciate this and inquired about it in a challenging way. They refused to come into the house of God’s organization, having no desire to share in welcoming a class that was stealing the limelight!
23. (a) How is the viewpoint of the “older son” class incorrect? (b) What is the right viewpoint?
23 Their viewpoint was incorrect on both counts. As for themselves, their own reward was assured as firstborn ones on their proving faithful. As for the “younger son” class, there was no favoritism of one class over another. If, in God’s love and patience, an earthly class was found and became alive, brought right into the picture sooner than expected, ought we not all to rejoice with our heavenly Father on their account? Surely we cannot afford to adopt an argumentative and churlish attitude!
24, 25. (a) In what way is the door still open to those of this class? (b) What questions remain to be answered?
24 Though Jesus closed the illustration with the older son outside the house, we cannot conclude that none of this class will ever respond to Jehovah’s appeal. The door is still open. Remember that it was the Pharisees and scribes who called forth this illustration. Their superior attitude toward the sinners and tax collectors was the same as that of the older son to his brother. But quite a number of these religious leaders later came to their senses. In fact, as the record discloses, “a great crowd of priests began to be obedient to the faith.”—Acts 6:7.
25 Are Jehovah’s love and patience still operative? Have there been any developments since 1935 to prove this? How can we profit from the false step taken by each of the sons, and what can we learn from the attitude of the father, as described so vividly by Jesus? We are naturally keenly interested in the present situation and will discuss these questions in the succeeding article.
a The Watch Tower, as of August 1 and 15, 1935, pages 98, 110, 127, 130.