Turning to Jehovah
1. (a) What caused Moses’ race to shine, with what results? (b) How did Paul show the real cause of the difficulty?
“WHEN there is a turning to Jehovah, the veil is taken away.” So wrote the apostle Paul when discussing the excelling glory of the new covenant as compared with the law covenant made with Israel through Moses as mediator. When Moses came down from Mount Sinai with the two tablets of the Testimony, his face shone, so that the people were afraid to come near him. Hence he had to veil his face. But, as Paul explained, the difficulty actually lay with the Israelite people themselves. Their hearts and minds were not in the right attitude. “Their mental perceptions were dulled. . . . In fact, down till today whenever Moses is read, a veil lies upon their hearts.” Their hearts and minds were not turned in loving devotion to Jehovah. Instead, they hardened their hearts in self-will, as Jehovah said of them: “They always go astray in their hearts, and they themselves have not come to know my ways.”—2 Cor. 3:12-16; Ex. 34:29-35; Heb. 3:10.
2. (a) Can the world boast over Israel in this regard? (b) How is the root cause of the trouble manifested?
2 Speaking of the world in general, Paul continues in the same strain when he says that the “good news we declare is in fact veiled . . . among those who are perishing, among whom the god of this system of things has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, that the illumination of the glorious good news about the Christ . . . might not shine through.” (2 Cor. 4:3, 4) As Isaiah said: “Like sheep we have all of us wandered about; it was each one to his own way that we have turned.” (Isa. 53:6) That is the trouble. We like our own way. That was the root cause of the false step taken by each of the sons in the illustration of the prodigal son just discussed. The younger son wanted a life of self-indulgence. The older son wanted his own way in pride, to the point of resisting his father’s wishes.
3. How can we avoid these false steps, leading to what question?
3 The only thing that will save us from these false steps due to wanting our own way is our sincerely turning our hearts to Jehovah. This is not easy. It means going contrary to the spirit and way of the world and our fallen flesh. Has Jehovah done anything in recent years to aid those desirous of returning to him, or others who are groping for him?
4. (a) Malachi’s prophecy points to what merciful provision? (b) What final expression is made in this regard?
4 Reverting to the prophecy of Malachi, you will recall that in the last two chapters of Malachi we saw the evidence that Jehovah would indeed mercifully provide the necessary incentive to aid those persons in spiritual need. This is seen fulfilled today in the body of dedicated people whom Jehovah has richly blessed and whom he has made stand out distinct, well known in all the earth as his witnesses. In that review of Malachi, chapters three and four, however, we did not stop to note the final words of the prophecy, where Jehovah says: “Look! I am sending to you people Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and fear-inspiring day of Jehovah. And he must turn the heart of fathers back toward sons, and the heart of sons back toward fathers; in order that I may not come and actually strike the earth with a devoting of it to destruction.”—Mal. 4:5, 6.
5. What expressions, and by whom, give the key as to the miniature fulfillment?
5 These words tell of a work of turning the hearts, and are hence right in line with our inquiry. In fulfillment, how are they to be understood, and who is referred to by the expression “Elijah the prophet”? As a guide, we must first see if any fulfillment took place at the first advent of Christ. As already noted, many prophecies then had a miniature fulfillment, giving a small-scale pattern or advance view of the major fulfillment in these days of the second advent. This prophecy of Malachi is no exception. The angel Gabriel, when telling the Jewish priest Zechariah that he would have a son, foretold of him that “many of the sons of Israel will he turn back to Jehovah their God. Also, he will go before him with Elijah’s spirit and power, to turn back the hearts of fathers to children and the disobedient ones to the practical wisdom of righteous ones, to get ready for Jehovah a prepared people.” Zechariah’s son became John the Baptist. Jesus himself said of John: “This is ‘Elijah who is destined to come.’” How did John carry out this work of turning back the hearts?—Luke 1:16, 17; Matt. 11:14; 17:10-13.
6. (a) Why were John the Baptist’s message and work necessary? (b) In what ways were hearts turned back?
6 John the Baptist’s message was a direct one: “Repent, for the kingdom of the heavens has drawn near.” It was urgent. It was a time of impending judgment for that generation, as John said: “Already the ax is lying at the root of the trees.” Also, the representative of the kingdom of the heavens, Jesus Christ, was about to be announced. The people needed to be prepared. They needed to come to their senses. Their religious leaders had “made the word of God invalid” by their tradition, and their hearts had become far removed from him. So their hearts needed to be turned back. John gave “practical wisdom” when giving sound counsel to those who came to him, including tax collectors and soldiers and even the Pharisees and Sadducees. His was an educational work and it succeeded. It provided the necessary incentive. He ‘got ready for Jehovah a prepared people,’ with their hearts turned back in readiness to become sons of God, as spiritual Israelites. Their hearts were also turned back to their fathers, the patriarchs, in readiness toward exercising faith like that of Abraham. As Paul said: “Those who adhere to faith are the ones who are sons of Abraham.”—Matt. 3:2, 7-12; 15:1-9; Luke 3:10-14; John 1:35-40; Gal. 3:7.
7. How do we know that John did not completely fulfill the picture?
7 The major fulfillment of this prophecy of Malachi takes place when the Lord Jesus returns in kingdom power and glory. Jesus referred to this advent of the Son of man in kingdom power, linking it with the transfiguration vision, given in the presence of Peter, James and John, when in a high mountain. (Mark 9:1-8; Matt. 17:1-9) Elijah figured in that vision, indicating that there would be a future and larger fulfillment of Malachi 4:5, 6. Since this vision was given after the death of John the Baptist, it is evident that John himself did not completely fulfill the picture.
8. Who is identified as the modern “Elijah the prophet”?
8 Who, then, is the modern “Elijah the prophet” entrusted with sounding the warning of the “great and fear-inspiring day of Jehovah,” also with the work of turning back the hearts? Jesus indicated the answer in the prophecy already mentioned, when he spoke of the “faithful and discreet slave,” who is dispensing the spiritual “food at the proper time,” and who is therefore appointed by the Lord “over all his belongings.” (Matt. 24:45-47) This faithful slave class, the anointed remnant, is today standing out distinct. Like Elijah and John the Baptist, it fearlessly declared God’s judgments against all false worship till the enemies interrupted matters in 1918. However, in 1919 there was a revival of the work of turning people to God and declaring the oncoming destruction, first of “Babylon the Great,” then of Satan’s visible political system at Armageddon.—Rev. 18:21; 19:11-16.
9. Why is another prophet brought into the picture, and who is he?
9 This modern Elijah class has thus been doing a work of turning back the hearts. We have already traced the preliminary work done on behalf of the “other sheep” down to 1935, including those particular “sheep” pictured by the prodigal son who had wasted earlier opportunities of serving Jehovah. What has been done since then? In order to appreciate this we must be careful to look at the original prophetic pattern of Elijah in its entirety. This brings into the picture another prophet, though this did not indicate any fault or failure on Elijah’s part. When commissioning Elijah to anoint certain ones to execute His judgments against Baal worship, God said: “Elisha . . . you should anoint as prophet in place of you.” Elijah promptly did so and, as a result, Elisha dropped what he was doing and “went following Elijah and began to minister to him.” He thus had the advantage of many years of training under Elijah’s direction.—1 Ki. 19:15-18, 21.
10. What was Elijah’s last miracle, resulting in what, and how was it fulfilled?
10 Do you recall Elijah’s last miracle? It was the dividing of the waters of the river Jordan by striking them with his official garment, enabling him and Elisha to pass over eastward on dry ground. (2 Ki. 2:8) As a result, the waters below the division flowed on down to the lifeless Dead Sea, but the waters above that spot were held back. Similarly with the Elijah class today. “Waters . . . mean peoples and crowds and nations and tongues.” (Rev. 17:15) An earthly class of people had been foreseen for many years and members thereof were appearing in growing numbers, but it was not until 1935 that the actual division of symbolic waters and the work of gathering the “other sheep” began to take place, as already mentioned. Those gathered were held back from the downward course leading to destruction. Jehovah used the Elijah class to commence this dividing of the symbolic waters. It got off to a good start, and was carried forward by the Elisha class.
11. (a) By what miracle were the two prophets separated? (b) How and when was this fulfilled?
11 Do you recall Elisha’s first miracle? It was the same as Elijah’s last one, using the official garment that had fallen from Elijah for the same purpose, enabling Elisha to recross the riverbed dryshod. Only now he was alone, except that Jehovah was backing him up. In between those two miracles another notable one occurred, when Elijah ascended to the heavens in a windstorm after being separated from Elisha by a fiery war chariot and horses. That prophetically pictured the end of the work by the Elijah class and the continuation of the same work, only intensified, by the Elisha class. The historical events occurring early in the war year of 1942 marked the fulfillment of this changeover. Just prior to that time, in the midst of World War II, it seemed as if the witness work might be coming to its end. The outlook was very uncertain. On January 8, 1942, the president of the Watch Tower Society, J. F. Rutherford, died. Did the work stop?—2 Ki. 2:11-14.
12. What shows that the Elisha class recognized their commission?
12 To the contrary, the Elisha class, made up of the remaining members of the anointed remnant, immediately carried on with the same work of dividing the symbolic waters, even as Elisha did in a literal way. The same Watch Tower Society was used as a publishing agency, but with a new elected president. In the same issue of The Watchtower that announced President Rutherford’s death, there appeared the leading article entitled “Final Gathering,” based on Jeremiah 16:16, telling of an intensive fishing and hunting for those who might yet be recovered. In the late summer of 1942 a three-day convention was held by Jehovah’s witnesses at Cleveland, Ohio, with repeat programs in many cities of other countries. The main theme was based on Isaiah, chapters 59 and 60, bidding God’s people to “Arise . . . shed forth light,” resulting in a great flock of peoples coming to the light, “flying just like a cloud.” (Isa. 60:1-3, 8; Rev. 7:9) No doubt about it! The Elisha class recognized their commission and were losing no time!
THE “ELISHA CLASS” WORK ONE OF EDUCATION
13. (a) Elisha’s miracles were of what nature, and who benefited? (b) What similar work was launched in 1942, and how has it developed?
13 In the twenty or more years since then this same anointed class has pressed on with unabating vigor, aided by evergrowing numbers of “other sheep,” including many of the “prodigal son” class. This is due to Jehovah’s spirit resting on them, as it did on Elisha, who asked Elijah for the firstborn’s portion of “two parts in your spirit.” (2 Ki. 2:9) Back there this was manifestly granted to Elisha, for the Bible records sixteen miracles to Elisha’s credit, to compare with eight for Elijah. Many of Elisha’s miracles were of healing and restoration, benefiting specially the “sons of the prophets,” such as healing a bad water supply, also some poisoned pottage, besides a miraculous increase of food supplies. There was the raising of the Shunammite’s son, and the healing of Naaman’s leprosy. (2 Ki. 2:15-6:23) The group of faithful prophets prospered under Elisha’s ministry. Correspondingly, following the 1942 convention at Cleveland, those responsible at the Brooklyn headquarters decided to open a school for training missionaries to serve world wide in the preaching and teaching and the work of gathering “other sheep,” including those like the prodigal son. This missionary school was opened on February 1, 1943, and has since been enlarged, enabling those equipped to render fine service in building up the organization of Jehovah’s witnesses in many lands, also opening up the work in fresh places. Interest in the “prodigal son” class was then shown by the publication of two articles, “The Prodigal Son in Need,” and “The Prodigal Son’s Homecoming,” in the Watchtower issues of November 1 and 15, 1943. The following year a month-long special witnessing campaign was held throughout the earth in October of 1944, entitled “‘Prodigal Son’ Testimony Period.”
14, 15. (a) What further program was started in 1942, and how has it progressed? (b) In 1959 what fresh training course was initiated?
14 Additionally, a program was initiated in 1942 whereby a course of training in our Christian ministry could be operated in every congregation of Jehovah’s witnesses earth wide. In 1943 plans were announced at the “Call to Action” assembly for setting up a Theocratic Ministry School in every congregation. All were invited to attend and become more fully equipped and qualified, though only the male students gave talks from the platform. But in 1958 it was arranged for all students to take an active part, both male and female. The latter, however, do not give discourses, but demonstrate how to convey the Kingdom message effectively under all circumstances.—1 Tim. 2:11, 12.
15 Another fresh feature of the Elisha work was introduced in 1959. A four-week course was arranged for the training of congregation overseers, to be held in all the countries where the Watch Tower Society has established a branch with its own quarters. The overseers are invited to attend free of charge.
16. (a) How has all this work benefited the “prodigal son” class? (b) How did The Watchtower of May 1, 1937, show some may not have worked to improve their ministry?
16 We have only briefly outlined the educational work undertaken, but keep in mind that, while this has been a rich blessing to Jehovah’s witnesses themselves, it has not stopped there. Of course not. It is largely a means to an end. It enables a far more effective and extensive ministry to be performed on behalf of all who are in need, including the “prodigal son” class. As for Jehovah’s witnesses, they can and surely should show appreciation by availing themselves of these means for improving their ministry. Would it not be a sad thing if, for some unworthy or insufficient reason, any refused to use these means, thereby possibly allowing a resentful spirit to develop similar to that shown by the older brother in Jesus’ illustration? (Luke 15:25-30) By sincerely and humbly making the effort to use these means, we can show true neighbor love, not excluding those of the “prodigal son” class. We would not want to show the “lack of zeal” and suffer the consequences, as noted on page 130 of The Watchtower of May 1, 1937, under the heading “Company Servant,” which reads: “Proclamation of the kingdom message is all-important now. It is the duty of the anointed to vote as to who shall be company servant; but ‘hewers of wood and drawers of water’ (Josh. 9:21-27) may serve. (Deut. 16:12-15; 29:11) When there are none in the company capable of filling the places of company servants or service committees and there are Jonadabs who have the ability and zeal, let the Jonadabs be placed on the service committee and give them opportunity to serve. The work should not drag because some of the company have lack of zeal. The gospel must now be proclaimed.—Matt. 24:14.”
17. (a) What wrong course may some from among both the remnant and the other sheep have taken? (b) However, how have they shown true repentance?
17 Many individuals even among the remnant of Christ’s joint heirs as well as among the “other sheep” class have at some time in their lives taken a course like that of the prodigal son. After dedicating themselves to Jehovah, they later left their Father’s house, and some of them even did things requiring disfellowshiping them from the congregation. These were disfellowshiped, but since then they have shown true repentance and have returned to the congregation of Jehovah God and have acknowledged both to it and to their heavenly Father the error of their way. They have repented and changed their course of action. Some of them may have been living in fornication or adultery, but now they have manifested the spirit that the prodigal son had when he returned to the house of his father; they have shown the right heart condition, prayed to their Father to forgive them and have come back and asked to be allowed to be slaves in Jehovah’s organization. Those who have shown true repentance, like the prodigal son, are rejoicing again because of having been reinstated in the congregation. Now they are showing a humble disposition and, along with those who remained in the house of their Father, they are again proclaiming the good news of God’s kingdom.
18. After a period of proving oneself blameless following disfellowshipment and reinstatement, what opportunities of service might be open to a person?
18 Those who have received the forgiveness of their Father and who have humbly proved themselves to be good slaves after returning from their unclean, disfellowshiped condition may in time even prove to be suitable stewards in their Father’s household. Over an extensive period of time they live down the blotch of reproach that they have brought on their personal record, with bad impressions also upon people on the outside. If, because of the blameless conduct of one since his reinstatement, the congregation has come to view him as a good example, then if such a person, who was at one time disfellowshiped but has now returned and shown humility, proved his love for Jehovah’s Word and work for ten years after reinstatement, it would be in harmony with the parable of the prodigal son if such one were used as a congregation book study conductor and allowed to give public talks. Later, he may even be privileged to serve in a greater capacity in Jehovah’s organization. If, since his reinstatement, he has proved himself to be an example to the flock of God during ten years of faithful service, and if the congregation committee sees that such a one can be given a greater privilege of service, why not grant it to him? If he has demonstrated that now he is going to stay in the house of his Father for good, and that he is loyal in his devotion to the interests of that house, it would seem that he could safely be entrusted again with greater responsibility in the congregation of Jehovah’s people.
19, 20. (a) What part do God’s Word and spirit play in our ministry? (b) What two aspects are important to appreciate?
19 Today, as never before, God’s Word itself is the highlight of the educational program embraced by all the features just mentioned. More than anything else, God’s Word is the means for turning back the hearts. Paul had that in mind when discussing the superior benefits of the new covenant and its ministry. Announcing the terms of the new covenant, Jehovah said: “I will put my law within them, and in their heart I shall write it.” (Jer. 31:33) Similarly, Paul said to those at Corinth: “You are shown to be a letter of Christ written by us as ministers, inscribed not with ink but with spirit of a living God, not on stone tablets, but on fleshly tablets, on hearts.” Yes, “Jehovah is the Spirit,” and when we turn to him and allow his spirit to have free flow in our hearts by sticking close to his Word, then we can “with unveiled faces reflect like mirrors the glory of Jehovah.” Thus we can be used by him in the grand privilege of helping others to turn to him, or return to him. And do not forget that “he who turns a sinner back from the error of his way will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins.”—2 Cor. 3:3, 17, 18; Jas. 5:20.
20 In conclusion, let us briefly consider for our encouragement an illustration showing both aspects, that hearts can still be changed and turn to Jehovah, and that he himself has a great heart of love for all who are truly his children and who turn to him.
21. How and why did Joseph’s ten half brothers manifest a bad attitude?
21 Our illustration is found in the well-known drama of Jacob and his twelve sons, recorded at Genesis, chapters 37 to 45. Two of these sons, Joseph and Benjamin, were specially dear to Jacob, being sons of his beloved wife Rachel. On account of Joseph’s being noticeably favored by his father, also because of his God-given dreams, his ten half brothers bitterly hated him and were extremely jealous, even to plotting to kill him. Instead, however, they sold him as a slave to be taken down to Egypt. They took his long garment, soaked it in blood and showed it to their father, who concluded that his boy had been devoured by a wild beast. They certainly showed a terribly bad heart attitude both to Joseph and their father.—Gen. 37:2-36.
22, 23. How was their heart attitude put to a searching test, and with what result?
22 Years rolled by. Under God’s maneuvering, Joseph was made food administrator in Egypt. After the foretold earth-wide famine had set in, Jacob had to send his sons down to Egypt twice to buy cereals. Joseph recognized his brothers, but they did not recognize him. On the first occasion it so happened that the ten sons revealed a troubled conscience over Joseph. But was it a real change of heart? On the second occasion the situation was so arranged by Joseph that a severe test was put on his brothers. It was made to appear that Benjamin had stolen Joseph’s sacred silver cup! Joseph, still unrecognized, sternly demanded that Benjamin be kept as his slave. The others could return home. At this point Judah, with the evident support of his brothers, made one of the most heartstirring and spontaneous appeals ever spoken and, mark you, to an apparently hard and hostile listener! Judah was at great pains to explain exactly how much Benjamin meant to his father. He concluded by saying that he himself should become Joseph’s slave, so that young Benjamin could return home with his brothers. He then uttered that impassioned cry that came from his heart: “How can I go up to my father without the boy along with me, for fear that then I may look upon the calamity that will find out my father?”—Gen. 44:34.
23 There was not the slightest doubt about their change of heart! Joseph was greatly moved and wept aloud as he made himself known to his brothers. But let us look at the other part of the drama, where Jacob was waiting back home.
24. How did Jacob react to the news concerning Joseph, and what did this prove on his part?
24 We can picture the old father anxiously waiting and wondering as the days and weeks dragged by. Would he ever see his beloved Benjamin again? Was he going to lose him, as well as Joseph? At long last he was told that his sons were in sight and would shortly arrive. He waited in his tent. We can imagine the scene. He would greet his sons, each one in turn, but keeping young Benjamin close by his side. But what was this they were saying? That man in charge down in Egypt was none other than Joseph? Impossible! Why, if that were so, Joseph would at least have got a message through to him long ago. So he likely reasoned. However, his sons urged him to come and see what they had brought back. Well, he could not refuse to do that. With a heavy heart, he went out and surveyed all the food stocks and other supplies, to say nothing of all the silver and clothing given to Benjamin. But when he saw the wagon sent specially to take him down to Egypt, that did it! It was so luxurious and comfortable. Just the thing! It was not only a visible link, it was the visible means of transport to take him to his long-lost Joseph. Gripping the side of the wagon, and overwhelmed with conviction and deep feeling, he exclaimed: “It is enough! Joseph my son is still alive! Ah, let me go and see him before I die!”—Gen. 45:25-28.
25. (a) What do these things reveal regarding Jehovah? (b) How can we show that we are truly his children? (c) What course is still open to those who have strayed?
25 Jacob felt just like the father in Jesus’ illustration who rejoiced over his son who “was dead but has become alive, and he was lost but has been found.” (Luke 15:32) Joseph, of course, had not gone astray like the prodigal son, but the main thing emphasized here is the deep fatherly love shown in each instance. As for the One who caused these things to be enacted and recorded in his Word, surely his own heart of love must be greater and deeper than that of those who serve merely as illustrations! If we are truly his children, we will want to “reflect . . . the glory of Jehovah,” and show these same qualities of love and patience and mercy, and use every occasion to imitate our Father in heaven. (2 Cor. 3:18) But if maybe we have strayed, surely we cannot fail to turn to him and respond to the appeal and incentive he has so kindly provided! Do you not agree? Would it not be fine if it could be said of you, as Peter wrote, that “you were like sheep, going astray; but now you have returned to the shepherd and overseer of your souls”?—1 Pet. 2:25.