What Does God Have in Mind?
WHEN speaking to people about God’s purposes toward mankind, we often hear the question, “Who knows?” This same question was asked by a famous man nineteen hundred years ago. He asked: “Who has come to know the mind of Jehovah?” (1 Cor. 2:16) But this man had the authoritative answer to his question. He was qualified to answer by reason of two important facts: (1) He was a thorough scholar of all the Hebrew Scriptures, an expert in the law of God given to Israel. (2) He held a position of closeness to God that only a few have enjoyed, namely, that of being one of the twelve apostles of the Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God. While he showed that no one can know everything Jehovah has in mind, he answered the question in the following words: “‘Eye has not seen and ear has not heard, neither have there been conceived in the heart of man the things that God has prepared for those who love him.’ For it is to us God has revealed them through his spirit, for the spirit searches into all things, even the deep things of God.”—1 Cor. 2:9, 10.
Jehovah, the God of the Bible, the God of the nation of Israel and the God of Jesus Christ and his followers, is a communicative God. So interested was he in communicating with the human race that he sent his own Son, his most intimate One, from heaven to earth to reveal God’s purposes to mankind. That is why the above-mentioned apostle said also to fellow Christians: “We do have the mind of Christ.” (1 Cor. 2:16) It is through Jehovah’s Word, which is a record of his communication with the nation of Israel and of his communication since then through Jesus Christ, that we can discern what God has in mind. God commands us: “Ask me even about the things that are coming concerning my sons; and concerning the activity of my hands you people should command me.” (Isa. 45:11) Jesus counsels: “Keep on asking, and it will be given you; keep on seeking, and you will find; keep on knocking, and it will be opened to you. For everyone asking receives, and everyone seeking finds, and to everyone knocking it will be opened.” (Matt. 7:7, 8) This means to inquire into God’s Word and to seek out the whys and wherefores of the things God says and does. He is not a God far off, an absentee God, nor does he expect us to act without knowledge of his mind on matters. And a most encouraging and heartcheering discovery, in looking into Jehovah’s mind as he reveals it in his Word, is that his mental inclination toward us is good and altogether for our welfare.
A fine outline for us to consider in pursuit of the question, “What does God have in mind?” was given in the eighth century B.C.E. by God, speaking through his prophet Isaiah. In examining this prophecy we get the reasons and purposes for the moves Jehovah makes, revealing to us his mind with a clarity that leaves us with no doubt as to the proper course to take.
WHY HE SPEAKS IN ADVANCE
At the time the prophecy is spoken, Israel is living in the Promised Land. Babylon is not yet the Third World Power. It is not yet even a serious threat to Assyria’s dominant position. But God had foretold that because of Israel’s sins he would permit them to go into captivity to Babylon. Before ever they go into captivity he encourages them, at Isaiah 48, verses 1 to 13, reminding them that he is the Creator of heaven and earth, the same God from first to last, and that he has not forgotten his people. He tells them that for his own sake he will act against Babylon to deliver them. He will not let himself be profaned by failing to perform what he promises, neither will he give his glory to any false god. He states:
“Be collected together, all you people, and hear. Who among them has told these things? Jehovah himself has loved him. He will do what is his delight upon Babylon, and his own arm will be upon the Chaldeans. I—I myself have spoken. Moreover, I have called him. I have brought him in, and there will be a making of his way successful.” (Isa. 48:14, 15) What does Jehovah mean by these words? In effect, he says: ‘Who among the false gods of the pagan world have foretold these things concerning Babylon’s fall and the deliverance of my people by Cyrus the Persian? It is Cyrus that I have loved because of the work against Babylon that I purposed for him to do. He will do that which is my delight against that wicked city. His arm will be upon the Chaldeans with a strength they cannot resist.’
Cyrus would not know until after he captured Babylon and Daniel could show him Isaiah’s prophecy that he was used by Jehovah to capture Babylon and subdue the Chaldeans. That God himself is the foreteller of it, he says: “Come near to me, you people. Hear this. From the start I have spoken in no place of concealment at all. From the time of its occurring I have been there.” (Isa. 48:16) Jehovah is not afraid to prophesy this in advance. He is not foretelling it secretly so that nobody will later be able to prove that he truly did foretell this. He knows what he will do and foretells it in advance so that his people at that time and also we down in this time may be assured that he is the true God, and we can trust him to carry out his stated purposes. He next says to Israel:
WHAT HE PURPOSES FOR HIS PEOPLE
“This is what Jehovah has said, your Repurchaser, the Holy One of Israel: ‘I, Jehovah, am your God, the One teaching you to benefit yourself, the One causing you to tread in the way in which you should walk. O if only you would actually pay attention to my commandments! Then your peace would become just like a river, and your righteousness like the waves of the sea. And your offspring would become just like the sand, and the descendants from your inward parts like the grains of it. One’s name would not be cut off or be annihilated from before me.’”—Isa. 48:17-19.
With this the Israelites can see that God is going to deliver them from Babylon. He calls himself their Repurchaser. Knowing this in advance, Jehovah shows that his heart’s wish is that the Israelites avoid captivity and deportation from their homeland by paying attention to his commandments. Then, instead of having calamity come upon them from Babylon, they can have peace and prosperity as full, deep and plentiful as a river. Their deeds of righteousness can be as innumerable as the sea’s waves. Jehovah had promised their forefather Abraham to make his seed as numberless as the grains of sand on the seashore. How great his love for them and how good his purpose toward them! He appeals to their love as the One really interested in them, teaching them how to benefit themselves, lovingly leading them in the way to walk. O if only they would listen! He does not desire their cutting off or annihilation from before him. But he foreknows that they are rebellious and will not follow his teaching and leading and will have to be disciplined. Even so, Jehovah is so kindhearted to them that he cannot forsake them utterly. His next words will prove to be a light of hope during their captivity:
“Go forth, you people, out of Babylon! Run away from the Chaldeans. Tell forth even with the sound of a joyful cry, cause this to be heard. Make it to go forth to the extremity of the earth. Say: ‘Jehovah has repurchased his servant Jacob. And they did not get thirsty when he was making them walk even through devastated places. Water out of the rock he caused to flow forth for them, and he proceeded to split a rock that the water might stream forth.’”—Isa. 48:20, 21.
Therefore, these descendants of his beloved servant Jacob he does not leave in complete despair. Of course, Babylon is not going to open her prison voluntarily to let the Israelites run away, and it is not Jehovah’s will for them to make a jailbreak to try to get out of Babylon before she falls. Through his prophet Jeremiah (25:11-14) he later will tell them that they cannot go back to their homeland before it has lain desolate seventy years. So they will have to wait upon Jehovah through Cyrus, whom he has loved as their liberator.
The fact that he foretells this will result in exalting his name, for when Babylon actually fell the news of her fall was published throughout all the Medo-Persian Empire, and the Israelites were able to tell others about it and to explain why Babylon fell and thus not let the people give all the credit to a man for her downfall. Thus, besides his Word he had witnesses to his acts and purposes, just as he has in the earth today. His love for those who took advantage of the release was shown by the fact that he took them back through a devastated territory, yet he cared for them, bringing them water out of a rockmass and seeing that they were able to get back to Jerusalem safely. Jehovah’s kindness to his people was indeed unmatchable. But he could not be at peace with those among them who broke his commandments, and particularly not with wicked Babylon.—Isa. 48:22.
When the fall of Babylon did come, some Israelites did not take the trip to Jerusalem; but these were not necessarily counted wicked, for example, the aged Daniel. If it was not agreeable for some to leave Babylon, they could act on the suggestion in Cyrus’ decree and contribute gold, silver, goods and domestic animals to those actually returning and could also send along a voluntary offering for the house of the true God, which was in Jerusalem.—Ezra 1:2-4.
WHY HE ALLOWED SUFFERING TO HIS PEOPLE
Jerusalem represented God’s name, but in Isaiah’s day they were proving themselves rebellious. By the time of Jerusalem’s fall to Babylon in 607 B.C.E., their wickedness, God knew, would increase to the point that Jehovah’s patience with them would run out and they would have to have discipline administered to them. He warns:
“Rouse yourself, rouse yourself, rise up, O Jerusalem, you who have drunk at the hand of Jehovah his cup of rage. The goblet, the cup causing reeling, you have drunk, you have drained out. There was none of all the sons that she brought to birth conducting her, and there was none of all the sons that she brought up taking hold of her hand. Those two things were befalling you. Who will sympathize with you? Despoiling and breakdown, and hunger and sword! Who will comfort you? Your own sons have swooned away. They have lain down at the head of all the streets like the wild sheep in the net, as those who are full of the rage of Jehovah, the rebuke of your God.”—Isa. 51:17-20.
God used Babylon to administer that discipline. Jerusalem reeled from his cup of anger and none of her inhabitants could help her walk straight. Even the few righteous ones among her, like Ezekiel, Daniel and his three close Hebrew companions, could not keep her from reeling and help her on her feet. The two things that Jerusalem had to drink out of Jehovah’s cup of rage were in couplets: (1) Despoiling and breakdown, (2) hunger and sword. During the eighteen-month siege by Nebuchadnezzar she suffered extreme hunger, the sword of Babylonian warfare, a breakdown of her government and her defense and a despoiling by pagan conquerors. Egypt, to whom she appealed, was unable to help her, and those inside her swooned from weakness and exhaustion. But encouragingly, Jehovah foretells the end of her drunken experience:
“Therefore listen to this, please, O woman afflicted and drunk, but not with wine. This is what your Lord, Jehovah, even your God, with whom his people contend, has said: ‘Look! I will take away from your hand the cup causing reeling. The goblet, my cup of rage—you will not repeat the drinking of it any more. And I will put it in the hand of the ones irritating you, who have said to your soul, “Bow down that we may cross over,” so that you used to make your back just like the earth, and like the street for those crossing over.’”—Isa. 51:21-23.
This explains why Jehovah permitted her to go into captivity. It was because she, as the capital city of his people, took the lead in contending with him instead of agreeing with him and obeying him lovingly and trustingly. But his discipline would come to an end and his rage would turn away from Jerusalem and be directed against Babylon and her allies, who had irritated and humiliated Jerusalem to the point of making her, as it were, to lie face down and flatten herself to the ground that they might walk heavily over her like over a city street. When this took place in 607 B.C.E. Jerusalem began to be trodden down by the Gentiles. There the seven times of the Gentiles began, to continue on to 1914 C.E.—Luke 21:24; Dan. 4:16, 23, 25, 32.a
The cup of Jehovah’s rage was taken out of Jerusalem’s hands and put into the hands of Babylon in 539 B.C.E. Two years later, in 537 B.C.E., Cyrus proclaimed his decree releasing the Israelites. At that time the prophecy inspired by Jehovah two hundred years in advance began to apply: “Wake up, wake up, put on your strength, O Zion! Put on your beautiful garments, O Jerusalem, the holy city! For no more will there come again into you the uncircumcised and unclean one. Shake yourself free from the dust, rise up, take a seat, O Jerusalem. Loosen for yourself the bands on your neck, O captive daughter of Zion.”—Isa. 52:1, 2.
Zion was to be rebuilt into a beautiful city, no longer a helpless slave for Babylon but beautifully adorned and strengthened for the worship of Jehovah. Being once again “the town of the grand King” or “the city of the great King,” as Jesus called her, she was to put on her beautiful garments of her royalty. (Ps. 48:2; Matt. 5:35) She was to be a holy city; therefore it was improper for uncircumcised and unclean persons to come inside her. As long as she would remain faithful to God and keep her holiness, no uncircumcised Gentile conquerors would be overriding her and reducing her to the dust again. While the kings of the line of David were not restored at this time and successive world powers exercised domination over her, yet she remained intact as the holy city, the center of worship for Jehovah’s chosen people, until finally, because of rebelliousness, she was destroyed by Rome in the year 70 C.E. Isaiah’s prophecy came true, because Isaiah, chapter 52, finds its fulfillment in the real, complete sense in God’s heavenly organization, the heavenly Zion, for she is the free “Jerusalem above” and was foreshadowed by earthly Zion or Jerusalem. For, thirty-seven years before Jerusalem’s destruction in 70 C.E., Jehovah made his center of worship the spiritual temple, the Christian congregation.—Gal. 4:26.
While in slavery to Babylon, Jerusalem could be called the “captive daughter of Zion,” but now she was no longer to sit on the ground and mourn, but she must take an elevated seat, loosening the bands or chains of captivity from her neck. She was to exercise her freedom to serve Jehovah as his temple city. There Jehovah would reside in her, as Zechariah 2:7, 10 prophesies: “‘Hey there, Zion! Make your escape, you who are dwelling with the daughter of Babylon. Cry out loudly and rejoice, O daughter of Zion; for here I am coming, and I will reside in the midst of you,’ is the utterance of Jehovah.”
HOW GOD’S PEOPLE WERE SOLD AND REPURCHASED
Jehovah had sold or delivered Zion over to Babylon for nothing because of her rebelliousness. Therefore Babylon should not have felt, as she did, that she had a perpetual claim on Zion. Jehovah explains: “It was for nothing that you people were sold, and it will be without money that you will be repurchased.” (Isa. 52:3) So God would not have to pay anything as a ransom price to gain the freedom of Zion. It did not cost Jehovah anything to release her. However, there was a repurchase of Zion, for King Cyrus released Zion voluntarily and acknowledged Jehovah, and Jehovah, in turn, gave Cyrus the Persian the countries that he conquered in his march to triumph over Babylon and afterward gave Persia the land of Egypt in the days of Cyrus’ son Cambyses. (Isa. 43:3, 4) These were all pagan countries. Upon letting the Israelites return to rebuild the temple in Jerusalem, King Cyrus restored to them the vessels that King Nebuchadnezzar had stolen from Jehovah’s temple, and he did not require any compensation.
Babylon had no rightful claim on God’s people and so she was destroyed for having oppressed them. God recalls former instances of oppression to mind at Isaiah 52:4 when he reminds: “It was to Egypt that my people went down in the first instance to reside there as aliens; and without cause Assyria, for its part, oppressed them.” Babylon did not learn a lesson from the record of God’s action in freeing Israel from the Egyptians. She ignored the historical fact of God’s slaughter of 185,000 Assyrian troops who threatened Jerusalem and his overthrow of Assyria to the Medes and Chaldeans about 633 B.C.E., after Assyria had, without cause, overthrown the ten-tribe kingdom of Israel, uprooted the people and resettled the land with pagans from foreign countries.
JEHOVAH WANTS HIS NAME HELD IN RESPECT
In view of these things, what interest would Jehovah have in Babylon? He answers: “‘And now, what interest do I have here?’ is the utterance of Jehovah. ‘For my people were taken for nothing. The very ones ruling over them kept howling,’ is the utterance of Jehovah, ‘and constantly, all day long, my name was being treated with disrespect. For that reason my people will know my name, even for that reason in that day, because I am the One that is speaking. Look! It is I.’” (Isa. 52:5, 6) So Jehovah had in mind finding a similar situation existing in Babylon as he had previously found in ancient Egypt and Assyria. The boasting and bragging of Babylon against Jerusalem, especially as it reflected on his name, would not go unnoticed by him and he was bound to answer, for the Babylonians did not fear that they too might offend against the true God even more seriously than his people had, whom God had sold into their hand for nothing, and add to their already existing sin of idol worship.
The Israelites should have learned a lesson from this discipline of Jehovah. Many of them did. They had brought great reproach upon Jehovah’s name, as the Christian apostle Paul said to the natural Jews of his day about 56 C.E.: “For ‘the name of God is being blasphemed on account of you people among the nations’; just as it is written.” (Rom. 2:24) For seventy years they had to endure this disrespect, which naturally brought much contempt on them. They heard his name defamed, abused, blasphemed, taken up in a worthless way, but Jehovah would not let this go on forever. He is too respectful of his own name and his position as Universal Sovereign. He guaranteed that he would vindicate his name and put it in its proper sanctified place before all the nations, for, as he says, “I am the One that is speaking. Look! It is I.”
THE KIND OF WORSHIP JEHOVAH WANTS
From this experience of Israel it can be seen that Jehovah has great love for all his creatures and treats all with justice and mercy. He particularly has unbreakable love for his people, those who take his name. But he is also careful to have his name held in proper respect among them. He does not want mere lip service. He desires loving obedience, as a faithful son would obey his father. Those, therefore, who take God’s name upon themselves cannot make their religion something that is apart from their lives, but they must govern their lives by the worship of Jehovah and obedience to his commandments. He, not the individual, sets the standard as to what is true worship of him. His goodwill is toward all those who follow this course and he has in mind blessings beyond what any human mind can conceive of itself, as the apostle said: “Eye has not seen and ear has not heard, neither have there been conceived in the heart of man the things that God has prepared for those who love him.” (1 Cor. 2:9) That is why we should study his Word. Even his being jealous for his own name is not a selfish interest. Why not? Because the sanctification of his name by the kingdom of the Greater Cyrus, Jesus Christ, will work to the interests of all the universe and bring unending peace to this earth, along with everlasting life and all the attendant blessings, the yet unheard of things that he, the loving Creator, has in mind to bestow upon those who obey him.
a See The Watchtower, December 15, 1964, and the book “Babylon the Great Has Fallen!” God’s Kingdom Rules!, chapter 10, published by the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society. Inc., Brooklyn, New York.