Learn by Contrast to Appreciate True Riches
“Why do you people keep paying out money for what is not bread, and why is your toil for what results in no satisfaction? Listen intently to me, and eat what is good, and let your soul find its exquisite delight in fatness itself.”—Isa. 55:2.
1. By making contrasts, what benefits can be gained?
CONTRASTS make life interesting. Often they help to deepen our appreciation. How we welcome the warm sunshine after a cold and wet wintry season! Good health, often taken for granted, becomes greatly prized after recovery from a severe spell of sickness. Yes, contrasts draw our attention to the value and importance of things that otherwise would be given but little consideration.
2. (a) What part do contrasts play in God’s Word? (b) What inviting picture is portrayed in the account of creation?
2 God’s Word, the Bible, abounds with contrasts, making it a most interesting and lively book. More than that, these contrasts draw our attention to things of vital importance and help us to appreciate them at their true worth. For example, the opening account of creation in the book of Genesis quickly builds up in our mind’s eye an inviting picture of the great preparations made for a beautiful home for man, including the creation of man himself as a masterpiece made in God’s own image. The picture is made complete, also man’s happiness, by describing the creation of that perfectly lovely woman, given to the man as an ideal helper, “as a complement of him,” making a pleasing contrast, male and female.—Gen. 2:18.
3. How was this followed by a sharp contrast, leading to what result?
3 Then follows a sharp contrast. A sinister shadow crosses the picture. Through the serpent, a discordant note is heard. God’s word is brought into question: “Is it really so that God said . . . ?” God’s word is then denied: “You positively will not die,” if you eat the forbidden fruit. First the woman and then the man decide to eat of that fruit. Thus, instead of letting God be their Instructor concerning the “knowledge of good and bad” in his own way and time, they take matters into their own hands. By painful experience they taste the bitter contrast between life and death. By forsaking the Source of true knowledge, leading to the true riches of endless life, they plunge themselves and their posterity into beggarly conditions, subject to bad leadership and false information.—Gen. 2:17; 3:1-6, 16-19.
4. In the reverse order, what fine contrasts are found in Revelation, giving what prospect?
4 In the closing part of God’s Word we find more contrasts, but in the reverse order. We read of the defeat of “the original serpent, the one called Devil and Satan,” in a war in heaven, and then later of the binding and putting completely out of action “the original serpent . . . for a thousand years.” This is done “that he might not mislead the nations any more” with false knowledge and bad leadership. (Rev. 12:7-9; 20:1-3) After describing the downfall and destruction of “Babylon the Great” and then of all the other parts and supporters of Satan’s organization in the war of Har–Magedon, we come to a vivid and wonderful contrast. We read, not of the creation of a literal earth, but of God’s new system of things, “a new heaven and a new earth.” Instead of death’s coming into the picture, “death will be no more.” Built up in our mind’s eye is a picture, not of the first man and his wife and human headship, but a description of the heavenly government providing true headship, composed of Jesus Christ, the Bridegroom, with his Christian congregation, the “holy city, New Jerusalem,” the true church, “prepared as a bride adorned for her husband.” Then we read, not of a literal “river issuing out of Eden,” but of a “river of water of life.” On either bank are trees, not laden with forbidden fruit, but “trees of life . . . yielding their fruits each month,” symbolizing God’s provisions for giving eternal life with all its riches to believing, obedient mankind in a restored Paradise.—Gen. 2:10; Rev. 21:1-4; 22:1, 2.
5. What invitation is given respecting “life’s water,” and what obligations are thereby involved?
5 Finally, we read, not of losing God’s favor and of expulsion from the garden home, but of the invitation to “let anyone that wishes take life’s water free.” Life itself in perfection cannot yet be gained, but the way thereto has been clearly indicated. Particularly since 1934, this magazine, The Watchtower, has shown from the Scriptures that those who wish to enjoy God’s favor, with the hope of surviving Har–Magedon, must dedicate themselves fully to him, symbolized by their baptism in water. They must identify themselves with God’s other dedicated servants, known as Jehovah’s witnesses. This means sharing with them in extending the invitation to yet others, to “anyone thirsting,” to come and start quenching their thirst.—Rev. 22:17; see The Watchtower as of August 15, 1934, pages 249, 250, paragraphs 31-34.
INVITATION TO TRUE RICHES
6. How can we find the “road leading off into life” for ourselves, and how can we aid others in this respect?
6 How is such invitation extended to others? Jesus said in his prayer: “This means everlasting life, their taking in knowledge of you, the only true God, and of the one whom you sent forth, Jesus Christ.” In anticipation of life in reality, we can and must start now to take in that life-giving knowledge by gaining an understanding of Bible truth. As Jesus later said in that same prayer: “Your [God’s] word is truth.” It is the “word of life,” and by conforming to it closely we learn how to turn from the “road leading off into destruction,” and, in happy contrast, to find the “road leading off into life.” We can then invite and help others to be instructed by God “about his ways,” and, with true Christians, to “walk in his paths,” leading to true riches.—John 17:3, 17; Phil. 2:16; Matt. 7:13, 14; Isa. 2:3.
7. On what occasions did Jesus speak of “living water,” leading to what conclusions?
7 Early in his ministry Jesus commenced giving out this invitation, using the same illustration as found at Revelation 22:17. He did not limit this to the Jews, but to a Samaritan woman he spoke of “living water” as “the free gift of God.” He then invitingly said: “The water that I will give him will become in him a fountain of water bubbling up to impart everlasting life.” Later in his ministry he cried out aloud: “If anyone is thirsty, let him come to me and drink. He that puts faith in me, just as the Scripture has said, ‘Out from his inmost part streams of living water will flow.’” This surely implies that the one blessed with this life-giving provision does not keep it to himself, but invites others, “anyone thirsting,” “anyone that wishes,” to come and “take life’s water free.”—John 4:7-15; 7:37, 38; Rev. 22:17.
8. What part does God’s spirit play in gaining and dispensing life-giving knowledge?
8 John adds the comment that Jesus “said this concerning the spirit which those who put faith in him were about to receive.” (John 7:39) This makes it clear that the taking in of this life-giving knowledge, also helping others to drink of it, is actually an operation of God’s spirit. It cannot be done without the aid of the holy spirit. This definitely rules out all human philosophy and religious tradition that make the “word of God invalid.”—Matt. 15:6.
9. Through Isaiah, what similar invitation was given, making what contrast, and why was this appropriate?
9 However, Jesus was not the first one to voice such an invitation in such terms. Over seven hundred years previously, Jehovah, through his prophet, extended this arresting invitation: “Hey there, all you thirsty ones! Come to the water. And the ones that have no money! Come, buy and eat. Yes, come, buy wine and milk even without money and without price. Why do you people keep paying out money for what is not bread, and why is your toil for what results in no satisfaction? Listen intently to me, and eat what is good, and let your soul find its exquisite delight in fatness itself.” (Isa. 55:1, 2) What an invitation, and what a contrast! In Isaiah’s day, under bad leadership by their kings and princes, Jehovah’s people were toiling and paying a high price for false riches that gave no sustenance or security. For one thing, they were looking to Gentile nations, such as Assyria and Egypt, for protection. (2 Ki. 16:7; 18:21) Besides that, under bad priestly influence, many turned to outright idolatry, while others were content with a formal and hypocritical way of worshiping Jehovah. As Jehovah told them: “This people have come near with their mouth, and they have glorified me merely with their lips, and they have removed their heart itself far away from me, and their fear toward me becomes men’s commandment that is being taught.”—Isa. 29:13.
10. What further appeal did Jehovah make to his people, holding out what prospect?
10 So, in contrast, Jehovah invited and called on the people to “listen intently to me” and drink in, not just water, but “wine and milk,” and that “without money and without price.” He invited them to enter into his “covenant respecting the loving-kindnesses to David,” that is, for the lasting kingdom and government under the Greater David, Christ Jesus, the right and true “leader and commander to the national groups.” He invited them to turn from their own thoughts and ways and, instead, to pay heed to “my word that goes forth from my mouth.” He guarantees that his word will have “certain success,” and that it “will certainly do that in which I have delighted.” To respond to this invitation meant taking in true knowledge, leading with certainty to true riches. This would result in a delightful contrast, for “instead of the thicket of thorns . . . [and] stinging nettle,” there would be the juniper tree and myrtle tree, and all creation would rejoice, “for with rejoicing you people will go forth, and with peace you will be brought in.”—Isa. 55:1-4, 8-13.
A MESSAGE FOR OUR DAY
11. Why was the message at Isaiah 55:6, 7 appropriate in Isaiah’s day, finding what parallel in our own day?
11 In Isaiah’s day Jehovah’s people were wayward and rebellious for the most part. But that did not stop Jehovah from sending out through his prophet this very appealing invitation: “Search for Jehovah, you people, while he may be found. Call to him while he proves to be near. Let the wicked man leave his way, and the harmful man his thoughts; and let him return to Jehovah, who will have mercy upon him, and to our God, for he will forgive in a large way.” (Isa. 55:6, 7) We can see how that message was appropriate then, but what about our day? Are the majority of people today wayward and rebellious from God’s viewpoint, especially those who claim to be Christian? Is not the spirit of nationalism stronger today than ever before, and that with the support of religion? Under present political and religious leadership, are the people taught to listen intently to the message of God’s established kingdom under Christ Jesus, or, instead, are they told that it is their Christian duty to serve and support the national kingdom and government under which they live? On these vital questions are the people given true knowledge leading to true riches, or has the arch deceiver, “the original serpent,” “the god of this system of things,” blinded their minds with false information?—Rev. 12:9; 2 Cor. 4:4.
12. In what way do the prophecies show that Isaiah’s message is fitting for our time?
12 As many prophecies show, God clearly foresaw and foretold the conditions that would make the foregoing message appropriate for our day. As Paul was inspired to write: “In the last days critical times hard to deal with will be here. For men will be lovers of themselves . . . self-assuming . . . headstrong . . . having a form of godly devotion but proving false to its power.” (2 Tim. 3:1-5) Even as far back as David, God spoke prophetically about the combined opposition of the nations and rulers “against Jehovah and against his anointed one,” Christ Jesus, after being installed as King in 1914 on the heavenly Mount Zion. (Ps. 2:1-6; Heb. 12:22) This combined opposition, under demonic leadership, gathers the nations and the “kings of the entire inhabited earth” to Har–Magedon, as foretold in the last book of the Bible. (Rev. 16:13-16) Jesus too was inspired to give a detailed prophecy telling of the ‘sign of his presence’ in our day, when there would be “many false prophets” and the “increasing of lawlessness,” and people ‘taking no note,’ resulting in God’s final judgment coming upon them “as a snare.”—Matt. 24:3, 11, 12, 39; Luke 21:35.
13. In harmony with Isaiah 55:6, 7, what striking contrast did Jesus make at Matthew 7:13, 14?
13 Yes, the message found at Isaiah 55:6, 7, with its strong appeal, is certainly appropriate for our time, but the question is, How are we responding to it? Are we going along with the majority down that “broad and spacious . . . road leading off into destruction,” ignoring and perhaps even resisting any appeal to “search for Jehovah . . . while he may be found”? Jesus plainly said that “narrow is the gate and cramped the road leading off into life, and few are the ones finding it.” Nevertheless, he made the invitation quite plain: “Go in through the narrow gate.” It is not impossible. It is not God who has made it difficult. On the contrary, he invites us to forsake the wicked way and the harmful thoughts and to turn to him. He is ready to show mercy and to “forgive in a large way.”—Isa. 55:6, 7; Matt. 7:13, 14.
14. Besides contrasts, what interesting parallels are found in Bible prophecy?
14 To find that “narrow gate” and the incentive to pursue that ‘cramped road’ requires not only accurate knowledge but also a keen appreciation. As already mentioned, contrasts can be a big help to this end. Jesus realized this to be a good teaching method and often used it, both with his disciples and when talking to the crowds. But before looking at some of these contrasts, there is something else worth noting; not a contrast, but a parallel. Jesus knew that the conditions in Israel in his day were, in many respects, a close parallel with those of Isaiah’s day, and he often quoted from Isaiah’s prophecy as having a fulfillment in his own time. For example, he once said to the Pharisees: “Isaiah aptly prophesied about you when he said, ‘This people honors me with their lips, yet their heart is far removed from me.’” (Matt. 15:7-9; see Isaiah 29:13) Jesus also knew that the conditions in our time, especially in Christendom, would be a close parallel with those of his own time, also, of course, with those of Isaiah’s day. Let us keep this in mind as we listen to Jesus making some pointed contrasts, helping us to appreciate true riches.
TWO CLASSES SET IN CONTRAST
15. At Luke 6:20, 21, what contrasts did Jesus make respecting his disciples, and on what basis?
15 After Passover of 31 C.E. Jesus gave the well-known Sermon on the Mount. It was given in the hearing of a large crowd, but was addressed primarily to his disciples gathered near to him. (Matt. 5:1, 2) Matthew gives a full account of this sermon in Mt chapters 5 to 7, but Luke, in his shorter account, records the opening part as a series, or, rather, a double series, of surprising contrasts. First, Jesus speaks to his disciples as having suffered hard conditions up till that time. He says: “Happy are you poor, because yours is the kingdom of God. Happy are you who hunger now, because you will be filled. Happy are you who weep now, because you will laugh.” (Luke 6:20, 21) Note that each statement is a contrast, but, instead of offering sympathy, he says each time: “Happy are you.” Why? Because the time had come for them to experience a great change. Hitherto poor and hungry and weeping, they were now to be enriched with the inheritance of the kingdom of God, and promised to be filled and made to laugh.
16. What other class did Jesus then refer to, giving what identification?
16 Next comes a most interesting contrast. Jesus says: “Happy are you whenever men hate you, and whenever they exclude you and reproach you and cast out your name as wicked for the sake of the Son of man. Rejoice in that day and leap, for, look! your reward is great in heaven, for those are the same things their forefathers used to do to the prophets.” (Luke 6:22, 23) Jesus here not only tells his disciples of a further cause for happiness, but mentions another class of people, namely, those who were responsible for the shocking bad treatment meted out to his disciples. He points to the identification of this evil class of persecutors when he says that “the same things their forefathers used to do to the prophets” (the true prophets), including Isaiah. Who were these forefathers? Isaiah says they referred to Israel’s rulers, “the elderly ones of his [God’s] people and its princes,” especially the religious leaders, “priest and prophet” (false prophet), who “have gone astray because of intoxicating liquor . . . they have gone astray in their seeing, they have reeled as to decision.”—Isa. 3:14; 28:7.
17, 18. (a) Who are addressed in the series of contrasts at Luke 6:24-26? (b) What points did Jesus then emphasize?
17 Jesus now speaks directly to this evil class with a further series of contrasts, but in the reverse order to the previous one. We can imagine, too, that, instead of looking directly at his disciples, he now lifts his gaze and takes in the whole crowd, seeing among them a number of those to whom this second series applied. This wider sweep is indicated by his subsequent expression: “But I say to you who are listening,” that is, to any who might pay heed and profit from his teaching.—Luke 6:27; 7:1.
18 Notice now the terse contrasts in this second series, when Jesus says: “But woe to you rich persons, because you are having your consolation in full. Woe to you who are filled up now, because you will go hungry. Woe, you who are laughing now, because you will mourn and weep. Woe, whenever all men speak well of you, for things like these are what their forefathers did to the false prophets,” that is, in flattery and for selfish advantage.—Luke 6:24-26.
19. What similar contrasts are found at Isaiah 65:13, 14, leading to what questions?
19 Here we can observe another close link between the prophet Isaiah and the greater prophet, Christ Jesus. Similarity of expression is seen, not only in the invitation to come and drink (see paragraphs 7 to 9), but also in the contrasts just mentioned. Listen to what Isaiah was inspired to record: “This is what the Lord Jehovah has said: ‘Look! My own servants will eat, but you yourselves will go hungry. Look! My own servants will drink, but you yourselves will go thirsty. Look! My own servants will rejoice, but you yourselves will suffer shame. Look! My own servants will cry out joyfully because of the good condition of the heart, but you yourselves will make outcries because of the pain of heart and you will howl because of sheer breakdown of spirit.’” (Isa. 65:13, 14) Do these contrasts expressed by both these prophets have a parallel fulfillment in our day? Do they help us to identify more sharply the two classes involved? Do they quicken our appreciation of true riches? And is it possible for an individual to flee from one class to the other, even though, as classes, they are separated by a great chasm?
20. What different teaching methods did Jesus adopt?
20 In order to give these questions proper consideration we will examine in a succeeding study something of special interest that Jesus had to say later on this same subject. He not only taught by plain speech and direct explanation, as he did in much of the Sermon on the Mount, but he also taught extensively by the use of illustrations, or parables, especially when addressing the crowds. “Indeed, without an illustration he would not speak to them,” Matthew records. (Matt. 13:34; see also Mt 13 verses 10-15) One of these illustrations centers around the two classes mentioned at Luke 6:20-26 and is worthy of our close attention.
21. Why would the two classes at Luke 6:20-26 be prominent in Jesus’ thoughts and utterances?
21 One thing is clear. These two classes referred to by Jesus early in his ministry were very much on his mind and on his lips, because (1) they were clearly delineated in the Hebrew Scriptures, (2) they had already shown up even before the start of his ministry, and he knew from the Scriptures that they would continue to do so, and (3) he knew that these same Scriptures, plus his own teaching, would be a source of enlightenment and a “warning to us upon whom the ends of the systems of things have arrived.” May we prove to be among those “who are listening.”—1 Cor. 10:11; Luke 6:27.