The Haughty versus The Humble
1. What important principle is stated at 2 Samuel 22:28, and how does it apply?
WHEN David had been delivered by Jehovah from all his enemies, including Saul, he composed a grand song of thanksgiving, using these words: “The humble people you will save; but your eyes are against the haughty ones, that you may bring them low.” (2 Sam. 22:28) This expresses a principle that is emphasized throughout God’s Word. It concerns two classes or groups of people set in contrast. For a time, as with David, the humble ones are treated as outcasts by those who are haughty, and often go hungry. Then comes a visitation, or a time of inspection and judgment from Jehovah. This results in a complete reversal to these two classes, though not, mark you, by stepping into each other’s shoes.
2 Such a day of inspection and judgment was initiated when Jesus commenced his ministry at the age of thirty. He came as Jehovah’s representative, the “messenger of the covenant,” foretold in Malachi’s prophecy. This prophecy foretold Jehovah’s coming to his temple for judgment, as he said: “I will come near to you people for the judgment, and I will become a speedy witness” against the evildoers mentioned. Did the ministry of Jesus as Jehovah’s “messenger of the covenant” result in a change of conditions for the two classes, the humble and the haughty? Yes. But there was a foretaste of that change even prior thereto. How so? Besides speaking of the “messenger of the covenant,” Jehovah spoke of another messenger in the same connection, saying: “I am sending my messenger, and he must clear up a way before me.” Jesus plainly said that this messenger who prepared the way and was a forerunner to him was John the Baptist.—Mal. 3:1, 5; Matt. 11:7, 10; Luke 1:76; 7:24, 27.
3. How did two classes become manifest through John the Baptist’s ministry?
3 John the Baptist’s ministry commenced about six months before that of Jesus, but during that time two classes began to show up. On the one hand there were John’s disciples, whom John introduced to Jesus and who, with others, formed the nucleus of the one class. They were humble men and truly God-fearing men, such as Nathanael, “an Israelite for a certainty, in whom there is no deceit,” as Jesus testified. On the other hand, when John “caught sight of many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to the baptism, he said to them: ‘You offspring of vipers, who has shown you how to flee from the coming wrath?’”—John 1:47; Matt. 3:7.
4. What previous foregleams were given respecting these two classes?
4 However, thirty years before that there was a foregleam of the change coming to these two classes. The virgin Mary, after visiting Elizabeth, the mother-to-be of John the Baptist, and after her own conception by holy spirit, voiced her praise in these words: “My soul magnifies Jehovah . . . he has scattered abroad those who are haughty in the intention of their hearts . . . he has fully satisfied hungry ones with good things and he has sent away empty those who had wealth.” With remarkable similarity, over a thousand years before that, another woman, Hannah, who also unexpectedly became mother to a son, Samuel, said: “My heart does exult in Jehovah . . . The satisfied must hire themselves out for bread, but the hungry actually cease to hunger.”—Luke 1:46-53; 1 Sam. 2:1, 5.
5. When and how did Jesus first come in contact with those who were haughty?
5 The two contrasting classes and the changes that were due to come to them in a day of judgment were indeed clearly outlined in the Hebrew Scriptures, as Jesus well knew, and when he began his ministry both classes were already in evidence. Perhaps even at the age of twelve, after three days of close contact with the religious teachers at the temple, he, with his perfect mind and quick understanding, perceived the characteristics of those men forming the one class. (Luke 2:42-47) His first brush with those haughty, wealthy and well-filled religious leaders was possibly at the first Passover after his ministry began, when he drove out the traders and money changers from the temple. We can imagine how tormenting that was to those who authorized and profited from that commercial trafficking in Jehovah’s house of prayer.—John 2:13-17.
6. Through John’s ministry, what due changes began to be apparent?
6 Not only were the two classes in evidence, but the due changes were not delayed, not for a moment. From the start, John had his disciples who openly helped in his ministry. Instead of being at the mercy of the religious rulers and ignored and despised, they now had an assignment of service that brought great joy and satisfaction, like food to a hungry soul. In sharp contrast, the moment that John caught sight of those Pharisees and Sadducees he gave them a withering blast, as already mentioned. (Matt. 3:7-12) Why? Not only because he was filled with God’s spirit, but because their lordly attitude to the common people, their great pride and self-righteousness, were common knowledge.
7. How were these changes intensified through Jesus’ ministry?
7 Similarly with Jesus. From the beginning of his ministry he began to teach and train his disciples. No longer at a disadvantage, they now felt that life had a real purpose. From their new vantage ground they had direct proof of God’s loving favor and protection. What a happy contrast for them! But what a bitter contrast for those rulers whose position and prestige had hitherto been unchallenged! How often they must have writhed at the fearless and public exposures that they had to listen to from the lips of Jesus. As representing his Father, Jesus continued without letup throughout his ministry to show favor to the humble and disfavor to the haughty. Sometimes he referred to the two classes by plain speech, as in the Sermon on the Mount, but more often in his public teaching he made use of illustrations. Even so, though not grasping all the detail, the religious rulers knew well enough when he was speaking about them. As Matthew records: “When the chief priests and the Pharisees had heard his illustrations, they took note that he was speaking about them.”—Matt. 21:45.
TIME FOR TABLES TO BE TURNED
8. What circumstances led up to Jesus’ denunciation of the Pharisees at Luke 16:15?
8 Now note the circumstances leading up to an illustration that we wish to examine in detail. Before Jesus went up to Jerusalem near the close of his earthly ministry, Luke records that the Pharisees and scribes kept muttering because the tax collectors and sinners kept drawing near to Jesus to hear him. Hence Jesus gave illustrations contrasting the two classes, the rejoicing over the repentant sinner and over the prodigal son welcomed back home, as compared with those who think they have no need to repent. Then came the illustration of the unrighteous steward, helping his disciples to appreciate true spiritual riches and friendships in contrast with the fleeting and unrighteous riches of Mammon. (Luke 15:1–16:13) Luke then makes this interesting comment: “Now the Pharisees, who were money lovers, were listening to all these things, and they began to sneer at him. Consequently he [Jesus] said to them: ‘You are those who declare yourselves righteous before men, but God knows your hearts; because what is lofty among men is a disgusting thing in God’s sight.’”—Luke 16:14, 15.
9. What important time factor did Jesus then state, leading up to what illustration?
9 Those plainly spoken words showed how Jesus viewed those men. He next refers to the important time factor, saying: “The Law and the Prophets were until John. From then on the kingdom of God is being declared as good news, and every sort of person is pressing forward toward it.” (Luke 16:16) Yes, the time had come for the tables to be turned on this haughty, self-righteous, money-loving class, and in favor of that other class who hitherto had had a raw deal at their hands. With this theme in mind Jesus went on to relate the illustration we are interested in, known as the rich man (Diʹves) and Lazarus. He used the familiar pattern of contrast, followed by a complete reversal of situations. So as to have the picture in mind, we will first summarize what Jesus said.
10. How can the illustration at Luke 16:19-31 be summarized?
10 A certain rich man daily enjoyed every luxury. Lazarus, a beggar in a pitiable state, was put at the rich man’s gate, craving anything dropped from his table. The beggar died, and the angels carried him to the bosom position of Abraham. The rich man died and was buried. Tormented in Hades by a blazing fire, he implored Abraham to send Lazarus to dip his finger in water to cool his tongue. But Abraham explained that a complete reversal had occurred for both men, also a great chasm had been fixed between the two that could not be crossed. Then the rich man asked that Lazarus be sent to warn his five brothers about this place of torment. But Abraham replied: “They have Moses and the Prophets; let them listen to these.” The rich man said: “No, . . . but if someone from the dead goes to them they will repent.” Abraham’s final word was: “If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, neither will they be persuaded if someone rises from the dead.”—Luke 16:19-31.
11. Whom did the rich man represent in Jesus’ day, marked by what similarities?
11 Let us look first at the application of the illustration in Jesus’ own day. In view of the scriptures already discussed it is not difficult to identify the two main characters, strengthened by the details given. As to the first, Jesus said “a certain man was rich, and he used to deck himself with purple and linen, enjoying himself from day to day with magnificence.” (Luke 16:19) Who was this rich man who gloried in his riches? Whom did he represent? Why, Jesus had just been speaking to them, the money-loving Pharisees. Notice the similarity of expression. Jesus said: “You . . . declare yourselves righteous before men.” Likewise the rich man “used to deck himself with purple and linen.” (Luke 16:15, 19) The Pharisees did not wait or depend on someone else to declare them righteous. Likewise the rich man did not wait or depend on someone else to invest him with the robes and insignia of royalty and outstanding virtue and righteousness, symbolized by the purple and linen. Neither God nor his servant Christ Jesus, nor the prophets, such as Isaiah, ever declared the religious rulers of Israel a righteous class. Far otherwise! But those of that class were never slow in parading their own righteousness. Just like that rich man, they showed it in their dress and general demeanor, as Jesus said: “They broaden the scripture-containing cases that they wear as safeguards, and enlarge the fringes of their garments. They like the most prominent place at evening meals and the front seats in the synagogues . . . [and] outwardly indeed appear beautiful . . . [and] righteous to men.”—Matt. 23:5, 6, 27, 28; 6:1, 2.
12. Of what is purple a symbol, and how did this apply to the religious rulers in Jesus’ time?
12 As for the purple, from ancient times it has been used as a symbol of imperial or regal power. When Jesus had been arrested and was questioned by Pilate: “Are you the king of the Jews?”, we remember that, in mockery, the “soldiers braided a crown of thorns and put it on his head and arrayed him with a purple outer garment . . . saying: ‘Good day, you king of the Jews!’” (John 18:33; 19:2, 3) The religious rulers did not actually aspire to kingship on a throne, but they did assert and exercise real rulership. Were they not the leaders of the nation to whom God promised: “You yourselves will become to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation”? Did they not remind Jesus on one occasion: “We are Abraham’s offspring and never have we been slaves to anybody”?—Ex. 19:6; John 8:33.
13. What does linen symbolize, making what contrast as between the Pharisees and the Lamb’s wife?
13 As for the linen, that is used as a symbol of righteousness. Note the description of the Christian congregation as the Bride of the Lamb Jesus Christ at the time of her marriage to him in heaven. She is “arrayed in bright, clean, fine linen, for the fine linen stands for the righteous acts of the holy ones.” But note that it does not say that she decks herself with purple and linen, even though the marriage is with the “King of kings.” Ah, no! She does not declare herself righteous, like the Pharisees, but, as appropriately expressed, “it has been granted to her to be arrayed in . . . fine linen.” (Rev. 19:7, 8, 16) The apostle Paul, formerly a zealous Pharisee, came to appreciate the contrast between the true righteousness and the false, as he wrote: “That I may gain Christ and be found in union with him, having, not my own righteousness, which results from law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness that issues from God on the basis of faith.”—Phil. 3:8, 9; see also Romans 10:2-4.
14. What further aspects help to identify the “rich man” class in Jesus’ day?
14 In the eyes of men generally and in their own eyes those religious rulers had everything, like the rich man “enjoying himself from day to day with magnificence,” including a lavish spread. (Luke 16:19) As we have seen, knowledge, especially spiritual knowledge, is likened to food and drink. (Isa. 55:1, 2; John 17:3) Well, the Jews and particularly their leaders were well stocked with such provisions on which they could feast continually. Paul once asked: “What, then, is the superiority of the Jew?” He replied: “A great deal in every way. First of all, because they were entrusted with the sacred pronouncements of God.” He also wrote that to the Israelites belonged “the glory and the covenants and the giving of the Law and the sacred service and the promises.” As for the leaders, Jesus said they were “versed in the Law” and had the “key of knowledge.” So as we examine the opening words of Jesus’ illustration, it is evident that the rich man represented the religious leaders and rulers as a class.—Rom. 3:1, 2; 9:4; Luke 11:52.
15. How did Jesus describe the beggar, and whom did he represent?
15 Now what about the beggar? Jesus left the rich man without a name, but he gave the beggar the Jewish name Lazarus, meaning “God is helper.” He “used to be put at his [the rich man’s] gate, full of ulcers and desiring to be filled with the things dropping from the table of the rich man. Yes, too, the dogs would come and lick his ulcers.” (Luke 16:20, 21) As with the rich man, we do not have to look far to find the class represented by Lazarus. Jesus had just been speaking about them. In fact, it was the Pharisees who caused Jesus to talk about this other class when they complained about his welcoming the tax collectors and sinners. (Luke 15:1, 2) Also, note that, just prior to that, Jesus said to one of the rulers of the Pharisees: “When you spread a feast, invite poor people, crippled, lame, blind.” Yes, the beggar represented primarily the poor and spiritually impoverished among the Jews. They were greatly despised by the ruling class, who “trusted in themselves that they were righteous and who considered the rest as nothing,” as, like Lazarus, fit company only for dogs. Even worse, the chief priests and Pharisees, speaking angrily about the people who accepted Jesus, said: “This crowd that does not know the Law are accursed people.” The rulers, like the rich man, made no provision for any spiritual sustenance for the poor people, who were “conscious of their spiritual need” and eagerly looked for any scraps dropped from the rich man’s lavish table.—Luke 14:13; 18:9; John 7:49; Matt. 5:3.
16. How were the religious rulers responsible for the sick condition of the “Lazarus” class?
16 Additionally, those rulers substituted the traditions built up over the years by their own class in place of God’s “sacred pronouncements.” Hence, as Jesus said, they “made the word of God invalid” and taught “commands of men as doctrines.” So there would be precious little nutriment in those scraps. Moreover, those rulers bound heavy loads on the shoulders of the people and were “not willing to budge them with their finger.” (Matt. 15:6-9; 23:4) No wonder Jesus pictured Lazarus as “full of ulcers.” In such emaciated condition he was surely carrying a heavy load, without the slightest prospect of any help or relief from the rich man.
17. How did Jesus show that a change was due respecting these two classes?
17 This state of affairs was bad, wholly unjustified, and could not be tolerated indefinitely. As Jesus said to the complaining Pharisees: “Persons in health do not need a physician, but the ailing do. Go, then, and learn what this means, ‘I want mercy, and not sacrifice.’ For I came to call, not righteous people, but sinners.” And as he warned that same class: “Woe to you who are versed in the Law, because you took away the key of knowledge; you yourselves did not go in, and those going in you hindered!” Yes, the time had come for a change, for a reversal. How did Jesus portray this in his illustration?—Matt. 9:12, 13; Luke 11:52.
THE CLIMACTIC CHANGE
18. In the illustration, what climatic event occurred, leading to what changes and reversal?
18 Of all the experiences that contribute to change and reversal in human life, death is the most climactic. Jesus used just that in his illustration. After the initial description of the two characters, as just discussed, Jesus continued: “Now in course of time the beggar died . . . Also, the rich man died.” Ah, yes! The important time factor made all the difference. How vividly Jesus now appealed to the imagination of his listeners, knowing that imagination, besides contrast, is a powerful aid to appreciation! Were those two men left to sleep peacefully in their graves? Not they! The beggar was immediately “carried off by the angels to the bosom position of Abraham.” The rich man “was buried. And in Hades he . . . [was] existing in torments” in a blazing fire.—Luke 16:22, 23.
19. (a) In support of what doctrine is Luke 16:23 often quoted? (b) Why is such a conclusion both unreasonable and unscriptural?
19 As many of our readers are aware, many commentators and authorities in Christendom interpret this as a literal statement of fact in support of their traditional doctrine of eternal torment suffered by immortal souls in hellfire. But did any of Jesus’ listeners, either the Pharisees or his disciples, take it that way? Did they think that Jesus was drawing aside the veil for a moment, as is often said, to give a glimpse of the fate awaiting the wicked, in fact, of all those who do not gain heavenly bliss? Hardly. All who listened to Jesus realized that this was a parable, or illustration, portraying certain things, and hence not to be taken literally. As pointed out in a previous issue of The Watchtower, to take it literally makes the situation absurd and impossible, besides doing violence to those plain Scriptural statements proving that Hades (Hebrew, Sheol) is the common grave wherein are the ‘dead, who are conscious of nothing at all . . . for there is no work nor devising nor knowledge nor wisdom in Sheol, the place to which you are going.’ (Eccl. 9:5, 10) Is it reasonable to think that those in the fires of hell are within comfortable speaking distance of those in heaven? Are they so close as to be able to see those in heaven and what they are doing? Are they able to carry on a conversation, even to arguing the point, with those in authority in heaven?—See The Watchtower as of February 1, 1965, pages 75, 76, paragraphs 11 to 16.
20. How did Isaiah use a similar method in portraying a dramatic reversal?
20 But you may ask, Was Jesus authorized, or did he have any precedent in picturing the dead as alive and talking, in order to illustrate something unusually dramatic? Yes! Here we find another interesting parallel between the expressions used by Jesus and the prophet Isaiah. Isaiah was inspired to foretell the dramatic fall and destruction of the Babylonian dynasty of kings. It was such a terrific reversal that, so to speak, the kings of the other nations, each lying in state in his niche in the great pit of Sheol, are pictured as waking up and craning their necks in astonishment at the arrival of the “king of Babylon,” saying: “Have you yourself also been made weak like us? . . . Down to Sheol your pride has been brought . . . Beneath you, maggots are spread out as a couch; and worms are your covering.” Furthermore, this one does not join the other kings in a niche of his own, but is “thrown away without a burial place . . . , like a carcass trodden down.” (Isa. 14:4, 10, 11, 19) In the Authorized Version and many other versions, the “king of Babylon” is named “Lucifer” at Isaiah 14:12 and is generally understood to refer to Satan the Devil. Taking such a view, this means that Satan, instead of ruling over hell and keeping its fires burning, is rejected and debased even in his own domain. No wonder that Christendom’s commentators do not heavily rely on this prophecy for support for their eternal torment doctrine.
21. Are Jesus’ parables intended to be taken literally? If not, what is their purpose?
21 No, there is no warrant, either from the viewpoint of Scripture or reason, for concluding that Jesus was now suddenly giving a literal account of what takes place. An illustration, or parable, is an allegorical narrative, a pictorial representation of certain truths or events. Consistent with his other illustrations, Jesus was here using a vivid word picture or story to portray something, in this case something already happening to two classes of people. To ascertain the true meaning of what was thus portrayed in this particular illustration, both in Jesus’ time and in our own day, we must leave to a subsequent issue of The Watchtower.