Seeking the Way of Approach to the Source of Life
“He decreed the appointed seasons and the set limits of the dwelling of men, for them to seek God, if they might grope for him and really find him.”—Acts 17:26, 27.
1. (a) Since Adam’s failure, about what have God-fearing persons wondered? (b) Why has Jehovah appeared to be so distant from them?
EVER since our first parents were driven from the garden of God into the unfinished wilderness the way of approach to the great Source of life has engaged the thoughts of God-fearing men and women. How to draw near again to their grand Creator and enjoy with him the intimate relationship originally enjoyed by Adam has been a matter of first importance to those of reverent mind. Such persons have somehow realized the truth that was later expressed by one of God’s prophets: “You [Jehovah] are too pure in eyes to see what is bad; and to look on trouble you are not able.” The memory of those cherubs stationed at the east entry of Eden with “the flaming blade of a sword” would long continue as a reminder to man that only cleansed and purified creatures can safely approach him. Moses later reminded the people of Israel about this when he declared: “Jehovah your God is a consuming fire, a God exacting exclusive devotion.” The imperfections and uncleanness of fallen man rendered him liable to the destructive fire of Jehovah’s just judgment of death. How could he ever safely draw near to the “long-lasting conflagrations” of the holy Sovereign of the universe?—Hab. 1:13; Gen. 3:24; Deut. 4:24; Isa. 33:14.
2. What has Jehovah done about man’s estrangement from him?
2 Man, left to his own devices, could never have discovered an acceptable way of approach to the Creator. Happily, he has not been left on his own. Jehovah demonstrated his great compassion for his handicapped creatures in that he prophesied about the eventual triumph of righteousness and at the same time held open for humans a means of communication with himself. In Eden there had been the “covering cherub,” who doubtless had some responsibility in the matter of protecting and promoting the interest of pure worship on earth. God now continued to use angelic intermediaries, offering ample evidence of the fact that he “makes his angels spirits, and his public servants a flame of fire.”—Gen. 3:15; Ezek. 28:14; Heb. 1:7.
3. What examples have we of Jehovah’s provision for communication with imperfect humans who seek him?
3 For example, it was by the hand of an angel that appeared to him in the burning thornbush that Moses was commissioned to be the ruler and deliverer of Israel. And on the occasion when Gideon received the divine appointment as liberator and judge, the angel messenger caused fire to come down and miraculously consume the proffered sacrifice. The heavenly messenger who appeared to Samson’s parents to announce the birth of a most unusual son, after delivering the good news, ascended in the flame of the altar upon which Manoah and his wife were rendering up a burnt offering to Jehovah. Back in Lot’s day it was angels who served as rescuers of that godly man and his daughters, when flaming destruction came upon the cities of the District. These are instances of God’s provision for godly humans to be in communication with him.
4. In what variety of ways has Jehovah employed angel messengers to lovers of righteousness?
4 The Bible’s accurate record reveals angels as ministering in a great variety of ways to the needs of man and the worship of God. They delivered and taught God’s words to humans (Luke 1:19); they drew near to God’s presence on behalf of humans (Matt. 18:10); they kept close watch over the divine interests here at the earth, reporting developments to the Sovereign Ruler. (Dan. 10:12-14; Zech. 1:10) And in vision they have appeared to favored humans, under compact symbol of four living creatures or in their countless myriads, congregated in the heaven of heavens before the King of eternity, worshiping him with paeans of thanksgiving. (Dan. 7:10; Rev. 4:6-8) We can be most thankful to Jehovah that mankind has not been cut off altogether from communication with him.
5. How did Jehovah show his approval of a righteous patriarchal system among men on earth?
5 The vital role of angels in linking man with God, while also shielding sinful man from direct exposure to the unmitigated justice of God, was doubtless impressed upon Jacob when he was privileged to behold in his dream a great ladder reaching from earth to heaven with angels ascending and descending upon it. Jacob was but one of a succession of faithful patriarchs or heads of families to whom Jehovah communicated his will and purpose through angelic ministers. Indeed, this very fact stamps Jehovah’s approval upon that ancient patriarchal system whereby men were to spread out in their family groups and populate the whole earth. Under that system the father of a family or tribe became its prince and priest, responsible for proper conformity to Jehovah’s principles of just rule and clean worship. As prince and priest each worthy family head would take the lead in dispensing justice patterned after God’s just dealings, in maintaining clean worship, offering sacrifices on behalf of the family, and in a general way serving as God’s representative to the family and mediating before God in its behalf.
6. What are some of the basic ideas connected with the Hebrew word that is translated “priest”?
6 The Hebrew word kohén, from which our word “priest” is rendered, is uncertain as to its derivation. To a certain scholar kohén contains the idea of “doing the business of, or acting as a mediator for, another.” The word signifies “priest” and, in some contexts, a “lieutenant; chief minister or official.” (2 Sam. 8:18; 1 Chron. 18:17) A related Arabic word means “to approach, draw near, have intimate access to.” A related Babylonian word has the meaning “votive, offering homage to the Deity.” Another authority states that the word “priest or president was a title often conferred upon princes and kings, something or someone consecrated to the Deity.” Noah, Shem, Abraham, Jacob, Job and Amram are but a few of those early patriarchs who presided faithfully in their respective families and at the same time showed concern for the interests of pure worship, but the Bible does not call them by the name “priest,” kohén (Hebrew) or hieréus (Greek).
INTRUDERS AND USURPERS
7. Name some of the ways in which Nimrod operated contrary to Jehovah’s will.
7 There were, however, those who greatly debased and abused the office of patriarchal religious head, and who rendered themselves unfit truly to represent the holy and loving Creator. They used the office for their own personal aggrandizement, and to leave behind them what they thought to be imperishable monuments of their own personal fame. Nimrod stands out as an early example of such ones who follow the Devil’s lead and strive to divert from God to themselves the worship and service of fellow creatures. It appears that he was not a firstborn son, and so very likely he usurped authority and position properly belonging to older sons of Cush. His contempt for the patriarchal arrangement may be seen in his invading and subjugating neighboring families and tribes, and by his herding men into compact and easily controlled city organizations.—Gen. 10:7-12.
8. What facts about Assyria and Babylonia indicate an example set by Nimrod?
8 Flouting God’s purpose for man, Nimrod instituted a religio-political dictatorship, with himself as chief of state. Relative to the working out of his ambitions and those of his successors, we have this historical note: “The theory of the ‘divine right of kings’ was rigidly adhered to in Babylonia and Assyria. When the monarchs speak of themselves as nominated by this or that god to be ruler of the country, this was not a mere phrase. The king was the vicar of the deity on earth, his representative who enjoyed divine favor and who was admitted into the confidence of the gods. In earlier days priestly functions were indissolubly associated with kingship. The oldest kings of Assyria call themselves ‘priests of Asshur.’”*
9. How does Egypt’s history bear out the fact that proper patriarchal rule was not practiced?
9 Nimrod’s course became the pattern for ambitious men in all those families who later migrated in all directions from Babylon when Jehovah confounded the language of the tower builders. (Gen. 11:5-8) Of the Pharaohs, we read: “The King remained in Egypt the only representative between gods and men. Even when the priesthood developed, and offerings were continually made to the gods on behalf of mankind, the priests were not the mediators, for they merely represented the King. . . . The priests offered sacrifices, approached the gods, mediated between man and god solely in the name of the King.”*
10, 11. Is Nimrod’s example to be noted in other lands?
10 As to the ancient empire of the Incas in the land we now know as Peru, scholars point to evidence showing that this line of rulers replaced an earlier system of belief embracing the idea of a supreme Being, Creator of all things. The new system “was founded in the particular interest of the royal family, and directed mainly to the support of their pretensions and authority. By means of it, they invested themselves with a power firmer and more extensive than that of the most powerful aristocracies of the East.”* “The priesthood was a complex hierarchy, which was headed by the Inca emperor, who was so divine that his sister alone was sufficiently sacred to be his wife. Principal positions under the emperor were held by members of the royal Inca family.”*
11 India’s history shows the same deterioration from patriarchal arrangements, for, in describing the ruling caste, one historian records that “they alone are qualified to superintend religious observances, and without them the intercourse between man and the gods cannot be kept up. From his birth the Brahman is a being of a superior holiness; he is destined to higher ends than other men, and the distinction between him and them must be manifested in all his acts and habits throughout life. He is the natural lord of all the classes.”*
12. What did selfish rulers constitute themselves?
12 Thus we note how throughout the earth selfish human creatures set themselves up as obstacles rather than mediators between God and man, and declared that only through their intercession and at their pleasure could men ever attain to the favor of heaven. By manipulation of mysterious religious power they have been able to establish and maintain oppressive rulership over their fellowmen. History books are filled with the record of the cruelties and miseries that have been heaped upon the enslaved subjects of those autocrats who masqueraded as ministers of righteousness.
13. Explain whether Noah measured up to God’s requirements for patriarchal priests.
13 By comparison, how refreshing to turn to the record of faithful patriarchs who discharged their responsibilities with honor to God and blessing to men! Consider Noah, for example. At birth it was prophesied of him that he would bring comfort to his family, and subsequent events proved that prophecy true. He was a seeker after God, so much so that he found great favor in Jehovah’s eyes. He showed himself anxious to attain to the righteousness of God, he dealt faultlessly with his fellowmen in contrast to Nimrod’s evil way, and he walked with God in humility. He was a preacher of righteousness to his contemporaries, so giving evidence of a deep concern for the welfare of humankind. Though ignored and ridiculed by the majority, he was blessed to see his own family respond to the teaching he had given and survive with him the global catastrophe. Coming forth from the ark of survival, he faithfully exercised the priestly function by conducting worship and offering grateful sacrifice to Jehovah for himself and his family.—2 Pet. 2:5; Gen. 8:20.
14. What are some of the facts about Abraham showing that he was anxious to carry out Jehovah’s will as to family heads?
14 Abraham’s history reveals him as an outstanding family head with a keen sense of his religious responsibilities, even though he was not the firstborn son, particularly from the moment when, his father Terah having died, he led his household into the land about which God had spoken to him. When Jehovah confirmed with him the covenant whereby his offspring were to possess the land of his sojourning, Abraham was called upon to perform priestly duties, setting in order the slain sacrifices. (Gen. 15:9-18) Again when he had raised a promising son and heir in his old age, by reason of God’s miraculous intervention, and then was commanded to sacrifice that only son, we see him in action as a family priest. Throughout his travels he raised altars for the worship of Jehovah, publicly calling upon the holy name of his God so that the peoples then in Canaanland got to hear about the true God. He also faithfully taught his household to reverence and love the Sovereign God. Remember, too, how he exercised the function of mediator when pleading with Jehovah on behalf of possible righteous inhabitants of the wicked city of Sodom near Gomorrah.—Gen. 12:8; 13:18; 18:19, 22-32.
15. What kind of a priest was Melchizedek?
15 We next encounter the record of Melchizedek. Here is one of whom the Bible gives no genealogy, nor any account of the length of his life or the time of his death. But he is the first one in the Bible to be called “priest,” specifically “priest of the Most High God,” from which we may conclude that he loyally maintained in the kingdom of Salem the worship of the true God, keeping separate from the filthy, degrading religious practices of the pagan Canaanites round about. He went out to meet and bless the victorious Abraham as he returned from the rescue of Lot. There is no doubt that he was directed by Jehovah to do so, and, indicating that Abraham also so understood the situation, that patriarch rendered to the priest-king of Salem a generous share, a tenth, of all the spoils he had taken from the defeated combine of kings from the north.—Gen. 14:18-20.
16, 17. What was pleasing to Jehovah about the course of Isaac and Jacob?
16 Isaac and Jacob both held tenaciously to the teaching of Abraham, each one in his own generation demonstrating loyalty to his ‘anointing’ from God, his commissioning to have some share in the preparation and building up of a seed or holy nation that would eventually inherit the land of promise. They were continually directed and protected by Jehovah as his special representatives. Of them, the Bible tells how Jehovah kept his eyes upon them for good: “He did not allow any human to defraud them, but on their account he reproved kings, saying: ‘Do not you men touch my anointed ones, and to my prophets do nothing bad.’” (Ps. 105:14, 15) They, for their part, kept strictly to God’s will for them, namely, to remain in the land as temporary residents, in contrast to the greedy, materialistic squatters in Canaan. They presided over and promoted true worship in their households. Wherever they went they presented a highly commendable reflection of the God they worshiped.
17 In his early manhood Jacob is described as “a blameless man, dwelling in tents.” (Gen. 25:27) That he, although not the firstborn son, had a high regard for the blessing and favor of Jehovah, and at the same time discerned the complete indifference of his brother Esau in such matters, may be understood from the bargain he made for possession of the birthright. Material advantage would not loom so large in his mind as the precious privileges and responsibilities that would properly devolve upon the heir to faithful Isaac. Jacob’s deep appreciation for all the protective care that Jehovah had thrown around him through all his times of trouble prompted him to vow one-tenth of his income regularly for the service of true worship. (Gen. 28:22) Not least among the special pronouncements of God given through this faithful representative were the blessings upon his sons just prior to his death.—Gen. 49:1-28.
18. How did Reuben disqualify himself from birthright privileges, and with what result?
18 According to patriarchal custom his firstborn son, Reuben, should have been the one to inherit the birthright in Israel. However, Reuben disqualified himself when he committed fornication with his own father’s concubine, the mother of some of his brothers. Thus he showed utter disregard for the sacred relationships right inside his father’s household. He was therefore unfit to give the proper lead as holder of the birthright. (Gen. 49:4) So, the double portion of the birthright went later to Joseph, rulership went to Judah, and the priesthood to Levi’s house. Even when Reuben’s descendants, Dathan and Abiram, endeavored in Moses’ time to assert the forfeited right of rulership, Jehovah acted swiftly to uphold his word given through Jacob. Those Reubenites paid with their lives for daring to challenge Jehovah’s prerogative to debase those who displease him and exalt those who bring him pleasure.—Numbers chap. 16.
19. What can we conclude about Job from the record of his experiences?
19 As one whose patience and godliness were truly put to the test by a combination of calamities that left him childless, friendless and suffering the excruciating pains of disease, Job shines forth as another true worshiper of God. To family and acquaintances he recommended the worthiness of his God, never charging him with folly in permitting the terrible blows Job had sustained. Unlike faithless priests of ancient and modern times he did not charge God with wrong in permitting wickedness. Even in his earlier state of prosperity he had always kept in mind the status of his children before God, diligently offering sacrifices on their behalf, just in case, as he himself said, “my sons have sinned and have cursed God in their heart.” (Job 1:5) When subjected to the slanders of his opponents he upheld the justice and the name of Jehovah. Finally, when Job was healed and delivered from all his troubles, the lives of his sharp-tongued critics depended upon his prayer for acceptance of the sacrifices of their repentance before God. The latter end of Job assuredly shows that he had pleased Jehovah in his service as priest and family head.—Job 42:8, 12.
20. Give the facts of Moses’ life that prove him to have been a faithful promoter of God’s purposes.
20 At the advanced age of eighty years Moses was commissioned by Jehovah’s angel to be prophet, deliverer, ruler, mediator and priest to the nation of Israel. (Ps. 99:6) His first assignment was to lead that typical nation out from Egypt’s bondage. As mediator between his stiffnecked fellow Israelites and Jehovah he had to step in, time and again, to deflect the devastating blows that Jehovah contemplated dealing out to a disobedient and ungrateful people. (Ex. 32:10-14; Num. 14:11-19) In this capacity also he mediated God’s covenant with the nation while yet no other provision had been made for a national priesthood. As a dependable messenger he communicated the whole counsel of God to the people, and insisted upon their compliance with the divine requirements. He spent himself willingly in the work of administering justice in their huge encampments. He was zealous in the defense of right worship and swift to act against those who impaired it. With all his responsibility and the God-given privileges he enjoyed, there is not a hint of selfish ambition to be found in the record concerning him. He could still be called “by far the meekest of all the men who were upon the surface of the ground.”—Ex. 18:17, 18; 32:32; Num. 12:3.
21. What choice did Moses have, and what proper choice did he make?
21 Moses, be it remembered, had been educated in all the wisdom of Egypt at the court of the Pharaoh. He had had opportunity to observe the priestly orders of that land with all their schemes for controlling the people and enriching themselves, while always upholding the oppressive ruler as the favored one of the gods. Even though the road of personal ambition might have brought him wealth and power in Egypt, he chose to identify himself with the people of Jehovah and accept the reproaches that must have been leveled at a people whose God had not even provided them with a country, of their own. Little did Egyptian scoffers realize what was in store for them and their proud land.—Heb. 11:24-26.
22. Though Jehovah continued to communicate through angels with lovers of righteousness, what questions called for answers, and what hope for approach to God was there?
22 Up to Moses’ time the favor of communication with the Creator with the help of angelic messengers was limited to but a few godly households. While this served to keep alive the belief in a great and beneficent God, yet there were so many questions unanswered. How could imperfect men become reconciled to their pure Creator? Would the barrier between them and God, that perfect angels and loyal but imperfect patriarchs had been unable to remove, ever be set aside? How could bondage to sin and death be removed? Would the generations of man just continue, like the grass, to sprout up and remain for a short time and then die? The faithful family heads themselves must often have pondered such questions as they looked up at the night sky and realized some of the immensity of God’s creation. They could but wait patiently until Jehovah revealed his purposes to them step by step. He had given his servants advance notice of the great Deluge, of the destruction of the land of Sodom and of certain deliverance from the land of Egypt. They did have a God who could and would fulfill his word. Surely that was sufficient basis for hoping that in due time He would reveal the way of approach to life and peace with Him!
Religion of Babylonia and Assyria, by M. Jastrow, p. 374.
Ancient Religions (1750 ed.), edited by V. Ferm, pp. 37, 293.
Harper’s New Monthly Magazine, June 1853, “Ancient Peru—Its People and Its Monuments.”
Ancient Religions (1750 ed.), edited by V. Ferm, pp. 37, 293.
History of Religion, Allan Menzies, p. 337.
[Picture on page 333]
In a dream Jacob was shown that angels have a part in God’s communication with man
[Picture on page 336]
Noah led his family in worship