Questions From Readers
● In view of what is recorded at Matthew 5:44, is it wrong to pray for Armageddon to come?—B. S., U.S.A.
In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus said, at Matthew 5:44: “Continue to love your enemies and to pray for those persecuting you.”
Some have incorrectly concluded from those words that it would be wrong ever to look forward to the judgment and punishment of God’s enemies. That Jesus did not mean this is shown from his acknowledgment that some persons are condemned to everlasting destruction in Gehenna. He said to some opposers in his day: “Serpents, offspring of vipers, how are you to flee from the judgment of Gehenna?” (Matt. 23:33) What enemies, then, did Jesus have in mind, for whom Christians are to pray?
Christ was speaking about individuals who in ignorance persecute Jesus’ disciples. Christians could pray that these persons have their eyes opened to see the truth concerning Jehovah and his promised new order. Even when opposed, Christians do not react with malice, threats and hate, but they continue to show principled love. (1 Pet. 2:23) They know that often persecution comes about because of ignorance on the part of the persecutors. In fact, the apostle Paul wrote: “Formerly I was a blasphemer and a persecutor and an insolent man. Nevertheless, I was shown mercy, because I was ignorant and acted with a lack of faith.”—1 Tim. 1:13.
Realizing this, Christians do not develop the spirit of vengeance that we see so prevalent today, the giving back of evil for evil. It is not the course for them. Paul counseled: “Keep on blessing those who persecute; be blessing and do not be cursing. Return evil for evil to no one.” (Rom. 12:14, 17) Hence, Christians avoid reacting the way James and John did when, because of inhospitality shown, they wanted to call down fire from heaven and annihilate a certain Samaritan village. Properly, Jesus reproved them for that attitude. (Luke 9:52-55) In harmony with this avoidance of a vengeful attitude, Christians do not pray or hope that Armageddon will come soon to wipe out a certain individual who may be persecuting Christians at the moment or who has acted inhospitably toward the Kingdom good news. Jehovah has been patient up till now, and Christians ought to strive to imitate him. By showing patience and principled love they ‘prove themselves sons of their Father who is in the heavens.’—Matt. 5:45; 2 Pet. 3:9.
Does all of this mean that it is wrong to pray for Armageddon to come? Well, is it wrong to pray for God’s kingdom to come? No, and Matthew 5:44 does not contradict what Jesus taught his disciples to pray: “Let your kingdom come. Let your will take place, as in heaven, also upon earth.” (Matt. 6:10) What does that mean? It includes the fighting of “the war of the great day of God the Almighty,” resulting in the destruction of human kingdoms so that God’s will can be done on earth as in heaven.—Rev. 16:14-16; Dan. 2:44.
Such a prayer is not asking God for the quick destruction of some person who may be persecuting Christians. But it is asking for the end of the present wicked system of things in God’s due time. Jehovah is able to read hearts and to determine who are worthy of everlasting destruction in Gehenna. (Prov. 21:2) When we who cannot read hearts leave such judging up to God, we avoid the pitfall of becoming vengeful and bitter. We thus can concentrate on doing good and showing the principled love that serves as an identifying mark of true Christians.—John 13:34, 35.
● Since Joseph was not yet married to Mary when he learned that she was pregnant, why did he intend to divorce her?—W. M., U.S.A.
The account of this in Matthew 1:18, 19 reads: “During the time . . . Mary was promised in marriage to Joseph, she was found to be pregnant by holy spirit before they were united. However, Joseph her husband, because he was righteous and did not want to make her a public spectacle, intended to divorce her secretly.”
Under the Mosaic law, an engaged woman was considered to be legally bound to the man she would marry, and so was treated as married to him. This is seen in that if a man seduced a single woman, he was responsible to marry her if her father would allow it. But if a man seduced an engaged woman, then both of them were to be stoned to death. (Deut. 22:23-29; Ex. 22:16, 17) Similarly, the married woman in Israel who was guilty of adultery was punished by stoning, together with the man who defiled her. (Deut. 22:22; Ezek. 16:38, 40) But in cases that involved stoning to death, two witnesses were required in order to establish guilt.—Deut. 17:6, 7.
Now in Mary’s case, Joseph obviously did not have two witnesses who could testify that Mary had been immoral. Nor did he see fit to press the matter publicly by searching for two witnesses against her. Instead, he chose to cancel their engaged state. But how? Dr. Alfred Edersheim comments: “From the moment of her betrothal a woman was treated as if she were actually married. The union could not be dissolved, except by regular divorce.”—Sketches of Jewish Social Life in the Days of Christ, page 148.
So Joseph, though actually only engaged, could give her a bill of divorce. The Law allowed a man to dismiss his wife if he found evidence of indecency on her part. (Deut. 24:1, 2) By Jesus’ time, the grounds for such a divorce were many. It even appears that cases of established adultery could be ended by divorce. (Matt. 5:32; 19:9) Whatever ground Joseph was going to use, he evidently was not going to make it a public matter. Rather, he “intended to divorce her secretly,” possibly giving her the certificate of divorce in front of just two witnesses so the matter would be settled legally but without bringing undue shame on her.
We cannot overlook the fact that Joseph was in a perplexing situation. “He was righteous,” and he knew Mary to be a virtuous woman. Yet she apparently was pregnant. If he learned of the pregnancy after Mary’s visit to her cousin Elizabeth, Joseph may have heard about the appearance of the angel to Zechariah, the conceiving of John by barren Elizabeth and the child’s miraculous leaping in Elizabeth’s womb when Mary approached. (Luke 1:5-25, 39-45) But the Bible does not say so. The angel’s appearance to Joseph was not to confirm what Joseph already knew by any hearsay about why Mary was pregnant. Having no witnesses against Mary before the angel’s visit, his intention was in accord with the comment that he “was righteous and did not want to make her a public spectacle.”—Matt 1:19.