Do Not Try God’s Patience Too Far
THE apostle Peter provided an answer to those who desire their own way of living without godly restrictions. Denying that God will bring the world to account for its works, they say: “Where is this promised presence of his [Jehovah’s “day”]? Why, from the day our forefathers fell asleep in death, all things are continuing exactly as from creation’s beginning.” They say, in effect, “God is dead.”
Peter said of those men: “According to their wish, this fact escapes their notice, that there were heavens from of old and an earth standing compactly out of water and in the midst of water [dry land standing above the seas and a heavy canopy of water vapor in earth’s atmosphere] by the word of God; and by those means the world of that time suffered destruction when it was deluged with water.”
Then the apostle applies the illustration to a coming destruction of the present system of things and gives the reason for the seeming delay when he says: “Jehovah is not slow respecting his promise, as some people consider slowness, but he is patient with you because he does not desire any to be destroyed but desires all to attain to repentance.”—2 Pet. 3:3-10.
WHEN GOD’S PATIENCE RUNS OUT
How long has it been since God executed judgment on a nation or a people? In this year 1972 it has been 1,902 years. That is the time since Jerusalem was destroyed in 70 C.E. What patience! But do not presume on that fine quality of God. For, when it becomes clearly evident before all that a person or even an entire nation is not going to change, woe to that person or nation! God does not change his principles. It is always true that “a man repeatedly reproved but making his neck hard will suddenly be broken, and that without healing.”—Prov. 29:1; 28:14.
Before Jerusalem was destroyed, Jesus Christ addressed the city: “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the killer of the prophets and stoner of those sent forth to her—how often I wanted to gather your children together in the manner that a hen gathers her brood of chicks under her wings, but you people did not want it! Look! Your house is abandoned to you.”—Luke 13:34, 35.
So Jehovah God the Creator has been patient far beyond human forbearance. However, do you not think that conditions have progressed to the point where his patience must be near the breaking point? And is this not especially so in the nations calling themselves Christian? It is bad enough for nations to be godless. But to claim to be God’s people and at the same time to be the chief fomenters of wars, to have the highest crime rate, to be shot through and through with immorality, to blaspheme God’s name and then to say he is slow because of withholding punishment—has not Christendom done enough to try his patience to the limit?
THE ERROR OF ISRAEL AND JUDAH
Let us go back to a striking example that gives us details closely matching what has happened in the nations claiming to be Christian. Again this example is found in Israel, but is an earlier one. It begins in 997 B.C.E. At this time Israel was one nation, under one king, namely, Rehoboam the son of Solomon. Israel enjoyed a good rule under King David and a fine start under Solomon. But toward the end of his reign Solomon gave the twelve tribes a bad religious example, toward idolatry.—1 Ki. 11:4-13.
Succeeding his father on the throne, Rehoboam dealt very harshly with the people. Finally, ten tribes broke away under the leadership of Jeroboam and established the Northern Kingdom, with its capital eventually located at Samaria. The tribes of Judah and of Benjamin stayed loyal to the Davidic line of kings and the qualified men of Levi continued to serve at the temple in Jerusalem.—1 Ki. 12:1-21, 31.
From then on, the Northern Kingdom went into idolatry, claiming to serve Jehovah, but worshiping golden calves instead of coming to the temple at Jerusalem, where Jehovah had placed his name. It went from bad to worse, most of its kings being very wicked. So God allowed that kingdom to be taken into exile by Assyria in 740 B.C.E.—1 Ki. 12:28-30; 2 Ki. 17:18-23.
But what about the Southern Kingdom, known as “Judah”? It was not guiltless as respects the religious error of the Northern Kingdom, because of what took place at the end of Solomon’s reign and the beginning of Rehoboam’s, causing the ten tribes to revolt. So Judah was partially accountable for the error of the “house of Israel.” And in Judah itself, though it had some righteous kings, these always had to fight against the idolatrous tendencies of the people. These tendencies were greatly aggravated when bad kings held power.
So Judah, though not breaking away from the Davidic line of kings that Jehovah had established, fell into idolatry also, to an incurable extent. Consequently, Judah was also guilty of error from that time of the national split in 997 B.C.E. But due to the good efforts of kings like Asa, Jehoshaphat, Hezekiah and Josiah, God allowed the Southern Kingdom to exist one hundred and thirty-three years after Samaria’s fall, until 607 B.C.E.
Ezekiel, in Babylon, was told in the year 613 B.C.E. that he was to become a “sign to the house of Israel” with regard to God’s execution of judgment against the nation. God spoke to him from atop a visionary celestial chariot, saying:
“And you, O son of man, take for yourself a brick, and you must put it before you and engrave upon it a city, even Jerusalem. And you must lay siege against it and build a siege wall against it and throw up a siege rampart against it and set encampments against it and put battering rams all around against it. And as for you, take to yourself an iron griddle, and you must put it as an iron wall between you and the city, and you must fix your face against it, and it must get to be in a siege, and you must besiege it. It is a sign to the house of Israel.”—Ezek. 4:1-3.
THE 390 DAYS OF BEARING ISRAEL’S ERROR
A most interesting feature of this tableau was that it indicated in advance the exact year in which Jerusalem was to be destroyed. From official records available in Jerusalem the time that the division of the kingdom had taken place could doubtless be determined. Ezekiel, in Babylon, may have had information enough to calculate the year of Jerusalem’s calamity when he received the vision six years before her fall occurred. The time feature is revealed in what Jehovah next said:
“And as for you, lie upon your left side, and you must lay the error of the house of Israel upon it. For the number of the days that you will lie upon it you will carry their error. And I myself must give to you the years of their error to the number of three hundred and ninety days, and you must carry the error of the house of Israel. And you must complete them.”—Ezek. 4:4-6a.
God had tolerated rebellion and idolatry in Israel since 997 B.C.E. The rebellious Northern Kingdom did not last three hundred and ninety years. When it was destroyed in 740 B.C.E. this served as a direct punishment for its departure from the worship of Jehovah as God. But it did not settle the matter as far as Jehovah was concerned. There was still a measure of accounting to be settled with the mother capital, Jerusalem. Therefore, Jehovah went on to instruct Ezekiel:
“And you must lie upon your right side in the second case, and you must carry the error of the house of Judah forty days. A day for a year, a day for a year, is what I have given you. And to the siege of Jerusalem you will fix your face, with your arm bared, and you must prophesy against it. And, look! I will put cords upon you that you may not turn yourself from your one side to your other side, until you will have completed the days of your siege.”—Ezek. 4:6b-8.
If Ezekiel was lying (belly down) with the head to the east in his mimic siege of Jerusalem, then his left side would be to the north, the direction of the former Northern Kingdom of Israel, and his right side would be to the south. So it was fitting for him to lie upon his right side when carrying the “error” of the Southern Kingdom of Judah. He would thereby be placing all the burden on his right side. Of course, Ezekiel’s lying on his right side for forty days came after his lying on the left side for three hundred and ninety days, which would mean four hundred an thirty days of lying down as in a siege.*
THE FORTY DAYS OF JUDAH’S ERROR
However, in the actual fulfillment upon ancient Jerusalem, the forty days for the “error” of the “house of Judah” would run concurrently with the last forty days of the three hundred and ninety days for the “error” of the “house of Israel.” The unit of time measurement that Jehovah gave to Ezekiel was, “a day for a year,” made emphatic by being repeated. Accordingly, the forty years for the “error” of the “house of Judah” were to run concurrently with the last forty years of the 390-year period for the “error” of “the house of Israel.” The last forty years of that time period began in the year 647 B.C.E. Both time periods, the longer one and the shorter one, had to converge on the same date, for ancient Jerusalem was destroyed only once, namely, in 607 B.C.E.
A question now arises, Was the beginning of those forty years for the “error of the house of Judah” marked by anything to indicate a start of counting religious “error”? Yes, the opening year of that period was the thirteenth year of the reign of good King Josiah of Jerusalem, and that was the year when Jehovah appointed Jeremiah to serve as his prophet in the land of Judah. (Jer. 1:1-3; 25:3) But at that time was not good King Josiah restoring the pure worship of Jehovah throughout the land of Judah? Why, then, should Jehovah start to reckon “error” against the “house of Judah” in that year?
WHY PUNISHMENT COULD NOT BE AVERTED
Judah was loaded with incurable error. King Manasseh, the grandfather of King Josiah, had led Judah into sins that had been so plentiful and shocking that Jehovah could not clear them from the account that he held against Jerusalem as a bloodstained, idolatrous city. We read:
“It was only by the order of Jehovah that it took place against Judah, to remove it from his sight for the sins of Manasseh, according to all that he had done; and also for the innocent blood that he had shed, so that he filled Jerusalem with innocent blood, and Jehovah did not consent to grant forgiveness.”—2 Ki. 24:3, 4; 21:16.
Even after the noble efforts of King Josiah to enforce the law of Jehovah in Judah and Jerusalem, we read:
“And like him there did not prove to be a king prior to him who returned to Jehovah with all his heart and with all his soul and with all his vital force, according to all the law of Moses; neither after him has there risen up one like him. Nevertheless, Jehovah did not turn back from the great burning of his anger, with which his anger burned against Judah over all the offensive things with which Manasseh had made them offend. But Jehovah said: ‘Judah, too, I shall remove from my sight, just as I have removed Israel; and I shall certainly reject this city that I have chosen, even Jerusalem, and the house [temple] of which I have said, “My name will continue there.”’”—2 Ki. 23:25-27.
It is remarkable that Jehovah exercised such patience toward both the houses of Israel. Three hundred and ninety years is a long time to exercise forbearance—longer, for example, than the United States has existed as a nation. Certainly this example ought to help us see and appreciate this fine quality of God more fully. And it should be a strong incentive to us to exercise more patience with others.
But what can we learn from the fact that God’s patience does eventually come to an end?
PROFIT FROM GOD’S PATIENCE BEFORE IT ENDS
We can apply the principle to Christendom, the nations calling themselves Christian. Christendom got its start, not with Jesus Christ or his apostles, but rather in the fourth century, with the fusion of apostate Christianity with pagan religion and politics by Constantine the Great. Christendom has therefore never practiced true Christianity. This Roman emperor made “Christianity” the State religion, for political reasons. After he had presided over the religious Council of Nicaea, he had his oldest son put to death and thereafter his own wife, Fausta. In this way the very foundations of Christendom were befouled with blood. Christendom’s “error” started with her beginning.—The Encyclopædia Britannica, 11th Edition, Volume 6, page 989, paragraph 4.
Through the 1,600 years since then, Christendom’s skirts have dripped with blood. Witness the Crusades, the religious inquisition, the Thirty Years’ War, and, finally, her two world wars of this century.
No one can say that God has not given Christendom ample opportunity to reveal her true nature. However, his patience has not been to no purpose.
Assuredly, none of us want to die, but to live. The Creator, Jehovah God, exercises such remarkable patience because he does not want anyone to die. What a waste to die and miss out on the fine things God is about to bring in for those who appreciate his patience! Jehovah says to the people of Christendom, just as he said to his professed people in Ezekiel’s time: “Why should you die, O house of Israel? For I do not take any delight in the death of someone dying . . . So cause a turning back and keep living, O you people.”—Ezek. 18:31, 32.
God is not only patient, but also a Provider of help for those who wish to turn back from the God-provoking course of Christendom, or from the other false religions and ideologies of the world. Jehovah’s witnesses are as concerned with your getting life as with their own prospects. Take advantage of their free assistance and profit by this time of God’s yet-extended patience toward honest-hearted persons.—2 Cor. 6:1, 2.
Whether Ezekiel carried out the tableau literally, actually lying on his side in the streets during the daylight hours of 430 days, or whether it took place only in vision, is problematic. Commentators are divided on the matter, some believing that the scene was visionary, Ezekiel then relating and describing the vision to the people. Others hold that he acted out the scene after having the vision. But, either way, it does not in the least alter the understanding of the fulfillment of the prophecy and its application to Judah and Israel at that time, nor would it affect the final fulfillment of certain features of the prophecy upon Christendom. The important thing is not how the visionary command was executed in Ezekiel’s case. It is the significance of the command that concerns and affects us.