Do the Churches Provide Sanctuary from Divine Anger?
THERE is but little question in the minds of people that a crisis faces this world. Is there any place where a person can find refuge should the threat of a third world war become a reality? More importantly, is there a place of safety during a time of divine judgment of this world? Is there anything that can be done that will be divinely recognized as a protection when God asserts full rulership over earth’s affairs?
Will membership in a church ensure safety? Does God count the churches of the so-called “Christian” nations as sacred places of sanctuary, as has been a practice in Christendom?
Or if a person has left Christendom’s churches and attends meetings with Jehovah’s witnesses, can he count on this as giving safe refuge? Even if one has a better knowledge of the Bible than most professed Christians, does this provide sure protection?
When we look into what God did in past times in connection with his people Israel, we can say that the answer to these questions is, “No, there is much more involved in qualifying for divine protection.” We can get the Divine Ruler’s viewpoint by knowing what he did with regard to the city of Jerusalem and its temple upon which he had placed his name.
In the year 612 B.C.E., the land of Judah with its capital city Jerusalem found itself in a situation much like that of Christendom today. There was pollution, both literal and moral. Lawlessness and violence filled the land. Idolatry and other pagan, degraded forms of worship were predominant among those professing to serve God. Even right in the temple some of the most shocking practices were going on. Also, there was much fear and anxiety because of the constant threat of a destructive war with the pagan world power Babylon. Similar problems beset Christendom today.
A ‘MARKING’ AND SMASHING WORK
Accordingly, as Israel’s invisible Divine Ruler, Jehovah was obligated to act. Would he consider Jerusalem and his temple inviolable, a sanctuary for those in them? As is Jehovah’s practice, he revealed in advance what he purposed to do. While God’s prophet Jeremiah was warning the people in Jerusalem of His displeasure, Ezekiel, in captivity over in Babylon, was, by God’s power, given a visionary view of Jerusalem. He reports, in his prophetic book:
“And [Jehovah] proceeded to call out in my ears with a loud voice, saying: ‘Have those giving their attention to the city come near, each one with his weapon in his hand for bringing ruin!”’—Ezek. 9:1.
These “giving their attention to the city” as ‘ruiners’ would not be Zedekiah, king of Judah at that time, and his princes, for these rulers had appealed to Pharaoh of Egypt to help them ward off Babylon’s threat. To whom did Jehovah call? Ezekiel saw and described them:
“And, look! there were six men coming from the direction of the upper gate that faces to the north, each one with his weapon for smashing in his hand; and there was one man in among them clothed with linen, with a secretary’s inkhorn at his hips, and they proceeded to come in and stand beside the copper altar.”—Ezek. 9:2.
These men, numbering seven altogether, were a complete team for action. They came from the direction that Babylon was to come against Jerusalem, but the “six men” having smashing weapons were not said to be Babylonian soldiers. They did, however, represent a heavenly army, which could, in actuality, use Babylonian soldiers as earthly agents.
Was the seventh “man” a soldier? No, he was a secretary, on a mission of peace. Ezekiel next tells us:
“And as regards the glory of the God of Israel, it was taken up from over the cherubs over which it happened to be to the threshold of the house, and he began calling out to the man that was clothed with the linen, at whose hips there was the secretary’s inkhorn. And Jehovah went on to say to him: ‘Pass through the midst of the city, through the midst of Jerusalem, and you must put a mark on the foreheads of the men that are sighing and groaning over all the detestable things that are being done in the midst of it.”’—Ezek. 9:3, 4.
So the ‘man in linen’ was evidently sent on a peaceful, lifesaving mission. Before giving the secretary his commission the Divine Presence moved from the celestial war chariot, described earlier in the vision, to the “threshold of the house,” evidently meaning the threshold of the Holy of Holies inside the temple itself. From here Jehovah issued his command to the ‘man in linen,’ equipped with pen and ink to do the marking work.
Who were to receive the mark distinguishing them from the rest of Jerusalem’s inhabitants? Those who were out of harmony with the idolatry, immorality and other disgusting things that were offending God, provoking him to anger. They were “sighing and groaning” because of the disrespect and insult toward righteousness and God’s name.
The symbolic ‘man in linen’ would have to go from house to house, to every home in the city of Jerusalem, to find all these deserving the mark. They needed to be marked, signifying that they were true worshipers of Jehovah.
THE FIRST ONES TO BE SMASHED
Of what value was the mark? Jehovah gives the answer in his next command to the “six men” armed with weapons for smashing:
“Pass through the city after him and strike. Let not your eye feel sorry, and do not feel any compassion. Old man, young man and virgin and little child and women you should kill off—to a ruination. But to any man upon whom there is the mark do not go near, and from my sanctuary you should start.”—Ezek. 9:5, 6.
Note where the smashing of heads was to start: from Jehovah’s sanctuary! The idolatrous Israelites may have felt safe inside the temple, because they thought that slain dead bodies would defile the sanctuary but that their false worship with idols did not defile that holy place. However, Jehovah had moved far off from his nominal sanctuary, and in evidence of that he wanted it to be defiled by the slain bodies of those who were defiling the sanctuary with their idolatries. Accordingly, “they started with the old men that were before the house. And [Jehovah] said further to them: ‘Defile the house and fill the courtyards with the slain ones. Go forth!’ and they went forth and struck in the city.”—Ezek. 9:6, 7.
Consequently, a person’s being inside the premises of a church or temple, or in a Kingdom Hall of Jehovah’s witnesses, will not protect that person from Jehovah’s anger, if he is not living in harmony with God’s righteous laws. Even children whose parents fail to bring them up in “the discipline and mental-regulating of Jehovah,” in pure worship, will not be protected. Age or sex was no reason for an offender back there in Jerusalem to be spared when the anger of the Divine Ruler blazed against that city. ‘Unmarked’ parents will be responsible for the death of their little children.—Eph. 6:4; Ex. 20:5.
The sight of those idolatrous ones being killed right in God’s sanctuary may have raised a question in Ezekiel’s mind: If no one in such a sacred place as the temple is spared alive, how will anybody outside in the city of Jerusalem have an opportunity to be spared? Ezekiel was so moved by what he saw that he asked: “And it came about that, while they were striking and I was left remaining, I proceeded to fall upon my face and cry out and say: ‘Alas, O Sovereign Lord Jehovah! Are you bringing to ruin all the remaining ones of Israel while you are pouring out your rage upon Jerusalem?”’—Ezek. 9:8.
Jehovah replied to Ezekiel’s question: “The error of the house of Israel and Judah is very, very great, and the land is filled with bloodshed and the city is full of crookedness; for they have said, ‘Jehovah has left the land, and Jehovah is not seeing.’ And as for me also, my eye will not feel sorry, neither shall I show compassion. Their way I shall certainly bring upon their own head.”—Ezek. 9:9, 10.
What Jehovah here said actually came true when the Babylonians destroyed Jerusalem five years later.
WHAT BRINGS PROTECTION
We should consider these things in the light of justice and righteousness, and without letting our judgment be clouded by sentimentalism. We can be sure that Jehovah destroyed those who were defiling the land and making conditions violent and unlivable for those who wanted to do what was right. (Ps. 89:14; 2 Pet. 2:9) Also, his executioners killed those who did not care, and who went tacitly along with the detestable things being done. Only those were spared who really were grieved, not merely because their own “rights” or interests were being stepped on, but primarily because of the unrighteousness being practiced and the reproach it brought upon God’s name.
So, no individual should think that he will be preserved because of the righteousness of a parent, if he is of responsible age. Nor will belonging to a church, or meeting with others who worship God, or having some knowledge of the Bible save him. God cannot be deceived. (Gal. 6:7) His angels will spare only those who are ‘marked’ as worshipers of God “with spirit and truth,” in deed as well as in word.—John 4:24.
Back there in Jerusalem no literal man went to all the houses making a literal mark on foreheads. It was a symbolic marking work. But according to divine promise and protection certain ones did escape execution, like Baruch the secretary of Jeremiah and Ebed-melech, the Rechabites, and undoubtedly some others. Symbolically God had them ‘marked’ as plainly as would be a literal mark on the forehead, so that the “six men,” his angelic forces, would discern the “mark” and not come near them.
In this twentieth century, in Christendom, which, like Jerusalem, claims to be the domain of Christianity, violence fills the land. Reproaches against God and his law are increasing day by day. Where can protection be found? Is there a work going on today that corresponds to the ‘marking’ work back there? If so, who is doing the work? What is the “mark,” and who qualifies to receive it today? These questions provide the basis for discussion in the following article.