How Important Can a Promise Be?
NOT a day passes without millions of people being disappointed, hurt and even angered by broken promises. Contracts, leases and other agreements are not lived up to. Appointments are not kept. Promised rewards, gifts and services are forgotten about. Marriage engagements are broken. Marriage vows are shoved aside as individuals get legal separations and divorces on flimsy grounds. Repeatedly the promises of politicians prove to be empty words. Moreover, many promises are purposely deceptive.
The actions of many people demonstrate that a promise does not mean much. They have little concern about the harm a broken promise may cause. Nevertheless, whether such persons want to recognize it or not, they have a certain accountability to One who has at no time failed to fulfill a promise. That One is the Creator of man, Jehovah God. He does not view the making and breaking of promises as just a little thing, particularly when the action is deliberate and definitely injurious. Then, too, if his name is associated with a promise, he will not permit his name to be defamed by nonfulfillment of that promise. Take the case of the Judean King Zedekiah as an example.
In the year 617 B.C.E. Zedekiah’s nephew, King Jehoiachin, along with other foremost men and members of the royal family, was taken as a captive to Babylon. At that time the king of Babylon, Nebuchadnezzar, placed Zedekiah on the throne of Jerusalem and made him promise, on oath in the name of Jehovah, that he would be a loyal vassal king. Princes and other prominent men also bound themselves to be loyal vassals. (Ezek. 17:13, 14; 21:23) Did Jehovah God view these oath-bound promises as being of little importance?
There were Jews who thought that it did not matter to Jehovah if they broke their oath-bound promises. They favored rebelling against the king of Babylon and relying upon Pharaoh of Egypt for support. They encouraged Zedekiah to do this. Speaking prophetically of the rebellion against King Nebuchadnezzar, Jehovah declared:
“He [Zedekiah] finally rebelled against him in sending his messengers to Egypt, for it to give him horses and a multitudinous people. Will he [Zedekiah] have success? Will he escape, he who is doing these things, and who has broken a covenant? And will he actually escape? ‘As I am alive,’ is the utterance of the Sovereign Lord Jehovah, ‘in the place of the king [Nebuchadnezzar] who put in as king the one [Zedekiah] that despised his oath and that broke his covenant, with him in the midst of Babylon he will die. And by a great military force and by a multitudinous congregation Pharaoh will not make him effective in the war, by throwing up a siege rampart and by building a siege wall, in order to cut off many souls. And he [Zedekiah] has despised an oath in breaking a covenant, and, look! he had given his hand [in pledge of covenant keeping] and has done even all these things. He will not make his escape.’”—Ezek. 17:15-18.
NO ESCAPE FROM PUNISHMENT
Thus Jehovah emphasized that he would not approve of Zedekiah’s breaking the oath and would not protect him from the bitter consequences to follow. He foretold that King Nebuchadnezzar would not overlook the rebellion of Zedekiah but would march against Jerusalem. This would be in harmony with Jehovah’s purpose to use King Nebuchadnezzar and his armies as the punitive “sword” against the oath-breaking rebels who used Jehovah’s name in vain.
In coming into the land of Palestine from the north, Nebuchadnezzar, at the head of his army, came to a fork in the line of march. He therefore wanted guidance in making a decision as to which way he should lead his army. One branch of the crossways led to the Ammonite capital city of Rabbah and the other to the more strongly fortified city of Jerusalem. The question was, Should he first go against Rabbah and then, after his troops were elated about the capture of that city, proceed with the more difficult siege against Jerusalem? In order to make sure that his would be the right decision, Nebuchadnezzar resorted to three methods of divination. Jehovah God revealed this to his prophet Ezekiel:
“O son of man, set for yourself two ways for the sword of the king of Babylon to enter. From the one land both of them should go forth, and an index hand should be cut out; at the head of the way to the city it should be cut out. A way you should set for the sword to enter against Rabbah of the sons of Ammon, and one against Judah, against Jerusalem fortified. For the king of Babylon stood still at the crossways, at the head of the two ways, in order to resort to divination. He has shaken the arrows [one marked for Rabbah and the other for Jerusalem, to be drawn out of a vessel after being shaken]. He has asked by means of the teraphim; he has looked into the liver [of a slain animal victim]. In his right hand the divination proved to be for Jerusalem, to set battering-rams, to open one’s mouth for a slaying, to raise the sound in an alarm signal, to set battering-rams against gates, to throw up a siege rampart, to build a siege wall.”—Ezek. 21:19-22.
What King Nebuchadnezzar drew forth with his right hand was the favored choice, to indicate the most auspicious course. Jehovah God saw to it that this choice would, in agreement with his will, direct the king of Babylon against Jerusalem first. This meant bringing up against Jerusalem all the Babylonian heavy siege equipment and using all the devices for besieging a strongly fortified city.
This prophecy foretelling the outcome of Nebuchadnezzar’s divination sounded “untrue” to the inhabitants of Judah and Jerusalem. They felt that the king of Babylon would not desire to come against such a heavily fortified place as Jerusalem. They felt that he simply could not take such a strongly walled city. They also felt that Egypt’s military might would repel any possible military effort undertaken against them. What the overconfident Jews failed to remember was that their oath breaking was a sin against Jehovah God. He would see to it that their rebellious course would be exposed and not forgotten by King Nebuchadnezzar. Jerusalem would be conquered and its inhabitants ‘seized by the hand’ and led captive to Babylon. (Ezek. 21:23, 24) That also signified that King Zedekiah would be forced to do what Jehovah had declared through Ezekiel:
“You, O deadly wounded, wicked chieftain of Israel, whose day has come in the time of the error of the end, this is what the Sovereign Lord Jehovah has said, ‘Remove the turban, and lift off the crown. This will not be the same. Put on high even what is low, and bring low even the high one. A ruin, a ruin, a ruin I shall make it. As for this also, it will certainly become no one’s until he comes who has the legal right, and I must give it to him.’”—Ezek. 21:25-27.
By his rebellious course King Zedekiah mortally or fatally wounded himself. That deadly wound meant, not a peaceful death as a loyal vassal king in Jerusalem, but a disgraceful death as a dethroned, childless, sightless, imprisoned exile in Babylon. By reason of his rebellion, Zedekiah showed himself to be a “wicked chieftain of Israel.” His day for eating the bitter fruitage of his badness had come. It was now the “time of the error of the end,” not alone the “error” of King Zedekiah, but also the “error” of all the kingdom of Judah and of Jerusalem. The time of this “end” began in the thirteenth year of Judean King Josiah, at which time Jeremiah began to prophesy. (Jer. 1:1, 2; 25:3-11) At the culmination of this “end” King Zedekiah did not voluntarily give up his turban and crown. This consequence was forced upon him when his royal throne and city were destroyed.
With that destruction in the year 607 B.C.E. the typical kingdom of God on earth, with a descendant of David sitting on “Jehovah’s throne” in Jerusalem, came to an end. This meant a complete reversal of matters on the world stage. As the miniature kingdom of Jehovah God, the Kingdom of Judah had been the “high one.” But it was made “low” by being destroyed. The Gentile or non-Jewish nations, however, were “put on high,” for the destruction of the Kingdom of Judah left Gentile rule in control of all the earth.
THE ONE WHO WILL ACT AGAINST DELIBERATE PROMISE BREAKERS
The Gentile nations were to maintain such control until the coming of the one “who has the legal right,” a descendant of Judean King David. That one proved to be the Lord Jesus Christ. Unlike wicked King Zedekiah, Jesus Christ is no breaker of promises. He is “loyal, guileless, undefiled.” (Heb. 7:26) As a man on earth he always spoke the truth. ‘No deception was found in his mouth.’ (1 Pet. 2:22) Hence Jesus wants as his subjects only persons who are rightly motivated to imitate his example. In harmony with his Father’s will, he will soon take action against all who, like Zedekiah of old, are rebellious and untrustworthy, lacking respect for Jehovah’s name.
We know that Jesus Christ will take such action within this generation. Bible chronology clearly establishes that in 1914 C.E. he was given rulership over the world of mankind. (Dan. 4:16-27; 7:12-14; Rev. 11:15) So he is in position now to act against peoples and nations that have no regard for truth and righteousness. Christendom today, like unfaithful Jerusalem, has failed in conducting herself in line with God’s commands. The breaking of solemn promises and agreements is just one of the many transgressions she has committed. Therefore, as a system professing to be in a covenant with God, Christendom will be the first to go down in destruction.
That is in keeping with the pattern of what happened in ancient times. The punitive “sword” came first against the inhabitants of Judah and Jerusalem, people who were unfaithful to their covenant relationship with God. But the “sword” did not stop there. The Ammonites, like the unfaithful Jews, were not devoted to what was right and, therefore, they too were in line for punishment. Of course, the prophets of Ammon did not think so. They were “beholding” an escape for their capital city Rabbah. Also, the diviners were predicting that the city would be spared. But the prophets and diviners were mistaken. What the prophets were “beholding” proved to be “an unreality,” and the predictions of the diviners were shown up to be “a lie.” This was when Nebuchadnezzar brought the land of the Ammonites to ruin. Thus, as foretold through Ezekiel, the slain ones of Ammon were ‘put on the necks’ of the slain wicked Israelites, as if in one pile of dead ones.—Ezek. 21:28-32.
Hence today no nation that has been deliberately false and deceptive in its promises and agreements will escape punishment. This makes it imperative for each person to examine his own course. He might ask himself: Am I an imitator of Jesus Christ, in whose ‘mouth there was no deception’? Or, do I reflect the traits of a rebellious oath breaker, as was King Zedekiah? The life of everyone today depends upon preserving fine conduct. That includes living up to one’s solemn promises. Failure to do so can lead to loss of life.