Heeding Divine Warning Is Wisdom
JEHOVAH’S dealings with mankind have at all times reflected his high evaluation of human life. He did not act hastily to express adverse judgments but mercifully provided opportunities for peoples and nations to change their ways. (Jer. 18:6-10) Especially can this be noted in his treatment of the nation of Israel. Time and again Jehovah raised up prophets to encourage the unfaithful nation to abandon its bad course.—Isa. 55:6, 7; Ezek. 33:10, 11.
One of these prophets was Ezekiel, who began his prophetic work in 613 B.C.E. as an exile in Babylon. Ezekiel’s position was like that of a watchman who had the responsibility of warning people in time of danger. Those failing to heed the warning would have to shoulder responsibility for their own death. Even if Ezekiel as a watchman were to fail in his duty, the lawlessness of the people made them deserving of death and so their death would have been no injustice. Ezekiel, however, would have been guilty of criminal negligence. (Ezek. 33:1-6) Impressing this on Ezekiel’s mind, Jehovah declared:
“As regards you, O son of man, a watchman is what I have made you to the house of Israel, and at my mouth you must hear the word and give them warning from me. When I say to someone wicked, ‘O wicked one, you will positively die!’ but you actually do not speak out to warn the wicked one from his way, he himself as a wicked one will die in his own error, but his blood I shall ask back at your own hand. But as regards you, in case you actually warn someone wicked from his way for him to turn back from it but he actually does not turn back from his way, he himself will die in his own error, whereas you yourself will certainly deliver your own soul.”—Ezek. 33:7-9.
Those who respond to God’s warning delivered through his servants have no reason to fear that their past record will be held against them. Jehovah God takes “delight, not in the death of the wicked one, but in that someone wicked turns back from his way and actually keeps living.” (Ezek. 33:11) Of course, if righteous persons abandon a course of faithfulness, they will not be spared adverse judgment. Whether a person will die or continue living depends upon his standing at the time divine judgment is executed. Said Jehovah through Ezekiel:
“When I say to the wicked one: ‘You will positively die,’ and he actually turns back from his sin and carries on justice and righteousness, and the wicked one returns the very thing pledged, pays back the very things taken by robbery, and actually walks in the very statutes of life by not doing injustice, he will positively keep living. He will not die. None of his sins with which he has sinned will be remembered against him. Justice and righteousness are what he has carried on. He will positively keep living. When someone righteous turns back from his righteousness and actually does injustice, he must also die for them. And when some one wicked turns back from his wickedness and actually carries on justice and righteousness, . . . he himself will keep living.”—Ezek. 33:14-16, 18, 19.
How merciful it is for Jehovah God to see to it that ample warning is given! In Ezekiel’s time, however, there were Israelites who failed to appreciate God’s boundless love and mercy. They said: “The way of Jehovah is not adjusted right.” Yet, they were really the ones needing to adjust their thinking and ways.—Ezek. 33:17, 20.
Those not heeding God’s warning through Ezekiel but persisting in contending that God’s way was not adjusted right brought calamity upon themselves. The destruction of the rebellious city of Jerusalem after eighteen months of intensifying siege brought death to many. Ezekiel could not be blamed for this. He had given the warning to the disaster-threatened Israelites. So their blood was upon their own heads.
Because of his faithfulness as a watchman, Ezekiel did not have an adverse judgment expressed against himself. He continued living and received confirmation respecting the reliability of his prophetic warnings about Jerusalem. He reports:
“At length it occurred in the twelfth year,* in the tenth month, on the fifth day of the month of our exile, that there came to me the escaped one from Jerusalem, saying: ‘The city has been struck down!’”—Ezek. 33:21.
To an ordinary Jew or Israelite this news would have been heartbreaking. But Jehovah God prepared Ezekiel in advance for it. Jehovah knew that the escapee was near the end of his flight and about to make report. So on the evening of the day of that one’s arrival Jehovah spoke to Ezekiel from the standpoint that Jerusalem had already been destroyed and there were some survivors yet in the land of Judah. Ezekiel tells us:
“Now the very hand of Jehovah had come to be upon me in the evening [when the Jewish day began] before the coming of the escaped one, and He proceeded to open my mouth prior to that one’s coming to me in the morning, and my mouth was opened and I proved to be speechless no longer.* And the word of Jehovah began to occur to me, saying: ‘Son of man, the inhabitants of these devastated places are saying even concerning the soil of Israel, “Abraham happened to be just one and yet he took possession of the land. And we are many; to us the land has been given as something to possess.” Therefore say to them, “This is what the Sovereign Lord Jehovah has said: ‘With the blood you keep eating, and your eyes you keep lifting to your dungy idols, and blood you keep pouring out. So should you possess the land? You have depended upon your sword. You have done a detestable thing, and you have defiled each one the wife of his companion. So should you possess the land?’”’”—Ezek. 33:22-26.
The judgment executed upon Jerusalem was indeed deserved. Not only did the people generally refuse to heed the warning, but those who survived in the land of Judah did not change their ways in acknowledgment of the severe discipline received. They still continued to eat animal flesh from which the blood had not been drained according to God’s law; they still carried on false worship with detestable idols; they still committed the detestable act of adultery, violating even their neighbor’s wife. It mattered not with Jehovah that they were many as compared with their ancestor, the patriarch Abraham, to whom the land had been promised by Jehovah. (Gen. 12:1-7) Because of their not turning away repentantly from their wicked ways, they did not deserve to keep possessing the land. (Jer. 42:1–44:25) Mere numbers did not count with Jehovah; obedience to his Law did!
Those unrepentant ones would not be left remaining in the God-given land. The land would be absolutely desolated of man and domestic animal, with no one even passing through it because of fear of its being haunted by demons. The land was to lie desolate in this manner for a full period of seventy years, in order that it might enjoy a sabbath period, to make up for all the sabbath years that the Jews had failed to keep. (2 Chron. 36:17-23; compare Daniel 9:1, 2; Jeremiah 9:11; 26:9; 32:43; 33:10-12; 34:22.) Jehovah said to Ezekiel:
“As I am alive, surely the ones who are in the devastated places will fall by the sword itself; and the one who is upon the surface of the field, to the wild beast I shall certainly give him for food; and those who are in the strong places and in the caves will die by the pestilence itself. And I shall actually make the land a desolate waste, even a desolation, and the pride of its strength must be made to cease and the mountains of Israel must be laid desolate, with no one passing through. And they will have to know that I am Jehovah when I make the land a desolate waste, even a desolation, on account of all their detestable things that they have done.”—Ezek. 33:27-29.
These survivors were not the only ones who failed to appreciate Jehovah’s great love and mercy in having warning given. Ezekiel’s fellow exiles did not take his prophesying seriously either. With reference to these exiles, Jehovah said:
“The sons of your people are speaking with one another about you beside the walls and in the entrances of the houses, and the one has spoken with the other, each one with his brother, saying, ‘Come, please, and hear what the word is that is going forth from Jehovah.’ And they will come in to you, like the coming in of people, and sit before you as my people; and they will certainly hear your words but these they will not do, for with their mouth they are expressing lustful desires and after their unjust gain is where their heart is going. And, look! you are to them like a song of sensuous loves, like one with a pretty voice and playing a stringed instrument well. And they will certainly hear your words, but there are none doing them. And when it comes true—look! it must come true—they will also have to know that a prophet himself had proved to be in the midst of them.”—Ezek. 33:30-33.
Because of their not paying attention, those Jewish exiles were stunned when confirmation came that Jerusalem had been destroyed. Having persisted in unbelief, they were totally unprepared for this terrible shock. They were also forced to acknowledge that Ezekiel had indeed been a true prophet of Jehovah.
A LESSON TO BE TAKEN TO HEART
We today are living in a time much like that of Ezekiel. Though professing to be in a covenant relationship with God as was ancient Israel, members of Christendom’s churches are conducting themselves like unfaithful Israel of old. The very conditions described by the apostle Paul at 2 Timothy 3:1-5 are clearly in evidence among those professing to serve God. We read:
“Know this, that in the last days critical times hard to deal with will be here. For men will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, self-assuming, haughty, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, disloyal, having no natural affection, not open to any agreement, slanderers, without self-control, fierce, without love of goodness, betrayers, headstrong, puffed up with pride, lovers of pleasures rather than lovers of God, having a form of godly devotion but proving false to its power.”
Do you see these very things today? The fact that the foretold conditions mark the “last days” of the present wicked system of things indicates that humans are in grave danger. This period of time is foretold to culminate in a “great tribulation” that will bring the present ungodly system to its end. (Matt. 24:20-22; Rev. 7:1-3, 14) As Ezekiel of old was raised up as a watchman to issue a warning, so today Jehovah’s Christian witnesses are sounding a warning about the calamity to befall Christendom as well as the rest of this bloodguilty system of things. How are you responding to that warning? Have you separated yourself from the religious practices and organizations of Christendom? Are you seeking to conduct yourself in such a way that Jehovah God will see to it that you are preserved alive when practicers of unrighteousness will come to their finish?
The unchangeable God Jehovah will no more spare Christendom and its adherents than he spared unfaithful Jerusalem. Like Jerusalem and the land of Judah, the place that Christendom has occupied in this worldly system of things will be completely desolated without any religious institutions remaining therein. The secular elements of today’s worldwide system of things will look at the vacuum that Christendom and the other false religious systems have left. In view of what Jehovah’s witnesses have long proclaimed world wide, those secular elements will have to come to the knowledge prescribed for them in the repeatedly stated formula: “They will have to know that I am Jehovah.”
This being the case, surely you will not want to be found among those like Ezekiel’s fellow exiles. However, many persons today are doing just that. Beside walls casting cooling shade, in the doorways of their homes or elsewhere, people talk about Jehovah’s Christian witnesses and their work of calling on others from house to house. Many persons, even among those still associated with Christendom, pass around nice compliments about these witnesses. They may even come to the large public meetings of Jehovah’s witnesses or arrange for a home Bible study to be carried on with them and invite neighbors or relatives to join them in the study. They like the tone and directness of the divine message and respectfully listen to it. But they leave the matter hanging in suspense; they do not take a positive stand for Jehovah as his devoted servants. They merely like to be entertained with a Biblically supported message. Their concern is not to appear outright irreligious, open to the charge of being atheistic Communists.
They may be disturbed by the cry of Christendom that Jehovah’s Christian witnesses are “false prophets”! Yet they may not be fully convinced that these are true spokesmen for Jehovah the Sovereign Lord. To let themselves come to that conclusion would oblige them to do something. This would mean for them to stop holding on to lustful desire and going wholeheartedly after unjust gain.
None of us should want to be like these indecisive, unresponsive ones. Better it is to know now, rather than too late, that there is an authentic prophetic class of Christians among us, and to accept and act upon the Bible message, “not as the word of men, but, just as it truthfully is, as the word of God.” (1 Thess. 2:13) Those who wait undecided until what Jehovah’s Christian witnesses have been proclaiming ‘comes true’ “will also have to know that a prophet himself had proved to be in the midst of them.” (Ezek. 33:33) But such belated knowledge will not mean salvation for them, for it will find their hearts and their ways to be unchanged.
What is to be gained by hesitating and doubting to the end that Jehovah can raise up and has raised up a genuine “prophet” within our generation? Certainly it will gain for no one the divine favor and protection needed during the speedily approaching “great tribulation.” If our course is to be that of wisdom and of faith, then, with Bible in hand, we will heed the warning of Jehovah’s true watchman and will take refuge where Jehovah indicates in his Word. Then, when Jehovah’s prophetic watchman gets the report that Christendom has been struck down, we, together with the faithful watchman, will continue to live.
There are eight Hebrew manuscripts besides the Syriac Version and some manuscripts of the Greek Septuagint Version that read “eleventh year” instead of “twelfth year.” This would mean that the fugitive from Jerusalem arrived during the latter half of December (Tebeth 5) in 607 B.C.E., or six months after Jerusalem was captured by the Babylonians. (2 Ki. 25:2-4) If the months are counted on a spring-to-spring basis and the year reckoned on an autumn-to-autumn basis, Tebeth 5 of the “twelfth year” would also fall during the latter half of December in 607 B.C.E.
This muteness of Ezekiel was not literal. Ezekiel became speechless as regards his prophesying about doomed Jerusalem. The muteness began when Ezekiel was notified by inspiration that the siege of Jerusalem had begun, and ended when the destruction of the city was confirmed by a human eyewitness.