Questions From Readers
● What is the attitude of Jehovah’s Witnesses toward jury duty?—U.S.A.
Jehovah’s witnesses recognize that what people do with reference to jury duty is a personal matter, governed by the dictates of conscience.
As far as they personally are concerned, Jehovah’s witnesses generally do not feel that they should sit as judges of other people. When confronted with an opportunity to handle a legal dispute, their Exemplar the Lord Jesus Christ turned it down, saying: “Who appointed me judge or apportioner over you persons?” (Luke 12:14) The apostle Paul raised similar questions in his letter to the Corinthians: “What do I have to do with judging those outside? Do you not judge those inside [the Christian congregation], while God judges those outside?”—1 Cor. 5:12, 13.
Then, too, many persons serving on juries do not desire to be guided by the laws of God’s Word in reaching a verdict. Some jurors have consulted horoscopes, given in to personal prejudice or yielded to pressures from others in making a decision. So there is a danger of becoming party to a miscarriage of justice. When the life of an accused person is involved, this could mean incurring bloodguilt. Thus it can be seen why serving on a jury might lead to serious conflicts of conscience.
The legal requirements for serving on a jury and the provisions for exemption vary from place to place. Within the United States, the situation in one state may be quite different from that in another state. At times explaining one’s position to the clerk of the court or the judge may lead to one’s name being removed from the list of prospective jurors. Court opinions in West Virginia, Minnesota and Washington have, in fact, upheld a person’s right to refuse jury duty for religious reasons. And in the state of Colorado persons who can prove by documents that they are Jehovah’s witnesses are granted exemption from jury duty.
Exemptions, however, are not granted everywhere. If a person cannot be exempted when called for jury duty even after explaining matters to the judge, he can, nevertheless, state his conscientious scruples regarding a case when questioned by the lawyers before the trial begins. If his conscientious scruples are not accepted as disqualifying him for jury duty, the Christian may feel that he will have to refuse to serve in order not to violate his conscience. In that case he should prepare himself to face whatever consequences may arise as a result of his decision.
● According to Deuteronomy 6:8, 9, the Israelites were commanded to ‘tie God’s law as a sign upon their hand’ and have it serve as a ‘frontlet band between their eyes.’ Is this to be understood literally?—U.S.A.
Many Jewish commentators have applied this injunction literally. This is also one of the Biblical passages used to support the practice of wearing phylacteries (small cases containing texts from the Holy Scriptures). However, an examination of the context and other scriptures definitely points to a figurative application.
Starting with Deuteronomy 6:6-9 and continuing to verse 9, we read: “These words that I [Jehovah] am commanding you today must prove to be on your heart; and you must inculcate them in your son and speak of them when you sit in your house and when you walk on the road and when you lie down and when you get up. And you must tie them as a sign upon your hand, and they must serve as a frontlet band between your eyes; and you must write them upon the doorposts of your house and on your gates.”
It should be noted that this passage does not say that the commands were to be written on something and then worn between the eyes or on the hand or attached to the doorposts and gates. The commands themselves were to be ‘tied as a sign upon the hand’ and were to serve as a ‘frontlet band between the eyes.’ Evidently, therefore, the thought conveyed is much like that expressed at Proverbs 7:2, 3: “Keep my commandments and continue living, and my law like the pupil of your eyes. Tie them upon your fingers, and write them upon the tablet of your heart.” Clearly this is not literal. It would be impossible literally to write commandments upon the heart, and to tie written commands to one’s fingers would only hinder one from accomplishing work. No useful purpose would be served.
Similarly, with reference to the Passover, the commemoration of their deliverance from Egypt, Jehovah commanded the Israelites: “It must serve for you as a sign upon your hand and as a memorial between your eyes, in order that Jehovah’s law may prove to be in your mouth; because by a strong hand Jehovah brought you out of Egypt.” (Ex. 13:9) Again, it is obvious that the commemoration itself could not literally be bound upon their hands nor serve as a literal memorial between their eyes. But the Israelites could constantly keep what God had done for them in view, as if written on a tablet between their eyes or as if a sign upon their hands.
In the same way they could always keep Jehovah’s commands before them regardless of whether they were at home or near the city gates, where people commonly congregated and the city elders handled legal cases. The Israelites were not just to retain God’s law in their hearts and teach it to their children. They were also to demonstrate by action (as expressed by the hands) that they adhered to it. Just as if God’s law were written between their eyes for all to see, they were to identify themselves publicly as its upholders. This would be a far more effective way to maintain faithfulness than the literal wearing of passages from God’s law on their person or writing such passages on their doorposts or gates.
Even a hypocritical person could wear scripture-containing cases. In fact, Jesus Christ censured the Pharisees for ‘broadening the scripture-containing cases that they wore as safeguards.’ (Matt. 23:5) By enlarging these cases, they apparently wanted to impress others with their zeal for the Law. But they disregarded its real purpose. Hence, their outward manifestations meant nothing.
Surely we today should want to prove ourselves to be obedient servants of Jehovah from the heart. This means our hearts should move us to respond with appreciative obedience to the guidance of God’s written Word. Our minds should be on the serious, righteous, lovable, virtuous, chaste and praiseworthy things. (Phil. 4:8) In whatever we are doing, we should “work at it whole-souled as to Jehovah, and not to men.” (Col. 3:23) Yes, our every action should prove that God’s commands are always before us.