“Happy Is He Who Reads Aloud”
“Happy is he who reads aloud and those who hear the words of this prophecy, and who observe the things written in it; for the appointed time is near.”—Rev. 1:3.
1. Why is the ability to read and write a truly wonderful gift that Jehovah has given man?
WHAT a wonderful gift the Creator, Jehovah God, has given man by granting him the ability to read and write so as to understand and grasp the significance of matters of importance! As you read this information, contemplate what a blessing it is to be able to understand what the words on this and succeeding pages mean. And to impress upon your mind just how wonderful this gift is, try reading this same type of information in another language, one that you do not understand or speak. Would it not be meaningless? Yes, indeed, how wonderful it is to be able to read, understand and observe the application of the things written for mankind’s enjoyment, especially as they pertain to knowing and serving the Creator himself, Jehovah God!
2. How can we most beneficially use the ability to read, and, in this regard, what command of Jehovah is found at Deuteronomy 31:9-12?
2 With your ability to read, do you ever read aloud for the benefit of yourself and others? Did you know that it is an ancient command of God in his Word of Truth, the Bible, that his people should read aloud? In your Bible at Deuteronomy 31:9-12 you will find these words recorded: “Then Moses wrote this law and gave it to the priests the sons of Levi, the carriers of the ark of Jehovah’s covenant, and to all the older men of Israel. And Moses went on to command them, saying: ‘At the end of every seven years, in the appointed time of the year of the release, in the festival of booths, when all Israel comes to see the face of Jehovah your God in the place that he will choose, you will read this law in front of all Israel in their hearing. Congregate the people, the men and the women and the little ones and your alien resident who is within your gates, in order that they may listen and in order that they may learn, as they must fear Jehovah your God and take care to carry out all the words of this law.’”
3. (a) Why was public reading in ancient times particularly necessary? (b) How were Israel’s kings to obtain a copy of the law, and why were they to read it regularly?
3 Without doubt this public reading done by the Levites and older men was beneficial to all the hearers. It was not as if each one assembled could readily get the information for himself at any time he might desire, for copies of the Word of God were limited. Therefore public reading was a necessity to impress important things on the minds of the people. In fact, Moses himself, under the inspiration of God, had told the people that in future days when they would request a king over them the king would be responsible to make a copy of the law, which was in the charge of the priests, the Levites. The king would be required, not only to make a copy, but to read in it all the days of his life, in order to fear Jehovah and do all the words of the law. Giving this attention to the Word of God would help the king to maintain a right heart attitude toward his brothers. It would aid him to avoid exalting himself above his brothers. It would give him insight so as to walk in the way of Jehovah, not turning aside from the commandment to the right or to the left. And, as a result, he would personally benefit in that he would have Jehovah’s favor and would in that way lengthen his days upon the throne of the kingdom.—Deut. 17:18-20.
SUCCESS THAT DEPENDED UPON READING
4. What counsel did Joshua receive regarding the “book of the law”?
4 After the death of Moses, his successor Joshua was likewise commanded to give heed to the counsel of God in written form. Says the Bible record: “This book of the law should not depart from your mouth, and you must in an undertone read in it day and night, in order that you may take care to do according to all that is written in it; for then you will make your way successful and then you will act wisely.”—Josh. 1:8.
5. How did Joshua show he realized the need of reading and applying the words found in the “book of the law”?
5 There is no doubt that Joshua saw the wisdom of adhering to the law of God in written form. Concerning the actions of Joshua not long after the entry of the nation of Israel into the land promised to them by God, the sacred writings contain this information: “Then he [Joshua] wrote there upon the stones a copy of the law of Moses that he had written before the sons of Israel. And all Israel and their older men and the officers and their judges were standing on this side and on that side of the Ark in front of the priests. . . . And after this he read aloud all the words of the law, the blessing and the malediction, according to all that is written in the book of the law. There proved to be not a word of all that Moses had commanded that Joshua did not read aloud in front of all the congregation of Israel, together with the women and the little ones and the alien residents who walked in their midst.”—Josh. 8:32-35.
6. (a) How was the book of God’s law a safeguard to Israel? (b) In time, what error did the people commit, but what action did Jehoshaphat take to remedy the situation?
6 Indeed, the sayings of God served as a fine protection to the Israelites both during their journey in the wilderness for forty years and during the time of the conquest and settling of the land of promise. (Eccl. 7:12) The reading of the commands and directions of Jehovah kept prominently before them the requirements of Jehovah. However, in time they left off keeping this important requirement, the doing of the will of God by reading and by adhering to his commands. By the time of King Jehoshaphat many in the land had turned from pure worship, leaving the service of Jehovah for the worship of pagan gods and the service of the Baals. But, as for Jehoshaphat, he loved Jehovah and walked in his commands, and Jehovah firmly established the kingdom of Judah in his hand. (2 Chron. 17:4, 5) One of the more important accomplishments of the reign of Jehoshaphat took place in his third year. The chronicler Ezra records it in these words: “And in the third year of [Jehoshaphat’s] reigning he sent for his princes . . . to teach in the cities of Judah, and with them the Levites, . . . [and] the priests. And they began teaching in Judah, and with them there was the book of Jehovah’s law; and they kept going around through all the cities of Judah and teaching among the people.” (2 Chron. 17:7-9) This proved to be a blessing to them.
7. What problem continued to develop among God’s people, and what was Josiah’s reaction when he heard the words from the “book of the law”?
7 It does seem, though, that this requirement of God, to read his word and to carry out his commands, was easily forgotten by the people of God. Between the time of Jehoshaphat (936-911 B.C.E.) and Josiah (659-629 B.C.E.) again and again king and people failed to keep the regulations and commands of Jehovah. Obeying the directives of Jehovah was so loosely regarded that by the time of Josiah, who began ruling when just a young boy, the people, to a large extent, had forgotten many of the commands of Jehovah. In fact, it was during Josiah’s eighteenth year, when he directed that Jehovah’s temple be repaired from its fallen and neglected state, that the high priest at the temple found the “very book of the law” in the house of Jehovah. The contents of this newly found book of the law were read to King Josiah. As soon as he heard what it had to say, Josiah immediately ripped his garments apart. And why was this? Let Josiah himself answer: “Great is Jehovah’s rage that has been set afire against us over the fact that our forefathers did not listen to the words of this book by doing according to all that is written concerning us.”—2 Ki. 22:3-13.
8. What course of action did Josiah then take, and how did the people respond?
8 Josiah’s further action is recorded for us in these words: “After that the king went up to the house of Jehovah, and also all the men of Judah and all the inhabitants of Jerusalem with him, and also the priests and the prophets and all the people, from small to great; and he began to read in their ears all the words of the book of the covenant that had been found in the house of Jehovah.” Thereafter the king and the people concluded a covenant before Jehovah to walk in accord with that which was written in the book. How truly beneficial the public reading of that law was to those there gathered!—2 Ki. 23:2, 3.
HOW READING MADE A REMNANT HAPPY
9. (a) Because of neglecting God’s Word, what resulted to the nation of Israel? (b) How did Jehovah show mercy to his people, and how did public reading again serve a useful purpose? (c) Besides reading, what further steps were taken to assist the people?
9 It is sad to think that after concluding this covenant to walk in accord with what was written in the book, the people of God forgot their God and his Word and the reading of it for direction and succumbed to the will of the nations round about. Their continued neglect led to their downfall as a nation in 607 B.C.E. But Jehovah, being merciful, heard their pleas and, in his due time, allowed a remnant of them to return from exile to their beloved Jerusalem and Judah to engage in pure worship. Nevertheless, Jehovah’s view of the importance of his written Word had not diminished with time. Ezra, the scribe of God, again calls upon them in their restored condition to remember the things that are written. We are told by Governor Nehemiah: “And all the people proceeded to gather themselves as one man at the public square that was before the Water Gate. Then they said to Ezra the copyist to bring the book of the law of Moses, which Jehovah had commanded Israel. Accordingly Ezra the priest brought the law before the congregation of men as well as of women and of all intelligent enough to listen, on the first day of the seventh month. And he continued to read aloud from it before the public square that is before the Water Gate, from daybreak till midday, in front of the men and the women and the other intelligent ones; and the ears of all the people were attentive to the book of the law.” (Neh. 8:1-3) Those there with Ezra, the Levites, were explaining the law to the people, while the people were in a standing position. “And they continued reading aloud from the book, from the law of the true God, it being expounded, and there being a putting of meaning into it; and they continued giving understanding in the reading.” The result? There was “a great rejoicing, for they had understood the words that had been made known to them.”—Neh. 8:6-8, 12.
THE LORD JESUS DID PUBLIC READING
10. How did Jesus view the written Word of God and public reading of it?
10 The greatest exponent of the written Word of God, the Lord Jesus Christ, is an outstanding example of one interested in doing the will and work of his Creator and Father, Jehovah God. On three different occasions he was tempted by Satan the Devil, the adversary of both God and man, and he refused to compromise his position with Jehovah, three times rebuking Satan by the use of God’s own Word, saying, “It is written.” (Matt. 4:1-11) On his first visit to the synagogue in Nazareth as the Messiah, he was handed the scroll of the prophet Isaiah and, opening it to the place where his commission in life was outlined, he publicly read to the gathered crowd. The result was that the people marveled at the winsome words that proceeded out of his mouth.—Luke 4:16-22.
11. How did the apostle Paul encourage the reading of words of truth?
11 The disciples of Jesus likewise read and studied the written Word of God. The apostle Paul wrote to the Colossians and encouraged them in these words: “And when this letter has been read among you, arrange that it also be read in the congregation of the Laodiceans and that you also read the one from Laodicea.” (Col. 4:16) To the congregation in Thessalonica, Paul wrote: “I am putting you under the solemn obligation by the Lord for this letter to be read to all the brothers.” (1 Thess. 5:27) To the young man Timothy, Paul gave this admonition: “While I am coming, continue applying yourself to public reading, to exhortation, to teaching.”—1 Tim. 4:13.
READING THAT BRINGS HAPPINESS TODAY
12, 13. Because “the appointed time is near,” at Revelation 1:3, what are we called upon to do, and with what benefit?
12 With this background on the wisdom of reading, studying, and applying with understanding the Word of our God and Creator, we can better appreciate the directive of Revelation 1:3. Indeed, it is a message for our day. Under inspiration the apostle John writes: “Happy is he who reads aloud and those who hear the words of this prophecy, and who observe the things written in it; for the appointed time is near.”—Rev. 1:3.
13 To be among these happy ones, we need to read aloud and hear the words of the prophecy of God in Revelation, and throughout the inspired sixty-six letters of God’s Word, and we must act in harmony with what we read. The psalmist says, concerning a really happy man, that “his delight is in the law of Jehovah, and in his law he reads in an undertone day and night.” The results? “Everything he does will succeed.” However, “the wicked are not like that”!—Ps. 1:1-4.
14. In what ways does Jehovah’s visible organization seek to assist us in knowing well the contents of the Word of God?
14 Young and old, male and female among God’s people are called upon to listen and to learn from God’s Word. For this reason Jehovah’s visible organization publishes Bibles as well as magazines, booklets, books and tracts that focus our attention on the Bible. It sponsors regular meetings of God’s people each week for five hours of study. These include Bible reading, instruction in the Word of God from the public platform, participation in discussions designed to teach us what God would have us to do, and assistance in learning how to aid others to join with us in pure worship.
15. In addition to public reading and study, what are we encouraged to do?
15 Even as in the days of ancient Israel when there were the Levites, priests and older men who took the lead in reading and applying and teaching the Word of God, so today Jehovah has a Christian congregation with “older men” to assist us in reading and understanding God’s Word. There is a governing body, and there are “older men” in the local congregations. They are charged with the responsibility of reading, teaching, exhorting, and handling the Word of God aright. In fact, among the qualifications of an elder or “older man,” the apostle Paul wrote that he must be “qualified to teach,” be “a good teacher.” (1 Tim. 3:2; New English Bible) Additionally, Jehovah’s visible organization encourages each one of us to study privately, to read privately, and to do so as a family and with friends.
16. (a) Name some pitfalls that caused Israel to neglect doing God’s will. (b) How do Christians face similar obstacles?
16 To avoid the pitfalls into which Israel fell takes as much, if not more, discipline today than it did in the days when the nation of Israel was the favored people of God. Even as they left off serving Jehovah, neglecting the study of his Word and listening to it read, due to pressures from surrounding nations and peoples, so we are faced with similar circumstances. Israel had false religious worship on all sides, the worship of the Baal, calf worship, idolatry. We face false worship today throughout the earth and in similar ways. There are false teachings with which to contend. There is idolizing of the state or of institutions. There is degrading hedonism, the philosophy that pleasure is the chief good in life. It is easy to leave off studying the Word and commands of God and to cease governing our lives by his laws. We need to be continually reminding ourselves of the need of studying God’s Word, faithfully adhering to its commands and seeking to please our Creator, Jehovah.
HELP YOUR FAMILY TO BE HAPPY
17. What can help to make Bible reading most meaningful for those who do it?
17 On the family level it can be especially helpful to read aloud and consider the meaning of the Word of God. Remember, in the days of Ezra and Nehemiah there was a reading aloud from the law of God. There was also a putting of meaning into it and a giving of understanding to the reading. This is an important feature of reading God’s Word: getting the meaning and then understanding its message as it relates to us personally.—Neh. 8:8.
18, 19. Explain the meaning of the words of Hebrews 2:1-4.
18 To illustrate an advantage in reading aloud perhaps in a family group or among friends, and then giving consideration to what is read, getting the understanding of it, consider Hebrews 2:1-4. There we read: “That is why it is necessary for us to pay more than the usual attention to the things heard by us, that we may never drift away. For if the word spoken through angels proved to be firm, and every transgression and disobedient act received a retribution in harmony with justice; how shall we escape if we have neglected a salvation of such greatness in that it began to be spoken through our Lord and was verified for us by those who heard him, while God joined in bearing witness with signs as well as portents and various powerful works and with distributions of holy spirit according to his will?” To get the meaning of these verses, let us review the material. There are a number of points that we can come to appreciate in this way.
19 The opening words of Heb chapter two say “that is why.” This ties the information back to the first chapter of Hebrews. Hebrew Christians were to “pay more than the usual attention to the things heard.” Why? Because they were spoken by God’s Son, the one greater than all other prophets and even greater than angels. Next consider what happened to the Israelites for ignoring the ‘word as transmitted by angels,’ the Law covenant. They were punished for their willful disobedience to the word, receiving “a retribution in harmony with justice.” That being the case, can we expect anything less if we refuse to pay more than the usual attention to the Word of God? Heb 2 Verse four helps us to realize who is backing up the word of the Lord Jesus. And who is that? The Creator himself, Jehovah God, who, by his holy spirit, bore witness concerning the words and works of Jesus. The signs, portents and powerful works made possible by God established the authenticity and divine authorization of the work of Jesus. For example, look at the miracles Jesus and his apostles performed, healing the deaf, blind and lame, expelling demons, and even raising the dead. In these ways we have proof positive of the need to “pay more than the usual attention to the things heard.”
20. (a) What is the advice of 2 Timothy 2:15? (b) What, then, should we avoid? (c) What assistance today do we have in “handling the word of the truth aright”?
20 By doing reading in this manner, following the example of Ezra, the priests and Levites of ancient Israel, as well as Jesus and his apostles, we can see the tremendous assistance we can receive in getting the meaning and understanding of God’s Word. Of course, there is one thing that it is vital for us to do, as Paul admonished Timothy: “Do your utmost to present yourself approved to God, a workman with nothing to be ashamed of, handling the word of the truth aright.” (2 Tim. 2:15) We should always be alert to have the correct understanding of God’s Word. We want to avoid twisting the Scriptures, as this would lead us to wrong conclusions and might stumble others. (2 Pet. 3:16) We also want to “shun empty speeches that violate what is holy; for they will advance to more and more ungodliness.” (2 Tim. 2:16) Needless to say, this means being selective in our reading material. The Scriptures tell us that “to the making of many books there is no end, and much devotion to them is wearisome to the flesh.” (Eccl. 12:12) Jehovah through his Son and the operation of the holy spirit has poured out upon his faithful servants on earth a superabundance of blessings and he has opened the minds and hearts of his “faithful and discreet slave” class to understand the true meaning of his Word. In turn, that faithful slave class passes on the precious truths to persons everywhere who will avail themselves of the treasures of truth. Our desire, then, should be truly to handle the Word of God aright. In the article that follows, let us examine how this can be done to our benefit as we read and study God’s Word.
[Picture on page 204]
At the synagogue in Nazareth the Lord Jesus read aloud from the scroll of Isaiah