The Wilderness Transformed into a Paradise
NO PART of the earth today is a paradise, free from all pollution and danger. Air and water are being polluted at an alarming rate. Vast areas of land are being transformed into eyesores. Fierce competition, rivalry and hatred are threatening man’s happiness and welfare. Accidents, sickness and death contribute their share to the suffering and sadness that have long been the lot of the human family.
Will it ever be otherwise? Yes, the Holy Bible gives us the heart-cheering assurance that this earth will become a paradise free from all sickness, sorrow, pain and death. (Luke 23:43; Rev. 21:3-5) The One who has promised paradise, Jehovah God, has both the power and the wisdom to bring it about. In his loving-kindness he has also provided a record of his past dealings in fulfillment of his promises. This record in the Bible gives us a positive guarantee that nothing will prevent Jehovah’s purpose from being realized.
The bringing about of a paradise is nothing new for Jehovah God. He placed the first humans, Adam and Eve, in a paradise in a section of the earth known as “Eden.” Centuries later he saw to it that the land of Judah, which had become a desolated wilderness after the Babylonian conquest, was transformed into a “garden of Eden,” a paradise. And in this century Jehovah God has blessed his devoted people with a spiritual paradise.
THE LAND OF JUDAH TRANSFORMED
It was over twenty-five centuries ago that the land of Judah became a desolate waste, without man or domestic animal. The transformation of that land into a paradise was not an easy thing. Surrounding nations did not want to see this happen. Nevertheless, Jehovah God said to his prophet Ezekiel:
“Prophesy concerning the mountains of Israel, and you must say, ‘O mountains of Israel, hear the word of Jehovah. This is what the Sovereign Lord Jehovah has said: “For the reason that the enemy has said against you, ‘Aha! Even the high places of old time—as a possession it has become ours.’”’ Therefore prophesy, and you must say, ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord Jehovah has said: “For the reason, even for the reason that there has been a lying desolate and a snapping at you from all sides, in order for you to become a possession to the remaining ones of the nations and you continue being talked about with the tongue and there is a bad report among people, therefore, O mountains of Israel, hear the word of the Sovereign Lord Jehovah! This is what the Sovereign Lord Jehovah has said to the mountains and to the hills, to the stream beds and to the valleys and to the devastated places that were laid desolate and to the abandoned cities that have come to be for plunder and for ridicule to the remaining ones of the nations that are round about; therefore this is what the Sovereign Lord Jehovah has said, ‘Certainly in the fire of my zeal I will speak against the remaining ones of the nations and against Edom, all of it, those who have given my land to themselves as a possession with the rejoicing of all the heart, with scorn in the soul, for the sake of its pasture ground and for the plunder.’”’”—Ezek. 36:1-5.
The enemy nations around the desolate land of Judah had their own selfish purpose regarding the vacant territory. But Jehovah had another purpose, and his purpose was going to be realized. The covetous nations round about were not going to get the land. Their greedy efforts would be blocked in that they themselves would experience calamity. No Edomites or other nationalities would be allowed to plunder the abandoned cities of Judah and use the land as pasture ground. Eventually Jehovah would see to it that the land, the “soil of Israel,” would be transformed from a state of desolation and flourish like a paradise with repatriated Israelites and their domestic animals. Jehovah told Ezekiel:
“Prophesy concerning the soil of Israel, and you must say to the mountains and to the hills, to the stream beds and to the valleys, ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord Jehovah has said: “Look! I myself in my zeal and in my rage must speak, for the reason that humiliation by nations is what you have borne.”’ Therefore this is what the Sovereign Lord Jehovah has said, ‘I myself have raised my hand in an oath that the nations that you have round about—they themselves will bear their own humiliation. And you yourselves, O mountains of Israel, will give forth your very own boughs and bear your own fruitage for my people Israel, for they have drawn near to the point of coming in. For here I am in favor of you, and I shall certainly turn toward you, and you will actually be cultivated and sown with seed. And I will multiply upon you humankind, and the whole house of Israel, all of it, and the cities must become inhabited, and the devastated places themselves will be rebuilt. Yes, I will multiply upon you humankind and animalkind, and they will certainly multiply and become fruitful, and I shall actually cause you to be inhabited as in your former condition and I will do more good than in your initial state; and you will have to know that I am Jehovah. And upon you I will cause humankind to walk, even my people Israel, and they must take possession of you, and you must become a hereditary possession to them, and you will not bereave them again of any more children.’”—Ezek. 36:6-12.
Back in the days of the prophet Ezekiel the fulfillment of Jehovah’s sworn oath was something yet to be sought and searched for, with decades of Babylonian exile remaining. As Jehovah declared through Ezekiel:
“This is what I shall yet let myself be searched for by the house of Israel to do for them: I shall multiply them like a flock with men. Like a flock of holy persons, like the flock of Jerusalem in her festal seasons, thus the cities that had been a waste will become full of a flock of men; and people will have to know that I am Jehovah.”—Ezek. 36:37, 38.
That repeopling of the devastated cities of the land of Judah needed to be searched for from Jehovah by those exiled Jews who repented and who desired the fulfillment of Jehovah’s merciful promises. A number of those exiled Jews did survive and return to their homeland to see the realization of Jehovah’s promises. In 537 B.C.E., the conqueror of Babylon, Cyrus, issued a decree that permitted Jewish exiles to return to their homeland and rebuild the temple at Jerusalem. (Ezra 3:1, 2, 12) With the Israelites back in their cities and starting rebuilding and planting work, the nations had to acknowledge that Jehovah had brought about a marvelous transformation. It was just as Jehovah had declared through Ezekiel: “People will certainly say: ‘That land yonder which was laid desolate has become like the garden of Eden, and the cities that were a waste and that were laid desolate and that were torn down are fortified; they have become inhabited.’” (Ezek. 36:33-36) The Edomites, however, eventually became a displaced people and, after the second destruction of Jerusalem in 70 C.E., ceased to exist as a people.
A SPIRITUAL PARADISE PRODUCED
In modern times the anointed remnant of spiritual Israel, Jehovah’s Christian witnesses, have undergone experiences comparable to those of the natural Israelites in the seventh and sixth centuries B.C.E. During World War I they experienced religious persecution and oppression and came into a state of captivity. Jehovah God allowed this to happen because of error on the part of the remnant of spiritual Israel. But it was not his purpose for their spiritual estate to remain desolate, with Christendom taking over the whole religious field during the postwar period.
Like Edom and other nations that anciently surrounded Israel, Christendom experienced great humiliation in 1919 C.E. This was because the humiliating things that she had predicted and hoped for against the persecuted remnant of spiritual Israelites failed to be realized. In that year this spiritual estate began to become alive with spiritual Israelites.
While church membership and seminary enrollments have noticeably declined in recent years, Jehovah’s Christian witnesses from 1919 onward have enjoyed marvelous increases until today. The “mountains” of their spiritual estate have become alive with many devoted worshipers of Jehovah God. By the year 1935 the “great crowd” of the Fine Shepherd’s “other sheep” began to get associated with the anointed remnant of spiritual Israelites and thus became active upon the symbolic “mountains of Israel.” Even the worldwide persecutions during World War II did not bereave the symbolic “mountains of Israel” of its population or even reduce it. While back in 1928 only 44,080 were publicly proclaiming the “good news” of God’s kingdom, in 1972 the number of such proclaimers reached a peak of 1,658,990 in 28,407 congregations in 208 lands.
From 1919 C.E. onward the congregations of the restored remnant of spiritual Israelites were like the cities of ancient Israel. They became “fortified” especially by the better organization of them for activity in carrying out Jesus’ prophecy to preach the good news of God’s established kingdom. (Matt. 24:14) They became more fully fortified in the year 1938 when the centralized theocratic rule, rather than the local congregational rule, of organization was applied to all the congregations around the globe.
Truly Jehovah God has filled the spiritual estate of his Christian witnesses with a vast “flock of men.” (Ezek. 36:11, 37, 38) As the twelve tribes of Israel used to flock to Jerusalem and its temple during the three “festal seasons” (Passover, Pentecost and the Festival of Booths), so Jehovah’s Christian witnesses have enjoyed flocking together, not only to their local Kingdom Halls, but, in an amazing manner, to their regular circuit, district, national and international assemblies.
Pressures in this age of anarchy and violence have not caused the restored spiritual Israelites to disappear from their newly occupied spiritual estate, as if they were devoured, swallowed up by invading aggressors or by a famine in their land. Their experience has been like that described at Ezekiel 36:13-15, where Jehovah speaks further to the soil of Israel:
“This is what the Sovereign Lord Jehovah has said, ‘For the reason that there are those saying to you: “A devourer of humankind is what you yourself are, and a land bereaving your nations of children is what you have become,”’ ‘therefore humankind you will no more devour, and your nations you will no more bereave of children,’ is the utterance of the Sovereign Lord Jehovah. ‘And I shall cause no further humiliating talk by the nations to be heard concerning you, and reproach by peoples you will bear no more, and your nations you will no more cause to stumble,’ is the utterance of the Sovereign Lord Jehovah.”
The land of Canaan had a bad reputation respecting the destruction of its peoples as if being devoured by the land. (Num. 13:32) When Jehovah brought the Israelites into the land of Canaan in 1473 B.C.E. and they proceeded to destroy seven nations, it was as if the land ate up, devoured those inhabitants.
In 607 B.C.E. the king of Babylon conquered the land of Judah and deported many hundreds of surviving Jews, and the land became desolate without man and domestic beast. It again appeared as if the land had devoured its inhabitants and had bereaved the nation of the Kingdom of Judah of its children. Earlier, in 740 B.C.E., it had bereaved the nation of the Kingdom of Israel of its children. But by Jehovah’s special blessing and protection the once desolated land was not to have another experience like this in connection with the remnant of faithful Israelites that were restored from exile in Babylon in 537 B.C.E. and thereafter. So too it has been with the spiritual estate to which a remnant were restored in the postwar year of 1919 C.E. They are still there, alive, fruitful, multiplying. The spiritual paradise enjoyed by God’s people is here to stay.
GOD’S NAME INVOLVED
Why did Jehovah God bring about these grand things? It was not because of worthiness or merit on the part of the typical remnant in 537 B.C.E. and afterward and on the part of the antitypical remnant in 1919 C.E. and afterward. God’s own holy name was involved. We read:
“The word of Jehovah continued to occur to me, saying: ‘Son of man, the house of Israel were dwelling upon their soil, and they kept making it unclean with their way and with their dealings. Like the uncleanness of menstruation their way has become before me. And I proceeded to pour out my rage upon them on account of the blood that they had poured out upon the land, which land they had made unclean with their dungy idols. And I proceeded to scatter them among the nations, so that they were dispersed among the lands. According to their way and according to their dealings I judged them. So they came in to the nations where they came in, and people proceeded to profane my holy name in saying with reference to them. “These are the people of Jehovah, and from his land they have gone out.” And I shall have compassion on my holy name, which the house of Israel have profaned among the nations where they have come in.’”—Ezek. 36:16-21.
Because the Israelites had gone out from Jehovah’s land as exiles, it appeared that Jehovah, their professed God, was not able to protect them against their enemies. This brought reproach upon his holy name. It caused the Gentile nations to speak profanely of his name. Similarly, when the anointed remnant of spiritual Israelites were brought into bondage to Babylon the Great and her political and military paramours during World War I, it made it seem as if they as members of the International Bible Students Association were not genuine Christians. It seemed as if the true God was not on their side and was not protecting them. This brought reproach upon the name of the God to whom they were dedicated. Hence, Jehovah was obliged to show self-respect by having compassion on his own name. It was a holy name and did not deserve to be profaned by worldlings. Because he had a devoted remnant who were connected with his name, then whatever he did in compassion on his name would call for compassion on that remnant.
What Jehovah God has done in restoring his people in modern times has fulfilled the words of Ezekiel’s prophecy. (Ezek. 36:22-24) Jehovah has indeed sanctified his name among the nations by producing a dedicated people who regard his name as holy. (Ezek. 36:38) They are concerned about bringing glory to that name and in no way reproaching it due to any misconduct on their part. They choose to obey God as Ruler rather than men when there is any conflict between God’s law and laws framed by God-ignoring men.—Acts 5:29.
Jehovah has cleansed his restored remnant from religious uncleanness by his cleansing agencies, like sprinkling clean water upon them. Cleansed from “dungy idols,” they refuse to idolize political, military or religious dignitaries or to make idolatrous gestures and attitudes toward images, statues or emblems. Jehovah has taken away from them any stoniness of heart and given them a “heart of flesh,” a heart moved by the love and affection to do his will. The “new spirit” Jehovah has put inside them is his holy spirit. This has caused them to produce the spirit’s fruitage—“love, joy, peace, long-suffering, kindness, goodness, faith, mildness, self-control.”—Ezek. 36:25-28; Gal. 5:22, 23.
In order to correct any misimpression that the nations got about him because of his disciplining his people, Jehovah has richly blessed them since 1919. It has been just as He promised through Ezekiel:
“‘And I will save you from all your impurities and call to the grain and make it abound, and I shall put upon you no famine. And I shall certainly make the fruitage of the tree abound, and the produce of the field, in order that you may no more receive among the nations the reproach of famine. And you will be bound to remember your bad ways and your dealings that were not good, and you will be bound to feel a loathing at your own person on account of your errors and on account of your detestable things. Not for your sakes am I doing this,’ is the utterance of the Sovereign Lord Jehovah, ‘let it be known to you. Be ashamed and feel humiliation because of your ways, O house of Israel.’”—Ezek. 36:29-32.
Because of such divine goodness to them, the members of the anointed remnant feel a loathing of themselves when they look back at what they were in the past. It makes them ashamed, it makes them feel humiliated, just to think about it. This attitude takes away from them any inclination to engage in spiritual and immoral impurities once again, willingly. Because of the effect that Jehovah’s undeserved kindness has upon them in their restored estate, he saves them from all their impurities. They keenly appreciate that it was not for any past goodness of theirs, not for their sakes, that, figuratively speaking, he called for the life-sustaining grain to sprout up from the ground and produce so abundantly, so that worldly nations cannot reproach them for having any famine of spiritual food provisions. They are thankful for God’s letting it be known to them that for the sake of his holy name he has done all this for them. So in all humility they sanctify his name.
All this illustrates that the promises of Jehovah associated with his holy name will be fulfilled. It being his purpose to transform this earth into a paradise, we can be certain that this will come about. The “good news” for today is that Bible prophecy points to this generation as the one to see the end of man’s ruining the earth. So now is the time for honest-hearted persons to take their stand for true worship in association with Jehovah’s Christian witnesses, who are now enjoying the blessings of a spiritual paradise.