God Takes Action at the Appointed Time
IMPATIENT man is often quick to challenge God’s view of matters. Man wants things done now. He asks: ‘Should not a loving God immediately solve all of mankind’s major problems?’ You, too, may have asked the same question.
Actually, intelligent men should expect God’s intervention in human affairs to be very carefully timed. Why do we say that? Well, look around you. Is not virtually everything in creation ‘timed’ in some way?
THE EXACT TIMING OF PLANTS AND BIRDS
Observe, for instance, the plant world. Why do some flowers, like asters, always bloom in autumn, while others, like some crocuses, always bloom in the spring? Botanists have long been baffled by such timing. In the last half century, however, they became aware of what is called ‘photoperiodism.’ Plants respond, not only to temperature, but also to length of daylight. In the slowly cooling autumn, days shorten and nights get longer. In the warming spring, days get longer and nights get shorter. Springtime crocuses and autumn asters have precise timing mechanisms to detect these changes. Each one, therefore, opens right on time.
Birds also have a superb sense of timing. They do not need calendars and wristwatches to tell them when it is time to migrate. “What prompts birds to start their migration at approximately the same time each year—what internal clock or what external stimuli?” asks R. T. Peterson in The Birds. Scientists have made many guesses at an answer—but they still do not really know. Is it simply, as some persons say, that colder temperatures urge the birds to go where it is warmer? Bird experts present some surprising facts:
“One might think, then, that temperature would be the cause of migration. In the spring the black-poll warblers enter the United States by way of Florida, where they arrive in the latter half of April. The weather there is almost as warm as it was in their winter home in northern South America. By the end of May they have reached the pine forests of Canada and Alaska. . . . When they reach Alaska, the daily temperature averages only about 45 degrees, 30 degrees colder than it was in Florida a month earlier. The black-polls have flown into a climate that is much colder. Most migrating birds do the same thing.”—Traveling with the Birds by Rudyerd Boulton.
“Nothing that we can see compels them to move, yet they abandon the delights of their winter home and proceed northward as soon as the proper time comes. This ‘proper time’ seems to have no relation to the weather or to food.”—Ernest Ingersoll in The Encyclopedia Americana.
Yet with remarkable timing the birds leave and later reappear in the same places year after year. As Jehovah said through the prophet Jeremiah: “The stork in the heavens—it well knows its appointed times; and the turtledove and the swift and the bulbul—they observe well the time of each one’s coming in.” (Jer. 8:7) And what about man’s sense of timing?
MAN IS TIME CONSCIOUS
Man is extremely conscious of time. Thus, in 1972, by international agreement, timekeepers around the world added one second to the calendar at the close of June and another at the end of December to keep their clocks accurate. Yes, man, a careful observer of the timing in creation, desires to do things ‘on schedule.’—Gen. 1:14.
Do not all these examples clearly illustrate that virtually everything in creation seems in some way timed? Does this not, in turn, indicate that the Creator of all these things must similarly be very much aware of time? Obviously. Creation should impress on all persons that the events God has purposed will also indeed occur—but at precisely the correct time.
Further, Jehovah cannot be called arbitrary for seeming to delay the carrying out of certain features of his purpose toward man. Rather, what to man’s limited view appears as a “delay” proves to be in some way necessary for achieving the blessings that follow.
GOD’S SON CAME AT “THE FULL LIMIT OF THE TIME”
For instance, right after the sin in the garden of Eden man may have expected or hoped for the promised “seed” that would crush the serpent to appear in their own lifetime. (Gen. 3:15; Rom. 8:20, 21) But the one who proved to be the Seed, Jesus, did not show up until some 4,000 years after Adam’s sin. The apostle Paul says: “When the full limit of the time arrived, God sent forth his Son.”—Gal. 4:4; Rom. 5:6.
Why this lapse of 4,000 years until the “full limit of the time”?
Jehovah knew that men had to be prepared to receive the Seed at his appearance. During the 4,000 years from Adam to Christ, men had to come to appreciate fully their need for a savior. They would find in that period of time that only God could save them from sin and death. Read Galatians chapters three and four in the Bible to see how this was made especially clear to the Jews.
As God’s chosen people, they had had the law of Moses since 1513 B.C.E. On receiving the Law faithful Jews must have sincerely hoped that by means of it they could show themselves to be righteous. (Compare Hebrews 7:18.) But the opposite proved true. It ‘made transgressions manifest, until the seed should arrive’—the Jews were compelled to acknowledge that they were sinners.—Gal. 3:19.
But the Law also served to assist the Jewish nation. Paul says of the Jews: “The Law has become our tutor leading to Christ.” Anciently, a tutor was not the actual teacher, but a trusted slave or ‘steward’ who readied his master’s children for a later instructor. Tutors impressed elementary matters like conduct on the children and protected them from harm. The Law acted in this way toward the Jews, disciplining and preparing them for their Instructor, Jesus. They learned from their “tutor” godly morality, such as that found in the Ten Commandments.—Gal. 3:24.
At the proper time the ancient tutor turned over a prepared and disciplined “child” to his instructor; Paul refers to this as “the day [the child’s] father appointed beforehand.” Similarly, at the “full limit of the time” Jesus arrived to instruct the prepared Jews. (Gal. 4:2, 4) With what results?
Humble Jews, appreciating their need for a savior, listened to Jesus. What he said, so to speak, took up where the “tutor,” the Law, left off. The “tutor” had said, for instance: “You must not commit adultery.” But the Instructor went a step farther, teaching: “Everyone that keeps on looking at a woman so as to have a passion for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” Jesus got down to motives.—Matt. 5:27, 28.
Also, Jesus’ place—as a mediator, an atoning sacrifice and the everlasting priest—in God’s arrangement could be clearly understood because of God’s typical arrangement for the Jews under the Law.—Heb. chaps. 5-10.
Thus God used the 4,000-year period from Adam to Christ for man’s good. He provided prophecies by means of which the promised Seed would be identifiable when he did appear. And he readied men for Jesus’ teachings and position in His arrangement.—Compare the forty-year period discussed at Deuteronomy chapter 8.
But it might be asked: Could not the same effect have been achieved several hundred years earlier? Was not the writing of the prophecies that would identify the Messiah all completed by Malachi’s time over four hundred years before Jesus’ birth? Yes. Then what benefit was there in having more centuries to pass?
THE PERIOD BETWEEN MALACHI AND JESUS
When the inspired Hebrew canon was completed, Persia ruled the ancient world from India to Africa. More than a hundred years later Alexander the Great conquered the Persians; long-range cultural effects followed. Says the Encyclopædia Britannica: “The conquests of Alexander the Great caused Greek (in the form of this lingua franca or κοινή [koi·neʹ]) to become the speech of the whole Near East (Asia Minor, Syria, Mesopotamia, Egypt). Under the Romans these regions continued to use Greek.” Thus, a common language existed through much of the ancient world when Christianity appeared in 33 C.E. It facilitated the quick dissemination of the message about Jesus in written and oral form.
Further, the Romans, who followed the Greeks on the world stage, built up a vast network of roads. Historian Edward Gibbon claims: “All [Roman Empire] cities were connected with each other, and with the capital, by the public highways, which, issuing from the Forum of Rome, traversed Italy, pervaded the provinces, and were terminated only by the frontiers of the empire.” Early Christianity’s spread through the ancient world was greatly hastened by the use of these roads connecting distant parts of the empire.
But something else was under way in the time of Malachi: the Jewish Diaspora or Dispersion. After the destruction of Samaria (in 740 B.C.E.) and of Jerusalem (in 607 B.C.E.) the Jews scattered from one end of the ancient world to the other. Greek geographer Strabo (a contemporary of Jesus) says of the Jews: “They have penetrated already into every state, so that it is difficult to find a single place in the world in which their tribe has not been received and become dominant.”
Wherever the Jews went they built their synagogues for worship. Each synagogue had its copies of the Hebrew Scriptures. The Jewish hope of the Messiah thereby became known far outside the borders of Israel. (Compare Matthew 2:1, 2.) Logically, following the establishment of Christianity, where would the disciples preach? In the Jewish synagogues! Paul, for instance, in his wide travels, ordinarily went there first when entering a city. Many of these prepared, scattered Jews accepted the message about Jesus.—Acts 13:5, 14, 42-44; 17:1-3, 10; 18:4; 19:8.
The good news in this way reached so far so quickly that governmental and religious opposition found it difficult to block its spread. Less than thirty years after Jesus’ death the apostle Paul said that the “good news” had been preached “in all creation that is under heaven.” (Col. 1:6, 23) Jehovah’s awaiting the “full limit of the time” proved to be wise and resulted in blessings for honest-hearted men.
However, not all the Jews were dispersed throughout the ancient world; many returned from exile in Babylon to Judah. In this case, of what benefit was the passing of several centuries before the Messiah appeared?
Jehovah allowed the nation to rebuild Jerusalem, which would figure prominently in their identification of the Messiah. Their priesthood, with its sacrificial arrangements, resumed functioning at the restored temple. Yet already God knew that, as a nation, they would reject the Messiah and that “the city and the holy place” would be brought to “ruin.” (Dan. 9:24-27; Zech. 9:9) But it would take time for the wrong motives of the nation to manifest themselves fully.
This case is somewhat paralleled by one that took place about 2,000 years earlier. God had told Abraham that He would not immediately give his descendants the land of promise. Some four hundred years must pass first until ‘the error of the Amorites [Canaanites] came to completion.’ (Gen. 15:13-16) By the expiration of that time, the religious practices of the Canaanites, including such things as sacred prostitution and child sacrifice, showed that ‘their error had come to completion.’ Rightly, God instructed Israel to clean out the land.—Lev. 18:1, 24-30.
Similarly, the time period of several centuries before Jesus appeared served, as we have seen, to ready humble Jews to accept him. But, generally speaking, it hardened the nation to reject the Messiah. With time Israel drifted away from Jehovah’s pure worship. (Matt. 15:1-9) When Jesus came they had him put to death. Time had not softened the nation as a whole. It brought their wrong inclinations to full bloom. When God ceased his special dealings with Israel, it was fully deserved.—Matt. 3:10-12.
TODAY—GOD AWAITS THE PROPER TIME TO ACT FURTHER
In our time, too, we would similarly expect God to await the ‘proper time’ to cause his Son’s kingdom to eliminate all rival governments and remove such conditions as wickedness, war, crime and oppression, and to restore this earth to a paradise state. (Eph. 1:10) The Bible records a sign that Jesus gave when he was on earth that would mark the “conclusion of the system of things”; it has been undergoing fulfillment since 1914.
This entire sign, climaxed by the “great tribulation” and the end of this “system of things,” will take place before the generation of 1914 ‘passes away.’ (See Matthew chapters 24 and 25; Mark 13 and Luke 21.) However, Jesus also said that no one but God knew the “day and hour” for the “great tribulation” to occur. We can be sure that Jehovah will act—but not until the proper development of all details and the arrival of his exact appointed hour. That is why he has not ended this “system of things” before now.
Suppose, for instance, Jehovah had destroyed this system a hundred years ago. The argument could have been raised that God had not given mankind enough of a chance to work out its own problems, perhaps with the sophisticated technology then coming of age.
But now God has given man ample opportunity to solve his own problems. Every conceivable way he can devise has been tried. Consequently, even men of this system are compelled to admit that the issues before them are unsolvable by human means. Only God can do it. A writer in BioScience magazine, referring to the “global crisis” facing mankind, says:
“Symptoms [of crisis], both ecological and social, are apparent in almost every country on the earth: air and water pollution, chemical pollution of food chains, decay of cities, chronic food shortages and starvation, increasing drug abuses and alcoholism, rising rates of juvenile delinquency, crime, and suicide, and a sense of hopelessness that transcends national borders and political systems. However, the enormous dimensions of the environmental crisis . . . make it difficult for us to perceive the nature of the problem and its causes, not to mention solutions.”
No human has reason to challenge God’s timing of matters. Everything in Jehovah’s creation reveals his careful sense of timing. Further, what appear to be periods of “delay” on God’s part really result in the greatest possible blessing and good. In what time may be left before God brings on the “great tribulation,” learn how you can be preserved through it into God’s righteous new order. By studying with Jehovah’s witnesses, find out how you can grasp the eternal blessings that God has in store for those who love what is right.—Acts 17:31; 2 Pet. 3:9, 15.
[Pictures on page 579]
The Creator made asters so they bloom in the autumn . . .
. . . other flowers bloom only in the spring
[Picture on page 580]
At their appointed time the birds migrate
[Picture on page 581]
The Messiah appeared at the appointed time—after preparations had been made