Settling the Issue of Ownership
“Behold, to Jehovah your God belong the heavens, even the heavens of the heavens, the earth and all that is in it.”—Deut. 10:14.
1. What is the first evidence of God’s ownership of heaven and earth, and how does the Bible support this?
“IN THE beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” (Gen. 1:1) These opening words of the Holy Bible give direct evidence as to God’s ownership of the heavens and the earth. He created them, that is, he produced them and caused them to exist. He is their Maker. They were and are his possession, his property, and he has the exclusive and absolute right to their ownership. God holds the title to all this property, and the Holy Bible constitutes the legal evidence of this. It is his title deed. This is reiterated throughout God’s Word right down to its last book, Revelation.—Rev. 4:11; 10:6; 14:7.
2. How does the Bible give further evidence respecting God’s ownership?
2 The first chapter of Genesis continues to support the foregoing in unmistakable terms. In each and every step of creation it was God who gave the word as to what should be done. Time and again we read that God “proceeded to make” this and that, in heaven and on earth, animate and inanimate. He also named them. “God began calling the light Day, but the darkness he called Night.” Finally, “God saw everything he had made and, look! it was very good.” It had his stamp of approval. All things belonged to him, the only true God, “in the time of their being created, in the day that Jehovah God made earth and heaven.” (Gen. 1:5, 31; 2:4) Later, Moses was inspired to confirm this, when he said to Israel: “Behold, to Jehovah your God belong the heavens, even the heavens of the heavens, the earth and all that is in it. For Jehovah your God is the God of gods and the Lord of lords, the God great, mighty and fear-inspiring.”—Deut. 10:14, 17.
3. Regarding this, why does the creation of man call for special attention?
3 The creation of man was the crowning act of earthly creation, and this deserves our special attention. The telling of this at once indicates a development, a widening out of the subject of ownership. Different aspects are mentioned, such as subjection, indicating relative or limited ownership in varying degrees and responsibility thereto. Notice what is said in this connection.
4. (a) What do we learn from the expression: “Let us make man in our image”? (b) How does God’s Word identify the creative agent used?
4 For the first time in the record, someone is invited to cooperate in creation. “And God went on to say: ‘Let us make man in our image, according to our likeness, and let them have in subjection the fish of the sea and the flying creatures of the heavens and the domestic animals and all the earth and every moving animal that is moving upon the earth.’” Does this cooperation imply a relinquishing of ownership by God to any degree, or a joint ownership? No. The initiative, responsibility and control were entirely in God’s hands, as we next read: “And God proceeded to create the man in his image, in God’s image he created him; male and female he created them.” (Gen. 1:26, 27) From other scriptures we learn that it was the one now called Jesus Christ who, in his prehuman existence, was the one used by Jehovah as his special creative agent. He, like Wisdom personified, was “the earliest of his [Jehovah’s] achievements,” Jehovah’s “master worker.” He was “the Word,” through whom “all [other] things came into existence.” He “is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation,” hence appropriately involved at man’s creation, since man too was created in God’s image. True, Jesus Christ is spoken of as “our only Owner [or, Master] and Lord,” but, as we shall discuss later, this title was given to him by reason of a purchase that he made, not because of his role as God’s creative agent.—Prov. 8:22, 30; John 1:1-3; Col. 1:15, 16; Jude 4.
5. What scriptures might be quoted indicating a degree of ownership by man?
5 The question arises, however, as to whether man received a considerable degree of ownership when he was created and given the commission: “Be fruitful and become many and fill the earth and subdue it, and have in subjection the fish of the sea and the flying creatures of the heavens and every living creature that is moving upon the earth.” (Gen. 1:28) From this it might be argued that this was so. Did not man’s being created in God’s image include the ability to exercise ownership? Other scriptures might come to mind giving support to this. After the flood, regarding “every living creature,” God said to Noah: “Into your hand they are now given.” Then, too, we recall David’s words when he said to Jehovah: “You make him [mortal man] dominate over the works of your hands; everything you have put under his feet.” Again, the psalmist’s well-known expression will come to mind: “As regards the heavens, to Jehovah the heavens belong, but the earth he has given to the sons of men.”—Gen. 9:2; Ps. 8:6; 115:16.
6. Why is it important to consider the context of any particular scripture?
6 Yes, it is agreed that the foregoing scriptures speak of ownership, but at most it is to a relative or limited extent. This is evident when in each case we look at the context which is always important in seeking a proper understanding of God’s Word on any subject.
7. Regarding man’s position as owner, what do we learn from (a) Genesis 2:15-17, (b) Genesis 9:3-6, (c) Psalm 8, and (d) Psalm 115?
7 Regarding man’s original status, there is no doubt who was the real Owner when we read that “Jehovah God proceeded to take the man and settle him in the garden of Eden to cultivate it and to take care of it.” Next we read: “And Jehovah God also laid this command upon the man: ‘From every tree of the garden you may eat to satisfaction. But as for the tree of the knowledge of good and bad you must not eat from it, for in the day you eat from it you will positively die.’” (Gen. 2:15-17) Surely that man had no reason or excuse to forget to whom he belonged, when his very life depended on his obedience to his Creator and Owner. In a similar vein, when God gave all living creatures into Noah’s hand, we immediately read of the strict prohibition regarding the eating of blood and the shedding of man’s blood. Again this emphasizes who was the ultimate Owner of life as represented in the blood of all living creatures. (Gen. 9:3-6) Turning to Psalm 8, we observe that, rather than any suggestion of the ownership of the earth being handed over to man, the entire theme reflects to the credit and praise of the One who possesses and controls all things: “O Jehovah our Lord [Master, Owner], how majestic your name is in all the earth!” (Ps 8 Vss. 1, 9) We observe a similar theme when we look at Psalm 115. Notice especially the opening words: “To us belongs nothing, O Jehovah, to us belongs nothing, but to your name give glory according to your loving-kindness, according to your trueness.” This stresses that Jehovah is not only the Owner in fact, but a good and worthy Owner. There could be none better.
8. (a) In what position was man placed by his Creator? (b) Is this generally recognized, and what questions are raised?
8 From the scriptures already considered, we can appreciate that man was originally given a position of great trust and responsibility. Created in God’s image as a free moral agent, he had all the necessary ability to meet every requirement. Jehovah was the Landowner. Man was the tenant farmer, commissioned to become the global caretaker. He was given a sacred trust and stewardship. That is clear. But it is equally clear that man today, generally speaking, does not acknowledge any obligation in that regard. Quite the opposite in fact. How did this come about? How did the question of ownership become an issue, and how will it be settled? Further, as individuals, how are we involved, and with what consequences to ourselves? We are really interested in getting the right answers to these questions.
ISSUE RAISED OVER OWNERSHIP
9. What did the eating of the forbidden fruit imply?
9 When Satan the Devil tempted Eve to eat the forbidden fruit, no direct mention was made as to its ownership. But consider for a moment what happens when you eat something. When once in your hand or on your plate, you have taken possession of it, whether entitled to it or not. After having eaten it, however, you have actually made it a part of yourself. You have made it your own, no matter what you may say by way of excuse or confession. That is how it was with Eve. Though she had just repeated God’s command: “You must not eat from it, no, you must not touch it that you do not die,” we next read that “she began taking of its fruit and eating it. Afterward she gave some also to her husband when with her and he began eating it.” (Gen. 3:1-6) Satan’s argument that prompted their action was to the effect that the right to eat of that fruit belonged to them. Thus by deliberate and defiant action, that speaks louder than words, both Adam and Eve classified that forbidden tree as one and the same as all the other trees to which they had been given the right to eat. But immediately after both of them had eaten the forbidden fruit, did they feel justified in their judicial classification of trees? Their becoming conscience-stricken says No! True, they could not restore to the tree the pieces of fruit that they had eaten from it, but their having assimilated the eaten fruit into their bodies brought them no feeling of ownership of a just right to eat the forbidden fruit. The leaves with which they made loin coverings to hide their now realized nakedness were not taken from the forbidden tree, but were taken from the fig tree. The outcome of the whole matter was as if they had eaten sour grapes.—Ezek. 18:2.
10. How was the issue raised not limited to something material, and what further questions are raised?
10 Still, the issue was raised over God’s rightful ownership. Please note that the issue was by no means limited to something material, the fruit of a certain tree. What about man himself, not only his life, but also those fine moral qualities of loyalty and devotion and appreciation? Should not all these qualities be exercised at all times to the credit and praise of Jehovah, proved by a course of willing obedience and submission to him? Is not man completely dependent upon God for life and all its possibilities and blessings? Is not the constant acknowledgment of such dependence something that properly belongs to God as a rightful possession of his?
11. (a) How did Paul use similar reasoning when writing to the Corinthians? (b) What connection is thus shown between relationship and ownership?
11 Paul used reasoning similar to this when he wrote to the Christians at Corinth: “I am afraid that somehow, as the serpent seduced Eve by its cunning, your minds might be corrupted away from the sincerity and the chastity that are due the Christ.” Such a course of sincerity and chastity on the part of these Christians rightfully belonged to the Christ, because, as Paul explained, “I personally promised you in marriage to one husband that I might present you as a chaste virgin to the Christ.” A correct Scriptural understanding of the matter of relationship will help us to get a correct view of ownership, so that we avoid being seduced by cunning sophistry.—2 Cor. 11:2, 3.
12. What was God’s reaction to the rebellion in Eden?
12 Our first parents willfully chose a course of disobedience and independence, a course of corruption. In effect, they repudiated God’s ownership of them. They took the view that they belonged to themselves and to each other, but not to God. They severed their good relationship with him. What was God’s reaction to this challenge? Did he relinquish his ownership of them and their Edenic home? Not at all. He was their Lawgiver and Judge, and he now acted in this capacity. After pronouncing sentence, he protected his property by driving the man out of the garden of Eden and making any return thereto impossible, especially guarding “the way to the tree of life.”—Gen. 3:24.
13. For whose benefit was the prophecy given at Genesis 3:15, and what assurance did it provide?
13 Though we might say that God thereafter abandoned Adam and Eve entirely to their own resources, he did not deal that way with their offspring. When pronouncing sentence on the serpent, God prophetically told of a coming “seed” of the woman who would bruise the serpent in the head. (Gen. 3:15) No details were disclosed as to when and how this would be done, but it gave a definite promise that God would furnish a satisfactory answer to the challenge raised by man’s rebellion. Hence, it also pointed to God’s continued ownership of earth as well as heaven, including all their inhabitants, despite the temporary permission of evil and evildoers.
14. How did Abel, Enoch and Noah acknowledge God’s ownership of them?
14 In support of this, note what is said of three men of faith that Paul mentioned, Abel, Enoch and Noah. They “walked with the true God,” and Paul confirmed this at Hebrews 11:1-7. (Gen. 5:24; 6:9) They acknowledged God’s ownership of them, proving it by maintaining a course of faithful obedience in the spirit of loyal devotion and submission. In the face of strong adverse pressure they gave to God what was due to him in all sincerity and chastity.
15. (a) What course has been pursued by mankind in general, involving what issues? (b) What are Jehovah’s attitude and purpose regarding these issues? (c) How did Jesus set the example as to the right attitude?
15 Apart from the few already noted, most of the human family went their own way. The issue of ownership was far from being settled. The few, from Abel onward, exemplified by their life course the right principles involved, but, as the record shows, the great majority ignored, or resented and bitterly opposed, that good example. (Heb. 11:36-38) Even the flood of Noah’s day, a forceful reminder of who actually owned the earth and its inhabitants, brought only a temporary halt to man’s willful, selfish and rebellious course. This grieved the great Owner, Jehovah, but did not take him by surprise. Other closely related issues were involved: sovereignty or rulership, and worship. Challenging questions had been raised by Satan in connection with these issues, and Jehovah was working out his purpose, foreknown to him from the time the rebellion started. The full outworking of this purpose will demonstrate for all time, not only the fact of God’s supreme ownership, but also his absolute worthiness to hold that position and man’s obligation to recognize that. This recognition is and will be expressed right up to the final test by those maintaining the right relationship in the same way that Jesus replied to the final temptation in the wilderness: “It is Jehovah your God you must worship, and it is to him alone you must render sacred service.”—Matt. 4:10; Job 1:7-12; 2:2-5; Isa. 46:9-11; Rev. 20:7-9.
16. When and how was the issue of ownership raised to a national level, resulting in what?
16 Soon after the Flood, the issue of ownership flared up again. Nimrod, a great-grandson of Noah, sought to grasp control of all mankind. He built and kept control of cities in his own land, “the beginning of his kingdom.” Then “out of that land he went forth into Assyria” in conquest and built other cities. Infected with that spirit, a daring scheme was launched. The sons of men took concerted action and said: “Come on! Let us build ourselves a city and also a tower with its top in the heavens, and let us make a celebrated name for ourselves, for fear we may be scattered over all the surface of the earth.” Jehovah met the challenge by confusing their language, and he “scattered them from there [Babel] over all the surface of the earth.” However, they took with them that same mind and spirit. National groups developed, and the issue of ownership and rulership now existed on a national level, resulting in the narrow patriotism, rivalries and wars that have caused untold sorrow and bitterness right down to our own day.—Gen. 10:8-12; 11:1-9.
17. (a) How did Jehovah take action on a national level? (b) In what ways did Israel prove unfaithful and unworthy, reaching what climax?
17 In due time Jehovah also took action on a national level. From the twelve sons of Jacob, whose name was changed to Israel, Jehovah formed the nation of Israel. At Mount Sinai, he said to them: “If you will strictly obey my voice and will indeed keep my covenant, then you will certainly become my special property out of all other peoples, because the whole earth belongs to me.” (Ex. 19:5) In the book of Deuteronomy the expression “a special property” occurs three times, and the context in each instance strongly emphasizes the right viewpoint and course of action as to worship and ownership. (Deut. 7:6; 14:2; 26:18) As a nation, however, Israel repeatedly failed to respond or submit to God’s dealings with them or to heed his prophets. They rejected his ownership of them either as King or as Statute-Giver. (1 Sam. 8:7; Isa. 33:22; Ezek. 20:13, 30-32) The climax came when God sent his own beloved Son to them. They had every reason to accept him as their Messiah. Instead, under the influence of their leaders, they rejected him and killed him. Jesus himself accurately portrayed this in his illustration of Jehovah as the “owner of the vineyard” who “let it out to cultivators.”—Luke 20:9-16.
SETTLEMENT OF THE ISSUE SECURED
18. (a) What fresh development occurred at Pentecost of 33 C.E.? (b) What important truths did Peter bring home to his hearers on that occasion?
18 Those religious leaders thought they could now continue as undisputed masters of the situation and of the common people. Not so, however. At the festival of Pentecost, the fifty-second day from Jesus’ impalement, the holy spirit, accompanied by the miraculous gift of tongues, was outpoured on his disciples at Jerusalem. A crowd quickly gathered. Addressing them, the apostle Peter told them plainly of their responsibility in doing away with Jesus, adding, however, that this had occurred “by the determined counsel and foreknowledge of God.” It was a vital part of the outworking of Jehovah’s purpose. Peter went on to say that God had resurrected Jesus and exalted him to his own right hand and had “made him both Lord and Christ.”—Acts 2:22-24, 32-36.
19. What references did Peter and Jude make as to Jesus’ rightful position, and how did Paul confirm this?
19 On three other occasions, publicly and before the Sanhedrin, Peter stressed these same truths, adding that Jesus was the “Chief Agent of life,” and had become the “head [stone] of the corner,” and that “there is no salvation in anyone else.” (Acts 3:15-18; 4:10-12; 5:30-32) Years later, both Peter and Jude in their letters warned of false teachers who “will disown even the owner that bought them,” “our only Owner and Lord, Jesus Christ.” (2 Pet. 2:1; Jude 4) Hence, it becomes evident that it was God’s foreknown purpose that the settlement of the issue of ownership would be centered in Jesus, and that by his death and resurrection the first important step, the foundation, was made secure and guaranteed. As Paul said to the men of Athens: “He [God] has set a day in which he purposes to judge the inhabited earth in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed, and he has furnished a guarantee to all men in that he has resurrected him from the dead.”—Acts 17:31.
20. How did Jesus become the owner of mankind, in harmony with God’s love and justice?
20 Other scriptures enlarge on how Jesus became the owner of all mankind. Looking briefly at these, we observe that Paul explains, at Romans 5:12-21, how Adam, by his rebellion, sold himself and his descendants (as yet unborn in Adam’s loins) into slavery, becoming subjects to Kings Sin and Death. However, God, in his great love and mercy, yet in harmony with strict justice, effected a means of reconciliation. This required the provision and payment of a satisfactory price whereby man could be redeemed and released from condemnation. The price must correspond exactly to the perfect man Adam. By a miracle, God arranged for his heavenly Son to come to earth, to be born and grow up to perfect manhood. Jesus willingly undertook this course and, as he said, he did “give his soul a ransom in exchange for many.” As Paul wrote: “There is one God, and one mediator between God and men, a man, Christ Jesus, who gave himself a corresponding ransom for all.” God was the Creator-Owner as well as Author of the arrangement; hence, we can say it is now a matter of joint ownership.—Matt. 20:28; 1 Tim. 2:5, 6; Acts 20:28.
21. How and when will the benefits of the ransom become available to mankind in general?
21 The righteousness that God imputes to one through one’s faith in and acceptance of Christ’s ransom sacrifice is spoken of as a “free gift.” (Rom. 5:15-17; 6:23) The benefits of the ransom will become available for mankind in general during God’s kingdom of a thousand years. So far, the majority have lived and died in complete ignorance of this provision. But under the rulership of God’s kingdom there will be a resurrection of “all those in the memorial tombs,” and a righteous judgment for all as administered by the King, namely, Christ Jesus.—John 5:28; Rev. 20:11–21:4.
22. How did Jesus indicate a course opposite to that of ownership, giving rise to what questions?
22 However before that day for judging mankind commences, a further part of God’s purpose is worked out. It also concerns the recognition of God’s ownership. On one occasion Jesus said: “If anyone wants to come after me, let him disown himself and pick up his torture stake and continually follow me.” (Matt. 16:24) What did he mean? Did he in any way set an example for us to follow in this regard during this system of things? What does this mean for us today as individuals? These questions naturally arise and we look forward to discussing them in the following article.