“The Way of Life” or “The Way of Death”—Which?
“And to this people you will say, ‘This is what Jehovah has said: “Here I am putting before you people the way of life and the way of death.”’”—Jer. 21:8.
1. What questions arise as to our being faced now with the choice between “the way of life and the way of death”?
HAS it really got as serious as all that? Are we all up against it? Is the whole world now faced with a choice between “the way of life and the way of death”? Can this really be so? Is not death the normal thing? If so, why is the case of humanity different now from what it was before? For the past thousands of years men, women, children and babies have not escaped dying. They had no other choice. Then why today should it be said that now, finally, we face the choice of “the way of life” or “the way of death”? What chance do we have of escaping the longtime foe DEATH?
2, 3. (a) According to ancient history, when did a whole world face a sudden death, all at one time, all together? (b) What made it then possible for the choice to be open between living and dying?
2 Well, this is not the first time that a whole world of people faced death, a sudden death, all together. Historians point back to an earlier occasion of this kind. One historian says: “There were heavens from of old and an earth standing compactly out of water and in the midst of water by the word of God; and by those means the world of that time suffered destruction when it was deluged with water.”—2 Pet. 3:5, 6.
3 That historian, the Christian apostle Peter, was writing about the global deluge of Noah’s day. Were the way of life and the way of death set before the world of that time? Most certainly, Yes! It was a case of either a person’s unbelievingly staying outside the ark that Noah and his family had built and not living through the deluge or a person’s getting inside the ark with Noah and his family and thus escaping a violent death with the ungodly world.
4, 5. (a) Why are we all alive today despite the deluge of Noah’s day? (b) Why should the lesson furnished by Noah and his family not be lost on us today?
4 Earlier in the same letter the apostle Peter wrote: “And he [God] did not hold back from punishing an ancient world, but kept Noah, a preacher of righteousness, safe with seven others when he brought a deluge upon a world of ungodly people.”—2 Pet. 2:5.
5 Because Noah and his family chose the way of life before the deluge burst forth, we find ourselves here today, more than four thousand three hundred years later. The lesson furnished by Noah and his family should not be lost on us today. Why not? Because the Holy Scriptures predict a similar end to the ungodly world of people that has grown up and fills the earth till now.
6. Why is the pressure now upon us to choose “the way of life” and to reject “the way of death”?
6 Logically, a choice such as faced Noah and his family should be facing us at some time as that predicted end approaches. From the way in which Bible prophecy has been coming true since World War I, which marked 1914 as the year for the 2,520 years of the Gentile Times to close, unsectarian Bible students have known that we are living in “the conclusion of the system of things.” (Matt. 24:3) By this year, 1979, we find ourselves far advanced into the concluding period of this system of things. So now, more than ever before, the pressure is upon us to choose “the way of life” and to reject “the way of death.” This choice is mercifully placed before us by the Life-Giver of all those who breathe.
7, 8. (a) An illustration of a similar situation in history was provided in whose days of old? (b) To what extent did Jehovah want the prophet to be a public figure?
7 Besides the deluge of Noah’s day we have another illustration in human history where the choice was between continued life and an abrupt end of the privileges of life. This had to do with the nation of Israel during the days of the priest-prophet Jeremiah, the son of Hilkiah. (Jer. 1:1-5) Jehovah God made him “prophet to the nations.” So even though we may not be of Jeremiah’s own people, what this international prophet said and did affects us.
8 The God who commissioned Jeremiah as his spokesman wanted him to be a public figure, one commanding the attention of kings, of princes, of priests, of the populace, yes, of an emperor, Nebuchadnezzar the king of Babylon. Jeremiah also commands the world’s attention today through his recorded prophecies that have been preserved for timely consideration by all of us in these critical days.—Jer. 1:18, 19; 39:11-14; compare Romans 15:4.
9. As to political changes on earth, how did Jeremiah’s time correspond with our period since 1914?
9 The aging generation that has witnessed world events since 1914 C.E. has seen many changes among the rulers of the nations. Jeremiah too saw political changes. After good king Josiah died in 628 B.C.E., Jeremiah saw three sons of Josiah and a grandson of his change seats on the throne of the kingdom of Judah. After Josiah’s son Jehoahaz had reigned only three months at Jerusalem, he was removed, and his brother Jehoiakim succeeded him. After this son of Josiah came to an untimely death in 618 B.C.E., his young son Jehoiachin reigned three months and then surrendered to Nebuchadnezzar, the king of Babylon. Nebuchadnezzar then made the remaining son of Josiah, namely, Zedekiah, the new king of Judah. In the 11th year of Zedekiah’s bad reign Jerusalem fell to the Babylonians, and Zedekiah was deported to Babylon, leaving Jerusalem and its temple in ruins.—2 Chron. 35:23–36:21.
10. What made Jehovah’s message no light assignment for Jeremiah to deliver, and to whom today is he an encouraging example?
10 Jeremiah saw a continual deterioration morally and religiously among those last four kings of Judah. Have we seen anything equally grievous occur among the political rulers of the nations that profess to be Christian? For Jeremiah it was no light assignment that obliged him to declare persistently Jerusalem’s doom and the overthrow of its Davidic kingdom. For the Jeremiah class of today it has been no easy task to declare Jehovah’s prophecies that foretell the calamitous destruction of Christendom with all its church buildings, cathedrals and basilicas that are now such tourist attractions. This makes the Jeremiah class so objectionably different from the clergy of Christendom. But Jeremiah of old has been such a stimulating example to this modern counterpart of him.
11. In order to dramatize Jeremiah’s declaration of doom, what did Jehovah tell him to do and to say?
11 Once, to dramatize Jeremiah’s declaration of doom, God said:
“Go, and you must get an earthenware flask of a potter and some of the older men of the people and some of the older men of the priests [as witnesses]. And you must go out to the valley of the son of Hinnom, which is at the entrance of the Gate of the Potsherds. And there you must proclaim the words that I shall speak to you. And you must say, ‘Hear the word of Jehovah, O you kings of Judah and you inhabitants of Jerusalem. This is what Jehovah of armies, the God of Israel, has said:
“‘“Here I am bringing a calamity upon this place, of which when anyone hears, his ears will tingle; for the reason that they have left me and have proceeded to make this place unrecognizable and to make sacrificial smoke in it to other gods whom they had not known, they and their forefathers and the kings of Judah; and they have filled this place with the blood of the innocent ones. And they built the high places of the Baal in order to burn their sons in the fire as whole burnt offerings to the Baal, something that I had not commanded or spoken of, and that had not come up into my heart.”’”—Jer. 19:1-5.
12. After Jeremiah dashed the flask to pieces, what did he say about Topheth in the Valley of Hinnom?
12 What would be the “calamity” the report of which would make ears tingle? The “place” that was made sacred to false gods was to become polluted by the “killing” of the idolaters there. (Jer. 19:6) After Jeremiah had declared this, then, as the lay elders and the priestly elders watched, he dashed the flask to the earth and said:
“This is what Jehovah of armies has said: ‘In the same way I shall break this people and this city as someone breaks the vessel of the potter so that it is no more able to be repaired; and in Topheth they will bury until there is no more place to bury.’”—Jer. 19:10, 11.
13. After that, what did Jeremiah proclaim at the courtyard of the temple of Jerusalem?
13 After that dramatic action before the elders, it became proper for a similar message to be proclaimed to the people of Jerusalem. So Jeremiah left the shards of the broken flask near the Gate of the Potsherds and went north through the city to the temple courtyard. Then, in the hearing of all listeners, he said:
“This is what Jehovah of armies, the God of Israel, has said, ‘Here I am bringing upon this city and upon all its cities [in the suburbs] all the calamity that I have spoken against it, because they have hardened their neck in order not to obey my words.’”—Jer. 19:14, 15.
RELIGIOUS PERSECUTION AND ITS REBOUND
14. How did Pashʹhur act toward Jeremiah, and why?
14 The elders who had seen Jeremiah break the flask at the Valley of Hinnom and who had heard his words of doom did not feel authorized to do anything to him. But the leading commissioner of the temple, namely, Pashʹhur the son of Immer the priest, felt authorized to act. The falsehood that he prophesied was not confirmed by Jeremiah. Indignantly Pashʹhur struck him in the face and put him in the public stocks in the temple’s Gate of Benjamin, in the north wall. What patriotism! many observers may have thought, for Pashʹhur was pro-Egyptian, depending upon Egypt’s military aid to keep Jehovah’s word by Jeremiah from bringing disaster upon the kingdom of Judah by means of the Babylonians. But Pashʹhur’s patriotism earned him no compliment from Jehovah. He was fighting against God!
15. To what did Jehovah change Pashʹhur’s name, and with what prophetic significance?
15 The next day, after Pashʹhur released Jeremiah, Jehovah had a message for Pashʹhur. His name is a combination of two Hebrew words Pash and Hhur. Together these words are understood to mean “What Is Left Over Round About.” So, playing upon the idea of the name Pashʹ- hur, Jehovah inspired Jeremiah to change the name:
“Jehovah has called your name, not Pashʹ- hur, but Fright all around [Magormissabib, Hebrew]. For this is what Jehovah has said, ‘Here I am making you a fright to yourself and to all your lovers [or, friends], and they will certainly fall by the sword of their enemies while your eyes will be looking on; and all Judah I shall give into the hand of the king of Babylon, and he will actually take them into exile in Babylon and strike them down with the sword. And I will give all the stored-up things of this city and all its product and all its precious things; and all the treasures of the kings of Judah I am going to give into the hand of their enemies. And they will certainly plunder them and take them and bring them to Babylon. And as for you, O Pashʹhur, and all the inhabitants of your house, you will go into captivity; and to Babylon you will come and there you will die and there you yourself will be buried with all your lovers, because you have prophesied to them in falsehood.’”—Jer. 20:3-6.
16. In what way was Pashʹhur leading others, and what corresponds to this today?
16 From these words of Jehovah it is evident that Pashʹhur had chosen for himself “the way of death.” Also, by means of his false prophesying, he was leading his religious friends or lovers into the same way. Correspondingly, in Christendom today hundreds of millions of churchgoers are being led into that “way of death.” However, this is through no fault on the part of the Jeremiah class.
17. How did the demonstration put on at Cedar Point, Ohio, in 1919, surpass that of Jeremiah’s crashing the flask at the Valley of Hinnom?
17 Dramatically Jeremiah illustrated Jehovah’s prophecy by crashing the earthenware flask at the Valley of Hinnom. By public demonstrations far greater than that, the Jeremiah class has notified Christendom of her impending doom. Take, for example, that convention at Cedar Point, Ohio, in September of 1919. There, before an audience of 10,000, the president of the Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society delivered an address in which he pointed out that the blessing of the clergy upon the then proposed League of Nations would prove fruitless. That international organization for world peace and security would not succeed. Certainly it failed Christendom in 1939, when the German dictator Adolf Hitler precipitated Christendom into World War II.
18. How was another demonstration made by the Jeremiah class in 1933?
18 For another example, take the year 1933. This year was proclaimed a Holy Year because of its being the 1900th anniversary of the sacrificial death of Jesus Christ. In the pope’s announcement of this celebration, benefits were promised respecting the peace and prosperity of Christendom in particular and also of the whole world, despite Hitler’s becoming dictator of Republican Germany. But the Jeremiah class courageously challenged such papal promises. On Sunday, April 23, by way of a chain of radio stations with WBBR of New York city as the key broadcaster, the Watch Tower Society’s president delivered an hour’s lecture on “Effect of Holy Year on Peace and Prosperity.” Worldwide publicity was given to this ear-tingling message by its being published in the May 10, 1933, issue of the biweekly magazine The Golden Age. At once Christendom’s clergy raised loud protests, resorted to political pressures and persecuted the Jeremiah class. But this did not safeguard world peace and prosperity any more than did the subsequent Holy Years of 1950 and 1975. Christendom still faces destruction in the coming “great tribulation.”
19. How do Pashʹhur’s change of name and accompanying prophecy of doom find their counterpart in Christendom’s clergy today?
19 Thus the blow in the face that the temple’s leading commissioner Pashʹhur delivered to Jeremiah has found its modern counterpart in this 20th century. Like that patriotic religious leader of old, Christendom’s clergy have pilloried the Jeremiah class. Why? In order to put them to public shame and to hamper the publishing of Jehovah’s purpose against hypocritical, nominal Christianity, yes against all false religion and its political patrons and henchmen. Conduct of such kind did not turn out well either for Pashʹhur of old or for Christendom’s clergy. Jehovah changed Pashʹ- hur’s name to Magormissabib, meaning “Fright All Around.” Such “fright” was to be in connection with the horrifying destruction in 607 B.C.E. Also, Pashʹ- hur was doomed to die captive in Babylon. As for today’s imitators of Pashʹhur, this clerical class was exposed and doomed to eternal destruction.
20. In 1951, how was the clergy of Christendom exposed as a doomed class?
20 Ever since the first century the identity of what the apostle Paul called “the son of perdition” or “son of destruction” had puzzled Christians. But in Jehovah’s due time this “mystery of iniquity” or “mystery of this lawlessness” was scheduled to be unraveled. (2 Thess. 2:3, 7, Authorized Version; NW) So, in 1951, the Jeremiah class published the book What Has Religion Done for Mankind? In that year the book was released at the international assembly of Jehovah’s Witnesses in London, England. Its chapter 25 treated “Red Religion and the ‘Man of Lawlessness.’” On pages 320 and 321 we read about the “falling away” or “apostasy”:
So the falling away of Christian leaders from true Christianity to form a “man of lawlessness” class or system began shortly after the twelve apostles died. The apostles being thus out of the way, the composite lawless man came out into the open and followed his self-exalting, lawless course of conduct. He set himself up as an apostate clergy in power over the religious interests of professed Christians. The clerical word was more powerful than the written Word of God. The clergy put the traditions and commands of men up above the laws of God and nullified them. Assuming the titles of “Reverend,” “Right Reverend,” “Most Right Reverend,” “Divine,” and even “vice-god” for the pope, they elevated themselves in their temples, cathedrals and church buildings as objects of reverence capturing the due reverence and fear away from Jehovah God and his Son Jesus Christ. They claimed to be sons of God, but they made themselves gods or spiritually mighty ones to their parishioners and flocks.
21. When Christendom’s “son of destruction” goes, what will go with it, amid what situation for nominal professed Christians?
21 The above-quoted book boldly set out that the apostate “man of lawlessness” class will undergo the foretold destruction in the approaching “great tribulation,” along with all other Babylonish false religions. When Christendom’s “man of lawlessness,” “the son of destruction,” goes, Christendom itself will go also. At such an event, shocking to religious susceptibilities, there will be “fright all around” for nominal professed Christians, as well as for all others who profess unscriptural, unbiblical religions.—2 Thess. 2:8-12; see also the book “Babylon the Great Has Fallen!”—God’s Kingdom Rules!, published in 1963, chapter 26, which comments on Revelation, chapter 17.
FLEEING TO THE SIDE OF GOD’S EXECUTIONAL FORCES
22. How can we escape being destroyed with Christendom’s “son of destruction,” as illustrated in Jeremiah’s time?
22 Christendom’s course is “the way of death.” Let us go no farther in it. Time still allows for a person’s escape from being executed with her “son of destruction.” Look at Jeremiah as an illustration. Though held prisoner in the Courtyard of the Guard of King Zedekiah as famine, pestilence and war casualties took their toll all around him, he survived Jerusalem’s destruction and did not go into exile in Babylon. Fearers of Jehovah who befriended Jeremiah survived with him. Today we also have opportunity to survive.
23. Why was there then no basis for a favorable message from Jehovah through Jeremiah to King Zedekiah?
23 Back in 609 B.C.E., Babylonian invaders were working their way toward Jerusalem. (Jer. 21:13) Aware of what was approaching, King Zedekiah sent a couple of inquirers to Jeremiah for, possibly, some favorable message from Jehovah. But what reason was there for King Zedekiah to expect any favorable word through Jeremiah? In Jerusalem and throughout the kingdom of Judah there obtained these things to which Jehovah called attention: the breaking of His covenant with Israel, the worship of other gods, unjust court sentences, robbing of helpless ones by defrauders, the taking advantage of widows and orphaned children, the depriving of laborers of due wages, the shedding of innocent blood, false prophesying. (Jer. 21:12; 22:3, 13-16; 23:14, 16) Necessarily Jeremiah had to take courage and boldly declare Jehovah’s unaltered message of calamity for the violators of God’s covenant.—Jer. 21:1-7; 1:7, 8, 17.
24. How do we have in Jeremiah a fine example as respects the delivering of Jehovah’s message to Christendom today?
24 What a fine example Jeremiah set for Jehovah’s Witnesses of today! Throughout Christendom today conditions are bad religiously, morally, socially, judicially, with no hope of relief. As in Jeremiah’s case, Jehovah today has not minced words in stating his judicial decision against Christendom. He has commissioned his Jeremiah class to declare a correspondingly straightforward message of calamity to the modern counterpart of ancient Jerusalem and Judah. Unsparingly, unwaveringly, the Jeremiah class must adhere to all that He commands them in His Word.
25. To what are all worldly nations now marching, and how did the book Deliverance! of 1926 explain what takes place there?
25 All nations, including those of Christendom, are marching to Har–Magedon. That name does not designate a mere battle royale between capital and labor, resulting in total anarchy world wide. It is no war between man and man, but is something far more serious and calamitous. Back in 1926 this fact began to be made clear. Said the book Deliverance!, which was released to the public at the general convention of the International Bible Students Association at London, England, in May of 1926:
The saints do not engage in the actual combat. This is the fight of God Almighty; and the fight is led by his beloved Son, the Priest of whom Melchizedek was a type. Long ago Jehovah’s prophet recorded concerning this hour: “The Lord [Jehovah] at thy right hand shall strike through kings in the day of his wrath. He shall judge among the nations, he shall fill the places with the dead bodies; he shall wound the head over many countries.” (Psalm 110:5, 6) He is also fighting for the salvation of the people, that they might be delivered from the oppressor; and he is fighting for the anointed of God, that they may be vindicated for their faithful witness to the name of Jehovah. . . .
Thus is Satan’s empire swept from the earth to oblivion. The name of Jehovah God is vindicated. But all human words attempting to describe this great and terrible day of the Lord are beggarly.—Page 280, first edition.
Let no one deceive himself into thinking that the battle of Armageddon is a mere fight between men, or that it is only a picture. The Scriptures make it clear that it is real. It is the battle of God Almighty, in which he will clear the earth of the wicked system that Satan has used to blind the people for all these centuries.—Pages 282, 283; see also page 261, paragraph 2.
26. Like Jeremiah, what may the Jeremiah class today not do just to please worldly rulers?
26 That “battle of Armageddon” will bring to a close the “great tribulation” in which the world empire of false religion, including Christendom, will be wiped out. (Rev. 16:13-16; 17:1-18, AV) The Jeremiah class cannot minimize this fact just to please the Zedekiah-like political rulers of Christendom or even those of the whole world. They have to ‘hew to the line,’ as Jeremiah did to King Zedekiah in obedience to his commission from Jehovah.
27. What executional forces will the people face at the war waged at Har–Magedon?
27 In the “war of the great day” at Har–Magedon, the rulers of this system of things must reckon with God the Almighty, not with mere fellowmen. As respects the people who patriotically support the political operators of this system of things, they face the executional forces under Jehovah’s command. In Jeremiah’s day the executional forces were the Babylonian armies under Emperor Nebuchadnezzar. In the coming war at Har–Magedon they will be Jehovah’s holy angels led by his Son Jesus Christ.—Rev. 16:12; 19:11-21.
28, 29. What choice should we common folk make, thus heeding Jehovah’s words at Jeremiah 21:8-10?
28 The rulers of Christendom have imitated King Zedekiah of Jerusalem and refused to reform and seek reconciliation with God. So what should we common folk do under the imminence of world destruction? (Jer. 21:11, 12; 22:3-5) We should take individual action. We should make a personal choice of the “way of life.” Each one of us has to heed God’s words through Jeremiah:
29 “And to this people you will say, ‘This is what Jehovah has said: “Here I am putting before you people the way of life and the way of death. The one sitting still in this city will die by the sword and by the famine and by the pestilence; but the one who is going out and who actually falls away to the Chaldeans who are laying siege against you will keep living, and his soul will certainly come to be his as a spoil.”’ ‘“For I have set my face against this city for calamity and not for good,” is the utterance of Jehovah. “Into the hand of the king of Babylon it will be given, and he will certainly burn it with fire.”’”—Jer. 21:8-10.
30. Why was a Jew’s then ‘falling away to the Chaldeans’ not unpatriotic or traitorous?
30 A Jew’s ‘falling away to the Chaldeans’ who were besieging the kingdom of Judah was not unpatriotic or traitorous. It was the course of obedience to Jehovah God, the invisible heavenly king of Israel. This was “the way of life,” whereas “the way of death” was the disobedient course chosen by the Jewish patriots.
31. The case then was similar to that of whom in the first century C.E.?
31 The case was similar to that of the Christianized Jews of the first century of our Common Era. Jesus Christ foretold the destruction of the rebuilt city of Jerusalem by the Roman armies, whom he spoke of as “the disgusting thing that causes desolation.”—Matt. 24:15.
32. Consequently, what instructions did Jesus give to his dedicated followers?
32 Hence, Jesus instructed his dedicated followers: “Then the end will come. Therefore, when you catch sight of the disgusting thing that causes desolation, as spoken of through Daniel the prophet, standing in a holy place, (let the reader use discernment,) then let those in Judea begin fleeing to the mountains. Let the man on the housetop not come down to take the goods out of his house; and let the man in the field not return to the house to pick up his outer garment . . . for then there will be great tribulation such as has not occurred since the world’s beginning until now, no, nor will occur again. In fact, unless those days were cut short, no flesh would be saved; but on account of the chosen ones those days will be cut short.”—Matt. 24:14-22.
33. In the period between 66 and 70 C.E., in what did obedience to Jesus’ instruction and disregard of it result?
33 The believing Christianized Jews obeyed this instruction from their Master. After the Roman legions retreated from their unsuccessful assault upon Jerusalem and its temple in 66 C.E., the whole province of Judea was abandoned by the endangered Christians. They were not deserters of the Jewish cause. They were obedient to their Leader Jesus Christ, and so the course that they chose was “the way of life.” Patriotic Jews chose “the way of death” and perished to the number of 1,100,000 when the Roman legions under General Titus destroyed Jerusalem in 70 C.E.
34. To where will lovers of life in a new order flee without delay?
34 With such historic examples before us, what are we people going to do today? We are living in what Christ’s disciples called “the conclusion of the system of things.” The unmatched “great tribulation” upon the world that was prefigured by the destruction of Jerusalem now faces “this generation.” It is a case now of choosing “the way of life” or “the way of death.” The Jeremiah class has chosen “the way of life.” This class points out that others may do the same thing. Without further delay all lovers of eternal life in a righteous new order will take advantage of the God-given opportunity to choose “the way of life.” They will flee to the side of Jehovah’s executional forces.—Matt. 24:3, 34.
[Picture on page 20]
WBBR, Staten Island, N.Y.