How Shall We Escape?
“Keep awake, then, all the time making supplication that you may succeed in escaping all these things that are destined to occur, and in standing before the Son of man.”—Luke 21:36.
1. Why is the mention of escape always exciting, and how might this be illustrated?
ESCAPE! That is always an exciting word. We do not use it unless there is real danger and a need for urgent action. For instance, after a Christian meeting at the local Kingdom Hall of Jehovah’s Witnesses, for some reason we might have to hurry home. But we would not say that we had to escape, unless we saw a sudden cloud of smoke. Or consider another illustration: We see an apartment building on fire and hurry to the scene. There at an upper-story window is a terrorized woman with a child in her arms! She is up too high to jump and it would be very risky to drop the child. What hope is there? Either firemen must reach these victims by ladder, or they must promptly use the fire escape.
2. What factors are involved in escape?
2 Actually, there is always more than one feature to an escape story. There are these principal factors: (1) a place or threatening situation from which we must flee with a sense of urgency; (2) the need for a place of refuge to which we can go for protection and security; and (3) the necessity of heeding the instructions of someone who sees our plight, can provide a place of safety and is willing to help us to get there. Such a person is of utmost importance.
“THE PROVIDER OF ESCAPE”
3 Jehovah God is the unequaled Provider of escape. Please turn to Psalm 18 and note that the Ps 18 superscription says it was composed by David “in the day that Jehovah had delivered him out of the palm of all his enemies and out of the hand of Saul.” Just the mention of Israel’s first human king, Saul, may well remind us of how often David must have felt that death was staring him in the face. Why, three times the king tried to pin David to the wall with a spear! (1 Sam. 18:11; 19:10) Thereafter, for several years David was kept on the run, relentlessly hunted down by Saul. (1 Sam. 26:20) With this in mind, we can well imagine the depth of feeling with which David uttered the opening words of Psalm 18, where we read: “I shall have affection for you, O Jehovah my strength. Jehovah is my crag and my stronghold and the Provider of escape for me. My God is my rock. I shall take refuge in him, my shield and my horn of salvation, my secure height. On the One to be praised, Jehovah, I shall call, and from my enemies I shall be saved. The ropes of death encircled me; flash floods of good-for-nothing men also kept terrifying me. . . . In my distress I kept calling upon Jehovah, and to my God I kept crying for help. Out of his temple he proceeded to hear my voice, and my own cry before him for help now came into his ears.”—Ps 18 Vss. 1-6.
4. What grand title is ascribed to Jehovah, and how does Psalm 18 bear out the appropriateness of it?
4 What a grand and comforting title was thereby ascribed to Jehovah—“the Provider of escape.” And did Jehovah God prove true to it? Indeed he did, for after describing mighty deeds of Jehovah, David went on to say: “He was delivering me from my strong enemy, and from those hating me; because they were stronger than I was. They kept confronting me in the day of my disaster, but Jehovah came to be as a support for me. And he proceeded to bring me out into a roomy place; he was rescuing me, because he had found delight in me.”—Ps. 18:17-19.
5 Many times throughout the Psalms David took up this same theme. In four of the Psalms, he calls Jehovah the “Provider of escape.” (Ps. 18:2; 40:17; 70:5; 144:2) When we, as Jehovah’s Witnesses, talk to others about Jehovah’s fine qualities and purposes, we often refer to portions of Psalm 37. But note now its grand conclusion: “The salvation of the righteous ones is from Jehovah; he is their fortress in the time of distress. And Jehovah will help them and provide them with escape. He will provide them with escape from wicked people and save them, because they have taken refuge in him.” (Ps 37 Vss. 39, 40) How these words should move Jehovah’s people to place their confidence in him!
6 Psalm 70 vividly conveys a sense of urgency. It was when David felt in desperate need that he pleaded: “O God, to deliver me, O Jehovah, to my assistance do make haste. . . . I am afflicted and poor. O God, do act quickly for me. You are my help and the Provider of escape for me. O Jehovah, do not be too late.”—Ps. 70:1, 5.
7. With what attitude can we fittingly pray to Jehovah when in urgent need of help?
7 Have you ever felt that way? It is both comforting and faith-strengthening to know that we, as servants of Jehovah, can have confidence that he will “act quickly” for us. He knows our needs and how to supply them. Our loving heavenly Father is indeed “the Provider of escape” just when we need it. Sometimes, like David, we realize that our own shortcomings have brought us into a bad situation. But, like David, we can approach Jehovah in sincerity, perhaps with “a broken spirit,” confident that He will hear and answer our prayer. We can plead, even as David did: “Create in me even a pure heart, O God, and put within me a new spirit, a steadfast one.”—Ps. 51:10, 17.
8. What role does Jesus Christ play in our receiving “help at the right time”?
8 Another factor to keep in mind is that our God has provided a High Priest who can “sympathize with our weaknesses” and through whom we can approach “the throne of undeserved kindness, that we may obtain mercy and find undeserved kindness for help at the right time.” We are indeed grateful for this sympathetic High Priest, Jesus Christ, who, under the Father’s direction, can “emancipate” us or provide the way of escape from spiritual bondage.—Heb. 2:15; 4:15, 16.
9. (a) When only did Jesus speak of “escaping”? (b) What two things must be observed when making an escape?
9 According to the Gospel records, only once did Jesus Christ, the Greater David, mention “escaping.” When he was discussing “the conclusion of the system of things,” he urged his disciples: “Keep awake, then, all the time making supplication that you may succeed in escaping all these things that are destined to occur, and in standing before the Son of man.” (Luke 21:36; Matt. 24:3) However, before examining that passage in detail, we will review certain exciting accounts of escape recorded in the Hebrew Scriptures, noting some of the important lessons that we should learn and apply to ourselves. When we are in danger, invariably there are essential steps that must be taken and certain things that must be avoided in order to succeed in escaping. This we shall see as we consider historical incidents.
ESCAPING THE DELUGE
10, 11. On what was escape dependent for Noah and his family, but when does escape become impossible?
10 The first account to be considered certainly is exciting, for it involved global destruction of the wicked. Would there be escape for anyone? Remember, Jehovah said to Noah: “As for me, here I am bringing the deluge of waters upon the earth to bring to ruin all flesh in which the force of life is active from under the heavens. Everything that is in the earth will expire.” (Gen. 6:17) However, Jehovah already had given Noah detailed instructions for the building of an ark. Following the warning about an earthwide flood, God instructed Noah as to what he and his family had to do in order that they, along with certain other living creatures, might be preserved alive and might escape being engulfed by that destructive deluge.
11 On what was escape dependent? This is clearly shown by the words: “And Noah proceeded to do according to all that God had commanded him. He did just so.” (Gen. 6:22) When God gives explicit commands or directions, unquestioning obedience is required. If anything by way of direction or warning is ignored, escape becomes impossible. Then the result would be similar to what happened to the rest of the human family in Noah’s day. Jesus said of their attitude and its consequences: “They took no note until the flood came and swept them all away.” (Matt. 24:39) Escape was not possible for such individuals because they did not acknowledge the threatening situation and they paid no attention to any instructions for escape given by “the Provider of escape” through Noah.
12. According to 1 Peter 3:20, how did the “eight souls” escape in Noah’s day?
12 In this account, one more point is especially noteworthy. Just how did those “eight souls” escape? Observe carefully the apostle Peter’s answer. They “were carried safely through the water.” (1 Pet. 3:20) They were ‘right in the thick of things’ and were not relieved by being taken away from the earth, for example, on a trip to the moon. As we shall see, a similar thing can be true of those serving Jehovah today.
LOT’S ESCAPE FROM SODOM
13. How did Lot come to reside in Sodom?
13 Next, let us consider Lot’s escape from Sodom. Recall the background. Because of insufficient pasture grounds for all their animals, Abraham gave Lot the opportunity to decide which way he would go. “Then Lot chose for himself the whole District of the Jordan, and Lot moved his camp to the east. . . . Finally he pitched tent near Sodom. And the men of Sodom were bad and were gross sinners against Jehovah.” Lot surely must have known about the bad reputation of Sodom’s residents. But the potential for material prosperity lay in that district, for “it was a well-watered region . . . like the garden of Jehovah.”—Gen. 13:5-13.
14. When urgent warning was given, what was the reaction of: (a) Lot’s sons-in-law? (b) Lot himself in two instances? (c) Lot’s wife?
14 In due course, two angels, materialized as men, came to Sodom and told Lot of Jehovah’s decision “to bring the city to ruin.” At once, Lot warned his prospective sons-in-law. But did they recognize the threatening situation and the need for urgent flight, one of the prime factors in any successful escape? No, “but in the eyes of his sons-in-law [Lot] seemed like a man who was joking.” (Gen. 19:12-14) At dawn, “the angels became urgent with Lot,” with a view to his taking immediate action. What was his response? “He kept lingering.” But “then in the compassion of Jehovah upon him,” the angels swiftly conducted Lot, his wife and his two daughters out of the city. Then they were urged on with the words: “Escape for your soul! Do not look behind you. . . . Escape to the mountainous region for fear you may be swept away!” Again, what was Lot’s response? “Then Lot said to them: ‘Not that, please, Jehovah! . . . Please, now, this city is nearby to flee there and it is a small thing. May I, please, escape there—is it not a small thing?—and my soul will live on.’” In Jehovah’s merciful compassion, Lot’s request was granted and he escaped to the city of Zoar. But what about Lot’s wife? She deliberately ignored explicit instructions. “His wife began to look around from behind him, and she became a pillar of salt.”—Gen. 19:15-26.
15. (a) Was it on Lot’s own account that he escaped destruction? (b) Lot’s escape may raise what personal questions?
15 What do we learn from all of this? Was it totally on Lot’s own account that he succeeded in escaping? No, for Abraham’s earnest petitions for mercy also played a part. (Gen. 18:20-33) Accordingly, “when God brought the cities of the District to ruin God kept Abraham in mind in that he took steps to send Lot out of the midst of the overthrow.” (Gen. 19:29) Moreover, God delivered Lot because, as a “righteous” man, he was completely out of sympathy with the wicked conduct of “the law-defying people” among whom he had been residing. (2 Pet. 2:7) Yet, Lot was in no hurry to get out of Sodom, where certain of his interests lay. He had to be urged and even taken by the hand. (Gen. 19:16) Reflecting on Lot’s escape, we may well ask ourselves: Are we really out of sympathy with ungodly, law-defying people? And, to escape, are we willing to place greater emphasis on spiritual interests than on supposed material advantages?—Matt. 6:33.
16. What contrast in responses was there between Lot and Abraham?
16 In contrast to Lot’s reticence to flee quickly, consider what happened when “God put Abraham to the test” and told him to present his beloved son Isaac as a burnt offering. True, the element of escape was not involved. But how did Abraham respond? Did he linger? Or did he plead that there should be some alternative offering? No! “Abraham got up early in the morning” and immediately started on the three-day trip, with Isaac at his side. He even got to the point of taking “the slaughtering knife to kill his son,” when God intervened so that Isaac was spared alive.—Gen. 22:1-14.
17. (a) In reflecting on the matters just discussed, what lesson should we take to heart? (b) What words of Jesus help us, as his followers, to evaluate our position with regard to the present system of things?
17 Here is a lesson that we can take to heart. Let us not pursue a righteous course in just a passive way, being content with avoiding actual bad conduct. Never should we linger and see how close we can stay to the edge of this wicked system of things, keeping on good terms with it and trying to get all its material advantages and all the “fun” out of it that we can. That Jesus’ followers were not to be worldly in attitude was made evident when Christ said in prayer to God: “I have given your word to them, but the world has hated them, because they are no part of the world, just as I am no part of the world.”—John 17:14.
HOW TO SUCCEED IN ESCAPING
18. How did Jesus link the accounts of Noah and Lot, and does this apply to us today?
18 On one occasion, Jesus closely linked the accounts about Noah and Lot, saying that they were prophetic of the coming “days of the Son of man.” While they had a fulfillment on the generation of Jesus’ day, they have a greater fulfillment in our day, at this “time of the end.” (Luke 17:26-33; Dan. 12:1-4) In “the days of Lot,” according to the Bible account, people were not only eating and drinking, as in Noah’s day, but also buying, selling, planting and building. How like today, when it is so easy to become completely absorbed in the day-to-day affairs of life! Indeed, the adverse pressures resulting from such things as inflation and nationalism, along with the enticements to “do your own thing” and get on in the world, are greater than ever before.
19. In his great prophecy on earth, what buildup did Jesus give as to a threatening situation, followed by what exhortation?
19 Consider, now, Jesus’ great prophecy, which describes the buildup of things that would happen in our day, resulting in a very threatening and dangerous situation from which escape would be imperative. He said there would be “anguish of nations, . . . while men become faint out of fear and expectation of the things coming upon the inhabited earth.” This would culminate in the “great tribulation,” when Satan’s ‘heavens and earth’ will be removed. (Luke 21:10-33; Matt. 24:21; 2 Pet. 3:7) Then comes the timely exhortation: “But pay attention to yourselves that your hearts never become weighed down with overeating and heavy drinking and anxieties of life, and suddenly that day be instantly upon you as a snare. For it will come in upon all those dwelling upon the face of all the earth. Keep awake, then, all the time making supplication that you may succeed in escaping all these things that are destined to occur, and in standing before the Son of man.”—Luke 21:34-36.
20. (a) How did Noah ‘walk with the true God’ at all times? (b) Similarly, what should we be careful to do?
20 How, then, shall we escape? Not by being taken away from the scene of action. Rather, we need to copy the example of Noah, who was careful to be obedient in building and then, with his family, getting inside that divine provision, the ark. Throughout those difficult years, he maintained a standing of approval before Jehovah. “Noah walked with the true God.” (Gen. 6:9) Like Noah, we need to recognize that there is a threatening situation from which we must flee with a sense of urgency. Also, like that man of faith, we should be careful to obey “the Provider of escape,” complying with divine instructions in these perilous times. On the one hand, we must avoid being self-indulgent in satisfying our appetites to an excess or becoming weighed down with the anxieties of daily living, which would result in a sleepy and lingering attitude. Thus we would lose out when that day comes as a sudden snare. On the other hand, we must at all times be alert and must keep awake spiritually, prayerfully going to God with earnest entreaties. There must be no doubt in our own minds as to which side we are on—the side of God’s kingdom under his King, Christ Jesus.—Matt. 6:31-34.
21. How are we encouraged to maintain a standing of approval at all times?
21 It is imperative that we seek to maintain a standing of approval before the Son of man, Jesus Christ, right through these critical times. Doing this may be trying, but it will not be more difficult than we can bear if we keep awake and obedient. The apostle Paul assures us: “God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear, but along with the temptation he will also make the way out [not necessarily to get away from the situation, but] in order for you to be able to endure it.” Thus, we need to cultivate endurance, that we may overcome the temptations and trials in order to keep “standing,” faithful, at this ‘end of the systems of things.’—1 Cor. 10:11-13; Matt. 24:3.
22. Where should we look for guidance in order to escape, and why?
22 However, is there more to be said in answer to the questions: How shall we escape? Where shall we flee? There is, and, in this regard, let us examine further the Word of our God, Jehovah, who knows of our needs and will care for us as we humbly seek his guidance.—1 Pet. 5:6, 7.
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Noah and his family heeded God’s warning
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Heeding the angelic warning in Lot’s day