Serving Jehovah “Shoulder to Shoulder”
“I shall give to peoples the change to a pure language, in order for them all to call upon the name of Jehovah, in order to serve him shoulder to shoulder.”—Zeph. 3:9.
1. What assurances do we have concerning Jehovah’s word of prophecy?
JEHOVAH’S word of prophecy always comes unerringly to fulfillment. He himself tells us: “So my word that goes forth from my mouth will prove to be. It will not return to me without results, but it will certainly do that in which I have delighted, and it will have certain success in that for which I have sent it.” (Isa. 55:11) It has been just that way with so many of the details of Zephaniah’s great prophecy.
2. (a) What national groups are referred to in Zephaniah 2:4-8? (b) How would a visit to their locations today confirm the accuracy of the prophecy?
2 For example, Zephaniah records, in turn, Jehovah’s utterances of doom against the cities of Philistia, the nation of Cherethites, the land of the Philistines, and Moab and Ammon. (Zeph. 2:4-8) All those prophecies had remarkable fulfillment during the years and centuries that followed. Where, today, is the nation of Philistia, with its cities, and where are the dependent Cherethites? They are nonexistent. What of Moab and Ammon? The prophecy says:
“‘As I am alive,’ is the utterance of Jehovah of armies, the God of Israel, ‘Moab herself will become just like Sodom, and the sons of Ammon like Gomorrah, a place possessed by nettles, and a salt pit, and a desolate waste, even to time indefinite.’” (Zeph. 2:9)
If you travel today through the Transjordan territories where the proud nations of Moab and Ammon once flourished, what do you find? Desolation—even as Jehovah foretold! History shows that Ethiopia also, along with Egypt, suffered at the hands of the Babylonian invaders.—Zeph. 2:12.
“AN OBJECT OF ASTONISHMENT”
3, 4. (a) What was Jehovah’s utterance concerning Assyria and Nineveh? (b) Why would this seem incredible? (c) What is the evidence as to the striking fulfillment of the prophecy?
3 Most astonishing is the fulfillment of Jehovah’s utterance concerning Assyria and Nineveh. Zephaniah prophesied when Assyria’s proud capital, Nineveh, was in the heyday of its glory, at least 15 years before that nation was toppled from its position as the second world power of Bible history. Whoever could have imagined such a thing? But Jehovah was against that nationalistic “city of bloodshed.” (Nah. 3:1, 5) Through Zephaniah he spoke of settling accounts with her, saying:
“He will stretch out his hand toward the north, and he will destroy Assyria. And he will make Nineveh a desolate waste, a waterless region like the wilderness. . . . This is the exultant city that was sitting in security, that was saying in her heart, ‘I am, and there is nobody else.’ O how she has become an object of astonishment, a place for the wild animals to lie stretched out! Everyone passing along by her will whistle; he will wag his hand.”—Zeph. 2:13-15.
4 ‘Impossible!’ people of that day would have said. Yet that same generation lived to see it! In 633 B.C.E. Nabopolassar of Babylon and Cyaxares the Mede besieged and captured Nineveh. The Babylonian Chronicles tell us: “The great spoil of the city and temple they carried off and [turned] the city into a ruin-mound.” So complete was the devastation of Nineveh that even its location became unknown for centuries. In the 1800’s it was again identified, and the famous library of Ashurbanipal II was unearthed. But to this day the area remains a barren waste where flocks occasionally rest. How accurate the fulfillments of Jehovah’s word of prophecy!
5. What powerful message does this prophecy hold for out day?
5 However, most importantly, that prophetic record carries a message for today. It serves as “a warning to us upon whom the ends of the systems of things have arrived.” (1 Cor. 10:11, 12; Rom. 15:4; 2 Tim. 3:16, 17) It encourages us to avoid the pride, the indulgent pleasure-seeking, the materialistic thinking and violent dispositions that brought God’s judgment upon those nations. Also, we should remember that those prophecies are very much alive today, and that their climactic fulfillment hastens on. It is not for a mere historical record that Jehovah, the living God, has preserved them down to this day. Those ancient nations have their modern-day counterpart, particularly in the Assyria-like politico-military powers that boast in their armed might. Jehovah will assuredly take vengeance against all such opposers of his kingdom.—Nah. 1:2; Zeph. 1:2, 9.
“WOE TO . . . THE OPPRESSIVE CITY!”
6. What question is now asked, and why is it pertinent?
6 Modern-day totalitarian, authoritarian governments closely parallel cruel Nineveh of the mighty Assyrian Empire. Yet Jehovah makes it plain that there is a part of the present world system of things that is even more reprehensible in his sight. What is that?
7. (a) What “oppressive city” corresponds to ancient Jerusalem, and in what ways? (b) How has she refused discipline?
7 It is that part of the world that claims to be God’s own people, even as Judah and Jerusalem made that claim in Zephaniah’s day. It professes to be “Christian,” and is known generally as “Christendom.” But its clergy have apostatized from the pure teachings of God’s Word, the Bible, and its nations and peoples have fallen from following the fine moral standards set out in that Word. Hence, Zephaniah himself now speaks out against that God-dishonoring “city,” saying:
“Woe to her that is rebelling and polluting herself, the oppressive city! She did not listen to a voice; she did not accept discipline. In Jehovah she did not trust. To her God she did not draw near.”
Jehovah has sent his witnesses throughout Christendom, to its cities and villages, from house to house. “Morning by morning,” they have declared his judgments. “At daylight,” his righteous requirements have been made clear. But Christendom’s leaders and clergy have been “insolent” and have ‘known no shame’ in their opposition to these messengers of the righteous Jehovah and his kingdom.—Zeph. 3:1-5.
8, 9. (a) What proclamation does Jehovah himself now make? (b) How broad is its application? (c) Why should we be thankful on that account?
8 In support of his faithful prophet, the Sovereign Lord Jehovah now takes up the pronouncement of doom, enlarging it to include all the nations, and climaxing it with these words:
“‘Therefore keep yourselves in expectation of me,’ is the utterance of Jehovah, ‘till the day of my rising up to the booty, for my judicial decision is to gather nations, for me to collect together kingdoms, in order to pour out upon them my denunciation, all my burning anger; for by the fire of my zeal all the earth will be devoured.’”—Zeph. 3:6-8.
9 So the execution of Jehovah’s judgment does not stop at the desolating of Christendom, whose religion must perish along with the entire world empire of false religion, described in the Bible as “Babylon the Great.” (Rev. 18:2-4) The day of his “burning anger” and of “the fire of [his] zeal” will remove all wickedness from the earth. (See also Isaiah 34:2-8; Jeremiah 25:32, 33.) How grateful we should be that this greatest tribulation of all time will be the last, according to Jesus’ own testimony at Matthew 24:21! It will have accomplished Jehovah’s purpose in “causing an outright extermination,” like that of ancient Nineveh. “Distress will not rise up a second time.”—Nah. 1:9; Dan. 12:1; Rev. 19:11-21.
THE WAY OF ESCAPE
10. What ‘impure language’ is now spoken in the world?
10 Is there a way of survival during this world calamity? Why, yes! In the very next words of the prophecy, Jehovah God himself shows what that way is. He says:
“For then I shall give to peoples the change to a pure language, in order for them all to call upon the name of Jehovah, in order to serve him shoulder to shoulder.” (Zeph. 3:9)
Whichever of the hundreds of national tongues they may use, the worldly nations make propaganda in a “language” that is detestable to Jehovah. Instead of God’s kingdom, they exalt their own nationalistic programs, trying to use a divided U.N. for selfish political ends. They reject Jehovah’s kingdom by Christ Jesus.
11. (a) What “pure language” is heard today? (b) How extensively is this “language” being spoken? (c) How do those speaking it “call upon the name of Jehovah,” and with what result?
11 What, then, is this change to a “pure language”? It is a turning to the message of truth, the refreshing “good news,” the “pattern of healthful words,” that speaks in praise of Jehovah and his righteous purposes by Christ Jesus. (2 Tim. 1:13) This “pure language” unifies them. And it testifies that, in the epoch-marking year 1914, “the kingdom of the world did become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ, and he will rule as king forever and ever.” (Rev. 11:15) Taking this message upon their lips, true Christians worldwide “call upon the name of Jehovah” in dedication, harmoniously rendering him “sacred service.” As the only truly united people on earth, they go to the homes of the people, heralding forth the “good news” of Jehovah’s established kingdom. Thus they serve Jehovah “shoulder to shoulder.” (Matt. 24:14; Rom. 12:1) Are you one who has thus separated yourself from the world, to serve God zealously in dedication to Him? It is by thus working along with Jehovah’s organized people that you may “get away safe.”—Joel 2:32; see also Hosea 14:1, 2; Hebrews 13:15.
12, 13. (a) What problems may be involved in learning this “language”? (b) Why is meekness required in serving “shoulder to shoulder”? (c) How may we cultivate the quality of meekness?
12 The “change to a pure language” has been hard for some to make. It is not easy to come out of the world, with its easygoing, permissive ways, and to make the sacrifices necessary for ‘calling upon the name of Jehovah.’ It has required our getting rid of wrong thoughts, bad habits and self-seeking, loose ways of life, in order to conform to the clean, worthwhile standards of God’s own people. (Eph. 4:17, 18, 29; 1 Pet. 4:3) It has required our giving proper recognition to the one organization that Jehovah is using in the earth today, and this by our associating with the “faithful and discreet slave.” It has required meekness, in our “carefully examining” God’s Word with the aid of that ‘slave’s’ publications, in order to fortify our faith.—Matt. 24:45; Acts 17:11.
13 In serving Jehovah “shoulder to shoulder,” we need, as Zephaniah so often emphasizes, to cultivate the quality of meekness. When we make mistakes, as all imperfect humans do, let us be ready to acknowledge them, even as the “faithful and discreet slave,” made up of imperfect fleshly men, has had to make corrections. However, let us never be critical of the grand body of truth that Jehovah has built up among his united people over the past 100 years, and which, by correction and adjustment, has come to shine ever more brightly on “the path of the righteous ones.”—Prov. 4:18.
14. (a) What attitude is the opposite of meekness, and how is it displayed? (b) How do such haughty ones proceed, and what warnings should we heed? (c) Where will we find ‘nothing lacking’?
14 From time to time, there have arisen from among the ranks of Jehovah’s people those who, like the original Satan, have adopted an independent, faultfinding attitude. They do not want to serve “shoulder to shoulder” with the worldwide brotherhood. (Compare Ephesians 2:19-22.) Rather, they present a “stubborn shoulder” to Jehovah’s words. (Zech. 7:11, 12) Reviling the pattern of the “pure language” that Jehovah has so graciously taught his people over the past century, these haughty ones try to draw the “sheep” away from the one international “flock” that Jesus has gathered in the earth. (John 10:7-10, 16) They try to sow doubts and to separate unsuspecting ones from the bounteous “table” of spiritual food spread at the Kingdom Halls of Jehovah’s Witnesses, where truly there is ‘nothing lacking.’ (Ps. 23:1-6) They say that it is sufficient to read the Bible exclusively, either alone or in small groups at home. But, strangely, through such ‘Bible reading,’ they have reverted right back to the apostate doctrines that commentaries by Christendom’s clergy were teaching 100 years ago, and some have even returned to celebrating Christendom’s festivals again, such as the Roman Saturnalia of December 25! Jesus and his apostles warned against such lawless ones.—Matt. 24:11-13; Acts 20:28-30; 2 Pet. 2:1, 22.
15. (a) How does Jehovah act with regard to “haughty” ones? (b) How are the “people humble and lowly” identified? (c) What assurance does Jehovah give these?
15 Through his prophet Zephaniah, Jehovah tells His people how He will dispose of those who shamelessly try to sow discord in His earthly organization, saying:
“I shall remove from the midst of you your haughtily exultant ones; and you will never again be haughty in my holy mountain.”
In happy contrast, Jehovah says:
“I shall certainly let remain in the midst of you a people humble and lowly, and they will actually take refuge in the name of Jehovah.” (Zeph. 3:11, 12)
Yes, these are the meek ones, who work “shoulder to shoulder” as they engage in “the holy work of the good news.” (Rom. 15:15, 16) They are not too proud to do the lowly work of calling from house to house after the pattern that Jesus’ disciples learned from the Master. (Matt. 10:5-13; Luke 9:2-6; Acts 5:42) Taking refuge in Jehovah’s name, they proclaim that glorious name and his purpose to vindicate it by the triumphant kingdom of his Christ. (Ezek. 38:23; Dan. 2:44) As Jehovah’s people serve and live according to his righteousness, they are confident that “there will be no one making them tremble.” (Zeph. 3:13) They enjoy true peace of mind!
A TIME FOR JOYFUL ACTIVITY
16. (a) How does Zephaniah express his own gladness? (b) What prophetic call has been answered today, and by whom?
16 Zephaniah himself is made glad by such assurance from Jehovah, so that he calls on God’s people saying:
“Joyfully cry out, O daughter of Zion! Break out in cheers, O Israel! Rejoice and exult with all the heart, O daughter of Jerusalem! Jehovah has removed the judgments upon you. He has turned away your enemy. The king of Israel, Jehovah, is in the midst of you. You will fear calamity no more.” (Zeph. 3:14, 15)
Since 1919, when they were released from spiritual captivity to Babylon the Great, the anointed witnesses of Jehovah have served him “shoulder to shoulder” in giving joyful public testimony. Jehovah has judged and approved these children of the heavenly Jerusalem. (Gal. 4:26; 1 Pet. 4:17) Prisons and slave labor camps have proved powerless to draw them again into spiritual bondage. Their rejoicing is now shared by a “great crowd” of companion Witnesses, identified since 1935 as part of the Lord’s “other sheep.”—John 10:16; Rev. 7:9, 10.
17. (a) What assurance helps Jehovah’s people to endure in “sacred service”? (b) How is Jehovah “silent,” yet “joyful . . . with happy cries,” and how should we react?
17 Directly to his anointed ones, representing the heavenly Zion, and through them to their fellow workers of the “great crowd,” Jehovah himself now makes appeal, saying:
“Do not be afraid, O Zion. May your hands not drop down.” (Zeph. 3:16)
As terrible as crime and violence are today, as fearsome as the challenges of the nuclear age may become, as cruel as may be the persecutions yet to come upon Jehovah’s Witnesses, their very intimacy with Jehovah and trust in their God will carry them through. Having put our hands to the plow of “sacred service,” may we never look back at the things behind and cease plowing forward, “shoulder to shoulder”! (Luke 9:62; Rev. 7:15) For now the prophecy gives this further divine assurance:
“Jehovah your God is in the midst of you. As a mighty One, he will save. He will exult over you with rejoicing. He will become silent in his love. He will be joyful over you with happy cries.” (Zeph. 3:17)
Jehovah is “silent” in finding ease and refreshment by expressing love to his recovered, restored people, and great is his joy and exultation over their integrity and zeal in his service. In these “last days” we should feel very close to our living God, Jehovah, as we unitedly apply shoulders to his service.—2 Tim. 3:1.
18. (a) How have Jehovah’s people been made “a name and a praise” since 1919? (b) How may we serve “shoulder to shoulder” in behalf of thousands more?
18 Since 1919, it has been a grand day of restoration for all of God’s people. As faithful witnesses they have continued to preach with missionary zeal, so that Jehovah’s organization has expanded to the very ends of the earth. (Rom. 10:10, 18) It has indeed been a time for bringing in God’s people, collecting them together. And for what purpose? Jehovah himself answers:
“I shall make you people to be a name and a praise among all the peoples of the earth.” (Zeph. 3:20)
Happily, the anointed remnant of God’s people have become “a name and a praise” in holding high the precious name of the Sovereign Lord Jehovah, and now many of those “peoples of the earth” are working with them, “shoulder to shoulder,” in making known his Kingdom purposes. Our change to speaking the “pure language,” and our continuing to herald forth that “good news of the kingdom,” will yet help thousands more to “call upon the name of Jehovah,” that these, too, may be ‘hidden of Jehovah’ during the day of his anger, and boldly come forth to praise him throughout all eternity.