Jehovah’s Provision, the “Given Ones”
“Strangers will actually stand and shepherd the flocks of you people.”—ISAIAH 61:5.
1. Why might the word “giver” call Jehovah to our minds?
WHAT a generous giver God is! The apostle Paul said: “[Jehovah] himself gives to all persons life and breath and all things.” (Acts 17:25) Each of us can benefit from reflecting on the many ‘good gifts and perfect presents’ that we receive from God.—James 1:5, 17; Psalm 29:11; Matthew 7:7; 10:19; 13:12; 21:43.
2, 3. (a) How should we respond to God’s gifts? (b) In what sense were the Levites “given ones”?
2 With good reason the psalmist wondered how he might repay Jehovah. (Psalm 116:12) Our Creator does not really need anything that humans might have or could give. (Psalm 50:10, 12) Jehovah indicates, though, that it pleases him when people appreciatively give of themselves in true worship. (Compare Hebrews 10:5-7.) All humans should give of themselves in dedication to their Creator who, in turn, may extend added privileges, as was the case with the ancient Levites. Though all Israelites were dedicated to God, he chose the Levitical family of Aaron as priests to offer sacrifices at the tabernacle and the temple. What about the rest of the Levites?
3 Jehovah told Moses: “Bring the tribe of Levi near . . . And they must take care of all the utensils of the tent of meeting . . . And you must give the Levites to Aaron and his sons. They are given ones [Hebrew, nethu·nimʹ], given to him from the sons of Israel.” (Numbers 3:6, 8, 9, 41) The Levites were “given” to Aaron to carry out duties in tabernacle service, so God could say: “They are given ones, given to me from among the sons of Israel.” (Numbers 8:16, 19; 18:6) Some Levites performed simple tasks; others received outstanding privileges, such as teaching God’s laws. (Numbers 1:50, 51; 1 Chronicles 6:48; 23:3, 4, 24-32; 2 Chronicles 35:3-5) Let us now shift our consideration to another “given” people and a modern parallel.
Israelites Return From Babylon
4, 5. (a) What Israelites returned from exile in Babylon? (b) In modern times, what corresponds to the Israelites’ return from exile?
4 Ezra and Nehemiah relate how a remnant of Israelites, led by Governor Zerubbabel, returned from Babylon to their land, to restore true worship. Both accounts report that these returnees totaled 42,360. Thousands of that number were “men of the people of Israel.” The accounts next list the priests. Then come about 350 Levites, including Levitical singers and gatekeepers. Ezra and Nehemiah write also of additional thousands who were apparently Israelites, maybe even priests, but who could not prove their genealogy.—Ezra 1:1, 2; 2:2-42, 59-64; Nehemiah 7:7-45, 61-66.
5 This remnant of Israel taken into exile and who later returned to Jerusalem and to Judah displayed outstanding devotion to God and deep commitment to true worship. As noted, we see in modern times a fitting correspondency in the remnant of spiritual Israel who came out of captivity to Babylon the Great in 1919.
6. How has God used the spiritual Israelites in our time?
6 Since their release in 1919, the remnant of Christ’s anointed brothers have moved zealously forward in true worship. Jehovah has blessed their efforts to gather the final ones of the 144,000 making up “the Israel of God.” (Galatians 6:16; Revelation 7:3, 4) As a group, the anointed remnant constitute “the faithful and discreet slave” class used to provide an abundance of life-giving spiritual food, which they have worked hard to distribute earth wide.—Matthew 24:45-47.
7. Who are associating with the anointed ones in true worship?
7 As the preceding article showed, Jehovah’s people now include millions of “other sheep,” who have the God-given hope of passing through the great tribulation just ahead. They desire to serve Jehovah forever on earth, where they will hunger and thirst no more and where tears of sadness will no longer flow. (John 10:16; Revelation 7:9-17; 21:3-5) Do we find in the account of the returnees from Babylon anything corresponding to such ones? Yes!
Non-Israelites Also Return
8. Who accompanied the Israelites returning from Babylon?
8 When the call went out for lovers of Jehovah in Babylon to return to the Promised Land, thousands of non-Israelites responded. In the lists provided by Ezra and Nehemiah, we read of the “Nethinim” (meaning, “Given Ones”) and “the sons of the servants of Solomon,” whose combined number was 392. The accounts mention also more than 7,500 others: ‘men slaves and slave girls,’ as well as non-Levite “male singers and female singers.” (Ezra 2:43-58, 65; Nehemiah 7:46-60, 67) What moved so many non-Israelites to return?
9. How was God’s spirit involved in the return from exile?
9 Ezra 1:5 speaks of “everyone whose spirit the true God had roused, to go up and rebuild the house of Jehovah.” Yes, Jehovah moved all those who returned. He stimulated their spirit, that is, their impelling mental inclination. Even from the heavens, God could do this by using his holy spirit, his active force. Thus, all who rose “to go up and rebuild the house of Jehovah” were helped “by [God’s] spirit.”—Zechariah 4:1, 6; Haggai 1:14.
A Modern-Day Parallel
10, 11. What parallel can be drawn to the non-Israelites who returned from Babylon?
10 Who are foreshadowed by such non-Israelite returnees? Many Christians might reply: ‘The Nethinim correspond to the “other sheep” today.’ True, but not just the Nethinim; for all the non-Israelites who returned represent Christians today who are not of spiritual Israel.
11 The book You May Survive Armageddon Into God’s New World* observed: “The remnant of 42,360 Israelites were not the only ones that left Babylon with governor Zerubbabel . . . There were thousands of non-Israelites . . . Besides the Nethinim there were other non-Israelites, the slaves, the professional male and female singers and the descendants of the servants of King Solomon.” The book explained: “The Nethinim, the slaves, the singers and the sons of the servants of Solomon, all non-Israelites, left the land of captivity and returned with the Israelite remnant . . . So is it right to think that today people of different nationalities who are not spiritual Israelites would associate themselves with the remnant of spiritual Israel and promote the worship of Jehovah God with them? Yes.” Such ones ‘have become modern-day, antitypical Nethinim, singers, and sons of the servants of Solomon.’
12. How does God use his spirit in a special way for spiritual Israelites, but why can we be sure that it is available to all of his worshipers?
12 As in the ancient pattern, God provides his spirit also for these hoping to live forever on earth. True, they are not born again. Each of the 144,000 has the singular experience of being born again as a spiritual son of God and anointed with holy spirit. (John 3:3, 5; Romans 8:16; Ephesians 1:13, 14) Of course, that anointing is a unique manifestation of God’s spirit in behalf of the little flock. But God’s spirit is also needed to carry out his will. Hence, Jesus said: ‘The Father in heaven gives holy spirit to those asking him.’ (Luke 11:13) Whether the one asking has the heavenly hope or is of the other sheep, Jehovah’s spirit is abundantly available to carry out His will.
13. How can the spirit operate on all of God’s servants?
13 God’s spirit moved both Israelites and non-Israelites to return to Jerusalem, and it strengthens and helps all of his loyal people today. Whether a Christian’s God-provided hope is life in heaven or life on earth, he must preach the good news, and holy spirit enables him to be faithful in that. Every one of us—whichever our hope—ought to cultivate the fruits of the spirit, which all of us need in full measure.—Galatians 5:22-26.
Given for Special Service
14, 15. (a) Among the non-Israelites who returned, what two groups were singled out? (b) Who were the Nethinim, and what did they do?
14 Among the thousands of non-Israelites that the spirit moved to return were two small groups that God’s Word singled out—the Nethinim and the sons of the servants of Solomon. Who were they? What did they do? And what might this mean today?
15 The Nethinim were a group who had non-Israelite origins and who were privileged to minister with the Levites. Recall the Canaanites from Gibeon who became “gatherers of wood and drawers of water for the assembly and for Jehovah’s altar.” (Joshua 9:27) Probably some of their descendants were among the Nethinim returning from Babylon, as well as others who had been added as Nethinim during David’s reign and at other times. (Ezra 8:20) What did the Nethinim do? The Levites were given to help the priests, and thereafter the Nethinim were given to help the Levites. Even for circumcised foreigners, this was a privilege.
16. How did the role of the Nethinim change in time?
16 When the group returned from Babylon, it contained few Levites, compared to the priests or Nethinim and “sons of the servants of Solomon.” (Ezra 8:15-20) The Dictionary of the Bible, by Dr. James Hastings, observes: “After a time we find [the Nethinim] so completely established as a sacred official class, that privileges are accorded to them.” The scholarly journal Vetus Testamentum notes: “A change occurred. After the Return from Exile, these [foreigners] were no longer regarded as slaves of the Temple, but as ministrants in it, enjoying a status similar to that of those other bodies, which officiated in the Temple.”—See the box “A Changed Status.”
17. Why did the Nethinim receive more to do, and what Biblical evidence is there for this?
17 Of course, the Nethinim did not become the equals of the priests and the Levites. The latter groups were Israelites, who were chosen by Jehovah himself and not to be supplanted by non-Israelites. Yet, the Biblical indications are that in the face of a reduced number of Levites, the Nethinim were given more to do in God’s service. They were assigned living quarters close to the temple. In Nehemiah’s day they worked with priests in repairing walls near the temple. (Nehemiah 3:22-26) And the king of Persia decreed that the Nethinim be exempt from taxes, just as the Levites were exempt because of their temple service. (Ezra 7:24) This indicates how closely these “given ones” (Levites and Nethinim) were then linked in spiritual matters and how the Nethinim’s assignments increased in accord with the need, though they never were counted as being Levites. When Ezra later collected exiles to return, no Levites were initially among them. So he intensified efforts to collect some. That resulted in 38 Levites and 220 Nethinim returning to serve as “ministers for the house of our God.”—Ezra 8:15-20.
18. The sons of the servants of Solomon may have carried out what function?
18 A second group of non-Israelites singled out were the sons of the servants of Solomon. The Bible gives few details about them. Some were “the sons of Sophereth.” Ezra adds a definite article to that name, making it Has·so·pheʹreth, possibly meaning “the scribe.” (Ezra 2:55; Nehemiah 7:57) They thus may have been a staff of scribes or copyists, possibly temple/administrative scribes. Though of foreign extraction, the sons of the servants of Solomon proved their devotion to Jehovah by leaving Babylon and returning to share in restoring His worship.
Giving of Ourselves Today
19. What is the relationship between the anointed today and the other sheep?
19 In our time, God has used the anointed remnant mightily in spearheading pure worship and declaring the good news. (Mark 13:10) How these have rejoiced to see tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands, and then millions of other sheep join them in worship! And what delightful cooperation there has been between the remnant and the other sheep!—John 10:16.
20. What new understanding is reasonable as to a parallel to the Nethinim and the sons of the servants of Solomon? (Proverbs 4:18)
20 All the non-Israelites who returned from exile in ancient Babylon parallel the other sheep who now serve with the remnant of spiritual Israel. What, though, of the fact that the Bible singles out the Nethinim and the sons of the servants of Solomon? In the pattern the Nethinim and the sons of the servants of Solomon were given privileges beyond those of other non-Israelite returnees. This could well foreshadow that God today has extended privileges and added duties to some mature and willing other sheep.
21. How have some brothers with the earthly hope received added duties and privileges?
21 The Nethinim’s added privileges were linked directly to spiritual activities. The sons of the servants of Solomon evidently received administrative responsibilities. Similarly today, Jehovah has blessed his people with “gifts in men” to care for their needs. (Ephesians 4:8, 11, 12) Included in this provision are many hundreds of mature, experienced brothers who share in ‘shepherding the flocks,’ serving as circuit and district overseers and on Branch Committees at the Watch Tower Society’s 98 branches. (Isaiah 61:5) At the world headquarters of the Society, under the direction of “the faithful steward” and its Governing Body, capable men receive training to help in preparing spiritual food supplies. (Luke 12:42) Other longtime dedicated volunteers have been trained to operate Bethel homes and factories and to oversee programs worldwide in constructing new branch facilities and halls for Christian worship. They have excelled in serving as close helpers of the anointed remnant, who constitute part of the royal priesthood.—Compare 1 Corinthians 4:17; 14:40; 1 Peter 2:9.
22. Why is it appropriate that some of the other sheep be given weighty responsibilities now, and how should we react to this?
22 In ancient times, priests and Levites continued to serve among the Jews. (John 1:19) Today, however, the remnant of spiritual Israel on earth must go on decreasing. (Contrast John 3:30.) Finally, after the demise of Babylon the Great, all 144,000 ‘sealed ones’ will be in heaven for the marriage of the Lamb. (Revelation 7:1-3; 19:1-8) But now the other sheep must go on increasing. The fact that some of them, comparable to the Nethinim and the sons of the servants of Solomon, are now being assigned weighty responsibilities under the oversight of the anointed remnant does not cause them to be presumptuous or feel self-important. (Romans 12:3) This gives us confidence that as God’s people “come out of the great tribulation,” there will be experienced men—“princes”—prepared to take the lead among the other sheep.—Revelation 7:14; Isaiah 32:1; compare Acts 6:2-7.
23. Why must all of us cultivate a giving spirit regarding God’s service?
23 All who returned from Babylon were willing to work hard and prove that they had Jehovah’s worship uppermost in mind and heart. It is the same today. Along with the anointed remnant, “strangers . . . actually stand and shepherd the flocks.” (Isaiah 61:5) So no matter what God-provided hope we have, and no matter what privileges may be extended spirit-appointed elders before the day of Jehovah’s vindication at Armageddon, let all of us cultivate a selfless, wholesome, giving spirit. While we can never repay Jehovah for all of his grand benefits, may we be whole-souled in whatever we are doing within his organization. (Psalm 116:12-14; Colossians 3:23) Thus all of us can give of ourselves for true worship, as other sheep serve closely with anointed ones, who are destined to “rule as kings over the earth.”—Revelation 5:9, 10.
Pages 142-8; published by the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society of New York, Inc.
Points to Remember
◻ In what way were the Levites “given ones” in ancient Israel?
◻ What non-Israelites returned from exile, foreshadowing whom?
◻ What change seems to have occurred with the Nethinim?
◻ Concerning the Nethinim and the sons of the servants of Solomon, what parallel is now appreciated?
◻ What confidence is engendered by the cooperation between the anointed and the other sheep?
[Box on page 14]
A CHANGED STATUS
Many Bible dictionaries and encyclopedias comment on the changes experienced by some of the non-Israelites who returned from the exile. For example, under “Change in their position,” the Encyclopædia Biblica says: “Their social position was, as already indicated, at the same time necessarily raised. [The Nethinim] no longer appear as slaves in the strict meaning of that word.” (Edited by Cheyne and Black, Volume III, page 3399) In The Cyclopædia of Biblical Literature, John Kitto writes: “It was not to be expected that many of them [the Nethinim] would return to this humble station in Palestine . . . The voluntary devotedness which was thus manifested by these persons considerably raised the station of the Nethinim.” (Volume II, page 417) The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia points out: “In the light of this association and their background in the Solomonic period, it can be assumed that Solomon’s servants had significant responsibilities in the second temple.”—Edited by G. W. Bromiley, Volume 4, page 570.
[Picture on page 15]
When the Israelites returned to rebuild Jerusalem, thousands of non-Israelites accompanied them
Pictorial Archive (Near Eastern History) Est.
[Picture on page 17]
The Branch Committee in Korea. As did the ancient Nethinim, men of the other sheep have weighty responsibilities in true worship today