Jehovah Is Reasonable!
“The wisdom from above is . . . reasonable.”—JAMES 3:17.
1. How have some portrayed God as unreasonable, and how do you feel about such a view of God?
WHAT kind of God do you worship? Do you believe him to be a God of inflexible, strict justice, austere and rigid in his temperament? To Protestant reformer John Calvin, God must have seemed that way. Calvin claimed that God has an “eternal and unchangeable plan” regarding each individual, preordaining for each one whether he will live forever in happiness or be tormented eternally in hellfire. Imagine: If this were true, nothing you could ever do, no matter how hard you tried, would change God’s long-standing, rigid plan about you and your future. Would you be drawn to such an unreasonable God?—Compare James 4:8.
2, 3. (a) How might we illustrate the unreasonableness of human institutions and organizations? (b) How does Ezekiel’s vision of Jehovah’s celestial chariot reveal His adaptability?
2 How relieved we are to learn that the God of the Bible is eminently reasonable! It is not God but humans who tend to be rigid and inflexible, bound by their own imperfections. Human organizations can be as unwieldy as freight trains. When a giant freight train is rolling toward an obstruction on the track, turning is out of the question, and stopping is not much easier. Some trains have so much forward momentum that they take more than a mile [km] to stop after the brakes are applied! Similarly, a supertanker may coast onward for another five miles [8 km] after the engines are shut off. Even if they are thrown into reverse, it may still plow on for two miles [3 km]! But now consider a vehicle far more awesome than these two, one that represents God’s organization.
3 Over 2,600 years ago, Jehovah gave the prophet Ezekiel a vision that pictured His heavenly organization of spirit creatures. It was a chariot of awe-inspiring proportions, Jehovah’s own “vehicle” always under his control. Most interesting was the way that it moved. The giant wheels were four-sided and full of eyes, so they could see everywhere and could change direction instantly, without stopping or turning. And this gigantic vehicle did not have to lumber along like a supertanker or a freight train. It could move at the speed of lightning, even making right-angle turns! (Ezekiel 1:1, 14-28) Jehovah is as different from the God that Calvin preached as His chariot is from clumsy man-made machines. He is perfectly adaptable. Appreciating this aspect of Jehovah’s personality should help us to remain adaptable and avoid the snare of unreasonableness.
Jehovah—The Most Adaptable Being in the Universe
4. (a) In what way does Jehovah’s very name reveal him to be an adaptable God? (b) What are some of the titles applied to Jehovah God, and why are they fitting?
4 Jehovah’s very name implies his adaptability. “Jehovah” literally means “He Causes to Become.” This evidently means that Jehovah causes himself to become the Fulfiller of all his promises. When Moses asked God his name, Jehovah elaborated on its meaning in this way: “I shall prove to be what I shall prove to be.” (Exodus 3:14) Rotherham’s translation pointedly puts it: “I Will Become whatsoever I please.” Jehovah proves to be, or chooses to become, whatever is needed to fulfill his righteous purposes and promises. Thus, he bears an impressive array of titles, such as Creator, Father, Sovereign Lord, Shepherd, Jehovah of armies, Hearer of prayer, Judge, Grand Instructor, Repurchaser. He has caused himself to become all of these and more in order to carry out his loving purposes.—Isaiah 8:13; 30:20; 40:28; 41:14; Psalm 23:1; 65:2; 73:28; 89:26; Judges 11:27; see also New World Translation, Appendix 1J.
5. Why should we not conclude that Jehovah’s adaptability implies that his nature or standards change?
5 Does this mean, then, that God’s nature or standards change? No; as James 1:17 puts it, “with him there is not a variation of the turning of the shadow.” Is there a contradiction here? Not at all. For example, what loving parent does not shift roles to benefit the children? In the course of a single day, a parent may be a counselor, a cook, a housekeeper, a teacher, a disciplinarian, a friend, a mechanic, a nurse—the list goes on and on. The parent does not change personality when assuming these roles; he or she simply adapts to current needs. So it is with Jehovah but on a far grander scale. There is no limit to what he can cause himself to become to benefit his creatures. The depth of his wisdom is staggering indeed!—Romans 11:33.
Reasonableness a Mark of Divine Wisdom
6. What are the literal meaning and implications of the Greek word James used in describing divine wisdom?
6 The disciple James used an interesting word to describe the wisdom of this supremely adaptable God. He wrote: “The wisdom from above is . . . reasonable.” (James 3:17) The Greek word that he used here (e·pi·ei·kesʹ) is difficult to translate. Translators have used such words as “gentle,” “lenient,” “forbearing,” and “considerate.” The New World Translation renders it “reasonable,” with a footnote indicating that the literal meaning is “yielding.”* The word also conveys the sense of not insisting on the letter of the law, not being unduly strict or stern. Scholar William Barclay comments in New Testament Words: “The basic and the fundamental thing about epieikeia is that it goes back to God. If God stood on his rights, if God applied to us nothing but the rigid standards of the law, where would we be? God is the supreme example of one who is epieikēs and who deals with others with epieikeia.”
7. How did Jehovah display reasonableness in the garden of Eden?
7 Consider the time when mankind rebelled against Jehovah’s sovereignty. How easy it would have been for God to execute those three thankless rebels—Adam, Eve, and Satan! How much heartache he might thereby have spared himself! And who could have argued that he had no right to exact such strict justice? Nonetheless, Jehovah never has his celestial chariotlike organization locked into some rigid, unadaptable standard of justice. So that chariot did not roll inexorably over the human family and all prospects for mankind’s happy future. On the contrary, Jehovah maneuvered his chariot with lightninglike swiftness. Immediately after the rebellion, Jehovah God outlined a long-range purpose that offered mercy and hope to all of Adam’s descendants.—Genesis 3:15.
8. (a) How does Christendom’s mistaken view of reasonableness contrast with Jehovah’s genuine reasonableness? (b) Why can we say that Jehovah’s reasonableness does not imply that he might compromise divine principles?
8 Jehovah’s reasonableness does not, however, imply that he might compromise divine principles. Today’s churches of Christendom may think that they are being reasonable when they wink at immorality simply to curry favor with their wayward flocks. (Compare 2 Timothy 4:3.) Jehovah never breaks his own laws, nor does he compromise his principles. Rather, he shows a willingness to yield, to adapt to circumstances, so that those principles may be applied both justly and mercifully. He is ever mindful of balancing his exercise of justice and power with his love and reasonable wisdom. Let us consider three ways in which Jehovah demonstrates reasonableness.
“Ready to Forgive”
9, 10. (a) What does being “ready to forgive” have to do with reasonableness? (b) How did David benefit from Jehovah’s readiness to forgive, and why?
9 David wrote: “For you, O Jehovah, are good and ready to forgive; and the loving-kindness to all those calling upon you is abundant.” (Psalm 86:5) When the Hebrew Scriptures were translated into Greek, the word for “ready to forgive” was rendered e·pi·ei·kesʹ, or “reasonable.” Indeed, being ready to forgive and show mercy is perhaps the key way to demonstrate reasonableness.
10 David himself was well aware of how reasonable Jehovah is in this regard. When David committed adultery with Bath-sheba and arranged to have her husband killed, both he and Bath-sheba were liable to the death penalty. (Deuteronomy 22:22; 2 Samuel 11:2-27) If rigid human judges had handled the case, both might well have lost their lives. But Jehovah showed reasonableness (e·pi·ei·kesʹ), which, as Vine’s Expository Dictionary of Biblical Words puts it, “expresses that considerateness that looks ‘humanely and reasonably at the facts of a case.’” The facts that influenced Jehovah’s merciful decision likely included the sincere repentance of the wrongdoers and the mercy that David himself had previously shown in behalf of others. (1 Samuel 24:4-6; 25:32-35; 26:7-11; Matthew 5:7; James 2:13) However, in line with Jehovah’s description of himself at Exodus 34:4-7, it was reasonable that Jehovah would give David correction. He sent the prophet Nathan to David with a strong message, impressing David with the fact that he had despised the word of Jehovah. David repented and so did not die for his sin.—2 Samuel 12:1-14.
11. How did Jehovah show a readiness to forgive in the case of Manasseh?
11 The example of King Manasseh of Judah is more remarkable in this regard, since Manasseh, unlike David, was thoroughly wicked for a long time. Manasseh promoted disgusting religious practices in the land, including human sacrifice. He may also have been responsible for having the faithful prophet Isaiah “sawn asunder.” (Hebrews 11:37) To punish Manasseh, Jehovah allowed him to be carried off as a captive to Babylon. However, Manasseh repented in prison and pleaded for mercy. In response to this sincere repentance, Jehovah was “ready to forgive”—even in this extreme case.—2 Chronicles 33:9-13.
Changing Course as New Circumstances Arise
12, 13. (a) In the case of Nineveh, what change of circumstance prompted Jehovah to alter course? (b) How did Jonah prove less reasonable than Jehovah God?
12 Jehovah’s reasonableness also shows in his willingness to alter a contemplated course of action as new circumstances arise. For instance, when the prophet Jonah marched through the streets of ancient Nineveh, his inspired message was quite simple: The mighty city would be destroyed in 40 days. However, circumstances changed—dramatically! The Ninevites repented.—Jonah, chapter 3.
13 It is instructive to contrast how Jehovah and Jonah reacted to this turn of events. Jehovah in effect altered the course of his celestial chariot. In this instance he adapted, causing himself to become a forgiver of sins instead of a “manly person of war.” (Exodus 15:3) Jonah, on the other hand, was far less flexible. Rather than keeping pace with Jehovah’s chariot, he acted more like the freight train or the supertanker mentioned earlier. He had proclaimed doom, so doom it must be! Perhaps he felt that any change in course would make him lose face in the eyes of the Ninevites. Patiently, though, Jehovah taught his hardheaded prophet a memorable lesson in reasonableness and mercy.—Jonah, chapter 4.
14. Why did Jehovah change his course of action in regard to his prophet Ezekiel?
14 Jehovah has changed course on other occasions—even over relatively minor matters. For example, once when he commissioned the prophet Ezekiel to act out a prophetic drama, Jehovah’s instructions included a directive that Ezekiel cook his food on a fire fueled with human dung. This was just too much for the prophet, who cried out, “Alas, O Sovereign Lord Jehovah!” and begged that he not be made to do something so repugnant to him. Jehovah did not dismiss the prophet’s feelings as irrational; rather, He allowed Ezekiel to use cattle dung, a common source of fuel in many lands down to this day.—Ezekiel 4:12-15.
15. (a) What examples show that Jehovah has been willing to listen and respond to human beings? (b) What lesson might this teach us?
15 Is it not heartwarming to contemplate the humility of our God Jehovah? (Psalm 18:35) He is vastly higher than we are; yet he listens patiently to imperfect humans and even alters his course accordingly at times. He allowed Abraham to plead with him at length concerning the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah. (Genesis 18:23-33) And He let Moses raise objections to His proposal to destroy the rebellious Israelites and instead make a mighty nation out of Moses. (Exodus 32:7-14; Deuteronomy 9:14, 19; compare Amos 7:1-6.) He thereby set a perfect example for his human servants, who should show a similar readiness to listen to others when it is reasonable and possible to do so.—Compare James 1:19.
Reasonableness in the Exercise of Authority
16. How does Jehovah differ from many humans in the way that he exercises his authority?
16 Have you ever noticed that as individuals acquire more authority, many seem to become less reasonable? Jehovah, in contrast, has the highest position of authority in the universe, yet he is the ultimate example of reasonableness. He exercises his authority in an unfailingly reasonable way. Unlike many humans, Jehovah is not insecure about his authority, so he does not feel compelled to guard it jealously—as if granting a measure of authority to others might somehow threaten his own. In fact, when there was only one other being in the universe, Jehovah conferred extensive authority upon that one. He made the Logos his “master worker,” from then on bringing all things into existence through this beloved Son. (Proverbs 8:22, 29-31; John 1:1-3, 14; Colossians 1:15-17) He later delegated to him “all authority . . . in heaven and on the earth.”—Matthew 28:18; John 5:22.
17, 18. (a) Why did Jehovah send angels to Sodom and Gomorrah? (b) Why did Jehovah ask the angels for suggestions on how to fool Ahab?
17 Similarly, Jehovah entrusts many of his creatures with tasks that he could handle even better himself. For instance, when he told Abraham, “I am quite determined to go down [to Sodom and Gomorrah] that I may see whether they act altogether according to the outcry over it that has come to me,” he did not mean that he would go there in person. Rather, Jehovah chose to delegate authority, appointing angels to gather such information for him. He gave them authority to lead this fact-finding mission and to report back to him.—Genesis 18:1-3, 20-22.
18 On another occasion, when Jehovah decided to execute sentence upon wicked King Ahab, He invited the angels at a heavenly assembly to offer suggestions as to how to “fool” that apostate king into joining the battle that would end his life. Surely, Jehovah, the Source of all wisdom, did not need help to come up with the best course of action! Yet, he dignified the angels with the privilege of proposing solutions and the authority to act upon the one he selected.—1 Kings 22:19-22.
19. (a) Why does Jehovah limit the number of laws that he makes? (b) How does Jehovah show himself reasonable when it comes to what he expects from us?
19 Jehovah does not use his authority to exert undue control over others. In this too he shows unparalleled reasonableness. He carefully limits the number of laws that he makes and prohibits his servants from ‘going beyond the things written’ by adding burdensome laws of their own making. (1 Corinthians 4:6; Acts 15:28; contrast Matthew 23:4.) He never requires blind obedience of his creatures, but usually he provides sufficient information to guide them and puts the choice before them, letting them know the benefits of obeying and the consequences of disobeying. (Deuteronomy 30:19, 20) Rather than coercing people through guilt, shame, or fear, he seeks to reach hearts; he wants people to serve him out of genuine love rather than compulsion. (2 Corinthians 9:7) All such whole-souled service makes God’s heart rejoice, so he is not unreasonably “hard to please.”—1 Peter 2:18; Proverbs 27:11; compare Micah 6:8.
20. How does Jehovah’s reasonableness affect you?
20 Is it not remarkable that Jehovah God, who has more power than any being in creation, never exercises that power unreasonably, never uses it to bully others? However, men, so puny in comparison, have a history of domineering one another. (Ecclesiastes 8:9) Clearly, reasonableness is a precious quality, one that moves us to love Jehovah all the more. That, in turn, may motivate us to cultivate this quality ourselves. How can we do so? The following article will take up this matter.
Back in 1769, lexicographer John Parkhurst defined the word as “yielding, of a yielding disposition, gentle, mild, patient.” Other scholars too have offered “yielding” as a definition.
How Would You Answer?
□ How do Jehovah’s name and the vision of his celestial chariot emphasize his adaptability?
□ What is reasonableness, and why is it a mark of divine wisdom?
□ In what ways has Jehovah shown that he is “ready to forgive”?
□ Why has Jehovah chosen to change a contemplated course of action in certain instances?
□ How does Jehovah demonstrate reasonableness in the way that he exercises authority?
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Why did Jehovah forgive wicked King Manasseh?