“With your counsel you will lead me, and afterward you will take me even to glory.”—PS. 73:24.
1, 2. (a) What things are essential to a good relationship with Jehovah? (b) How will we benefit by examining Scriptural accounts of the ways in which people responded to God’s discipline?
“AS FOR me, the drawing near to God is good for me. In the Sovereign Lord Jehovah I have placed my refuge.” (Ps. 73:28) Here the psalmist expressed his confidence in God. What circumstances led him to this profound conclusion? Upon observing the peace of wicked people, at first the psalmist felt bitter at heart. He lamented: “It is in vain that I have cleansed my heart and that I wash my hands in innocence itself.” (Ps. 73:2, 3, 13, 21) When he came into “the grand sanctuary of God,” however, he was in a setting that helped him to adjust his thinking and maintain his intimacy with God. (Ps. 73:16-18) This experience taught that God-fearing man a vital lesson: Being among God’s people, accepting counsel, and applying it are essential to a close relationship with Jehovah.—Ps. 73:24.
2 We too desire an intimate relationship with the true and living God. To reach that goal, it is vital that we allow his counsel or discipline to mold us, so that we become individuals who are pleasing to him! In past times, God mercifully gave individuals and nations opportunities to respond to his discipline. The accounts of their response are recorded in the Bible “for our instruction” and “for a warning to us upon whom the ends of the systems of things have arrived.” (Rom. 15:4; 1 Cor. 10:11) Examining these accounts closely will give us insight into Jehovah’s personality and show us how we may benefit from his molding.
HOW THE POTTER EXERCISES HIS AUTHORITY
3 Describing Jehovah’s authority over individuals and nations in an illustrative way, Isaiah 64:8 states: “O Jehovah, you are our Father. We are the clay, and you are our Potter; and all of us are the work of your hand.” A potter has full authority to mold the clay into the type of vessel he wants to make. The clay has no control over the matter. So it is with man and God. The man cannot rightly dispute with God any more than the clay can with the potter whose hands are giving it a form.—Read Jeremiah 18:1-6.
4. Does God arbitrarily mold people or nations? Explain.
4 With ancient Israel, Jehovah demonstrated his ability to do what the potter does to clay. But there is a marked difference. A potter can make any sort of vessel he is capable of making from a lump of clay. Does Jehovah arbitrarily mold people or nations, making some good and others bad? The Bible’s answer is no. Jehovah has given mankind a very precious gift—the gift of free will. He does not exercise his sovereign authority in a way that nullifies his gift. Humans must choose to be molded by the Creator, Jehovah.—Read Jeremiah 18:7-10.
5. When humans refuse to be molded by Jehovah, how does he exercise his authority over them?
5 What if humans stubbornly refuse to be molded by the Great Potter? How, then, does he exercise his divine authority? Think about what happens to the clay if it becomes unsuited for the intended purpose. Why, the potter can make another type of vessel out of it or simply discard it! When the clay is useless, though, generally the potter is at fault. This is never the case with our Potter. (Deut. 32:4) When a person does not yield to Jehovah’s molding, the fault always lies with that person. Jehovah exercises his potterlike authority over humans by adjusting his dealings with them depending on their response to his molding. Those who respond properly are fashioned in a beneficial way. For example, anointed Christians are “vessels of mercy” who have been molded into ‘vessels for an honorable use.’ On the other hand, those who stubbornly oppose God end up as “vessels of wrath made fit for destruction.”—Rom. 9:19-23.
6, 7. How did King David and King Saul differ in their response to Jehovah’s counsel?
6 One way that Jehovah molds people is through counsel or discipline. We can see how he exercises authority over those whom he molds by considering Israel’s first two kings—Saul and David. When King David committed adultery with Bath-sheba, his actions adversely affected him and others. Even though David was king, Jehovah did not hold back from giving him firm discipline. God sent his prophet Nathan to David with a strong message. (2 Sam. 12:1-12) How did David respond? He was cut to the heart and repented. David became a recipient of God’s mercy.—Read 2 Samuel 12:13.
7 In contrast, David’s predecessor, King Saul, did not respond well to counsel. Jehovah had given Saul a direct command through the prophet Samuel: Devote to destruction all the Amalekites and their livestock. Saul disobeyed this divine command. He spared Agag, the king, and the choice livestock. Why? At least in part because he wanted to bring honor to himself. (1 Sam. 15:1-3, 7-9, 12) When counseled, Saul should have let his heart be softened, allowing himself to be shaped by the Great Potter. Instead, Saul refused to be molded. He justified his behavior. He rationalized that what he had done was permissible because the livestock could be used as a sacrifice, and he minimized Samuel’s counsel. Jehovah rejected Saul as king, and Saul never recovered his good relationship with the true God.—Read 1 Samuel 15:13-15, 20-23.
GOD IS NOT PARTIAL
8. We can learn what lesson from the way the nation of Israel responded to Jehovah’s molding?
8 Jehovah gives not only individuals but also nations the opportunity to respond to his molding. In 1513 B.C.E., the sons of Israel, liberated from slavery in Egypt, entered into a covenant relationship with God. Israel was his chosen nation and was privileged to be molded by him, as though on the Great Potter’s wheel. However, the people kept doing what was bad in Jehovah’s eyes, even taking up the worship of gods of surrounding nations. Over and over, Jehovah sent prophets to bring them to their senses, but Israel did not listen. (Jer. 35:12-15) For their stubborn course, Israel had to be severely disciplined. Like a vessel fit for destruction, the northern ten-tribe kingdom was conquered by the Assyrians and the southern two-tribe kingdom was dealt with similarly by the Babylonians. What a powerful lesson this should teach us! Jehovah’s molding will help us only if we respond properly to it.
9, 10. How did the Ninevites respond to divine warning?
9 Jehovah also gave the people of the Assyrian capital of Nineveh an opportunity to respond to his warning. His word occurred to Jonah, saying: “Get up, go to Nineveh the great city, and proclaim against her that their badness has come up before me.” Nineveh was deemed fit for destruction.—Jonah 1:1, 2; 3:1-4.
10 However, when Jonah declared the message of doom, “the men of Nineveh began to put faith in God, and they proceeded to proclaim a fast and to put on sackcloth, from the greatest one of them even to the least one of them.” Their king “rose up from his throne and put off his official garment from himself and covered himself with sackcloth and sat down in the ashes.” The Ninevites responded to Jehovah’s molding efforts and repented. Consequently, Jehovah did not cause the calamity.—Jonah 3:5-10.
11. What quality of Jehovah comes to the fore in his dealings with Israel and with Nineveh?
11 Being a chosen nation had not excluded Israel from discipline. The Ninevites, on the other hand, were not in a covenant relationship with God. Still, Jehovah had his message of judgment declared to them and showed them mercy when they proved to be like malleable clay in his hands. How vividly these two examples show that Jehovah our God “treats none with partiality”!—Deut. 10:17.
JEHOVAH IS REASONABLE AND ADAPTABLE
12, 13. (a) Why does God alter his course when individuals respond to his molding? (b) Jehovah’s ‘feeling regret’ meant what in the case of Saul? of Nineveh?
12 The way that God is willing to mold us shows that he is reasonable and adaptable. That is evident in situations where Jehovah determines to take action based on his just judgment of people but then changes his mind because of their response. The Scriptures state concerning the first king of Israel that Jehovah ‘regretted that he had caused Saul to reign as king.’ (1 Sam. 15:11) When the people of Nineveh repented and turned around from their bad way, the Bible says: “The true God felt regret over the calamity that he had spoken of causing to them; and he did not cause it.”—Jonah 3:10.
13 The Hebrew term translated “felt regret” actually pertains to a change of attitude or intention. Jehovah’s attitude toward Saul changed from selecting him as king to that of rejecting him. This change occurred, not because Jehovah had erred in choosing Saul, but because Saul acted without faith and became disobedient. The true God felt regret in the case of the Ninevites; that is, he changed his intention regarding them. How comforting it is to know that Jehovah our Potter is reasonable and adaptable, gracious and merciful, willing to change his course based on positive changes that erring ones make!
LET US NOT REJECT THE DISCIPLINE OF JEHOVAH
14. (a) How does Jehovah mold us today? (b) How should we respond to God’s molding?
14 Jehovah molds us today primarily by means of his Word, the Bible, and his organization. (2 Tim. 3:16, 17) Should we not accept whatever counsel or discipline we receive through these means? Regardless of how long we have been baptized or how many privileges of service we have received, we should continue to respond to Jehovah’s counsel, allowing it to shape us into vessels for an honorable use.
15, 16. (a) What negative feelings may arise when discipline involves a loss of privileges? Illustrate. (b) What can help us to cope with negative emotions associated with discipline?
15 Some discipline may come our way in the form of instruction or correction. At other times, though, we may need discipline because we have not done what is right. Such discipline may involve the loss of privileges. Consider the example of Dennis* who was serving as an elder. He fell into wrongdoing because of poor judgment regarding business matters, and he was privately reproved. How did Dennis feel the night it was announced to the congregation that he was no longer serving as an elder? “I had an overwhelming sense of failure,” he says. “Over the past 30 years, I had had many privileges. I had been a regular pioneer, had served at Bethel, had been appointed as a ministerial servant and then as an elder. I had also just given my first talk at a district convention. Suddenly, it was all gone. Besides feeling shame and embarrassment, I thought that there was no longer any place for me in the organization.”
16 Dennis had to change his course, turning away from the wrong that required that he be corrected. But what helped him to cope with negative feelings? He explains: “I was determined to maintain a good spiritual routine. And just as important was the support I received from the Christian brotherhood and the encouragement I got from our publications. The article ‘Did You Once Serve? Can You Serve Again?’ in the August 15, 2009, issue of The Watchtower was like a personal letter in answer to my prayers. The counsel I cherished most was, ‘While you do not have additional responsibilities in the congregation, concentrate on strengthening your spirituality.’” How has Dennis benefited from the discipline? After some years, he says, “Jehovah has again blessed me with the privilege of serving as a ministerial servant.”
17. What role can disfellowshipping play in a sinner’s recovery? Illustrate.
17 Disfellowshipping is another type of discipline from Jehovah. It protects the congregation from a bad influence and can play a role in the sinner’s recovery. (1 Cor. 5:6, 7, 11) Robert was disfellowshipped for nearly 16 years, during which time his parents and siblings firmly and loyally applied the direction in God’s Word to quit mixing in company with wrongdoers, not even greeting such ones. Robert has been reinstated for some years now and is progressing well spiritually. When asked what moved him to return to Jehovah and His people after such a long time, he replied that the stand that his family took affected him. “Had my family associated with me even a little, say to check up on me, that small dose of association would have satisfied me and likely not allowed my desire for association to be a motivating factor to return to God.”
18. What type of clay should we prove to be in the hands of the Great Potter?
18 We may not need that same discipline, but what type of clay will we prove to be in the hands of the Great Potter? How will we respond when disciplined? Will we prove to be like David or like Saul? The Great Potter is our Father. Never forget that “the one whom Jehovah loves he reproves, even as a father does a son in whom he finds pleasure.” Therefore, ‘do not reject the discipline of Jehovah, and do not abhor his reproof.’—Prov. 3:11, 12.
Names have been changed.