“I will declare the name of Jehovah . . . , a God of faithfulness who is never unjust.”—DEUT. 32:3, 4.
1, 2. (a) What injustice did Naboth and his sons experience? (b) What two qualities will we consider in this article?
IMAGINE the scene. A man is falsely accused of a capital offense. To the shock and dismay of his family and friends, he is convicted on the basis of false testimony presented by witnesses who are known to be good-for-nothing men. A sick feeling overwhelms lovers of justice as they witness the execution of that innocent man and his sons. This is not an imaginary account. This was the experience of a faithful servant of Jehovah named Naboth, who lived during the reign of King Ahab of Israel.—1 Ki. 21:11-13; 2 Ki. 9:26.
2 In this article, we will consider not only Naboth’s experience but also that of a faithful elder in the first-century Christian congregation who made an error in judgment. In considering these Bible examples, we will learn that humility is essential if we are to demonstrate that we share Jehovah’s sense of justice. We will also learn how a willingness to forgive when we observe injustices in the congregation can reflect Jehovah’s view of justice.
A PERVERSION OF JUSTICE
3, 4. What kind of man was Naboth, and why did he refuse to sell his vineyard to King Ahab?
3 Naboth was faithful to Jehovah at a time when most Israelites were following the bad example of King Ahab and his wife, wicked Queen Jezebel. Those Baal worshippers had no respect for Jehovah or appreciation for his standards. On the other hand, Naboth valued his relationship with Jehovah even more than life itself.
4 Read 1 Kings 21:1-3. When Ahab offered to purchase Naboth’s vineyard or to give him a better vineyard in its place, Naboth refused. Why? He respectfully explained: “It is unthinkable, from Jehovah’s standpoint, for me to give you the inheritance of my forefathers.” Naboth’s refusal was based on Jehovah’s law to the nation of Israel that forbade the permanent sale of one’s tribal inheritance. (Lev. 25:23; Num. 36:7) Clearly, Naboth had Jehovah’s view of matters.
5. What role did Jezebel play in Naboth’s murder?
5 Sadly, Naboth’s refusal triggered a series of reprehensible acts on the part of both King Ahab and his wife. In order to obtain the vineyard for her husband, Jezebel orchestrated the false accusation against Naboth, which resulted in the execution of both Naboth and his sons. How would Jehovah deal with this tragic injustice?
GOD’S RIGHTEOUS JUDGMENT
6, 7. How did Jehovah show that he is a lover of justice, and why would this have been of comfort to Naboth’s relatives and friends?
6 Jehovah swiftly dispatched Elijah to confront Ahab. Elijah rightly judged Ahab as a murderer and a thief. What was Jehovah’s verdict in this case? Ahab, his wife, and his sons would suffer the same fate as did Naboth and his sons.—1 Ki. 21:17-25.
7 Although Naboth’s family and friends were saddened by Ahab’s murderous actions, they no doubt found some measure of comfort in knowing that Jehovah was aware of the injustice and that he quickly addressed the wrongdoing. However, their humility and their trust in Jehovah were likely put to the test by an unexpected turn of events.
8. How did Ahab respond to Jehovah’s judgment message, and with what result?
8 When Ahab learned of Jehovah’s adverse judgment, “he ripped his garments apart and put sackcloth on his body; and he went on a fast and kept lying down in sackcloth and walking despondently.” Ahab humbled himself! With what result? Jehovah told Elijah: “Because he has humbled himself before me, I will not bring the calamity during his lifetime. I will bring the calamity upon his house in the days of his son.” (1 Ki. 21:27-29; 2 Ki. 10:10, 11, 17) Jehovah, “the examiner of hearts,” extended a measure of mercy to Ahab.—Prov. 17:3.
9. Why would humility have been a protection to Naboth’s family and friends?
9 How did this decision affect those who knew of Ahab’s terrible crime? This seeming reversal may have tested the faith of Naboth’s family and friends. If so, humility would have protected them, prompting them to continue faithful in their worship of Jehovah, confident that their God is incapable of injustice. (Read Deuteronomy 32:3, 4.) Naboth, his sons, and their families will experience perfect justice when Jehovah resurrects the righteous ones. (Job 14:14, 15; John 5:28, 29) Furthermore, a humble person remembers that “the true God will judge every deed, including every hidden thing, as to whether it is good or bad.” (Eccl. 12:14) Yes, when rendering judgment, Jehovah takes into consideration factors that are unknown to us. Thus, humility protects innocent ones from spiritual disaster.
10, 11. (a) Under what circumstances might our personal sense of justice be tested? (b) In what ways will humility protect us?
10 How will you respond if the elders make a decision that you do not understand or perhaps do not agree with? For example, what will you do if you or someone you love loses a cherished privilege of service? What if your marriage mate, your son or daughter, or your close friend is disfellowshipped and you do not agree with the decision? What if you believe that mercy was mistakenly extended to a wrongdoer? Such situations can test our faith in Jehovah and in his organizational arrangement. How will humility protect you if you face such a test? Consider two ways.
11 First, humility will move us to acknowledge that we do not have all the facts. No matter how much we know of a situation, only Jehovah can read a person’s figurative heart. (1 Sam. 16:7) Our awareness of this undeniable truth will prompt us to be humble, to recognize our limitations, and to adjust our view of the matter. Second, humility will help us to be submissive and patient as we wait on Jehovah to correct any true injustice. It is as the wise man wrote: “It will turn out well for those who fear the true God . . . , but it will not turn out well for the wicked one, nor will he prolong his days.” (Eccl. 8:12, 13) Certainly, a humble response is in the best spiritual interests of all concerned.—Read 1 Peter 5:5.
A CASE OF HYPOCRISY
12. What account will we now consider, and why?
12 The first-century Christians in Syrian Antioch faced a situation that tested not only their humility but also their willingness to forgive. Let us consider that account and see how it will help us to examine our attitude about forgiveness and deepen our understanding of how forgiveness relates to Jehovah’s view of justice.
13, 14. What privileges did the apostle Peter enjoy, and how did he demonstrate courage?
13 The apostle Peter was a well-known elder in the Christian congregation. He was a personal associate of Jesus and had been entrusted with significant responsibilities. (Matt. 16:19) For example, in 36 C.E., Peter had the privilege of sharing the good news with Cornelius and his household. This occasion was noteworthy, since Cornelius was an uncircumcised Gentile. When Cornelius and his household received holy spirit, Peter acknowledged: “Can anyone deny water to prevent these from being baptized who have received the holy spirit just as we have?”—Acts 10:47.
14 In 49 C.E., the apostles and the elders in Jerusalem met to consider whether circumcision would be required of Gentiles who converted to Christianity. At this meeting, Peter spoke boldly, reminding the brothers that some years earlier, uncircumcised Gentiles had received the gift of the holy spirit. Peter’s eyewitness testimony was very helpful to the first-century governing body in making a decision. (Acts 15:6-11, 13, 14, 28, 29) Likely, both Jewish and Gentile Christians appreciated Peter’s fearlessness in presenting the facts. How easy it must have been to have confidence in such a spiritually mature man!—Heb. 13:7.
15. What error did Peter make while in Syrian Antioch? (See opening picture.)
15 Shortly after the meeting in 49 C.E., Peter visited Syrian Antioch. While there, he freely associated with his Gentile brothers. No doubt, they benefited from Peter’s knowledge and experience. We can imagine their surprise and disappointment, though, when Peter suddenly stopped eating with them. Other Jewish members of the congregation, even Barnabas, were wrongly influenced by Peter to do the same. What prompted a mature Christian elder to make such an error in judgment—one that could have divided the congregation? More important, what can we learn from Peter’s error that will help us if we are hurt by the words or actions of an elder?
16. How was Peter corrected, and what questions arise?
16 Read Galatians 2:11-14. Peter gave in to the snare of fear of man. (Prov. 29:25) Despite his firsthand knowledge of Jehovah’s thinking on the matter, Peter feared the opinion of the circumcised Jewish members of the congregation in Jerusalem. The apostle Paul, who was also present at that meeting in Jerusalem in 49 C.E., confronted Peter in Antioch and exposed his hypocrisy. (Acts 15:12; Gal. 2:13, ftn.) How would the Gentile Christians who were personally affected by Peter’s mistake respond to the injustice? Would they allow themselves to be stumbled? Would Peter lose precious privileges because of his mistake?
17. How did Peter benefit from Jehovah’s forgiveness?
17 Evidently, Peter humbly accepted Paul’s corrective counsel. There is no indication in the Scriptures that he lost his privileges. In fact, he was later inspired to write two letters that became part of the Bible. Notably, in his second letter, Peter refers to Paul as “our beloved brother.” (2 Pet. 3:15) Although Peter’s error in judgment may have been painful for the Gentile members of the congregation, Jesus, who is head of the congregation, continued to use him. (Eph. 1:22) Members of the congregation thus had an opportunity to imitate Jesus and his Father by extending forgiveness. It is to be hoped that no one allowed himself to be stumbled by an imperfect man’s mistake.
18. Under what circumstances may we need to reflect Jehovah’s sense of justice?
18 As was true in the first century, there are no perfect elders in the modern-day Christian congregation, “for we all make mistakes many times.” (Jas. 3:2, ftn.) We may readily acknowledge this fact, but the challenge is when we are personally affected by the imperfections of a brother. In such a situation, will we reflect Jehovah’s view of justice? For example, how will you respond if an elder makes a remark that hints at a degree of prejudice? Will you allow yourself to be stumbled if an elder thoughtlessly makes a statement that offends or hurts you? Rather than quickly concluding that the brother no longer qualifies as an elder, will you patiently wait on Jesus, the head of the congregation? Will you put forth the effort to see the bigger picture, perhaps reflecting on the brother’s many years of faithful service? If a brother who sins against you continues to serve as an elder or even receives additional privileges, will you rejoice with him? Your willingness to forgive may well reflect Jehovah’s view of justice.—Read Matthew 6:14, 15.
19. What should be our determination?
19 Lovers of justice long for the day when Jehovah will completely erase all the injustice inflicted on humans by Satan and his wicked system. (Isa. 65:17) Until then, may each of us be determined to reflect Jehovah’s view of justice by humbly acknowledging our personal limitations and generously forgiving those who sin against us.