“A highway will be there, . . . the Way of Holiness.”—ISA. 35:8.
SONG 31 Oh, Walk With God!
1-2. What important decision did Jews living in Babylon have to make? (Ezra 1:2-4)
THE word had gone out! The Jews, who had been captives in Babylon for some 70 years, were free to return to their homeland, Israel. (Read Ezra 1:2-4.) Only Jehovah could have accomplished this. Why can we say that? Babylon would not normally release its captives. (Isa. 14:4, 17) But Babylon had been overthrown, and the new ruler had told the Jews that they could leave the country. As a result, every Jew, especially family heads, faced a decision: to leave Babylon or to stay behind. That decision might not have been an easy one to make. Why not?
2 Old age prevented many from risking the hardships of the trip. And since most of the Jews had been born in Babylon, it was the only home they had ever known. To them, Israel was the land of their ancestors. Some Jews had apparently become very successful in Babylon, so they may have found it hard to leave their comfortable homes or their businesses and settle in an unfamiliar land.
3. What blessing awaited the remnant of faithful Jews who would return to Israel?
3 In the minds of faithful Jews, the benefits of returning to Israel far outweighed any sacrifices they would make. The greatest blessing involved their worship. Although there were more than 50 pagan temples in Babylon, there was no temple of Jehovah in that city. There was no altar where the Israelites could offer up the sacrifices required by the Mosaic Law, and there was no organized priesthood to offer those sacrifices. In addition, Jehovah’s people were greatly outnumbered by pagan men and women, who had no regard for Jehovah or his standards. So God-fearing Jews—thousands of them—were looking forward to returning to their homeland where they could restore pure worship.
4. What help did Jehovah promise to give the Jews returning to Israel?
4 The difficult literal journey from Babylon to Israel could take about four months, but Jehovah promised that any obstacles that seemed to prevent their return would be cleared away. Isaiah wrote: “Clear up the way of Jehovah! Make a straight highway through the desert for our God. . . . The rough ground must become level, and the rugged ground a valley plain.” (Isa. 40:3, 4) Just picture this scene: a highway through the desert, a level valley plain. What a blessing that would be for travelers! It would be a lot easier for them to travel on a straight highway than to trudge up and down or around mountains, hills, or valleys. It would be faster too.
5. What name was given to the figurative highway between Babylon and Israel?
5 Today, many literal highways are identified by a name or a number. The figurative highway Isaiah wrote about also had a name. We read: “A highway will be there, yes, a way called the Way of Holiness. The unclean one will not travel on it.” (Isa. 35:8) What did this promise mean for the Israelites back then? And what does it mean for us today?
“THE WAY OF HOLINESS”—THEN AND NOW
6. Why was this road called holy?
6 “The Way of Holiness”—what a beautiful name for a highway! Why was the road called holy? There would be no place in the restored nation of Israel for “the unclean one”—any Jew who was determined to practice immorality, idolatry, or other gross sins. The returning Jews were to become “a holy people” to their God. (Deut. 7:6) That did not mean, though, that those who left Babylon did not need to make changes in order to please Jehovah.
7. What changes did some of the Jews need to make? Give an example.
7 As noted earlier, most of the Jews were born in Babylon, and many had apparently become accustomed to some of the thinking and standards of the Babylonians. Decades after the first Jews returned to Israel, Ezra learned that some Jews had formed marriage alliances with pagan women. (Ex. 34:15, 16; Ezra 9:1, 2) Still later, Governor Nehemiah was astonished to find out that children born in Israel had not even learned the language of the Jews. (Deut. 6:6, 7; Neh. 13:23, 24) How could those young ones learn to love and worship Jehovah if they could not understand Hebrew—the main language in which God’s Word was written? (Ezra 10:3, 44) So those Jews had significant changes to make, but it would be much easier for them to make those changes in Israel, where pure worship was gradually being restored.—Neh. 8:8, 9.
8. Why should events that happened so long ago be of interest to us today? (See cover picture.)
8 ‘That is all very interesting,’ some might think, ‘but does what happened to the Jews so long ago have any meaning for us today?’ Indeed it does because, in a sense, we are traveling on “the Way of Holiness.” Whether we are of the anointed or of the “other sheep,” we need to remain on “the Way of Holiness” as it takes us through the spiritual paradise and leads us to future Kingdom blessings.b (John 10:16) Since 1919 C.E., millions of men, women, and children have left Babylon the Great, the world empire of false religion, and have begun traveling on that figurative road. You are likely among them. Although the road was opened some 100 years ago, preparatory work on that highway began centuries earlier.
PREPARING THE ROAD
9. In harmony with Isaiah 57:14, in what sense has preparatory work been done on “the Way of Holiness”?
9 For the Jews leaving Babylon, Jehovah saw to it that obstacles were removed. (Read Isaiah 57:14.) What about the modern-day “Way of Holiness”? For many centuries leading up to 1919, Jehovah used God-fearing men to help clear the way out of Babylon the Great. (Compare Isaiah 40:3.) They did necessary preparatory work—spiritual roadwork—to make it possible later for righthearted people to leave Babylon the Great and enter the spiritual paradise, where pure worship of Jehovah had been restored. What did this “roadwork” involve? Consider some of the preparatory work that was done.
10-11. How have printing and translating the Bible contributed to the spread of Bible knowledge? (See also picture.)
10 Printing. Up until the middle of the 15th century, the Bible was copied by hand. The work took a long time, and copies of the Bible were rare and very expensive. But when a printing press with movable type was invented, the Bible could more easily be produced and distributed.
11 Translating. For centuries, the Bible was available mainly in Latin, which only well-educated people could understand. When printing became more common, however, God-fearing individuals intensified the work of translating the Bible into languages spoken by the common people. Now Bible readers could compare what they were being taught by the clergy with what the Bible really teaches.
12-13. Give an example of how sincere students of the Bible in the 19th century began to expose false religious teachings.
12 Bible study aids. Careful students of the Bible learned a great deal from what they read in God’s Word. And, much to the displeasure of many clergymen, they rarely kept their discoveries to themselves. In the 19th century, for example, a number of sincere men began to publish tracts that exposed the false religious teachings of the churches.
13 About 1835 a God-fearing man named Henry Grew published a tract discussing the condition of the dead. In it, he proved from the Scriptures that immortality is a gift from God, not a condition we are all born with, as most of the churches taught. In 1837 a minister named George Storrs found a copy of that tract while riding a train. He read it and was convinced that he had discovered a vital truth. He decided to share what he had learned. In 1842 he gave a series of lectures on the intriguing theme “An Inquiry—Are the Wicked Immortal?” The writings of George Storrs had a positive influence on a young man named Charles Taze Russell.
14. In what ways did Brother Russell and his associates benefit from the spiritual roadwork of the past? (See also picture.)
14 In what ways did Brother Russell and his associates benefit from the spiritual roadwork that had been done in the past? In their studies, they were able to consult lexicons, concordances, and various translations of the Bible, all of which had been prepared before their time. They also benefited from the Bible research of such men as Henry Grew, George Storrs, and others. Brother Russell and his associates contributed to the spiritual roadwork themselves by producing an abundance of books and tracts that considered Bible topics.
15. What important developments took place in 1919?
15 In 1919, Babylon the Great lost its hold over God’s people. That year, a “faithful and discreet slave” came on the scene, just in time to welcome honesthearted ones to the newly opened “Way of Holiness.” (Matt. 24:45-47) Thanks in part to the faithful “road workers” of the past, those setting foot on that highway could increase their knowledge of Jehovah’s purposes. (Prov. 4:18) They could also bring their life into harmony with Jehovah’s requirements. Jehovah has not expected his people to make the necessary changes all at once. Rather, he has refined his people over time. (See the box “Jehovah Gradually Refines His People.”) How happy we will all be when we are able to please our God in everything we do!—Col. 1:10.
“THE WAY OF HOLINESS” IS STILL OPEN
16 Every road needs regular maintenance. Since 1919, roadwork on “the Way of Holiness” has continued, with a view to making it possible for more people to leave Babylon the Great. The newly appointed faithful and discreet slave got to work, and in 1921, they published a Bible-study aid designed to help beginners learn Bible truth. That publication, The Harp of God, eventually had a circulation of almost six million copies in 36 languages, and many learned the truth from it. More recently, we have a fine new publication for conducting Bible studies, Enjoy Life Forever! Throughout the last days, Jehovah has used his organization to provide a steady flow of spiritual food to help all of us to keep traveling on “the Way of Holiness.”—Read Isaiah 48:17; 60:17.
17-18. Where does “the Way of Holiness” lead?
17 We might say that whenever someone accepts a Bible study, he has an opportunity to step onto “the Way of Holiness.” Some travel only a short distance and then leave the highway. Others are determined to keep traveling on it until they reach their destination. What is that destination?
18 For those with a heavenly hope, “the Way of Holiness” leads to “the paradise of God” in heaven. (Rev. 2:7) For those with an earthly hope, that highway leads to perfection at the end of the 1,000 years. If you are traveling on that highway today, do not look back. And do not leave it until you have completed your journey to the new world! We warmly wish you “safe travels.”
SONG 24 Come to Jehovah’s Mountain
a Jehovah called the figurative highway from Babylon to Israel “the Way of Holiness.” Has Jehovah similarly cleared a way for his people in modern times? Yes! Since 1919 C.E., millions have left Babylon the Great and have begun traveling on “the Way of Holiness.” All of us must remain on it until we reach our final destination.
c PICTURE DESCRIPTION: Brother Russell and his associates used Bible study aids that had been prepared before their time.