“Congregate the people, the men and the women and the little ones and your alien resident.”—DEUTERONOMY 31:12.
1, 2. In this article, what will we learn about conventions?
FOR many years, Jehovah’s Witnesses have gathered together at international and district conventions. Many of us have attended these conventions, perhaps a great number of them over the years.
2 Thousands of years ago, God’s people also had conventions. We will now learn about conventions of God’s people mentioned in the Bible and about how they are similar to our conventions today. We will also learn why it is good for us to attend them.—Psalm 44:1; Romans 15:4.
IMPORTANT CONVENTIONS IN BIBLE TIMES AND IN RECENT TIMES
3. (a) What happened at the first convention of Jehovah’s people that is mentioned in the Bible? (b) How did the Israelites know when to meet together?
3 The first big convention mentioned in the Bible was when the Israelites all went to the foot of Mount Sinai to receive instructions from Jehovah. That was a special occasion in the history of pure worship. Jehovah showed the Israelites his power and gave them his Law. That was a day they would never forget. (Exodus 19:2-9, 16-19; read Exodus 20:18; Deuteronomy 4:9, 10.) On that day, the Israelites’ relationship with God changed. Not long after that convention at Mount Sinai, Jehovah told Moses how to call the people together. He instructed Moses to make two silver trumpets. When the two trumpets were blown, the Israelites knew that they had to go to “the entrance of the tent of meeting.” (Numbers 10:1-4) Try to imagine how excited the people must have been at these conventions!
4, 5. Why were the conventions that Moses and Joshua organized important?
4 When the Israelites had been in the wilderness for about 40 years, Moses organized a convention for the whole nation. This happened at an extremely important time in the history of the new nation of Israel. They would soon go into the Promised Land, so it was a good time for Moses to remind his brothers of all that Jehovah had done for them and all that he would still do for them.—Deuteronomy 29:1-15; 30:15-20; 31:30.
5 It may have been on that same occasion that Moses told the people that there would be a special convention. Every seven years, during the Festival of Booths, all the men, women, children, and foreigners among them were to meet at the place Jehovah chose. There they would learn about Jehovah’s Law so that they would fear him and obey him. (Read Deuteronomy 31:1, 10-12.) It was clear that Jehovah wanted his people to meet together to learn about his commands and his will. Later, after the Israelites had conquered the Promised Land, Joshua told them to meet together. At that time, pagan nations lived all around them, so he knew that the Israelites needed encouragement to stay loyal to Jehovah. On that day, the people made a serious promise to serve God.—Joshua 23:1, 2; 24:1, 15, 21-24.
Jehovah wants his people to meet together regularly to learn about him
6, 7. What especially important conventions have there been in more recent times?
6 In more recent times, there have also been especially important conventions. At these conventions, changes were announced in the way things are done in the organization as well as in the way we understand certain scriptures. (Proverbs 4:18) In 1919, the Bible Students had their first large convention after World War I. It was in Cedar Point, Ohio, U.S.A., and 7,000 attended. At that convention, it was announced that God’s people would make a special effort to preach all over the world. In 1922, at the same place during a convention that lasted nine days, Joseph F. Rutherford gave a powerful talk and encouraged the audience to keep preaching everywhere until Babylon the Great is destroyed. He said: “The world must know that Jehovah is God and that Jesus Christ is King of kings and Lord of lords. This is the day of all days. Behold, the King reigns! You are his publicity agents. Therefore advertise, advertise, advertise, the King and his kingdom.” The result was that those at the convention, as well as God’s people all over the world, began preaching even more zealously.
7 In 1931, at a convention in Columbus, Ohio, the Bible Students were absolutely thrilled to accept the name Jehovah’s Witnesses. Then in 1935, in Washington, D.C., Brother Rutherford explained who the “great crowd” is that Revelation speaks of as “standing before the throne and before the Lamb.” (Revelation 7:9-17) Later, in 1942, during World War II, Nathan H. Knorr gave the exciting talk “Peace—Can It Last?” He explained what the “scarlet-colored wild beast” of Revelation 17 is and said that there would still be much preaching to do after the war.
8, 9. Why have certain conventions been emotional occasions for God’s people?
8 At the “Glad Nations” convention in 1946, Brother Knorr gave a very interesting talk entitled “The Problems of Reconstruction and Expansion.” One brother who was on the platform during that talk wrote about the reaction of the audience. He said that when Brother Knorr talked about the plans for enlarging the Brooklyn Bethel home and factory, the audience clapped again and again. Even from a distance, it was easy to see how excited everyone was. In 1950, at an international convention in New York City, the audience was delighted to receive the New World Translation of the Christian Greek Scriptures. This later became part of a Bible in modern English that put God’s name back in his Word, as it should be.—Jeremiah 16:21.
9 Conventions have also been organized in some countries where Jehovah’s Witnesses were persecuted or were not allowed to preach for some time. Those were very emotional occasions for those who were there. For example, Adolf Hitler had said that he would destroy Jehovah’s Witnesses in Germany. But in 1955 in Nuremberg, 107,000 Witnesses had a convention in the same place where Hitler and his supporters used to gather. Many of those there cried because they were so happy! In 1989, 166,518 brothers and sisters came to Poland to attend three “Godly Devotion” conventions. Many came from what were then the Soviet Union and Czechoslovakia, and from other countries in Eastern Europe. For some, it was the first time they attended a gathering of more than 15 or 20 of God’s people. And imagine the joy at the 1993 “Divine Teaching” International Convention in Kiev, Ukraine, where 7,402 were baptized. This may be the largest number of Jehovah’s Witnesses baptized on one day.—Isaiah 60:22; Haggai 2:7.
10. Which conventions have been special for you? Why?
10 Perhaps there are district conventions or international conventions that have been special for you. Do you remember your first convention or perhaps the one at which you were baptized? These were very important events in your worship to Jehovah, and you should never forget them. They are precious memories!—Psalm 42:4.
REGULAR OCCASIONS FOR REJOICING
11. What festivals did God require the Israelites to attend every year?
11 Jehovah required the Israelites to meet in Jerusalem for three festivals every year. These were the Festival of Unfermented Cakes, the Festival of Weeks (later called Pentecost), and the Festival of Booths. God told the Israelites: “On three occasions in the year every male of yours will appear before the face of the true Lord, Jehovah.” (Exodus 23:14-17) Many men knew how important these festivals were in their worship to Jehovah, so they attended with their entire family.—1 Samuel 1:1-7; Luke 2:41, 42.
12, 13. What did many Israelites have to do to attend the festivals each year?
12 Think about what it meant for an Israelite family to make that journey. For example, Joseph and Mary had to travel about 100 kilometers (60 miles) just to go from Nazareth to Jerusalem. How long do you think it would take you to travel that far if you were walking with small children? When we read about Jesus’ visit to Jerusalem as a boy, we learn that relatives and friends sometimes traveled together. Imagine what it must have been like for them to travel and prepare meals together and to find places for everyone to sleep. We know that the trip must have been safe because Jesus’ parents allowed him some freedom even though he was only 12 years old. Think how unforgettable these festivals would have been, especially for the young ones!—Luke 2:44-46.
13 After the Israelites had been scattered to other parts of the world, those who attended the festivals came from many nations. At Pentecost of the year 33, Jews and other worshippers of Jehovah showed that they valued these festivals by traveling to Jerusalem from such places as Italy, Libya, Crete, Asia Minor, and Mesopotamia.—Acts 2:5-11; 20:16.
14. How did the Israelites feel when they attended the festivals each year?
14 For faithful Israelites, the most important and exciting thing about these trips was to worship Jehovah along with thousands of others who also loved him. How did those who attended feel? When Jehovah spoke to his people about the Festival of Booths, he said: “You must rejoice during your festival, you and your son and your daughter and your man slave and your slave girl and the Levite and the alien resident and the fatherless boy and the widow, who are inside your gates. Seven days you will celebrate the festival to Jehovah your God in the place that Jehovah will choose, because Jehovah your God will bless you in all your produce and in every deed of your hand, and you must become nothing but joyful.”—Deuteronomy 16:14, 15; read Matthew 5:3.
WHY SHOULD WE VALUE OUR CONVENTIONS TODAY?
15, 16. What sacrifices have you had to make to attend conventions? Why are you happy to have made those sacrifices?
15 Those festivals in Jerusalem are excellent examples for God’s people today. In many ways, our conventions are similar to those occasions in the past. Like God’s people in Bible times, many of us have to make sacrifices to attend. But we are happy to make them because we know how much we will benefit from conventions. They are still very important in our worship. We need the information and understanding we receive there to keep our friendship with God strong. Conventions motivate us to use what we learn from the Bible and help us to avoid problems. They also encourage us to avoid things that can make us anxious and move us to put first in our life the things that will make us happy.—Psalm 122:1-4.
We make sacrifices to attend conventions because we know that we will benefit from them
16 Conventions have always brought joy to those who attend them. A report about a large convention in 1946 said that it was exciting to see the many thousands of happy Witnesses all together in one place. It was especially exciting to hear the large orchestra playing and the audience singing beautiful songs of praise to Jehovah. The report added that many volunteered to work in various departments. It gave them joy to serve their brothers and sisters. Have you too felt this kind of excitement at district conventions or international conventions?—Psalm 110:3; Isaiah 42:10-12.
17. What has changed in the way conventions are organized?
17 Some things have changed in the way conventions are organized. For example, some remember when they lasted eight days! There were morning, afternoon, and evening sessions. Field service was a regular part of the program. Sometimes the program began at nine o’clock in the morning and ended at nine o’clock at night. Volunteers worked hard for many hours to prepare breakfast, lunch, and supper for everyone. Now conventions are not as long as they used to be. And most brothers and sisters can give more attention to the program because everyone prepares his own meal and brings it to the convention.
18, 19. What part of the conventions do you especially enjoy? Why?
18 There are some things on the program that we always look forward to and that have been part of our conventions for a long time. For example, we get “food at the proper time” from talks and from new publications that help us better understand Bible prophecies and teachings. (Matthew 24:45) Many of these are publications we can use to help people understand Bible truths. Dramas based on the Bible help all of us, young and old, to make sure we are serving Jehovah for the right reason and to protect ourselves against the thinking of the world. The baptism talk helps all of us to think about what is most important in our life. And we are happy to see others show their dedication to Jehovah by getting baptized.
19 Conventions have been a part of pure worship for thousands of years. They help us to be joyful and to stay faithful to Jehovah in difficult times, and they encourage us to do more in his service. They give us opportunities to meet new friends and help us to know what it means to be part of an international family. Conventions are a very important way Jehovah blesses and cares for his people. Each one of us wants to make sure not to miss even one session of each and every convention.—Proverbs 10:22.