“Judge with true justice, and deal with one another in loyal love and mercy.”—ZECHARIAH 7:9.
1, 2. (a) How did Jesus feel about God’s Law? (b) How did the scribes and Pharisees apply the Law in the wrong way?
JESUS loved the Mosaic Law. That does not surprise us, because the Law came from his Father, Jehovah, the most important Person in Jesus’ life. At Psalm 40:8, the Bible foretold Jesus’ deep love for God’s Law: “To do your will, O my God, is my delight, and your law is deep within me.” Jesus proved by what he said and did that God’s Law was perfect, beneficial, and sure to be fulfilled.—Matthew 5:17-19.
2 Jesus must have felt sad when he saw the scribes and Pharisees apply his Father’s Law in a wrong way, making it seem unreasonable. He said to them: “You give the tenth of the mint and the dill and the cumin,” meaning that they were very careful to obey the smallest details of the Law. So, what was the problem? Jesus explained: “But you have disregarded the weightier matters of the Law, namely, justice and mercy and faithfulness.” (Matthew 23:23) The Pharisees did not see the meaning of the Law, and they thought they were better than others. But Jesus understood the motive behind the Law and what each commandment revealed about Jehovah.
3. What will we discuss in this article?
3 As Christians, we are not required to obey the Law of Moses. (Romans 7:6) So why did Jehovah include the Law in his Word, the Bible? He wants us to understand and apply its “weightier matters,” in other words, the principles behind the Law. For example, what principles do we learn from the arrangement of cities of refuge? In the previous article, we learned lessons by studying what the fugitive had to do. In this article, we will learn what the cities of refuge teach us about Jehovah and how we can imitate his qualities. We will answer three questions: How do the cities of refuge show that Jehovah is merciful? What do they teach us about God’s view of life? And how do they reveal his perfect justice? In each case, try to see how you can imitate your heavenly Father.—Read Ephesians 5:1.
THE LOCATION OF THE CITIES OF REFUGE SHOWED GOD’S MERCY
4, 5. (a) What was done to make it easy for a fugitive to run to a city of refuge, and why? (b) What does this teach us about Jehovah?
4 Jehovah arranged for the six cities of refuge to be easy to get to. He told the Israelites to choose three cities on each side of the Jordan. Why? So that a fugitive could get to one of these cities quickly and easily. (Numbers 35:11-14) The roads leading to them were kept in good condition. (Deuteronomy 19:3) According to Jewish tradition, there were signs along the roads to help fugitives find the cities. Since there were cities of refuge in Israel, an Israelite who accidentally killed someone did not have to find protection in a foreign land, where he might be tempted to worship false gods.
5 Think about this: Jehovah had commanded that murderers be executed. But he also made sure that a person who accidentally killed someone could receive mercy, compassion, and protection. One Bible commentator said: “Every thing was made as plain, as simple, and as easy as possible.” Jehovah is not a cruel judge who looks for ways to punish his servants. Instead, he is “rich in mercy.”—Ephesians 2:4.
6. Did the Pharisees imitate Jehovah’s mercy? Explain.
6 The Pharisees, however, were not willing to show mercy to others. For example, Jewish tradition says that the Pharisees refused to forgive someone who had made the same mistake more than three times. To show how wrong their attitude was, Jesus used an illustration of a Pharisee praying next to a tax collector. The Pharisee said: “O God, I thank you that I am not like everyone else—extortioners, unrighteous, adulterers—or even like this tax collector.” What was Jesus’ point? The Pharisees “considered others as nothing,” and they did not think that they needed to be merciful.—Luke 18:9-14.
7, 8. (a) How can you imitate Jehovah’s mercy? (b) Why must we be humble in order to forgive others?
7 Imitate Jehovah, not the Pharisees. Show mercy and compassion. (Read Colossians 3:13.) Make it easy for others to ask you for forgiveness. (Luke 17:3, 4) Ask yourself: ‘Do I forgive others quickly and easily, even when they offend me many times? Am I eager to make peace with someone who has offended me or hurt me?’
8 In order to forgive, we must be humble. The Pharisees thought that they were better than everyone else, so they were not willing to forgive. But as Christians, we humbly “consider others superior” to us and forgive them freely. (Philippians 2:3) We can ask ourselves, ‘Am I imitating Jehovah and showing humility?’ If we are humble, it will be easier for others to ask us for forgiveness and easier for us to forgive them. Be quick to show mercy and slow to take offense.—Ecclesiastes 7:8, 9.
RESPECT LIFE, AND “NO BLOODGUILT WILL COME UPON YOU”
9. How did Jehovah help the Israelites to understand that life is sacred?
9 One of the main reasons for the cities of refuge was to protect the Israelites from becoming bloodguilty by shedding innocent blood. (Deuteronomy 19:10) Jehovah loves life, and he hates murder. (Proverbs 6:16, 17) As a just and holy God, he could not ignore even an accidental killing. It is true that someone who accidentally caused another’s death could receive mercy. But first he had to explain his situation to the elders. If the elders judged that the death was an accident, then the fugitive had to remain in the city of refuge until the high priest died. That might have meant that the fugitive had to stay in the city of refuge for the rest of his life. This arrangement emphasized to all Israelites that life is sacred. To honor the One who gives life, they needed to do everything they could to avoid putting others’ lives in danger.
10. According to Jesus, how did the scribes and Pharisees show that they did not value the lives of others?
10 Unlike Jehovah, the scribes and Pharisees showed that they did not value the lives of others. Jesus said to them: “You took away the key of knowledge. You yourselves did not go in, and you hinder those going in!” (Luke 11:52) What did Jesus mean? The scribes and Pharisees were supposed to explain God’s Word to people and help them to gain everlasting life. Instead, they tried to prevent people from following Jesus, “the Chief Agent of Life.” (Acts 3:15) In this way, they were leading the people to destruction. The scribes and Pharisees were proud and selfish, and they did not care about people’s lives. How cruel and unloving!
11. (a) How did the apostle Paul show that he viewed life the way Jehovah does? (b) What will help us to imitate Paul’s zeal for the ministry?
11 How can we imitate Jehovah and avoid becoming like the scribes and Pharisees? We do this when we respect and treasure life. The apostle Paul did this by preaching the good news about the Kingdom to as many people as he could. That is why he could say: “I am clean from the blood of all men.” (Read Acts 20:26, 27.) But did Paul preach simply because he did not want to feel guilty or because Jehovah said that he had to? No. Paul loved people. He viewed their lives as precious, and he wanted them to gain everlasting life. (1 Corinthians 9:19-23) We too should view life the way Jehovah does. He wants everyone to repent so that they can live. (2 Peter 3:9) To imitate Jehovah, we need to love people. A merciful attitude will motivate us to preach with zeal and will give us joy as we do so.
12. Why is safety important to God’s people?
12 To view life as Jehovah does, we also need the right attitude about safety. We must drive and work safely, even when we are building, maintaining, or traveling to a place of worship. People, safety, and health are always more important than saving time or money. Our God always does what is right, and we want to be like him. Elders especially need to think about safety, both their own and that of others. (Proverbs 22:3) If an elder reminds you of safety rules or standards, listen to him. (Galatians 6:1) View life the way Jehovah does, and “no bloodguilt will come upon you.”
JUDGE “IN HARMONY WITH THESE JUDGMENTS”
13, 14. How could Israelite elders imitate Jehovah’s justice?
13 Jehovah commanded the Israelite elders to imitate his justice. First, the elders needed to confirm all the facts. Then, they had to consider very carefully the killer’s motive, attitude, and past actions when deciding whether to show mercy. The elders had to find out whether the fugitive hated his victim and meant to kill him. (Read Numbers 35:20-24.) If there were witnesses, at least two were needed before a murderer could be condemned.—Numbers 35:30.
14 After finding out exactly what had happened, the elders had to think about the person himself, not only what he had done. The elders needed insight to look beyond the obvious and see the reasons for what had happened. Most of all, they needed Jehovah’s holy spirit to help them imitate his insight, mercy, and justice.—Exodus 34:6, 7.
15. How was Jesus’ view of sinners different from that of the Pharisees?
15 The Pharisees did not judge with mercy. They focused on what a sinner had done rather than on what kind of person he was. When some Pharisees saw Jesus eating a meal at Matthew’s home, they asked the disciples: “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?” Jesus answered: “Healthy people do not need a physician, but those who are ill do. Go, then, and learn what this means: ‘I want mercy, and not sacrifice.’ For I came to call, not righteous people, but sinners.” (Matthew 9:9-13) Was Jesus making excuses for sinners? Not at all. He wanted them to repent. That was an important part of the message he preached. (Matthew 4:17) Jesus realized that at least some of the “tax collectors and sinners” wanted to change. They were not at Matthew’s home simply to eat. They were there because they were following Jesus. (Mark 2:15) Sadly, most of the Pharisees did not view people the way Jesus did. They did not believe that people could change, and they viewed them as hopeless sinners. How different they were from Jehovah, who is just and merciful!
16. What must a judicial committee try to discern?
16 Elders today must imitate Jehovah, who “loves justice.” (Psalm 37:28) First, they need to make “a thorough investigation” to confirm whether a sin has been committed. If it has, they will follow Bible guidelines to decide what to do. (Deuteronomy 13:12-14) When they serve on a judicial committee, they must be very careful to determine whether the person who has committed a serious sin is repentant or not. This is not always easy to do. Repentance involves how the sinner views what he has done and what is in his heart. (Revelation 3:3) A sinner must be repentant in order to receive mercy.*—See footnote.
17, 18. How can the elders know if someone is truly repentant? (See opening picture.)
17 Jehovah and Jesus know exactly what a person is thinking and feeling because they can read hearts. But the elders cannot read hearts. So if you are an elder, how can you know whether someone is truly repentant? First, pray for wisdom and discernment. (1 Kings 3:9) Second, use God’s Word and publications from the faithful slave to help you see the difference between “sadness of the world” and “sadness in a godly way,” that is, genuine repentance. (2 Corinthians 7:10, 11) See how the Bible describes those who were repentant and those who were not, and analyze how they felt, thought, and acted.
18 Third, think about the person, not just about what he has done. Why is he the way he is? Why has he made certain decisions? What are his challenges and limitations? The Bible foretold that Jesus, the head of the Christian congregation, “will not judge by what appears to his eyes, nor reprove simply according to what his ears hear. He will judge the lowly with fairness, and with uprightness he will give reproof in behalf of the meek ones of the earth.” (Isaiah 11:3, 4) Elders, Jesus has appointed you to care for his congregation, and he will help you to judge with justice and mercy. (Matthew 18:18-20) We are so grateful that we have elders who care for us! They also help us to show justice and mercy toward one another.
19. What lesson from the cities of refuge do you plan to apply?
19 The Mosaic Law contains “the framework of the knowledge and of the truth.” It teaches us about Jehovah and his principles. (Romans 2:20) The cities of refuge described in the Law teach elders how to “judge with true justice,” and they teach all of us to show one another “loyal love and mercy.” (Zechariah 7:9) Even though we are not required to follow the Law, Jehovah has not changed. Justice and mercy are still very important to him. It is a privilege to worship such a God. Let us imitate his beautiful qualities and find safety and protection in him!
See “Questions From Readers” in The Watchtower, September 15, 2006, page 30.