“[…] You should know for a certainty that I have warned you today that your error will cost you your lives.”
After the Chaldeans took most of the Jews captive, the army chiefs along with the remaining people in the vicinity of Jerusalem asked the prophet to pray on their behalf and find out what God’s will for them was. (Jer. 42:1-3)
Ten days later, Jehovah gave his reply, asking them to remain there and not fear the king of Babylon. (Jer. 42:7,10,11)
But the people had allowed their fear to overcome them and were headstrong about fleeing to Egypt (Jer. 43:4-7)
Eventually, the Chaldeans extended their battles into Egypt, and that remnant did not survive (Jer. 43:10,11)
They were not necessarily evil people.
They mostly consisted of the poorest sector of the population. (Jer. 40:7)
The fact that they first sought out God’s guidance indicates that at least at one point they had the right intention. (Jer. 42:5,6)
But their subsequent decision to ignore Jehovah’s commandment and head on into Egypt without his blessing ended up having tragic consequences.
Today, God warns us that a time is coming in which he will judge all of humanity. (Mark 13:32,33; Acts 17:30,31)
If we were in the habit of praying for his guidance and then ignoring Biblical counsel, we, too, would be falling in an error that will cost us our lives.
“Jehovah said: ‘I will surely minister to you for good;
I will surely intercede for you in the time of calamity,
In the time of distress against the enemy.'”
Have you ever had the experience of setting forth to do good and not finding any support from those around you?
The prophet Jeremiah should have been supported by the people of Judah because they were God’s chosen People, but they violently opposed his work.
He began to fear for his life.
He confided his feelings to God in prayer. (Jer. 15:15)
He sought comfort in God’s Word and was able to experience joy in his ministry once more. (Jer. 15:16)
When we put our faith in Jehovah God that he is in fact collaborating with us in our ministry, we can endure apathy and even violent persecution with a joyful heart, knowing that God has our back. (Jer. 15:19-21; 1 Cor. 3:9)
“[…] In order to burn their sons and their daughters in the fire, something that I had not commanded and that had never even come into my heart.”
The people of Judah’s sinful inclination to worship idols had led them to the point of burning their own children in altars to false gods.
Jehovah God makes it very clear that their form of worship had nothing to do with him.
He had sent them prophets warning them of their evil ways but his People had stubbornly ignored him. (Jer. 7:13,26)
The disheartened practices of parents in those days may be somewhat shocking by today’s standards, but there are people who still teach that hellfire is a Divine punishment for wrongdoers.
Jehovah says the practice of burning people has ‘never even come into his heart.’
Although Jesus did refer to the “fiery Gehenna,” historically this was a valley of refuse where dead bodies unworthy of graves were thrown out and cremated. (Matt. 5:22; 10:28; Insight on the Scriptures, vol. 1)
Jesus was not referring to a place of torment, but a place of utter destruction.
By comparing God’s principles with ancient practices, most conscientious Bible students can conclude that the teaching of torment by hellfire is false. (1 John 4:8)
“‘We trust in Jehovah our God,’ is he not the one whose high places and altars Hezekiah has removed […]?”
Hezekiah’s father, apostate King Ahaz, had littered Judah with pagan altars and had closed the doors of the temple in Jerusalem. (2 Ch. 28:23-25)
Upon coming to the throne at age 25, Hezekiah reinstated divine worship according to Mosaic Law, celebrated a Passover to which even people from the northern tribes of Israel attended, and reorganized the Levite priesthood. (2 Ch. 29:1-5; 30:1-5)
The “high places and altars” Hezekiah had removed were not places of worship to his God, Jehovah, but to pagan deities.
The king of Assyria sent a messenger threatening Hezekiah to submit his people to Assyrian rule.
That messenger publicly accused Hezekiah of bringing down Jehovah’s altars, questioning whether Jehovah would save Jerusalem after the king’s recklessness.
It was unbeknownst to him that Hezekiah had actually been doing God’s will during his entire kingship and had no reason to fear Assyrian conquest.
We may sometimes experience similar accusations from our loved ones when we do something that is in line with Biblical principles but in conflict with what the world generally considers to be “good.”
For example, a woman studying the Bible may feel inclined to leave the man she is living with, although he may be a “good” man by the world’s standards, if he has no intention of legalizing their union.
She might receive severe criticism from her family or coworkers even though she is in fact doing the right thing. (1 Co. 7:39; 2 Co. 6:14)
Or a Christian man who abstains from celebrating holidays of pagan origin with his extended family may be accused of isolating himself and being intolerant of others, even though he is only trying to practice Christianity as it was originally practiced by first century Christians. (2 Co. 6:16,17)
There are many cases in which the stance of those trying to carry out God’s will may be misinterpreted.
We do well to avoid arguing and find solace in the satisfaction of having obeyed our conscience. (Is. 36:21)
Such a strong relationship with God gives us joy and the reassurance that he will never desert us. (Is. 35:10)
If you would like to view a (completely free) film reenacting the greatest trial of King Hezekiah’s faith, follow this link: https://tv.jw.org/#en/video/VODMovies/pub-tiy_x_VIDEO
You can toggle the language setting in the top right corner of the screen.
“Look! The true Lord, Jehovah of armies, Is chopping off branches with a terrible crash; The tallest trees are being cut down, And the lofty are brought low.”
God has the power to bring down whomever he chooses.
Although he has for the most part left humanity to follow its own course, there are times when he has decided to remove or limit power from certain governors. (Eccl. 8:9)
For example, in ancient Israel, God’s angel put to death the Assyrian regime that had camped outside of Jerusalem. (2 Chron. 32:21; Is. 37:36)
God’s Word states that in the future, he will do away with all imperfect governments and only Christ will rule the earth from heaven. (Is. 9:6,7; Da. 2:44)
It does not matter how powerful a ruler thinks he is; in God’s eyes he is just a person who will eventually be put in his place. (Is. 7:9b; 8:12,13)
“The couriers riding the post-horses used in the royal service went out urgently and speedily at the king’s order.”
Once King Ahasuerus authorized Mordecai to create laws that enabled the Jews to defend themselves from attackers, the law was promulgated urgently throughout the kingdom.
This happened late in the Jewish month of Sivan (mid-June).
Haman, who was now dead, had superstitiously scheduled their genocide for the month of Adar in the next year (early March) (Es. 7:10; 8:11,12).
This means the Jews had 8 and a half months to prepare themselves for the attack.
They did not slack in getting the word out, but did so with urgency, knowing that the more time people had to prepare themselves, the more likely they were to survive.
This reminds me of the life-saving preaching work we carry out, letting our neighbors know God’s day is near (1 Tim. 4:16).
Although we do not know the exact date, if we preach with a sense of urgency during these last days, we will give people more time to prepare themselves and be saved (Matt. 25:13; 2 Tim. 3:1-5, 4:2).
“So I reprimanded them and called down a curse on them and struck some of the men and pulled out their hair and made them swear by God: ‘You should not give your daughters to their sons, and you should not accept any of their daughters for your sons or yourselves.'”
Was Nehemiah’s reprimand toward the Jewish men who had married pagan women a cruel overreaction?
To answer this question, let’s look at other Bible passages that warned the Jews against this practice.
“But if you […] form marriage alliances with them […] They will become a trap and a snare and a scourge on your flanks and thorns in your eyes until you have perished from this good land […]”(Josh. 23:12,13).
“For they will turn your sons away from following me to serve other gods; then Jehovah’s anger will blaze against you, and he will swiftly annihilate you.”(De. 7:4).
Because the Jews could not count on God’s protecting them as a People if they married pagan women, obedience to this particular mandate was a matter of life or death.
It implied the survival of the nation to which the Messiah would eventually be born (Luke 12:48).
This is why Nehemiah deemed it necessary to urgently carry out a form of discipline common to their day: corporal punishment.
“If the wicked one deserves to be beaten, the judge will have him lie down prostrate, and he will be beaten in his presence. The number of strokes should correspond to the wickedness of his deed,” (De. 25:2).
“Bruises and wounds purge away evil, and beatings cleanse one’s innermost being,” (Prov. 20:30).
“And everyone who does not observe the Law of your God and the law of the king should have judgment executed on him promptly, whether it is death, banishment, a fine, or imprisonment,” (Ezra 7:26).
Though this is definitely not an exercise in supporting corporal punishment toward one’s neighbor, one can understand how Nehemiah’s actions as governor of the Jews would not have been seen as extreme as a reader may find them today.
Jehovah promptly corrected His People through Nehemiah because he loved them (Heb. 12:6).
Their lifestyle would have otherwise brought about His disapproval and as a result, their own annihilation.
“[…] They sinned against your regulations, by which a man will live if he observes them.”
It is important to participate with zeal in the ministry work, sharing God’s “regulations” with others, for they mean life to those who listen.
Not all will appreciate or understand God’s message, but some will respond to the “sayings of everlasting life,” (John 6:68).
Furthermore, when God’s principles guide our own choices, we can enjoy being alive in a spiritual sense (Lev. 18:5).
A healthy relationship with God can in turn bring us true happiness and is a glimmer of “the real life” Christians anticipate, a future life without pain or injustice of any sort (1 Tim. 6:19).
Jehovah God extended this opportunity to His People, giving them “righteous judgments, laws of truth, good regulations and commandments” that they could fully rely on to find peace and happiness (Neh. 9:13).
However, His people continuously rejected these by sinning, repenting and then returning to their sinful practices (Neh. 9:16-35).
Let us never show such a lack of appreciation for God’s undeserved kindness (2 Cor. 6:1).
Instead, let us live by observing His word.
“Do not feel sad, for the joy of Jehovah is your stronghold.”
This verse has personally been one of the cornerstones of my faith.
But why did the audience feel sad to begin with?
“All the people were weeping as they heard the words of the Law,” (Neh. 8:9).
It was the month of Ethanim (mid-September to mid-October), the start of the Jewish agricultural year, a month that marks many biblical historically relevant events.
It was a month of festivals.
This day started out with special trumpet blasts announcing a holy convention (Lev. 23:24).
The Jews in Jerusalem had but a few days earlier, against all odds, completed rebuilding the city walls (Neh. 6:15).
True worship was finally and officially ready to go fully back into effect.
When the scribe Ezra read the book of the law, and the Levites explained it, the people took it to heart (Neh. 8:2,3,7,8).
They understood what Jehovah was trying to tell them.
They were compelled to tears of sadness because of the errors of their ways.
But understanding God’s word was reason to rejoice, not cry.
The Levites helped them to correct their attitude, “so all the people went away to eat and to drink and to send out portions of food and to carry on a great rejoicing, for they understood the words that had been made known to them,” (Neh. 8:12).
When I personally experience sadness, do I make Jehovah’s joy my stronghold?
Understanding his word and serving him are not small reasons to rejoice in.
It is a beautiful privilege to form part of God’s people.
There is no better place to seek refuge than in the stronghold of the “happy God,” (1 Tim. 1:11; Ps. 16:11).
“As soon as I heard these words, I sat down and began to weep and mourn for days, and I kept fasting and praying before the God of the heavens.”
What were the words that caused the Persian king’s cup-bearer, Nehemiah, so much distress?
“The walls of Jerusalem are broken down, and its gates have been burned with fire,” (Neh. 1:3).
The Jews who had returned to the Holy City to rebuild it were not committing to their mission.
Nehemiah received this sad news in the Jewish month of Chislev (mid-November to mid-December) in what would have been the year 456 b.C.E.
He did not request leave from the king to go to Jerusalem and give fresh impulse to the reconstruction until four months later (Neh. 2:1).
Despite his worries, he “had never been gloomy” in the king’s presence.
From this we can learn two things:
Firstly, if our present circumstances do not allow us to serve Jehovah our God to the extent we desire, we can pray to Him for guidance and ask him to bless our efforts to make better use of our time.
Secondly, until we are able to fix our work or personal circumstances to permit greater service, we can face each day with cheer, knowing that we “do all things for God’s glory,” (1 Cor. 10:31).