[From ws10/17 p. 21 –December 11-17]
“Return to me…and I will return to you.”—Zec 1:3
According to this article, there are three lessons to learn from the 6th and 7th vision of Zechariah:
- Do not steal.
- Do not make vows you cannot keep.
- Keep wickedness out of God’s house.
Let’s stipulate that we are against stealing, against making vows we cannot keep, and against wickedness, both inside and outside God’s house.
Often, the problem with these articles is not to be found in the core elements, but in the subtlety by which they are given application.
The year 537 B.C.E. was one of rejoicing for Jehovah’s dedicated people. – par. 2
The Israelites were in a covenant relationship with God, but they are never referred to as a dedicated people. So we have to acknowledge that this is an unscriptural distinction. So why is it used? We will try to answer that momentarily.
Before we do, let’s tackle the first lesson from Zechariah’s 6th vision.
Do not steal
Every culture would agree that stealing is wrong. The same can be said for hypocrisy. It is a particularly repugnant form of lying, so when the person telling you not to steal is himself shown to be a thief, you are bound to feel a bit disgusted.
“Do you, however, the one teaching someone else, not teach yourself? You, the one preaching “Do not steal,” do you steal?” (Ro 2:21)
Let us take an imaginary scenario to illustrate: Assume that a mortgage broker lends money to a group of people to build a community center, then halfway through the term of the mortgage, he forgives the loan, but he also assumes ownership of the property. However, he doesn’t come out and tell the owners that he’s doing this. He doesn’t get their permission to assume ownership. He just does it. Impossible you might think, but you don’t know all the facts. This broker has a means to force the group to comply with his wishes. He claims that a powerful figure with the power of life and death is backing him. With this power behind him, he pressures the group to make a monthly “voluntary donation” in perpetuity for the same amount they were previously paying in mortgage payments. Then, when the market is good, he sells the community center and forces the group to go to a different community center for their events, one that is significantly farther away. However, he continues to expect them to make their same monthly “voluntary donation”, and when they fail to do so, he sends one of his boys around to cajole and threaten them.
Farfetched? Sadly, no! This really isn’t an imaginary scenario. In fact, it has been playing out for some time now. There was a time when the local Kingdom Hall belonged to the congregation. They had to vote on whether to sell it should that be advisable. If sold, they determined as a congregation by democratic vote what to do with the money. Not anymore. We are getting reports of halls being sold out from under the feet of the local congregation, not only without any consultation, but without even any warning. One local congregation in my area was informed at a recent Sunday meeting that this was to be their last in the hall; one they’d attended for over thirty years. The Local Design Committee run by the Branch Office had just up and sold the hall This was the first official notice given. They now had to travel a substantially longer distance to another town to attend meetings. And the money from the sale? It disappears into the coffers of the Organization. Yet the now-displaced congregation is still expected to keep up their monthly pledge.
All Kingdom halls are now considered to be the property of the Watchtower Bible & Tract Society, and yet all congregations are expected to pass resolutions to pay into the worldwide fund, and if they do not, the Circuit Overseer will put pressure on the Body of Elders to make this happen.
The facts are (1) each of the thousands of halls that existed prior to this arrangement were owned by the local congregation; (2) no congregation was consulted about passing ownership over to the Organization; (3) no congregation was allowed to opt out of this arrangement; (4) halls are being sold without the permission of nor consultation with the local congregation; (5) the money that the congregation has donated to pay for the hall is taken from them without even consulting them; (6) any congregation that refuses to comply will be disbanded, find its noncompliant elder body removed and its members reassigned to neighboring congregations.
Actually, this qualifies as more than stealing. It fits the definition of racketeering.
Do not make vows you cannot keep
This is the second lesson learned from the visions of Zechariah, but here’s the thing. This lesson was for the Israelites among whom swearing an oath was common. Witnesses are told that “All God’s people need to keep pace with Jehovah’s fast-moving organization.” (km 4/90 p. 4 par. 11) It would seem that the Governing Body does not follow its own advice. They are going with old information. Our Heavenly Father progressively reveals truth and almost 600 years after Zechariah was given his visions, God’s Son showed us a higher standard with regard to humans making sworn oaths.
““Again you heard that it was said to those of ancient times: ‘You must not swear without performing, but you must pay your vows to Jehovah.’ 34 However, I say to you: Do not swear at all, neither by heaven, for it is God’s throne; 35 nor by earth, for it is the footstool of his feet; nor by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King. 36 Do not swear by your head, since you cannot turn one hair white or black. 37 Just let your word ‘Yes’ mean yes, your ‘No,’ no, for what goes beyond these is from the wicked one.” (Mt 5:33-37)
The “ancient times” our Lord is referring to would be the times of Zechariah and prior to that. However, for Christians, making a vow is not something God wants us to do. Jesus says that it is from the devil.
James says the same thing to Christians.
“. . .Above all things, though, my brothers, stop swearing, yes, either by heaven or by earth or by any other oath. But let YOUR Yes mean Yes, and YOUR No, No, so that YOU do not fall under judgment.” (Jas 5:12)
Saying “above all things” really adds emphasis, doesn’t it? It’s like saying, “if you do nothing else, avoid making vows.”
Given this, how likely is it that Jesus required us to make a “vow of dedication”? Do you think this is an exception? That all vows are from the wicked one except a vow of dedication?
Why not have a look for yourself? See if you can find any scripture that tells Christians to make a sworn oath or vow of dedication to God prior to baptism. We’re not saying that being dedicated to Jehovah or Jesus is wrong. But making that dedication by swearing an oath is wrong. So says our Lord Jesus.
This is a point that the Jehovah’s Witnesses do not get. In fact there is a whole subtitle and six paragraphs in this study devoted to making us feel beholden to God and the Organization because of making this vow. The real problem with this position is that it makes Christianity into an exercise of pure obedience rather than an expression of love.
For example, when someone on the job or at school flirts with us, do we see this as an opportunity to “take pleasure in [Jehovah’s] ways” by rejecting such advances? (Prov. 23:26) If we live in a divided household, do we ask Jehovah for his help to maintain the Christian personality even when no one else around us is making such an effort? Do we daily approach our loving heavenly Father in prayer, thanking him for bringing us under his rulership and for loving us? Are we making time to read the Bible daily? Did we not, in effect, promise that we would do such things? It is a matter of obedience. – par. 12
All these things we should do because we love our heavenly Father, not because we swore an oath. We pray because we love to talk with our Father. We read the Bible because we love to hear his voice. We don’t do these things because we swore an oath. What father wants obedience, not out of love, but out of obligation? It’s repugnant!
Now we can see why paragraph 2 falsely called Israel a “dedicated people”. The writer wants all Witnesses to view themselves the same way.
(In a rather exquisite bit of irony, this issue of the Watchtower contains an article on page 32 that asks the question: “What Jewish practice caused Jesus to condemn the swearing of oaths?”)
Keep wickedness out of God’s house
Jehovah’s Witnesses are taught to view themselves as the modern-day counterpart to Israel of old, what they like to call God’s first earthly organization. So the vision of the two women with wings carrying wickedness far away to Babylonia is used to encourage Witnesses to remain clean as defined by the Organization, to inform on others, and to shun all who disagree. Thus they maintain what they view as a spiritual paradise.
Wickedness cannot and will not be allowed to creep into and dwell among Jehovah’s people. After we have been brought into the protective and loving care of God’s clean organization, we have the responsibility to help maintain it. Are we moved to keep our “house” clean? Wickedness in any form does not belong in our spiritual paradise. – par. 18
If this is the case, why are secular and judicial authorities as well as the press in countries like Australia, Britain, Holland, the United States and others saying that Jehovah’s Witnesses protect pedophiles by failing to report them to the “superior authorities”? (Ro 13:1-7) How does that qualify as a spiritual paradise, one where wickedness has flown far away?
If we say one thing, but practice another, are we not acting as hypocrites?