Thus humans, as well as God’s spirit sons, have the remarkable privilege of contributing to the vindication of Jehovah’s sovereignty by a course of integrity to him. (it-1 p. 1210 Integrity)
The title of this article may seem like a redundant question. Who wouldn’t want Jehovah’s sovereignty to be vindicated? The problem with the question is its premise. It presupposes that Jehovah’s sovereignty needs vindicating. It might be like asking, “Who wouldn’t want Jehovah to be restored to this rightful place in the heavens?” The premise is based on a situation which is not possible. The attitude of Jehovah’s Witnesses in teaching this doctrine may seem positive and supportive on the outside, but the premise that Jehovah’s sovereignty needs vindicating is a veiled insult to the Almighty One – albeit an inadvertent one.
As we saw in the preceding article, the Bible’s theme is not the vindication of God’s sovereignty. In fact, the word “sovereignty” does not appear anywhere in the Holy Scriptures. Given this, why has this been made into a central issue? What are the repercussions of mistakenly teaching eight million people to preach something God isn’t asking them to preach? What is really behind this teaching?
Starting Down the Wrong Path
Last week, we examined an illustration from the book The Truth That Leads to Eternal Life which was used in the 1960s and 70s to convince our Bible students that the Scriptures really do teach the vindication of God’s sovereignty.[A] You may recall that the citation ended by referencing Proverbs 27:11 and Isaiah 43:10.
Isaiah 43:10 is the basis for the name, Jehovah’s Witnesses.
“You are my witnesses,” declares Jehovah, “Yes, my servant whom I have chosen…” (Isa 43:10)
We are taught that we are like witnesses in a court case. What is being judged is God’s right to rule and the righteousness of his rule. We are told that we live under his rulership; that the Organization of Jehovah’s Witnesses is a true theocracy—a nation ruled by God with a population larger than that of many countries on earth today. By our conduct and by showing that life in our nation is “the best way of life ever”, we are said to be vindicating Jehovah’s sovereignty. In the spirit of ‘making sure of all things’, let us analyze the validity of these claims.
First of all, the words of Isaiah 43:10 were spoken to the ancient nation of Israel, not the Christian congregation. No Christian writer applies them to the first-century congregation. It was Judge Rutherford who, in 1931, applied them to the International Associations of Bible Students, adopting the name “Jehovah’s Witnesses”. (This is the same man whose typical/antitypical prophecies have taught us that we are denied the hope of being called children of God.[B]) By assuming this name on the basis of Isaiah 43:10, we are making a de facto typical/antitypical application—a practice which we have recently disavowed. And we do not stop with a modern-day application; no, we apply the name retroactively, all the way back to the first century.[C]
Second, if we take the time to read the entire 43rd chapter of Isaiah, we find no reference to the vindication of Jehovah’s sovereignty as the reason for the metaphorical court drama. What God speaks of and what He wants his servants to bear witness to is his character: He is the one, true God (vs. 10); the only savior (vs. 11); the mighty one (vs. 13); the creator and king (vs. 15). Verses 16 thru 20 provide historical reminders of his saving power. Verse 21 shows that Israel was formed to bring praise to him.
In Hebrew, a name is more than a simple appellation, a label to distinguish Harry from Tom. It refers to a person’s character—who he really is. If we choose to bear God’s name, our conduct can honor him, or conversely, bring reproach upon his person, his name. Israel failed in the former and brought reproach on God’s name by their conduct. They suffered for it (vs. 27, 28).
The other verse cited as support for the Truth book illustration is Proverbs 27:11.
“Be wise, my son, and make my heart rejoice, So that I can make a reply to him who taunts me.” (Pr 27:11)
This verse doesn’t refer to Jehovah. The context is that of a human father and son. Except for the occasional metaphor or simile, Jehovah doesn’t refer to humans as his children in the Hebrew Scriptures. That honor was revealed by Christ and is a major component of the Christian hope. However, even if we accept the idea that the principle in Proverbs 27:11 can apply to our relationship with God, it still doesn’t support the teaching that it our conduct somehow can vindicate God’s righteousness and his right to rule.
What is implied by this verse? To discover that, we must first understand who is the one doing the taunting of God. Who else but Satan the devil? Satan is a name; devil, a title. In Hebrew, Satan means “adversary” or “one who resists”, while Devil means “slanderer” or “accuser”. So Satan the devil is the “Slandering Adversary”. He is not the “Usurping Adversary”. He makes no attempt at the obvious impossibility of usurping Jehovah’s place as sovereign. His only real weapon is slander. By lying, he slings mud at God’s good name. His followers imitate him by pretending to be men of light and righteousness, but when cornered, they fall back on the same tactic their father uses: lying slander. Like him, their goal is to discredit those they cannot defeat by truth. (John 8:43-47; 2 Cor. 11:13-15)
Thus Christians are not called upon to prove the rightness of Jehovah’s way of ruling, but rather to praise him by word and deed so that the slander against him might be proven false. In this way, his name is sanctified; the mud is washed off.
This noble task—to sanctify God’s holy name—is offered to us, but for Jehovah’s Witnesses, it is not enough. We are told that we must also participate in vindicating his sovereignty. Why do we take this presumptive and unscriptural commission upon ourselves? Does this not fall into the category of things that are placed outside our jurisdiction? Are we not treading on God’s domain? (Acts 1:7)
Sanctifying the name of our Father is something that can be done individually. Jesus sanctified it as no other human ever has, and he did this all by himself. Indeed, at the very end, Father withdrew his support of our brother and Lord to clearly make the point that the devil’s slander was completely false. (Mt 27:46)
Salvation on an individual basis is not something in which our leaders encourage us to believe. To be saved, we must be part of a larger group, a nation under their leadership. Enter the doctrine of “Vindication of Jehovah’s Sovereignty”. Sovereignty is exercised over a national group. We are that group. Only by staying in the group and acting in harmony with the group can we truly vindicate God’s sovereignty by showing how our group is better than every other one on earth today.
Organization, Organization, Organization
We do not call ourselves a church, because that links us to false religion, the churches of Christendom, Babylon the Great. We use “congregation” at the local level, but the term for the worldwide association of Jehovah’s Witnesses is “Organization”. We derive our “right” to be called ‘one Organization under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all’ by virtue of the teaching that we are the earthly part of God’s universal organization in the heavens.[D]
“Make Sure of the More Important Things” (w13 4/15 pp. 23-24 par. 6
Ezekiel saw the invisible part of Jehovah’s organization depicted by a colossal celestial chariot. This chariot could move swiftly and change direction in an instant.
Ezekiel makes no mention of organization in his vision. (Ezek. 1:4-28) In fact, the word “organization” does not appear anywhere in the New World Translation of the Holy Scriptures. Ezekiel makes no mention of a chariot either. Nowhere in the Bible is Jehovah depicted riding a celestial chariot. We have to go to pagan mythology to find God riding a chariot.[E] (See “Origins of the Celestial Chariot”)
Ezekiel’s vision is a symbolic representation of Jehovah’s ability to instantly deploy his spirit anywhere to accomplish his will. It is pure, unsubstantiated speculation to say the vision represents God’s heavenly organization, especially since nowhere in the Bible does Jehovah say he has a heavenly organization. Nevertheless, the Governing Body believes he does, and that, in turn, gives them a basis for teaching that there is an earthly component over which they govern. We can prove scripturally that there is a Christian congregation that is ruled by Christ. It is the congregation of the anointed. (Eph. 5:23) However, the Organization is comprised of millions who believe themselves to be “other sheep” who are not part of the anointed congregation under Christ. Jehovah is the head of the Organization, followed by the Governing Body and layers of middle management as this graphic from page 29 of the April 15, 2013 The Watchtower shows. (You will notice the conspicuous absence of our Lord Jesus in this hierarchy.)
Based on this, as citizens of this nation, we obey Jehovah, not Jesus. However, Jehovah doesn’t address us directly, but speaks to us through His “appointed channel of communication”, the Governing Body. So in reality, we are obeying the commandments of men.
Jehovah’s Celestial Chariot on the Move (w91 3/15 p. 12 par. 19)
The eyes all around the wheels of God’s chariot indicate alertness. Just as the heavenly organization is alert, so we must be alert to support Jehovah’s earthly organization. On a congregational level, we can show that support by cooperating with the local elders.
The reasoning is simple and logical. Since Jehovah needs to vindicate his sovereignty, he needs a test case to demonstrate the quality of his rule. He needs a nation or kingdom on earth that rivals Satan’s various forms of human government. He needs us. Jehovah’s Witnesses! The one true nation of God on earth!!
We are a theocratic government—the logic continues—ruled by God. God uses men as his “appointed channel of communication”. Therefore, His righteous rule is channelled through a group of men who dispense commands and direction through a network of middle managers with authority conferred from above, until it reaches the individual member or citizen of this great nation.
Is all this true? Does Jehovah really have us as his nation to demonstrate to the world that his way of ruling is the best? Are we God’s test case?
Israel’s Role in Vindicating God’s Sovereignty
If this teaching of the Governing Body is wrong, we should be able to demonstrate that using the principle found at Proverbs 26:5
“Answer the stupid one according to his foolishness, So that he does not think he is wise.” (Pr 26:5)
What this means is that when someone has a stupid or foolish argument, often times the best way of refuting it is to take it to its logical conclusion. The stupidity of the argument will then become manifest to all.
Jehovah’s Witnesses contend that Jehovah set up the nation of Israel as a kind of rival government to Satan’s with a view to showing the true benefit of living under his rulership. Israel would become an object lesson of what it would be like to live under God’s universal sovereignty. If they failed, the task would fall on our shoulders.
Calling a Nation to Return to Jehovah
From the days of the prophet Moses down to the death of the Lord Jesus Christ, the earthly nation of natural, circumcised Israel was the visible organization of Jehovah God. (Psalm 147:19, 20) But from the pouring out of God’s spirit upon the faithful disciples of Jesus Christ on the festival day of Pentecost in 33 C.E., the spiritual Israel with circumcised hearts has been God’s “holy nation” and his visible earthly organization. (Paradise Restored to Mankind – By Theocracy, 1972, chap. 6 p. 101 par. 22)
By this logic, Jehovah set up the nation of Israel to show how his rule is best; a rule that benefits all his subjects, men and women alike. Israel would give Jehovah the chance to show us how his rule over Adam and Eve and their children would have been had they not sinned and rejected him.
If we accept this premise, then we have to acknowledge that Jehovah’s rule would include slavery. It would also include polygamy, and it would permit men to divorce their wives on a whim. (Deut. 24:1, 2) Under Jehovah’s rule, women would have to be quarantined for seven days during menstruation. (Lev. 15:19)
This is clearly nonsense, yet it is nonsense we must accept if we are to continue promoting our idea that Jehovah vindicates his sovereignty through His so-called earthly organization.
Why Was Israel Formed?
Jehovah does not build a house out of faulty and inferior materials. It would be bound to fall down. His sovereignty is to be exercised over a perfect people. What then was his reason for creating the nation of Israel? Rather than accept what men say, let’s be wise and listen to the reason God gives for setting up Israel under the law code.
“However, before the faith arrived, we were being guarded under law, being delivered up together into custody, looking to the faith that was destined to be revealed. 24 Consequently the Law has become our tutor leading to Christ, that we might be declared righteous due to faith. 25 But now that the faith has arrived, we are no longer under a tutor. 26 YOU are all, in fact, sons of God through YOUR faith in Christ Jesus.” (Ga 3:23-26)
The law served to protect the seed prophesied in Genesis 3:15. It also served as a tutor leading to the culmination of that seed in Jesus. In short, Israel was formed into a nation as part of God’s way of preserving the seed and ultimately saving humankind from sin.
It’s about salvation, not sovereignty!
His rule over Israel was relative and subjective. It had to take into account the failings and hard-heartedness of those people. That is why he made concessions.
We teach that Israel failed to uphold Jehovah’s sovereignty, and so it falls to us as Jehovah’s Witnesses to prove his sovereignty is best by the way we benefit under it. I have seen in my life countless examples of the rule of men, specifically that of the local elders, following the guidelines provided by upper management, and I can bear witness that were this truly an example of Jehovah’s rule, it would bring great reproach on his name.
Therein lies the fly in our ointment. Let God be found true though every man be a liar. (Ro 3:4) Our promotion of this idea amounts to a collective sin. Jehovah told us nothing about vindicating his sovereignty. He did not assign us this task. By presumptuously taking it on, we have failed in the one important task he did assign us—sanctifying his name. By promoting ourselves as an example to the world of God’s rulership, then failing miserably at it, we have brought reproach on Jehovah’s holy name—a name we have presumed to bear and publish as our own, for we claim that only we of all the world’s Christians are His witnesses.
Our Sin Extended
When looking for historical examples to apply to Christian living, the publications go to Israelite times far more than Christian. We base our three annual assemblies on the Israelite model. We look to the nation as our example. We do this because we have become that which we abhor, just another example of organized religion, the rule of men. The power of this human rulership has been augmented lately to the point that we are now being asked to put our very lives into the hands of these men. Absolute – and blind – obedience to the Governing Body is now a salvation issue.
Seven Shepherds, Eight Dukes—What They Mean for Us Today (w13 11/15 p. 20 par. 17)
At that time, the life-saving direction that we receive from Jehovah’s organization may not appear practical from a human standpoint. All of us must be ready to obey any instructions we may receive, whether these appear sound from a strategic or human standpoint or not.
What About God’s Sovereignty?
Jehovah did rule over Israel in a limited sense. However, it is not indicative of his rulership. His rule is designed for sinless people. Those who rebel are chucked outside, to die. (Rev. 22:15) The last six thousand years or so are all part of an epoch devoted to the eventual restoration of true theocracy. Even the future rule of Jesus—the Messianic kingdom—is not God’s sovereignty. Its purpose is to bring us to a state in which we can re-enter God’s righteous rule. Only at the end, when all things are back in order, does Jesus surrender his sovereignty to God. Only then do the Father become all things to all men and women. Only then will be understand what Jehovah’s sovereignty really entails.
“Next, the end, when he hands over the kingdom to his God and Father, when he has brought to nothing all government and all authority and power….28 But when all things will have been subjected to him, then the Son himself will also subject himself to the One who subjected all things to him, that God may be all things to everyone.” (1Co 15:24-28)
Where We Go Wrong
You may have heard it said that the best form of government would be a benign dictatorship. I believed this to be true myself at one time. One can easily envision Jehovah as the most benign ruler ever, but also as a ruler who must be obeyed without exception. Disobedience results in death. So the idea of a benign dictator seems to fit. But it fits only because we are looking at it from a fleshly point of view. This is the viewpoint of the physical man.
Every form of government we can point to is based on the carrot and stick principle. If you do what your ruler wants, you get blessed; if you disobey him, you are punished. So we obey out of a combination of self-interest and fear. There is no human government today that rules based on love.
When we think of divine rule, we often replace Man with God and leave it at that. In other words, while the laws and the ruler change, the process stays the same. We’re not entirely to blame. We’ve only known variations on the one process. It’s hard to envision something totally new. So as Witnesses, we fall back on the known. Hence, we refer to Jehovah as the “universal sovereign” over 400 times in the publications, despite the fact that the title does not occur even once in the Bible.
At this point, you may be reasoning that this is being picky. Of course, Jehovah is the universal sovereign. Who else could be? That it isn’t stated explicitly in Scripture is beside the point. Obvious universal truths don’t have to be stated to be true.
It’s a reasonable argument, I confess. It confused me for a good long time. It was only when I refused to accept the premise that the light bulb went off.
But let’s leave that for next week’s article.
[A] See the illustration in chapter 8, paragraph 7 of The Truth that Leads to Eternal Life.
[B] See “Orphans” and “Approaching the 2015 Memorial – Part 1”
[C] See w10 2/1 p. 30 par. 1; w95 9/1 p. 16 par. 11
[D] This is yet another unscriptural term invented to reinforce an idea.
[E] We do not celebrate birthdays, not because the Bible condemns them specifically, but because the only two birthday celebrations in the Bible are linked to the death of someone. Birthdays are considered to be pagan in origin and so as Christians, Jehovah’s Witnesses have nothing to do with them. Since all references to God riding in a chariot are pagan, why do we break with our own rule and teach this as Scriptural?