[From ws1/17 p. 7 February 27-March 5]
“Trust in Jehovah and do what is good . . . and act with faithfulness.”—Ps. 37:3
What does the writer of this article mean when he says “trust in Jehovah and do what is good”? Is it the same thing that the Psalmist meant? Why not pause now and read the 37th Psalm. Meditate on it. Mull it over. Then return here and we’ll analyze whether this article is conveying the sentiments of the Psalmist, or whether there is another agenda that doesn’t really fit with what the Psalmist is telling us.
The basic message of this article is to trust in Jehovah, not worry about what you cannot do, but only what you can do. Generically, this is sound advice. However, in applying it, does the writer betray another agenda?
Skewing the Narrative of Noah
Under the subtitle “When We Are Surrounded by Wickedness”, the article uses the example of Noah to provide an object lesson for Jehovah’s Witnesses today. The descriptive caption for the theme illustration on page 7 is “Noah preaches to wicked people”.[i] The hidden descriptive caption for the first illustration on page 8 (below) is “A brother faces opposition in the door-to-door ministry, but later gets a response when he does public witnessing.” So the first application made in the article for Psalm 37:3 is that we must trust in Jehovah when preaching to wicked people. This is the lesson we are to learn from Noah’s witnessing.
Does this illustration really relate to what happened in Noah’s day?
What Noah could not do: Noah faithfully preached Jehovah’s warning message, but he could not force people to accept it. And he could not make the Flood come any sooner. Noah had to trust that Jehovah would keep His promise to end wickedness, believing that God would do so at just the right time.—Genesis 6:17. – par. 6
Why would Noah want the Flood to come sooner? The time was predetermined and apparently made known to God’s faithful servants back then. (Ge 6:3) It seems that the Governing Body is trying to deal with the increasing level of disillusionment among Witnesses who have seen too many failed prophetic interpretations concerning the end. The current one has them believing that Armageddon will come well before the current Governing Body dies of old age. (See They’re Doing It Again.)
We have long been taught that Noah’s main job was preaching to the world of mankind back then.
Before the flood, Jehovah used Noah, “a preacher of righteousness,” to warn of the coming destruction and to point to the only place of safety, the ark. (Matthew 24:37-39; 2 Peter 2:5; Hebrews 11:7) God’s will is that you now do a similar preaching work.
(pe chap. 30 p. 252 par. 9 What You Must Do to Live Forever)
So we are doing a similar work to that done by Noah? Really? This position is what lies behind the exhortations of paragraph 7:
We too live in a world filled with wickedness, which we know Jehovah has promised to destroy. (1 John 2:17) In the meantime, we cannot force people to accept the “good news of the Kingdom.” And we cannot do anything to make the “great tribulation” start earlier. (Matthew 24:14, 21) Like Noah, we need to have strong faith, trusting that God will end all wickedness soon. (Psalm 37:10, 11) We are convinced that Jehovah will not allow this wicked world to continue for even one day longer than it needs to.—Habakkuk 2:3. – par. 7
According to this, we are like Noah, preaching to a wicked world that will soon be wiped off the face of the earth. Is that what the cited Scriptures actually prove?
“For just as the days of Noah were, so the presence of the Son of man will be. 38 For as they were in those days before the Flood, eating and drinking, men marrying and women being given in marriage, until the day that Noah entered into the ark, 39 and they took no note until the Flood came and swept them all away, so the presence of the Son of man will be.” (Mt 24:37-39)
We use this to teach people that “they took no note” of Noah’s preaching, but that’s not what it says. “Took no note” is an interpretative rendering. The original Greek merely says “they knew not”. Have a look at several dozen renderings to see how scholars deal with this verse, who do not have an agenda of getting people to promote their church’s publications week after week. For example, the Berean Study Bible renders this: “And they were oblivious, until the flood came and swept them all away…” (Mt 24:39)
“And he did not refrain from punishing an ancient world, but kept Noah, a preacher of righteousness, safe with seven others when he brought a flood upon a world of ungodly people.” (2Pe 2:5)
There can be no doubt that Noah preached righteousness when he had the chance, but to suggest that he and his sons engaged in some worldwide preaching work is ludicrous. Consider the logic of such a claim. Humans had been procreating for 1,600 years by then. The math suggests a population numbering in the hundreds of millions, if not billions. With that type of population growth and that many centuries, it is likely they spread around the globe. If the numbers were so tiny that four men could preach to all of them, then why would God have needed a worldwide flood? Even if the population were confined to just Europe and North Africa, four men, with only 120 years of warning and the monumental task of building an ark, would hardly have the time nor means to travel through millions of square miles of terrain to preach to an ancient world of their coming destruction.
“By faith Noah, after receiving divine warning of things not yet seen, showed godly fear and constructed an ark for the saving of his household; and through this faith he condemned the world, and he became an heir of the righteousness that results from faith.” (Heb 11:7)
Noah’s commission from God was to build the Ark and he is used in the Bible as an example of faith because he obeyed this command. There is no record of any other commission from God. Nothing about spreading “Jehovah’s warning message” as the paragraph claims.
What Noah could do: Instead of giving up because of what he could not do, Noah focused on what he could do. Noah faithfully preached Jehovah’s warning message. (2 Peter 2:5) This work must have helped him to keep his faith strong. In addition to preaching, he followed Jehovah’s instructions to build an ark.—Read Hebrews 11:7. – par. 8
Notice how the narrative is being skewed. “Noah focused on what he had to do.” And what did Noah have to do? “Noah faithfully preached Jehovah’s warning message.” This is put forward as his primary task, his first job, his foremost mission. Secondary to this was the building of the ark. “In addition to preaching, he followed Jehovah’s instructions to build an ark.” Then we are told to “Read Hebrews 11:7” as proof. It is a near certainty that Witnesses around the world will not see that the only instructions recorded at Hebrews 11:7 have nothing to do with preaching, nor of proclaiming “Jehovah’s warning message.” According to Matthew 24:39, the world of that time died in ignorance of what was coming upon them.
Noah got a direct command for God. We get commands from men. However, we are led to believe that these are just like the command Noah got. These are from God.
Like Noah, we stay busy “in the work of the Lord.” (1 Corinthians 15:58) For example, we may help with the construction and maintenance of our Kingdom Halls and Assembly Halls, volunteer at assemblies and conventions, or work at a branch office or a remote translation office. Most important, we stay busy in the preaching work, which strengthens our hope for the future. – par. 9
Dissenters are likely to accuse us of disrespecting the preaching work and trying to discourage others from proclaiming the good news. Nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, this site’s main reason for continued existence is the proclaiming of the good news. But let it be the real good news and not some corruption of it that stems from the pen of past Watchtower presidents intent on getting their followers to give up their rightful calling to be children of God. Unrepentantly preaching such a perversion of the good news will only result in the curse Paul spoke of to the Galatians. (Ga 1:6-12)
Skewing the Narrative of David
Next we deal with sin, using the account of David. King David sinned by committing adultery and then conspiring to murder the woman’s husband. Only when Jehovah sent Nathan, the prophet, did David repent, but he confessed his sin to God, not to men. Presumably, at some point, he followed the Law and made a sin offering before the priests, but even then, there was no requirement under the Law to make confession to the priests, nor were they granted authority to forgive sins. Since the Law was a shadow of the things to come under the Christ, one might logically assume that Christianity would make no provision for men to confess their sins to a Christian priesthood class or clergy. However, the Catholic Church instituted just such a process and the Organization of Jehovah’s Witnesses has also followed in its footsteps, though arguably, the Witness version is currently far more damaging.
Again, the article skews the narrative and makes a modern-day application not based on Scripture.
What can we learn from David’s example? If we fall into serious sin, we need to repent sincerely and seek Jehovah’s forgiveness. We must confess our sins to him. (1 John 1:9) We also need to approach the elders, who can offer us spiritual help. (Read James 5:14-16.) By availing ourselves of Jehovah’s arrangements, we show that we trust in his promise to heal and forgive us. Thereafter, we do well to learn from our mistakes, move forward in our service to Jehovah, and look to the future with confidence. – par 14
The “read” scripture of James 5:14-16 speaks of going to the elders when one is sick. The forgiveness of sins is incidental: “Also, if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven.” Here, it is not the older men who forgive, but God.
At James, we are told to confess our sins to one another. This is a free interchange, not a one-way process. All in the congregation are to confess their sins to one another. Imagine elders sitting down in a group of regular publishers and doing this. Hardly. However, there is no mention at all about men determining for God who is to be forgiven. David confessed his sin to God. He did not go to the priests to confess. The priests did not sit around after dismissing David from the room to discuss whether or not to extend forgiveness to him. That was not their role. But it is for us. In the society of Jehovah’s Witnesses, three men will sit in secret session and determine whether a sinner is to be forgiven or not. If not, then the decision of this tiny cabal is made public and all eight million witnesses around the world are expected to abide by it. There is nothing even remotely Biblical about this process.
I know of one case where a sister committed fornication. After ceasing the sin, confessing in prayer to God and taking steps never to repeat it, a few months went by. She then confided in a trusted friend, who felt it was her Scriptural obligation to reveal the confidential talk of another and inform on her friend. In this she was misled. (Pr 25:9)
Following this, the sister got a call from one of the elders and feeling cornered, she confessed her sin to him. Of course, that was not enough. A judicial committee was convened even though the sin was past, had not been repeated and confession to God had taken place. That’s all well and good, but it does nothing to support the power of the elders who are taught that the flock must be held accountable to them. Not wanting to face three men in a humiliating interrogation, she declined to meet with them. They took this as an affront to their authority and disfellowshipped her in absentia. The reasoning is that she could not have been truly repentant, because she wasn’t willing to submit to what they wrongly viewed as Jehovah’s arrangement.
What does this have to do with the narrative of David’s sin? Nothing!
Skewing the Narrative of Samuel
Next, in paragraph 16, the article skews the narrative of Samuel and his rebellious sons.
Today, a number of Christian parents find themselves in a similar situation. They trust that like the father in the parable of the prodigal son, Jehovah is ever on the lookout to welcome back sinners who repent. (Luke 15:20) – par. 16
Luke 15:20 shows the father of the prodigal son running to him when he sees his son from afar and forgiving him freely. Surely, Samuel would have done this had his own children returned to him and repented. However, this would not be the case in the Organization where parents cannot freely forgive a repentant son. Instead, they have to wait on the elders who will put their son through a long (usually 12 months) reinstatement process. Only after getting clearance from the elders could the parents act like the father of the prodigal son.
(You will notice that to depict a “wayward son”, the WT artists rely on the built-in stereotype among JWs that beards reveal a rebellious attitude.)
Skewing the Narrative of the Widow
Actually, “skewing” is too mild a term here. This example is dreadful and it is very revealing that the publishers cannot see that.
The hidden caption for this illustration is: “An elderly sister looks into her bare refrigerator, but later makes a donation to the Kingdom work.” This supports the narrative of paragraph 17.
Think, too, of the needy widow in Jesus’ day. (Read Luke 21:1-4.) She could hardly do anything about the corrupt practices being carried on at the temple. (Matt. 21:12, 13) And there was likely little she could do to improve her financial situation. Yet, she voluntarily contributed those “two small coins,” which were “all the means of living she had.” That faithful woman demonstrated wholehearted trust in Jehovah, knowing that if she put spiritual things first, he would provide for her physical needs. The widow’s trust moved her to support the existing arrangement for true worship. – par. 17
Let’s work our way through this paragraph. Jesus, at Luke 21:1-4 is describing a situation before him, to make a comparison between rich and poor. He is not suggesting that poor widows should ‘put in all the means of living they have.’ In fact, Jesus message was that the rich should give to the poor. (Mt 19:21; 26:9-11)
However, the Organization takes this account to mean that we should donate out of our need to support the work of the wealthy corporation that is JW.org. If so, then why stop the comparison there? The paragraph adds that, “She could hardly do anything about the corrupt practices being carried on at the temple.” Likewise, desperately poor witnesses can hardly do anything about the corrupt practices that are costing the Organization millions of dollars on a yearly basis; specifically, the many cases they are losing because of decades of mishandling and non-reporting of child abuse.
Actually, that is not true. We can do something about the corrupt practices. We can stop donating. The best way to punish those who misuse dedicated funds is to deprive them of the funds.
But there is still more that is wrong with this paragraph’s teaching: In the first century, the congregation actually had an organized list set up to provide for the needy widows. Paul told Timothy:
“A widow is to be put on the list if she is not less than 60 years old, was the wife of one husband, 10 having a reputation for fine works, if she raised children, if she practiced hospitality, if she washed the feet of holy ones, if she assisted the afflicted, if she devoted herself to every good work.” (1Ti 5:9, 10)
Where is our list? Why doesn’t JW.org make such a provision for the needy among us? It seems we may have more in common organizationally with the Pharisees and Jewish leaders in Jesus’ day then we might be willing to admit.
“They devour the houses of the widows, and for show they make long prayers. These will receive a more severe judgment.” (Mr 12:40)
If you doubt this, then consider that the paragraph ends with this reassurance:
Likewise, we trust that if we seek first the Kingdom, Jehovah will make sure that we have what we need. – par. 17
Yes, but how does Jehovah provide? Does he not do it through the congregation? Indeed, this sentence smacks of the uncaring sentiment expressed by James in rebuke of a similar attitude in the first century.
“. . .If a brother or a sister is lacking clothing and enough food for the day, 16 yet one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,” but you do not give them what they need for their body, of what benefit is it? 17 So, too, faith by itself, without works, is dead.” (Jas 2:15-17)
Is this not exactly the message this Watchtower is conveying? A widow with not enough food for the day is being told that she’ll be warm and well fed because Jehovah will provide for her, but the Witnesses studying this article are not being taught that it is they who are to do the providing, because without such works, their faith is dead.
So in summary, the theme “Trust in Jehovah and Do What is Good” really means that if you give of your time and money and submit to the authority of the Organization, you are doing good and trusting in God.
[i] If you’re using MS Word, you can see the hidden caption for pictures by copying them from the online version, then right-clicking on the Word document and selecting the third icon (“Keep text only”) on the popup paste menu.