“When anxieties overwhelmed me, you comforted and soothed me.”—Psalm 94:19
[From ws 2/20 p.20 April 27 – May 3]
What we learn from faithful Hannah (par.3-10)
These paragraphs deal with the example of Hannah, later the mother of the prophet Samuel.
Sadly it is yet another case of a missed opportunity to teach us how to be real Christians. Instead of analyzing the actions of Penninah the other wife of Hannah’s husband and how we should avoid being like Penninah, the article only deals with Hannah’s feelings. Now while that may be in line with the theme, it is typical of Watchtower Study articles on most subjects, containing no counsel against acting in ways that cause others to end up requiring soothing by Jehovah. Rather, as usual, the article effectively suggests we put up and shut up as the saying goes. This means that there is a regular requirement for this type of article, because only the symptoms or results are being treated, rather than reducing or eliminating the cause. Another point, not an insignificant point either is that there should be no Christian in this position today. Why? Because Christ made it clear that Christian husbands should only have one wife. This would immediately avoid most of the problems that Hannah faced.
What were Hannah’s problems? Firstly, she was childless according to 1 Samuel 1:2, which to Israelite women was tantamount to being cursed. It is still that way in many cultures today. Secondly, and perhaps the main cause of her problem was that to add to this attitude of her peers, her husband had taken another wife in addition to Hannah. Her fellow wife viewed her as a rival and according to 1 Samuel 1:6 “taunted her relentlessly in order to upset her”. The result was that Hannah “would weep and not eat” and became “extremely bitter” at heart. According to the account Elkanah, Hannah’s husband loved her, but it seems he did not do much to stop the taunting and thereby prove his love.
After several years of suffering in this way, on one annual visit to the tabernacle, Hannah poured out her feelings in prayer to Jehovah. It was because of what the high priest said to her on asking and finding out what her problem was, that she became happier. Around about 1 year later she gave birth to Samuel.
What points are raised by the Watchtower article for us to learn?
Paragraph 6 starts with “We can regain our peace if we persevere in prayer”. This is beneficial, for as Philippians 4:6-7 states that when we let our “petitions be made known to God” then “the peace of God that excels all thought will guard your hearts and mental powers by means of Christ Jesus”.
All well and good. Then Paragraph 7 slips in “despite her problems, Hannah regularly went with her husband to Jehovah’s place of worship in Shiloh” (1 Samuel 1:3). Now this is true, but how often was this? Only once a year, the equivalent to the annual regional assembly. Hardly regular in the sense the Organization intends you to read and apply, i.e. twice a week! It is just taking the opportunity to push a plug to be at every meeting, despite the Co-Vid 19 virus, and any other serious issues such as bereavements.
Then in paragraph 8 the Watchtower article continues “We can regain our peace if we continue attending congregation meetings”. Are meetings some panacea for being upset? Not when the likelihood is that it is someone at the congregation meetings who is upsetting you. According to the article by attending the “meetings even though we are under stress, we give Jehovah and our brothers and sisters the opportunity to encourage us and help us regain peace of mind and heart.” But how often do those brothers and sisters take the opportunity to do so and encourage you? It will depend on what congregation you are in, but in the author’s experience you have to do the encouraging all the time, if you need encouraging you will need to look elsewhere. Also, the only way Jehovah can encourage you is through you reading his word. You can do this anywhere.
Rather as paragraph 9 mentions “after leaving the matter in Jehovah’s hands, Hannah was no longer overwhelmed by worry”. The key was to turn to Jehovah in prayer.
Paragraphs 11-15 covers
“What we learn from the Apostle Paul.”
The application of points learned from the Apostle Paul is again Organization specific. The Watchtower study article only applies Paul’s anxiety of helping the congregation and trying to use Paul’s care and feelings for others, to bolster the Organization’s authority through the elders.
Paragraphs 16-19 covers
“What we learn from King David”
In this section, paragraph 17 is entitled “Pray for forgiveness” and claims “openly confess your sin to Jehovah in prayer. You will then begin to feel some relief from the anxiety caused by a guilty conscience.”
It continues “But if you want to restore your friendship with Jehovah, you need to do more than pray” according to the Organization. However, according to Acts 3:19 you only need to repent as it reads “Repent, therefore and turn around so as to get your sins blotted out, that seasons of refreshing may come from Jehovah.”
However paragraph 18 entitled “Accept discipline” claims “If we have committed a serious sin, we need to talk to those whom Jehovah has appointed to shepherd us. (James 5:14, 15)”.
Several points require discussion here.
- “Serious sin” – We might ask what constitutes serious sin? Is it the Organization’s definition, which most Witnesses would equate with God’s definition, but can often diverge sometimes markedly, or the Bible’s definition? For example, think of the term “apostate(s)” used frequently at present by the Organization. Even in the NWT Reference Edition this word only appears in the Hebrew scriptures a total of 13 times, and it is completely absent from the Christian Greek Scriptures. Given that the origin of this word is Greek, then there is a clear basis for arguing that it should not even be used in the Hebrew Scriptures (Old Testament). Even “apostasy” only appears twice in the New Testament in the NWT (see 2 Thessalonians 2:3 and Acts 21:21). Therefore, on what basis can the Organization brand those who disagree with its unscriptural teachings as “apostates” and “mentally diseased”?
- “those whom Jehovah has appointed to shepherd us” – What evidence is there that Jehovah appoints anyone as shepherds, either in the first century or especially today? Paul and Barnabas are mentioned as appointing “older men for them in each congregation” (Acts 14:23). It was therefore Paul and Barnabas, other men, appointing older men in the early Christian congregations, it was not Jehovah.
- Acts 20:28 is the only possible basis for this viewpoint of the Organization , and there these older men are to shepherd the flock, I.e. care for it, not acts as judges over the flock. Since when do sheep go and confess their stupid actions to the shepherd? Rather if the shepherd sees a sheep in trouble he goes and kindly and carefully helps it out of trouble. He does not punish the sheep.
- “James 5:14-15” misinterpretation is highlighted by the experience that follows in paragraph 20 about confessing one’s sin to the elders. James 5:14-15 and its context says “Is there anyone sick among you? Let him call the elders of the congregation to him, and let them pray over him, applying oil to him in the name of Jehovah. 15And the prayer of faith will make the sick one well, and Jehovah will raise him up. Also, if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven.
16 Therefore, openly confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, so that you may be healed. A righteous man’s supplication has a powerful effect”.
Note: the calling of the older men of the congregation is not about spiritual sickness. It is about physical sickness. Applying and rubbing in oil was a common first-century treatment for many illnesses. “also, if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven” is added as a subsidiary point, a by-product of the older men praying for the sick one.
- Who should we confess our sins openly too? Certainly, the Bible does not suggest we do confess in secret to a secret 3-man committee. Rather James 5:16 tells us to do so to our fellow Christians, and why? That they may pray for us as we pray for them, and also on a practical basis. Take for example that someone has a problem with drinking alcohol to excess and getting drunk as a result. By confessing to others, they can get help. Firstly, by their fellow Christians being mindful not to be encouraging them to drink alcohol nor to finish their drink if they have already had enough. Also, they can remind the fellow Christian that he has consumed sufficient alcohol as he may not realize how much he has consumed.
At least we can agree with the final paragraph and emphasize it rather than what preceded it.
“When you have anxious thoughts, do not delay in seeking Jehovah’s help. Study the Bible diligently.”
“Let him [your heavenly Father] carry your burdens, especially those over which you have little or no control”. Then we can be like the psalmist who sang “When anxieties overwhelmed me, you comforted and soothed me.” (Psalm 94:19).