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“God Approved” Their Gifts

“God Approved” Their Gifts


FOCUS: A history of Jehovah’s arrangement for pure worship

1-3. (a) What questions will we consider? (b) What four key elements of pure worship will we discuss? (See opening picture.)

ABEL carefully inspects his flock. He has lovingly raised these animals from birth. Now, he selects some, slaughters them, and presents them as a gift to God. Will this act of worship, offered by an imperfect human, be acceptable to Jehovah?

2 The apostle Paul was inspired to write regarding Abel: “God approved his gifts.” Jehovah, however, rejected Cain’s offering. (Read Hebrews 11:4.) This raises questions that we need to consider. Why did God accept worship from Abel but not from Cain? What can we learn from the examples of Cain and Abel and from others mentioned in Hebrews chapter 11? The answers will deepen our understanding of what is involved in pure worship.

3 As we discuss this brief overview of events from the time of Abel to Ezekiel’s day, note four key elements that in combination make worship acceptable to God: The recipient must be Jehovah, the quality must be the best, the manner has to be approved by God, and the motive of the worshipper needs to be pure.

Why Was Cain’s Worship Rejected?

4, 5. What led Cain to conclude that the recipient of his gift would be Jehovah?

4 Read Genesis 4:2-5. Cain knew that the recipient of his gift would be Jehovah. Cain had plenty of time and opportunity to learn about Jehovah. He and his brother Abel may have been close to 100 years old at the time that they offered their gifts. * Both boys had grown up knowing of the garden in Eden, maybe even seeing that fertile park from a distance. Certainly they would have seen the cherubs blocking entrance to it. (Gen. 3:24) The boys’ parents no doubt told them that Jehovah created all life and that his original purpose for mankind was different from what they were now experiencing​—a slow decline into death. (Gen. 1:24-28) Knowing these things may have led Cain to conclude that he should offer his gift to God.

5 What else may have prompted Cain to offer his sacrifice? Jehovah had foretold that an “offspring” would arise, someone who would crush the head of “the serpent” that had seduced Eve into making her terrible choice. (Gen. 3:4-6, 14, 15) Cain, as firstborn, may have thought that he was that promised “offspring.” (Gen. 4:1) In addition, Jehovah had not cut off all communication with sinful humans; even after Adam sinned, God spoke to him, evidently by means of an angel. (Gen. 3:8-10) And Jehovah talked with Cain after he offered his sacrifice. (Gen. 4:6) Without doubt, Cain knew that Jehovah is worthy of worship.

6, 7. Was there something wrong with the quality or manner of Cain’s sacrifice? Explain.

6 Why, then, did Jehovah not look with any favor on Cain’s offering? Was there something wrong with the quality of the gift? The Bible does not say. It simply says that Cain brought “fruits of the land.” Jehovah later indicated in the Law that he gave to Moses that this type of sacrifice was acceptable. (Num. 15:8, 9) Also, consider the circumstances. At this point in history, humans ate only vegetation. (Gen. 1:29) And because the ground outside of Eden was cursed by God, Cain had toiled to produce his offering. (Gen. 3:17-19) He offered hard-won, life-sustaining food! Even so, Jehovah did not approve of Cain’s offering.

7 Was there, then, something wrong with the manner in which the gift was made? Did Cain fail to offer it in an acceptable way? That seems unlikely. Why so? Because when Jehovah rejected Cain’s offering, He did not condemn the manner in which the offering was made. In fact, there is no mention of how either Cain or Abel made their offering. What, then, was the problem?

Cain’s motive was not pure (See paragraphs 8, 9)

8, 9. (a) Why did Jehovah not look with any favor on Cain or his offering? (b) What do you find noteworthy about the information that the Bible records about Cain and Abel?

8 Paul’s inspired words to the Hebrews show that Cain’s motive for making the offering was not pure. Cain lacked faith. (Heb. 11:4; 1 John 3:11, 12) That is why Jehovah did not look with any favor on Cain​—the man himself—​not just his offering. (Gen. 4:5-8) Jehovah is a loving Father, so he kindly tried to correct his son. But Cain, in effect, slapped away Jehovah’s helping hand. Cain’s figurative heart festered with works of the imperfect flesh​—“hostility, strife, jealousy.” (Gal. 5:19, 20) Cain’s bad heart made any other positive aspects of his worship worthless. His example teaches us that pure worship requires more than just an outward display of devotion to Jehovah.

9 The Bible record tells us much about Cain​—we hear Jehovah speak to him, we read Cain’s answers, and we even learn the names of his children and about some of the things they did. (Gen. 4:17-24) As for Abel, we have no record of his having children and nothing he said is preserved in the Bible. Even so, Abel’s actions still speak to us today. In what way?

Abel Sets the Pattern for Pure Worship

10. How did Abel set the pattern for pure worship?

10 Abel made his offering to Jehovah, knowing that He is the only worthy recipient. The quality of the gift was the best​—Abel selected “some firstlings of his flock.” Although the record does not state whether he sacrificed them on an altar or not, the manner in which he offered his gift was obviously acceptable. But what stands out about Abel’s gift​—the example that still instructs us after some six millenniums—​is his motive for giving it. Abel was stirred by faith in God and by a love of Jehovah’s righteous standards. How do we know?

Abel demonstrated the four key elements required for pure worship (See paragraph 10)

11. Why did Jesus describe Abel as righteous?

11 First, consider what Jesus said about Abel, a man he knew well. Jesus was alive in heaven when Abel walked the earth. Jesus was keenly interested in this son of Adam. (Prov. 8:22, 30, 31; John 8:58; Col. 1:15, 16) So Jesus was providing eyewitness testimony when he described Abel as a righteous man. (Matt. 23:35) A righteous person is someone who acknowledges that Jehovah should set the standard of right and wrong. But he does more​—he proves by his speech and actions that he agrees with those standards. (Compare Luke 1:5, 6.) It takes time to gain a reputation as someone who is righteous. So even before offering his gift to God, Abel must have built up a record of living according to Jehovah’s standards. That would have been a difficult path to walk. His older brother was unlikely to have been a positive influence​—Cain’s heart had become wicked. (1 John 3:12) Abel’s mother had disobeyed a direct command from God, and his father had rebelled against Jehovah, wanting to decide for himself what is good and what is bad. (Gen. 2:16, 17; 3:6) What courage Abel showed to choose a course so different from the one his family pursued!

12. What was a key difference between Cain and Abel?

12 Next, note how the apostle Paul linked the qualities of faith and righteousness. “By faith,” wrote Paul, “Abel offered God a sacrifice of greater worth than that of Cain, and through that faith he received the witness that he was righteous.” (Heb. 11:4) Paul’s words indicate that unlike Cain, Abel was motivated by lifelong, heartfelt faith in Jehovah and in His way of doing things.

13. What does Abel’s example teach us?

13 Abel’s example teaches us that pure worship can come only from a heart that has pure motives​—a heart full of faith in Jehovah and in complete agreement with his righteous standards. In addition, we learn that pure worship requires more than a single act of devotion. It involves our whole life, our entire course of conduct.

The Patriarchs Follow the Pattern

14. Why did Jehovah accept the gifts offered by Noah, Abraham, and Jacob?

14 Abel was the first imperfect man to offer Jehovah pure worship, but he was by no means the last. The apostle Paul mentions others who worshipped Jehovah acceptably​—such men as Noah, Abraham, and Jacob. (Read Hebrews 11:7, 8, 17-21.) At some point in their lives, each of these patriarchs offered Jehovah a sacrifice, and God approved their gifts. Why? Because these men did more than perform formal acts of devotion​—each of them also fulfilled all the key requirements of pure worship. Consider their examples.

Noah’s sacrifices sent a clear message (See paragraphs 15, 16)

15, 16. How did Noah fulfill the four key requirements of pure worship?

15 Noah was born just 126 years after Adam died; yet, he grew up in a world perverted by false worship. * (Gen. 6:11) Of all the families alive on earth just prior to the Flood, only Noah and his family served Jehovah acceptably. (2 Pet. 2:5) After surviving the Flood, Noah felt moved to construct an altar, the first specifically mentioned in the Bible, and to offer sacrifices to Jehovah. By this heartfelt act, Noah sent a clear message to his family and to the rest of the human race that would descend from him​—Jehovah is the only worthy recipient of worship. Of all the animals available to him for sacrifice, Noah chose “some of all the clean animals and of all the clean flying creatures.” (Gen. 8:20) These were the best quality offerings because Jehovah himself had declared them clean.​—Gen. 7:2.

16 Noah offered these burnt sacrifices on the altar he built. Was this manner of worship acceptable? Yes. The account says that Jehovah found the aroma from the offering pleasing and then blessed Noah and his sons. (Gen. 8:21; 9:1) However, Jehovah accepted the offering primarily because of Noah’s motive for giving it. The sacrifices were one more expression of Noah’s strong faith in Jehovah and in His way of doing things. Because Noah so consistently obeyed Jehovah and upheld His standards, the Bible says that he “walked with the true God.” As a result, Noah gained a lasting reputation as a righteous man.​—Gen. 6:9; Ezek. 14:14; Heb. 11:7.

17, 18. How did Abraham fulfill the four key requirements of pure worship?

17 Abraham was surrounded by false worship. The city of Ur, Abraham’s home, was dominated by a temple honoring the moon-god Nanna. * Even Abraham’s own father at one time worshipped false gods. (Josh. 24:2) Yet, Abraham chose to worship Jehovah. He likely learned about the true God from his ancestor Shem, one of Noah’s sons. Their lives overlapped by 150 years.

18 Throughout his long life, Abraham offered many sacrifices. But these formal acts of worship were always directed to the only worthy recipient, Jehovah. (Gen. 12:8; 13:18; 15:8-10) Was Abraham prepared to give Jehovah the best quality offering? That question was answered beyond doubt when Abraham showed his willingness to sacrifice his beloved son, Isaac. On that occasion, Jehovah spelled out exactly the manner in which Abraham should make the sacrifice. (Gen. 22:1, 2) And Abraham was willing to follow that direction down to the last detail. It was Jehovah who stopped Abraham from actually killing his son. (Gen. 22:9-12) Jehovah accepted Abraham’s acts of worship because they were offered by a man whose motives were pure. “Abraham put faith in Jehovah,” wrote Paul, “and it was counted to him as righteousness.”​—Rom. 4:3.

Jacob set an example for his family (See paragraphs 19, 20)

19, 20. How did Jacob fulfill the four key requirements of pure worship?

19 Jacob spent much of his life in Canaan, the land Jehovah had promised to Abraham and his descendants. (Gen. 17:1, 8) It was a place where people had become engrossed in worship so perverted that Jehovah said that the land would “vomit its inhabitants out.” (Lev. 18:24, 25) When he was 77 years old, Jacob left Canaan, married, and later returned with a large household. (Gen. 28:1, 2; 33:18) Some of his family, however, had been influenced by false worship. Even so, when Jehovah invited Jacob to go to Bethel and build an altar, Jacob acted decisively. He first told his family: “Get rid of the foreign gods that are in your midst, and cleanse yourselves.” He then faithfully followed the instructions he had received.​—Gen. 35:1-7.

20 Jacob built a number of altars in the Promised Land, but the recipient of his worship was always Jehovah. (Gen. 35:14; 46:1) The quality of his sacrifices, the manner in which he worshipped God, and his motive for doing so were such that the Bible refers to Jacob as “blameless,” an expression that describes those who are approved by God. (Gen. 25:27) By his entire life course, Jacob set an outstanding example for the nation of Israel, which would descend from him.​—Gen. 35:9-12.

21. What can we learn about pure worship from the examples set by the patriarchs?

21 What can we learn about pure worship from the examples set by the patriarchs? Like them, we are surrounded by people, maybe even family members, who could distract us from giving Jehovah exclusive devotion. To resist such pressure, we must develop strong faith in Jehovah and be convinced that his righteous standards are best. We express that faith by obeying Jehovah and by devoting our time, energy, and resources to serving him. (Matt. 22:37-40; 1 Cor. 10:31) How encouraging it is to know that when we worship Jehovah to the best of our ability, in the way he asks, and with pure motives, he views us as righteous!​—Read James 2:18-24.

A Nation Devoted to Pure Worship

22-24. How did the Law emphasize the importance of the recipient, the quality, and the manner of Israel’s sacrifices?

22 Jehovah provided Jacob’s descendants with the Law code, leaving them in no doubt about what he required of them. If they obeyed Jehovah, they would become his “special property” and “a holy nation.” (Ex. 19:5, 6) Notice how the Law emphasized the four key elements of pure worship.

23 Jehovah clearly identified who the recipient of the Israelites’ worship should be. “You must not have any other gods besides me,” declared Jehovah. (Ex. 20:3-5) The sacrifices they offered to him had to be of the highest quality. For example, animal sacrifices were to be sound, without any defect. (Lev. 1:3; Deut. 15:21; compare Malachi 1:6-8.) The Levites benefited from the gifts given to Jehovah, but they too made personal offerings. What they gave had to come from among “the very best of all the gifts given” to them. (Num. 18:29) Regarding the manner in which they worshipped, the Israelites were given specific direction about what, where, and how sacrifices should be made to Jehovah. In total, they were given more than 600 laws to govern their behavior, and they were told: “Be careful to do just as Jehovah your God has commanded you. You must not turn to the right or to the left.”​—Deut. 5:32.

24 Did it really matter where the Israelites offered their sacrifices? Yes. Jehovah instructed his people to build a tabernacle, and it became the center for pure worship. (Ex. 40:1-3, 29, 34) At that time, if the Israelites wanted their offerings to be approved by God, they had to bring them to the tabernacle. *​—Deut. 12:17, 18.

25. Regarding sacrifices, what mattered most? Explain.

25 What mattered more, however, was an Israelite’s motive for offering his gift! He had to be motivated by heartfelt love for Jehovah and for his standards. (Read Deuteronomy 6:4-6.) When the Israelites merely went through the motions associated with pure worship, Jehovah rejected their sacrifices. (Isa. 1:10-13) Through the prophet Isaiah, Jehovah revealed that he is not deceived by an empty show of devotion, saying: “This people . . . honor me with their lips, but their heart is far removed from me.”​—Isa. 29:13.

Worship at the Temple

26. At first, what role did the temple built by Solomon play in pure worship?

26 Centuries after Israel settled in the Promised Land, King Solomon built a center for pure worship that was far grander than the tabernacle. (1 Ki. 7:51; 2 Chron. 3:1, 6, 7) At first, Jehovah was the only recipient of the sacrifices offered at this temple. Solomon and his subjects offered vast quantities of sacrifices of high quality in the manner outlined in God’s Law. (1 Ki. 8:63) However, the cost of the building and the number of sacrifices were not what made worship at the temple acceptable to Jehovah. What mattered was the motive of those offering the gifts. Solomon emphasized that point at the dedication of the temple. He said: “Let your heart be complete with Jehovah our God by walking in his regulations and by keeping his commandments as on this day.”​—1 Ki. 8:57-61.

27. What did the kings of Israel and their subjects do, and how did Jehovah respond?

27 Unfortunately, the Israelites did not continue to follow the king’s wise counsel. They failed to fulfill one or more of the key aspects of pure worship. The kings of Israel and their subjects allowed their hearts to be corrupted, they lost faith in Jehovah, and they abandoned his righteous standards. Time and again, Jehovah lovingly sent prophets to correct them and to warn them of the consequences of their actions. (Jer. 7:13-15, 23-26) Noteworthy among those prophets was the faithful man Ezekiel. He lived at a critical time in the history of pure worship.

Ezekiel Sees Pure Worship Corrupted

28, 29. What do we know about Ezekiel? (See the box “Ezekiel​—His Life and Times.”)

28 Ezekiel was intimately acquainted with worship at the temple built by Solomon. His father was a priest and would have taken his turn serving at the temple. (Ezek. 1:3) Ezekiel’s early years likely were happy. His father no doubt taught him about Jehovah and the Law. In fact, about the time that Ezekiel was born, “the book of the Law” was found in the temple. * The reigning monarch, good King Josiah, was so moved by what he heard that he increased his efforts to promote pure worship.​—2 Ki. 22:8-13.

Ezekiel’s father no doubt taught him about Jehovah and the Law (See paragraph 28)

29 Like the faithful men before him, Ezekiel fulfilled the four requirements of pure worship. As a consideration of the book of Ezekiel shows, he served Jehovah exclusively, gave his best continually, and obediently did what Jehovah asked of him and in the manner He required. Ezekiel did all of this because he was motivated by heartfelt faith. The same could not be said of the majority of his contemporaries. Ezekiel had grown up listening to the prophecies of Jeremiah, who began his work in 647 B.C.E. and who zealously warned of Jehovah’s coming judgment.

30. (a) What do the prophecies recorded by Ezekiel reveal? (b) What is prophecy, and how should those conveyed by Ezekiel be understood? (See the box “Understanding Ezekiel’s Prophecies.”)

30 Ezekiel’s inspired writings reveal how far God’s people had strayed from serving Him. (Read Ezekiel 8:6.) When Jehovah began to discipline Judah, Ezekiel was among those taken captive to Babylon. (2 Ki. 24:11-17) Although taken prisoner, Ezekiel was not being punished. Jehovah had work for him to do among His exiled people. The stunning visions and prophecies recorded by Ezekiel outline how pure worship would be restored in Jerusalem. But they also do much more​—they give insight into how pure worship will eventually be completely restored for all who love Jehovah.

31. What will this publication help us to do?

31 In the sections of this publication that follow, we will gain a glimpse into the realm where Jehovah resides, discover just how completely pure worship was defiled, learn how Jehovah restores and defends his people, and peer into the future when every living human will worship Jehovah. In the following chapter, we will consider the first vision Ezekiel recorded. It impresses on our imagination a picture of Jehovah and the heavenly part of his organization, emphasizing why he alone is worthy of exclusive, pure worship.

^ par. 4 Abel likely was conceived shortly after Adam and Eve were put out of Eden. (Gen. 4:1, 2) Genesis 4:25 says that God appointed Seth “in place of Abel.” Adam was 130 when he became father to Seth, after Abel’s violent death. (Gen. 5:3) So Abel may have been about 100 years old when Cain killed him.

^ par. 15 Genesis 4:26 states that in the time of Enosh, Adam’s grandson, “people began calling on the name of Jehovah.” However, they were evidently doing so in a disrespectful manner, possibly associating Jehovah’s name with idols.

^ par. 17 The male deity Nanna was also known by the name Sin. Although the inhabitants of Ur worshipped a number of gods, the temples and altars in that city were primarily devoted to him.

^ par. 24 After the sacred Ark was removed from the tabernacle, it seems that Jehovah approved of sacrifices being offered at locations other than the tabernacle.​—1 Sam. 4:3, 11; 7:7-9; 10:8; 11:14, 15; 16:4, 5; 1 Chron. 21:26-30.

^ par. 28 It seems that Ezekiel was 30 years old when he began prophesying in the year 613 B.C.E. So apparently he was born about the year 643 B.C.E. (Ezek. 1:1) Josiah began his reign in 659 B.C.E., and the book of the Law, likely the original, was found sometime near the 18th year of his kingship, or about the year 642-641 B.C.E.