1. Describe what Jehovah’s prophetic watchmen have been doing and the events that follow.
A WATCHMAN stands on the walls of Jerusalem, shielding his eyes as the sun sets. He scours the horizon. Suddenly, he raises his trumpet, fills his lungs, and sounds a warning—the Babylonian army is coming! But it is too late for the apathetic inhabitants of the city to act on this blast from the watchman’s horn. For decades, Jehovah’s appointed watchmen, or prophets, have been sounding a warning that this day would arrive; yet, the people have refused to listen. Now the Babylonian army surrounds the city. After a siege of many months, soldiers burst through the city walls, level the temple, and slaughter or capture the faithless, idolatrous inhabitants of Jerusalem.
2, 3. (a) What situation are the inhabitants of the earth facing today? (b) What questions will we consider?
2 Today, Jehovah’s executional forces are marching toward a confrontation with the faithless inhabitants of the earth. (Rev. 17:12-14) That clash will be the culmination of the greatest tribulation in human history. (Matt. 24:21) But it is not too late for many to respond to the warning sounded by those whom Jehovah has appointed to do the work of a watchman.
3 What motivated Jehovah to appoint watchmen? What sort of message does a watchman proclaim? Who have filled this role, and what part do we play? Let us consider the answers to these questions.
“You Must Warn Them From Me”
4. Why did Jehovah appoint watchmen? (See opening picture.)
4 Read Ezekiel 33:7. Literal watchmen often stood on the walls of a city to help keep the inhabitants safe. They served as tangible evidence that the ruler of the city cared for his subjects. Although a blast from a watchman’s horn might startle the sleeping residents, that same piercing call could save the lives of those who responded to it. Similarly, Jehovah appointed watchmen, not because he wanted to terrorize the Israelites with messages of doom, but because he cared for his people and wanted to save lives.
5, 6. What is one way in which Jehovah’s justice is evident?
5 When appointing Ezekiel to be a watchman, Jehovah revealed aspects of his personality that we find reassuring. Consider just two of those attributes.
6 Justice: Jehovah’s justice is evident in that he deals impartially with us as individuals. For example, although Ezekiel’s message was heard and rejected by large crowds, Jehovah did not treat all the Israelites as a rebellious mob; rather, he wanted to see how individuals responded. He repeatedly speaks about talking to the “wicked one” and to “someone righteous.” Therefore, Jehovah passes judgment based on how each individual reacts to the message.—Ezek. 33:8, 18-20.
7. On what basis does Jehovah judge people?
7 Jehovah’s justice can also be seen by the way in which he judges people. Individuals are held accountable, not for what they did in the past, but for how they respond to the current warning. Jehovah told Ezekiel: “When I say to the wicked one: ‘You will surely die,’ and he turns away from his sin and does what is just and righteous, . . . he will surely keep living.” Then Jehovah adds a remarkable statement: “None of the sins he committed will be held against him.” (Ezek. 33:14-16) On the other hand, those who followed a righteous path cannot expect past obedience to excuse current rebellion. Jehovah stated that if a man “trusts in his own righteousness and does what is wrong, none of his righteous acts will be remembered, but he will die for the wrong that he has done.”—Ezek. 33:13.
8. What do prophetic warnings teach us about Jehovah’s justice?
8 Jehovah’s sense of justice is further evident in that he gives due warning before he acts. Ezekiel began his work some six years before the Babylonian army destroyed Jerusalem. But Ezekiel was not the first to warn God’s people that they would be held accountable. For more than a century prior to the destruction of Jerusalem, Jehovah sent the prophets Hosea, Isaiah, Micah, Oded, and Jeremiah to act as watchmen. Jehovah had Jeremiah remind the Israelites: “I appointed watchmen who said, ‘Pay attention to the sound of the horn!’” (Jer. 6:17) Neither Jehovah nor those watchmen could be held accountable for the lives lost when the Babylonians finally executed Jehovah’s judgment.
9. How did Jehovah display loyal love?
9 Love: Jehovah displayed loyal love by sending his watchmen to warn not only the righteous but also the wicked—the very ones who broke his heart and tarnished his reputation. Just think—the Israelites were known as Jehovah’s people, but they repeatedly turned their backs on him and ran after false gods! Jehovah conveyed the depth of his emotional pain at this betrayal by likening the nation to an adulterous wife. (Ezek. 16:32) Even so, Jehovah did not give up on them quickly. He sought reconciliation, not revenge. He wielded the sword of judgment as a last resort, not a first response. Why? He told Ezekiel: “I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that someone wicked changes his way and keeps living.” (Ezek. 33:11) That was how Jehovah felt back then, and it is how Jehovah feels today.—Mal. 3:6.
10, 11. What lessons can we learn from Jehovah’s dealings with his people?
10 What can we learn from the just and loving way that Jehovah dealt with the Israelites? One lesson is that we must view the people to whom we preach, not as part of a faceless crowd, but as unique individuals. What a mistake it would be to prejudge a person as unworthy of hearing the message we bear because of his past conduct or because of his ethnic, tribal, economic, or language background! Jehovah taught the apostle Peter a lesson that resonates today: “God is not partial, but in every nation the man who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him.”—Acts 10:34, 35.
11 Another key lesson is that we need to keep a close eye on ourselves; past righteous works do not excuse current wrongdoing. We do well to remember that we have the same sinful tendencies as do those to whom we preach. The counsel that the apostle Paul gave to the Corinthian congregation applies equally to us: “Let the one who thinks he is standing beware that he does not fall. No temptation has come upon you except what is common to men.” (1 Cor. 10:12, 13) Never would we want to be one who “trusts in his own righteousness,” thinking that we can do wrong with impunity because we also do good works. (Ezek. 33:13) No matter how long we have been serving Jehovah, it is vital that we maintain a humble, obedient attitude.
12. If we committed serious sins in the past, what should we remember?
12 What, though, if we have committed serious sins in the past but now feel remorse? From Ezekiel’s message, we learn that Jehovah will punish unrepentant wrongdoers. However, we also learn that Jehovah is primarily a God of love, not vengeance. (1 John 4:8) If we prove by our actions that we are repentant, we should never feel that our sins are beyond God’s mercy. (Jas. 5:14, 15) Jehovah was willing to forgive the spiritually adulterous Israelites, and he is willing to forgive us.—Ps. 86:5.
“Speak to the Sons of Your People”
13, 14. (a) What sort of message were the watchmen to declare? (b) What message did Isaiah deliver?
13 Read Ezekiel 33:2, 3. What sort of message were Jehovah’s watchmen to declare? A vital part of their work was to proclaim warnings. But they also delivered good news. Consider some examples.
14 Isaiah, who served from about 778 to 732 B.C.E., warned that the Babylonians would capture Jerusalem and take its inhabitants into exile. (Isa. 39:5-7) But he was also inspired to write: “Listen! Your watchmen raise their voice. In unison they shout joyfully, for they will see it clearly when Jehovah gathers back Zion.” (Isa. 52:8) Isaiah proclaimed the best of news—true worship would be restored!
15. What message did Jeremiah proclaim?
15 Jeremiah, who served from 647 to 580 B.C.E., is often unjustly labeled a “calamity howler.” Without a doubt, he did an outstanding job of warning the wicked Israelites of the calamities that Jehovah would bring on them. * But he also proclaimed good news, foretelling the return of God’s people to their land and the restoration of pure worship there.—Jer. 29:10-14; 33:10, 11.
16. How did Ezekiel’s message benefit the captives in Babylon?
16 Ezekiel was appointed as a watchman in 613 B.C.E., and he remained at his post at least until 591 B.C.E. As Chapters 5 and 6 of this publication discussed, Ezekiel zealously warned the people of Israel of the destruction that would descend on them, clearing himself of any bloodguilt for the lives that would be lost. In the process, he not only warned the exiles that Jehovah would punish apostates in Jerusalem but also helped to keep the captives in Babylon spiritually alive and fit for future work. At the end of the 70-year exile, Jehovah would plant a remnant in the restored land of Israel. (Ezek. 36:7-11) This remnant would mainly be made up of the children and grandchildren of those who paid attention to Ezekiel. As the other chapters in Section 3 of this publication highlight, Ezekiel had much good news to share, confirming that pure worship would be restored in Jerusalem.
17. When has Jehovah appointed watchmen?
17 Were these prophets who spoke to God’s people in the period surrounding the destruction of Jerusalem in 607 B.C.E. the only ones whom Jehovah has used to act as watchmen? The answer is no. At each major junction in the outworking of his purpose, Jehovah has appointed watchmen both to warn the wicked and to announce good news.
Watchmen in the First Century
18. What work did John the Baptist do?
18 In the first century C.E., John the Baptist did the work of a watchman. He warned those of the fleshly house of Israel that they would soon be rejected. (Matt. 3:1, 2, 9-11) But he did more. Jesus said that John was the foretold “messenger” who had prepared the way for the Messiah. (Mal. 3:1; Matt. 11:7-10) Part of that work included announcing good news—“the Lamb of God,” Jesus, had arrived and would take away “the sin of the world.”—John 1:29, 30.
19, 20. How did Jesus and his disciples act as watchmen?
19 Of all the watchmen, Jesus was the foremost. Like Ezekiel, he was sent by Jehovah to “the house of Israel.” (Ezek. 3:17; Matt. 15:24) Jesus warned that the fleshly nation of Israel was soon to be rejected and that Jerusalem would be destroyed. (Matt. 23:37, 38; 24:1, 2; Luke 21:20-24) But his primary work was to announce good news.—Luke 4:17-21.
20 While on earth, Jesus specifically told his disciples: “Keep on the watch.” (Matt. 24:42) They obeyed his command and acted as watchmen, warning that Jehovah had rejected the fleshly house of Israel and the earthly city of Jerusalem. (Rom. 9:6-8; Gal. 4:25, 26) Like the watchmen who went before them, they also had good news to declare. Their message included the remarkable announcement that Gentiles would now be included in the spirit-anointed Israel of God and would enjoy the privilege of helping Christ restore pure worship on earth.—Acts 15:14; Gal. 6:15, 16; Rev. 5:9, 10.
21. What example did Paul set?
21 Among first-century watchmen, the apostle Paul set an outstanding example. He took his responsibility seriously. Like Ezekiel, he knew that he would be bloodguilty if he failed to fulfill his assignment. (Acts 20:26, 27) Following the pattern of other watchmen, Paul not only warned others but also proclaimed good news. (Acts 15:35; Rom. 1:1-4) In fact, under the guidance of holy spirit, he quoted the prophecy recorded by Isaiah: “How beautiful on the mountains are the feet of the one bringing good news,” and he applied it to the work done by Christ’s followers as they preach about God’s Kingdom.—Isa. 52:7, 8; Rom. 10:13-15.
22. What happened after the death of the apostles?
22 After the death of the apostles, the foretold apostasy overwhelmed the Christian congregation. (Acts 20:29, 30; 2 Thess. 2:3-8) During a long growing period, weedlike counterfeit Christians outnumbered loyal wheatlike followers of Christ, and the clear message about God’s Kingdom was clouded over by false teachings. (Matt. 13:36-43) However, when the time approached for Jehovah to intervene in human affairs, he once again expressed his love and justice by appointing watchmen to sound a clear warning and to announce good news. Who proved to be such watchmen?
Jehovah Again Provides Watchmen to Warn the Wicked
23. What role did C. T. Russell and his associates play?
23 During the years leading up to 1914, Charles Taze Russell and his associates acted as the “messenger” who would “clear up a way” before the Messianic Kingdom was established. * (Mal. 3:1) That group also did the work of a watchman, using the magazine Zion’s Watch Tower and Herald of Christ’s Presence to help warn of God’s judgment and to spread the good news about God’s Kingdom.
24. (a) How has the faithful slave acted as a watchman? (b) What have you learned from the example of past watchmen? (See the chart “Some Exemplary Watchmen.”)
24 After the Kingdom was established, Jesus appointed a small group of men to serve as the faithful slave. (Matt. 24:45-47) Since then, the faithful slave, now known as the Governing Body, has done the work of a watchman. It takes the lead not only in warning of “the day of vengeance” but also in proclaiming “the year of Jehovah’s goodwill.”—Isa. 61:2; see also 2 Corinthians 6:1, 2.
25, 26. (a) What work must all of Christ’s followers do, and how is it done? (b) What will we consider in the next chapter?
25 While the faithful slave takes the lead in the watchman work, Jesus assigned “all” of his followers to “keep on the watch.” (Mark 13:33-37) We obey that command by remaining spiritually awake, loyally supporting the modern-day watchman. We prove that we are awake by fulfilling our responsibility to preach. (2 Tim. 4:2) What motivates us? In part, it is our desire to save lives. (1 Tim. 4:16) Soon multitudes will lose their lives because they ignored the warning call of the modern-day watchman. (Ezek. 3:19) But our primary motive is that we long to share the best of news—pure worship has been restored! Right now, during “the year of Jehovah’s goodwill,” the door is open for many more to join us in worshipping our just and loving God, Jehovah. Soon all on earth who survive the end of this wicked system will benefit from the merciful rule of his Son, Christ Jesus. How could we hold back from assisting the modern-day watchman in telling such good news!—Matt. 24:14.
26 Even before this wicked system ends, Jehovah has united his people in a miraculous way. The next chapter will discuss a prophecy involving two sticks that are used to illustrate how this has happened.