“Congregate the people, the men and the women and the little ones and your alien resident.”—DEUT. 31:12.
1, 2. What aspects of theocratic conventions merit our attention?
INTERNATIONAL and district conventions have been a feature of the modern-day history of Jehovah’s Witnesses for as long as most of us can remember. Many of us have attended a number of these joyful events, perhaps scores of them over the decades.
2 Thousands of years ago, God’s people also held holy conventions. We will review some Scriptural precedents for modern-day conventions, note similarities between ancient and modern features of such gatherings, and focus on benefits received from attending them.—Ps. 44:1; Rom. 15:4.
LANDMARK CONVENTIONS, ANCIENT AND MODERN
3. (a) What characterized the first convention of Jehovah’s people that we have on record? (b) How were the Israelites called to assemble together?
3 The assembly at the base of Mount Sinai was the first large gathering of God’s people for spiritual instruction on record. It truly was a landmark event in the history of pure worship. On that thrilling occasion, which participants no doubt never forgot, Jehovah gave the Israelites a demonstration of his power when he gave them his Law. (Ex. 19:2-9, 16-19; read Exodus 20:18; Deuteronomy 4:9, 10.) That event was key to God’s subsequent dealings with Israel. Not long thereafter, Jehovah established a means by which to summon his people. He ordered Moses to make two silver trumpets that would be used to call “the whole assembly” to meet “at the entrance of the tent of meeting.” (Num. 10:1-4) Try to imagine the excitement on such occasions!
4, 5. Why were conventions that were held by Moses and Joshua particularly significant?
4 Toward the end of Israel’s 40-year sojourn in the wilderness, at a critical moment in that relatively new nation’s history, Moses assembled his fellow Israelites. They were poised to enter the Promised Land. This was the right time for Moses to remind his brothers of all that Jehovah had done for them and all that he would still do for them.—Deut. 29:1-15; 30:15-20; 31:30.
5 Perhaps at that same convention, Moses referred to the regular provision for the assembly and education of God’s people. In Sabbath years during the Festival of Booths, the men, women, children, and alien residents of Israel were to congregate in the place Jehovah chose ‘in order for them to listen and in order for them to learn to fear Jehovah and take care to carry out all the words of the law.’ (Read Deuteronomy 31:1, 10-12.) So at this early stage in the history of God’s people, it was clear that they were to gather frequently to consider Jehovah’s word and purposes. When the Israelites had completed the conquest of the Promised Land but were still surrounded by pagan nations, Joshua assembled all Israel with the aim of fortifying their resolve to remain loyal to Jehovah. In response, the people made an oath to serve God.—Josh. 23:1, 2; 24:1, 15, 21-24.
6, 7. How can it be said that modern conventions of Jehovah’s people have been important milestones?
6 In the modern history of Jehovah’s people, there have also been landmark conventions—events that marked major developments in theocratic activities or Scriptural understanding. (Prov. 4:18) The first major convention that the Bible Students held after World War I was in 1919 in Cedar Point, Ohio, U.S.A. That gathering, attended by some 7,000, was marked by the launching of a global preaching campaign. In 1922, during a nine-day convention at the same location, dramatic impetus was given to this activity by Joseph F. Rutherford, who urged his attentive audience: “Be faithful and true witnesses for the Lord. Go forward in the fight until every vestige of Babylon lies desolate. Herald the message far and wide. The world must know that Jehovah is God and that Jesus Christ is King of kings and Lord of lords. This is the day of all days. Behold, the King reigns! You are his publicity agents. Therefore advertise, advertise, advertise, the King and his kingdom.” Attendees, and indeed God’s people worldwide, joyfully embraced that exhortation.
7 In Columbus, Ohio, in 1931, the Bible Students were absolutely thrilled to accept the name Jehovah’s Witnesses. Then in 1935, in Washington, D.C., Brother Rutherford identified the “great crowd,” described in Revelation as “standing before the throne and before the Lamb.” (Rev. 7:9-17) In 1942, in the midst of World War II, Nathan H. Knorr delivered the thrilling discourse “Peace—Can It Last?” In it, he identified the “scarlet-colored wild beast” of Revelation 17 and indicated that there would still be much preaching to do after the war.
8, 9. Why have certain conventions proved to be particularly moving?
8 Especially notable at the 1946 “Glad Nations” Theocratic Assembly in Cleveland, Ohio, was Brother Knorr’s discourse “The Problems of Reconstruction and Expansion.” Capturing the excitement generated by that talk, one attendee wrote: “I had the privilege of being behind him on the platform that evening, and as he outlined the work and then told about the plans for enlarging the Brooklyn Bethel home and factory, the applause from the vast audience surged in renewed outbursts. While one could see no distinct face from the platform, it was easy to sense their joy.” At an international convention in New York City in 1950, the audience was delighted to receive the New World Translation of the Christian Greek Scriptures, the first installment of a modern-language Bible that restored God’s name to its rightful place in his Word.—Jer. 16:21.
9 Conventions at which Jehovah gathered his faithful Witnesses after periods of persecution or ban were also intensely moving. Adolf Hitler had vowed to destroy Jehovah’s Witnesses in Germany, but 107,000 of them filled his former parade grounds in Nuremberg during a convention in 1955. Many of those present could not hold back their tears of joy! Among the 166,518 delegates at three “Godly Devotion” conventions held in Poland in 1989 were large numbers of delegates from what were then the Soviet Union and Czechoslovakia, and from other Eastern European countries. For some, it was the first time they had attended a gathering of more than 15 or 20 of God’s people. And imagine the joy at the 1993 “Divine Teaching” International Convention in Kiev, Ukraine, where 7,402 were immersed—the largest baptism of Jehovah’s Witnesses on record.—Isa. 60:22; Hag. 2:7.
10. Which conventions have been especially memorable for you, and why?
10 Perhaps there are district conventions or international conventions that stand out in your mind. Do you remember your first convention or perhaps the one at which you were baptized? These were landmark spiritual events for you. Treasure those memories!—Ps. 42:4.
REGULAR OCCASIONS FOR REJOICING
11. What arrangement for regular seasonal festivals did God institute in ancient Israel?
11 Jehovah required that the Israelites assemble in Jerusalem for three seasonal festivals each year—the Festival of Unfermented Cakes, the Festival of Weeks (later called Pentecost), and the Festival of Booths. Concerning these, God commanded: “On three occasions in the year every male of yours will appear before the face of the true Lord, Jehovah.” (Ex. 23:14-17) Recognizing the great spiritual value of these festivals, many family heads attended with their entire family.—1 Sam. 1:1-7; Luke 2:41, 42.
12, 13. Attendance at the annual festivals meant what for many Israelites?
12 Think about what it meant for an Israelite family to make that journey. Joseph and Mary, for example, would travel about 60 miles (100 km) one way from Nazareth to Jerusalem. How long do you think it would take you to complete such a trip, walking with small children? The account of Jesus’ visit to Jerusalem as a boy reveals that relatives and acquaintances might make such trips as a group. It must have been quite an experience for them to travel and prepare meals together and to organize suitable sleeping arrangements in unfamiliar locations. Yet, conditions were safe enough for a 12-year-old like Jesus to be allowed a certain amount of freedom. Think how unforgettable that would have been, especially for the youngsters!—Luke 2:44-46.
13 When the Israelites were widely dispersed outside the borders of their homeland, those attending the festivals came from many nations. At Pentecost of the year 33 C.E., appreciative Jews and proselytes traveled to Jerusalem from such places as Italy, Libya, Crete, Asia Minor, and Mesopotamia.—Acts 2:5-11; 20:16.
14. How did the Israelites benefit from attending the annual festivals?
14 For faithful Israelites, the high point and focus of such trips was the spiritual aspect—their eagerly worshipping Jehovah alongside thousands of appreciative celebrants. What would be the effect on those who attended? An answer can be found in Jehovah’s directions to his people regarding the Festival of Booths: “You must rejoice during your festival, you and your son and your daughter and your man slave and your slave girl and the Levite and the alien resident and the fatherless boy and the widow, who are inside your gates. Seven days you will celebrate the festival to Jehovah your God in the place that Jehovah will choose, because Jehovah your God will bless you in all your produce and in every deed of your hand, and you must become nothing but joyful.”—Deut. 16:14, 15; read Matthew 5:3.
WHY APPRECIATE MODERN CONVENTIONS?
15, 16. What sacrifices have you had to make in order to attend conventions? Why is the effort worthwhile?
15 What excellent examples these ancient gatherings provide for God’s people today! Although many things have changed over the centuries, the essential aspects of conventions have not. In Bible times, conventioners had to make sacrifices to attend. So do many today. Yet, the benefits are well worth the effort. These events were—and still are—important spiritual occasions. They provide us with information and understanding that are critical to our maintaining a close relationship with God. Conventions motivate us to apply what we learn, help us to avoid problems, and encourage us to stay focused on pursuits and interests that will refresh us rather than weigh us down.—Ps. 122:1-4.
16 Joy is a recurring experience among conventioners. A report on a large convention in 1946 noted: “It was a thrilling sight to observe the many thousands of witnesses comfortably accommodated, and even more joyous to listen as a large orchestra joined with the voices of the multitudes to make the stands ring with gladsome Kingdom songs of praise to Jehovah.” The report added: “The Volunteer Service Department registered workers from among the delegates to man all [the] departments, purely out of the joy of serving their fellow witnesses.” Have you too felt such excitement at district conventions or international conventions?—Ps. 110:3; Isa. 42:10-12.
17. How has the organization of conventions been modified in recent times?
17 Certain things have changed in the way conventions are organized. For example, some of God’s people remember when conventions might last eight days! There were morning, afternoon, and evening sessions. Field service was a regular part of the program. A few parts began at nine in the morning, and there were often sessions until nine at night. Volunteers worked long and hard to prepare breakfast, lunch, and supper for attendees. Now the schedule provides for shorter convention days, and food preparation done by families and individuals ahead of time allows them to give more attention to the spiritual feeding program.
18, 19. What aspects of conventions do you look forward to, and why?
18 Convention features that have long been part of the program are widely anticipated. Spiritual “food at the proper time,” giving us a better understanding of Bible prophecies and teachings, has come not only from discourses but also through new publications released at conventions. (Matt. 24:45) Such releases are often tools that help sincere individuals appreciate Scriptural truths. Stimulating Bible-based dramas encourage both young and old to examine their motives and guard against the pressures exerted by the world’s ungodly thinking. The baptism talk likewise offers all of us an opportunity to review our priorities in life and to experience the joy of seeing others symbolize their dedication to Jehovah.
19 Yes, long a part of pure worship, conventions equip Jehovah’s joyful people to serve him appropriately in challenging times. Such gatherings provide spiritual stimulus, offer opportunities to meet new friends, help us to appreciate our worldwide association of brothers, and are a key means by which Jehovah blesses and cares for his people. Surely, each one of us will want to organize his affairs so as to attend and benefit from every session of each convention.—Prov. 10:22.