“I will declare the name of Jehovah . . . , a God of faithfulness who is never unjust.”
1, 2. (a) What injustice did Naboth and his sons experience? (b) What two qualities will we consider in this article?
TWO bad men accuse a man of a very serious crime. What they say is a lie. But the man is found guilty and is to be executed. Imagine how people who loved justice felt as they watched this innocent man and his sons being stoned to death! This is not just a story. It is what really happened to a faithful servant of Jehovah named Naboth, who lived when King Ahab ruled Israel.
2 In this article, we will discuss what happened to Naboth. We will also discuss the serious mistake that a faithful elder in one of the first Christian congregations made. These two examples will show us how humility and a willingness to forgive are necessary if we want to imitate Jehovah’s sense of justice.
A TRAGIC INJUSTICE
3, 4. What kind of man was Naboth, and why did he refuse to sell his vineyard to King Ahab?
3 Naboth was faithful to Jehovah at a time when most Israelites were following the bad example of King Ahab and his wife, wicked Queen Jezebel. They worshipped the false god Baal and did not respect Jehovah or his laws. But Naboth valued his relationship with Jehovah even more than his own life.
4 Read 1 Kings 21:1-3. When Ahab offered to buy Naboth’s vineyard or to give him a better vineyard in exchange, Naboth refused. Why? He respectfully explained: “It is unthinkable, from Jehovah’s standpoint, for me to give you the inheritance of my forefathers.” Naboth refused King Ahab’s offer because it was against Jehovah’s law for Israelites to sell their family inheritance permanently. (Leviticus 25:23; Numbers 36:7) Clearly, Naboth was obedient to Jehovah.
5. What did Jezebel do in order to get Naboth’s vineyard?
5 When Naboth refused to sell his vineyard, King Ahab and his wife did terrible things. In order to get the vineyard, Queen Jezebel asked two men to accuse Naboth of a crime he had not committed. As a result, both Naboth and his sons were killed. What did Jehovah do about this tragic injustice?
6, 7. How did Jehovah show that he loves justice, and why would this have been comforting to Naboth’s family and friends?
6 Right away Jehovah sent Elijah to confront Ahab. Elijah told Ahab that he was a murderer and a thief. What was Jehovah’s decision? Ahab, his wife, and his sons would be killed, as had been Naboth and his sons.
7 Naboth’s family and friends grieved over the terrible things Ahab had done. But Jehovah saw the injustice and quickly responded to it. That must have been comforting to them. However, their humility and trust in Jehovah were probably tested by what happened next.
Elijah told Ahab that because he had humbled himself, Jehovah would not punish him
8. How did Ahab react when he heard Jehovah’s message, and what was the result?
8 When Ahab heard what Jehovah had decided to do to him, “he ripped his garments apart and put sackcloth on his body; and he went on a fast and kept lying down in sackcloth and walking despondently.” Ahab humbled himself! What was the result? Jehovah told Elijah: “Because he has humbled himself before me, I will not bring the calamity during his lifetime. I will bring the calamity upon his house in the days of his son.” (1 Kings 21:27-29; 2 Kings 10:10, 11, 17) Jehovah, “the examiner of hearts,” the one who can see who we really are, showed mercy to Ahab.
HUMILITY IS A PROTECTION
9. Why would humility have been a protection to Naboth’s family and friends?
9 When Naboth’s family and friends heard that Ahab’s family would not be punished until after Ahab died, that may have tested their faith in God. But humility would have helped them to protect their faith. Why? If they were humble, they would continue worshipping Jehovah, trusting that it is impossible for God to be unfair. (Read Deuteronomy 32:3, 4.) In the future, Naboth’s family will experience the blessing of seeing their loved ones in the resurrection. There will be perfect justice for Naboth and his sons. (Job 14:14, 15; John 5:28, 29) A humble person knows that “the true God will judge every deed, including every hidden thing, as to whether it is good or bad.” (Ecclesiastes 12:14) Jehovah considers facts that are not known to us. So humility protects us from losing our faith in Jehovah.
Humility protects us from losing our faith in Jehovah
10, 11. (a) What situations might test our sense of justice? (b) In what ways will humility protect us?
10 How will you react if the elders make a decision that you do not understand or that you do not agree with? For example, what will you do if you or someone you love loses an assignment in Jehovah’s service? What if your marriage mate, your son or daughter, or your close friend is disfellowshipped and you do not agree with the elders’ decision? What will you do if you believe that it was a mistake for the elders to show mercy to someone who sinned? These situations can test our faith in Jehovah and the way he has organized the congregation today. How will humility protect you if you are tested by one of those situations? Let us consider two ways.
11 First, if we are humble, we will agree that we do not have all the facts. Even if we think we know everything there is to know about a situation, only Jehovah knows what is in a person’s heart. (1 Samuel 16:7) When we remember this, we will humbly recognize that we have limitations and that we need to adjust our thinking. Second, if we have observed or experienced an injustice, humility will help us to be obedient and patient and wait for Jehovah to correct the situation. The Bible says: “It will turn out well for those who fear the true God.” The Bible also says: “But it will not turn out well for the wicked one, nor will he prolong his days.” (Ecclesiastes 8:12, 13) If we remain humble, we will benefit and so will everyone involved.
A CASE OF HYPOCRISY IN THE CONGREGATION
12. What account will we now consider, and why?
12 The early Christians in Syrian Antioch experienced a situation that tested their humility and also their willingness to forgive. Let us consider that account and use it to examine our attitude about forgiveness. It may help us to understand why Jehovah can use imperfect people without lowering his standards.
13, 14. What assignments did the apostle Peter have, and how did he show that he was courageous?
13 The apostle Peter was an elder whom most of the early Christians knew very well. He was a personal friend of Jesus and had been given important assignments. (Matthew 16:19) For example, in the year 36, Peter was assigned to preach to Cornelius and everyone in his house. Why was this special? Because Cornelius was not a Jew; he was an uncircumcised Gentile. When Cornelius and those in his house received holy spirit, Peter recognized that they could be baptized as Christians. He said: “Can anyone deny water to prevent these from being baptized who have received the holy spirit just as we have?”
14 In the year 49, the apostles and the elders in Jerusalem met to decide whether Gentile Christians needed to be circumcised. At this meeting, Peter courageously reminded the brothers that he had personally seen uncircumcised Gentiles receive the holy spirit. It was Peter’s experience that helped the governing body to make their decision. (Acts 15:6-11, 13, 14, 28, 29) Both Jewish and Gentile Christians must have been grateful that Peter had the courage to tell the facts. It must have been easy for those early Christians to trust this faithful and mature man!
15. What mistake did Peter make while he was in Syrian Antioch? (See opening picture.)
15 Soon after the meeting in Jerusalem, Peter visited Syrian Antioch. While he was there, he spent time with his Gentile brothers. We can imagine how much they loved learning from Peter’s knowledge and experience. However, they must have been surprised and hurt when Peter suddenly stopped eating with them. Peter influenced other Jewish Christians, including Barnabas, to do the same. Why did this mature Christian elder make such a serious mistake, one that could have divided the congregation? More important, what can we learn from Peter’s mistake that can help us if we are hurt by the words or actions of an elder?
How would the Gentile Christians whom Peter had offended react to this injustice?
16. How was Peter corrected, and what questions arise?
16 Read Galatians 2:11-14. Peter became afraid of men. (Proverbs 29:25) Peter knew how Jehovah felt about the Gentiles. Still, he was afraid that the circumcised Jewish Christians visiting from Jerusalem would think less of him for associating with those Gentile Christians. The apostle Paul told Peter that he was being a hypocrite. Why? Because Paul had heard Peter defend the Gentiles at the meeting in Jerusalem in the year 49. (Acts 15:12; Galatians 2:13, footnote) How would the Gentile Christians whom Peter had offended react? Would they allow themselves to be stumbled? Would Peter lose his assignments because of his mistake?
17. How did Peter benefit from Jehovah’s forgiveness?
17 Peter was humble and accepted Paul’s correction. The Scriptures do not say that Peter lost any of his assignments. In fact, he was later inspired to write two letters that became part of the Bible. In his second letter, he even refers to Paul as “our beloved brother.” (2 Peter 3:15) Peter’s mistake must have been painful for the Gentile Christians. However, Jesus, who is head of the congregation, continued to use him. (Ephesians 1:22) Brothers and sisters in the congregation had an opportunity to imitate Jesus and his Father by forgiving Peter. Hopefully, no one allowed himself to be stumbled by an imperfect man’s mistake.
18. When may we need to imitate Jehovah’s sense of justice?
18 There were no perfect elders in the early Christian congregation, and there are no perfect elders in the Christian congregation today. The Bible says: “We all make mistakes many times.” (James 3:2, footnote) This is easy to recognize, but what will we do when we personally experience the imperfections of a brother? Will we imitate Jehovah’s sense of justice? For example, how will you respond if an elder makes a comment that seems prejudiced? Will you allow yourself to be stumbled if an elder thoughtlessly says something that offends or hurts you? Rather than quickly thinking that the brother should not be an elder, will you patiently wait on Jesus, the head of the congregation? Rather than focusing on the mistake, will you remember the brother’s many years of faithful service? If a brother who sins against you continues to serve as an elder or even receives more assignments, will you be happy for him? If you are willing to forgive, you show that you are imitating Jehovah’s sense of justice.
19. What should we be determined to do?
19 Because we love justice, we truly look forward to the day when Jehovah will completely erase all the injustice caused by Satan and his wicked system. (Isaiah 65:17) Until then, when we experience an injustice, let us humbly recognize that we may not have all the facts and generously forgive those who sin against us. If we do, we will be imitating Jehovah’s view of justice.