“Happy is the people whose God is Jehovah!”
1. What do some believe about those who worship God?
MANY today say that the main religions of the world do little to help mankind. Some think that God cannot approve of these religions because they do not teach the truth about God and they do terrible things. Still, they often believe that God accepts good people in all religions. But is this true? Or does God require that those who worship him be separate from false religions? Let us find the answer by seeing what the Bible says about Jehovah’s true worshippers throughout history.
GOD’S COVENANT WITH HIS PEOPLE
2. Who became Jehovah’s people? What identified them as a people who had a special relationship with Jehovah? (See opening picture.)
2 About 4,000 years ago, Jehovah selected a group to be his people on earth. Abraham is described in the Bible as “the father of all those having faith,” and he was the leader of a large family with hundreds of servants. (Romans 4:11; Genesis 14:14) In Canaan, he was respected as “a great chieftain.” (Genesis 21:22; 23:6; footnote) Jehovah made a covenant, or an agreement, with Abraham and his descendants. (Genesis 17:1, 2, 19) God told Abraham: “This is my covenant between me and you, that you and your offspring after you will keep: Every male among you must get circumcised.” He added: “It will serve as a sign of the covenant between me and you.” (Genesis 17:10, 11) So Abraham and all the males of his family were circumcised. (Genesis 17:24-27) Circumcision identified Abraham’s descendants as the people who had a special relationship with Jehovah.
3. How did Abraham’s descendants become a people?
3 Abraham’s grandson Jacob, or Israel, had 12 sons. (Genesis 35:10, 22b-26) In time, these sons became fathers of the 12 tribes of Israel. (Acts 7:8) Jacob’s son Joseph was taken to Egypt, and Pharaoh later gave him great authority. During a famine, Joseph was responsible to oversee the food supply for the entire country. Because of this famine, Jacob and his family went to Egypt. (Genesis 41:39-41; 42:6) Jacob’s descendants became many and were called “a congregation of peoples.”
JEHOVAH SAVES HIS PEOPLE
4. At first, what relationship existed between the Egyptians and the descendants of Jacob?
4 The descendants of Jacob lived for more than 200 years in a part of Egypt called Goshen. (Genesis 45:9, 10) Pharaoh had invited the Israelites to live in Egypt because he knew Joseph and respected him. (Genesis 47:1-6) For about 100 years, they were at peace with the Egyptians. The Israelites lived in small towns and raised animals. Although the Egyptians hated people who herded sheep, they had to obey Pharaoh and allow the Israelites to live there.
5, 6. (a) How did the situation of God’s people change in Egypt? (b) Why was Moses not killed, and what did Jehovah do for His people?
5 After a while, the Egyptians made the Israelites their slaves. The Bible says: “In time there arose over Egypt a new king, one who did not know Joseph. So he said to his people: ‘Look! The people of Israel are more numerous and mightier than we are.’” As a result, the Egyptians forced the Israelites to make bricks, to care for fields, and to do other hard work as slaves. They treated the Israelites cruelly.
6 This new Pharaoh also commanded that all Israelite baby boys be killed when they were born. (Exodus 1:15, 16) At that time, an Israelite woman, Jochebed, gave birth to Moses. When he was three months old, she hid him in the reeds growing by the Nile River. Soon, the daughter of Pharaoh found Moses and adopted him. She allowed Moses’ mother to take care of him as he grew up. In time, Moses became a loyal servant of Jehovah. (Exodus 2:1-10; Hebrews 11:23-25) Jehovah saw that his people were suffering and decided to use Moses to lead them out of Egypt. (Exodus 2:24, 25; 3:9, 10) In this way, Jehovah “redeemed,” or saved, the Israelites.
GOD’S PEOPLE BECOME A NATION
7, 8. How did Jehovah’s people become a holy nation?
7 Jehovah had not yet organized the Israelites as a nation with laws and a priesthood, but he chose them as his people. That is why Moses and Aaron were instructed to say to Pharaoh: “This is what Jehovah the God of Israel says, ‘Send my people away so that they may celebrate a festival to me in the wilderness.’”
8 But Pharaoh did not want to let the Israelites go. To free his people, Jehovah brought ten plagues on Egypt and later destroyed Pharaoh and his army in the Red Sea. (Exodus 15:1-4) Less than three months later, Jehovah made a covenant with the Israelites at Mount Sinai, saying: “If you will strictly obey my voice and keep my covenant, you will certainly become my special property out of all peoples.” They would become “a holy nation.”
9, 10. (a) As explained at Deuteronomy 4:5-8, how did the Law make the Israelites different from other nations? (b) What did the Israelites have to do to show that they were “a people holy to Jehovah”?
9 For centuries, servants of Jehovah were led by family heads who served as rulers, judges, and priests. In Egypt, the Israelites followed this system of leadership before they became slaves. (Genesis 8:20; 18:19; Job 1:4, 5) However, after Jehovah freed the Israelites from slavery, he gave them laws that made them different from all other nations. (Read Deuteronomy 4:5-8; Psalm 147:19, 20) The Law set up a separate group to be priests for the nation. Also, the Law said that the “elders,” who were respected for their knowledge and wisdom, would be judges. (Deuteronomy 25:7, 8) The Law gave the people instructions for their worship and their daily life.
Jehovah gave the Israelites laws that made them different from all other nations
10 Just before the Israelites entered the Promised Land, Jehovah repeated his laws to them. Moses told them: “Today Jehovah has obtained your declaration that you will become his people, his special property, just as he has promised you, and that you will observe all his commandments and that he will put you high above all the other nations that he has made, giving you praise and fame and glory as you prove yourself a people holy to Jehovah your God.”
NON-ISRAELITES COULD WORSHIP WITH GOD’S PEOPLE
11-13. (a) Who began to worship with God’s people? (b) If people who were not Israelites wanted to worship Jehovah, what did they need to do?
11 Although the Israelites were Jehovah’s chosen nation on earth, he allowed people who were not Israelites to live among his people. For example, the Bible says that a large number of them, including Egyptians, went with the Israelites when God brought them out of Egypt. (Exodus 12:38; footnote) Likely among them were some of Pharaoh’s servants who had obeyed Moses’ warning during the seventh plague.
Non-Israelites could worship Jehovah if they worshipped with his chosen people
12 Just before the Israelites crossed the Jordan River into Canaan, Moses told them that they must love the foreign residents in their midst, that is, the non-Israelites who lived with them. (Deuteronomy 10:17-19) If a non-Israelite was willing to obey basic laws, such as the Ten Commandments, God’s people were instructed to let that person live in their community. (Leviticus 24:22) Some non-Israelites even became worshippers of Jehovah. For example, Ruth was a Moabite who wanted to serve Jehovah. She said to the Israelite Naomi: “Your people will be my people, and your God my God.” (Ruth 1:16) These non-Israelites were called proselytes, and the males were circumcised. (Exodus 12:48, 49) Jehovah was happy to allow them to be a part of his chosen people.
13 One of Solomon’s prayers also shows that Jehovah approved of non-Israelite worshippers. When the temple was dedicated, Solomon prayed: “Concerning the foreigner who is not part of your people Israel and who comes from a distant land because of your great name and your mighty hand and your outstretched arm, and he comes and prays toward this house, may you then listen from the heavens, your dwelling place, and do all that the foreigner asks of you, so that all the peoples of the earth may know your name and fear you, as your people Israel do, and may know that your name has been called on this house that I have built.” (2 Chronicles 6:32, 33) Even in Jesus’ day, non-Israelites who wanted to worship Jehovah could do so if they worshipped with His chosen people.
A NATION OF WITNESSES
14-16. (a) In what way were the Israelites to become a nation of witnesses for Jehovah? (b) What does Jehovah expect from his people today?
14 The Israelites worshipped their God, Jehovah, but other nations worshipped their own gods. So an important question needed to be answered: Who was the true God? In Isaiah’s day, Jehovah said that this question had to be answered in the same way that a legal question is answered in a court trial. He said that if the gods of the nations were real, they should provide their own witnesses for this trial. He said: “Let them present their witnesses to prove themselves right, or let them hear and say, ‘It is the truth!’”
15 The gods of the nations could not prove that they were real. They were only idols that could not speak and could not move unless someone carried them. (Isaiah 46:5-7) But Jehovah told his people Israel: “You are my witnesses, . . . yes, my servant whom I have chosen, so that you may know and have faith in me and understand that I am the same One. Before me no God was formed, and after me there has been none. I
16 Like witnesses in a court trial, Jehovah’s people had the honor to testify that Jehovah is the only true God. He called them “the people whom I formed for myself so that they might declare my praise.” (Isaiah 43:21) They were known as Jehovah’s people. Because Jehovah had freed Israel from Egypt, he expected them to obey him willingly and glorify him as their Sovereign. Jehovah expects the same from his people today. The prophet Micah expresses the attitude God’s people should have: “All the peoples will walk, each in the name of its god, but we will walk in the name of Jehovah our God forever and ever.”
A REBELLIOUS PEOPLE
17. Why did Jehovah view Israel as a useless vine?
17 Sadly, Israel was not faithful to Jehovah. They started to imitate nations that worshipped gods made of wood and stone, and they made many altars for false worship. About 2,800 years ago, the prophet Hosea said that Israel was like a grapevine that was no longer producing good fruit. He added: “Their heart is hypocritical; now they will be found guilty.” (Hosea 10:1, 2) About 150 years later, Jeremiah too compared rebellious Israel to a grapevine. He described them as an excellent vine that changed and became useless. Through Jeremiah, Jehovah said: “Where are your gods that you made for yourself? Let them rise up if they can save you in your time of calamity.” He added: “My own people have forgotten me.”
Those in the new covenant would form a new nation
18, 19. (a) How did Jehovah foretell that he would have a new chosen people on earth? (b) What will the next article discuss?
18 Israel produced bad fruit because they did not worship Jehovah in the right way. They did not continue to be his witnesses but instead worshipped idols. So Jesus told the wicked Jewish leaders of his day: “The Kingdom of God will be taken from you and be given to a nation producing its fruits.” (Matthew 21:43) Only individuals whom Jehovah would choose could be part of that new nation, spiritual Israel. He would make “a new covenant” with them. Jehovah said about them: “I will become their God, and they will become my people.”
19 After Israel became unfaithful, Jehovah chose spiritual Israel to become his people in the first century. But who are his people today? How can those who want to serve God know who his true worshippers are? We will discuss this in the next article.