The 17th chapter of Isaiah is the denunciation of Damascus and Israel. But like most prophecies, although the setting is in ancient times the prophetic message pertains to the time of the end.
That ought to be evident from the concluding part of the prophecy, which says: “Ha for the commotion of many peoples, who are boisterous as with the boisterousness of the seas! And for the noise of national groups, who make a din just like the noise of mighty waters! The national groups themselves will make a din just like the noise of many waters. And He will certainly rebuke it, and it must flee far away and be chased like the chaff of the mountains before a wind and like a thistle whirl before a storm wind.”
“The commotion of many peoples, who are boisterous” like the mighty waters of a stormy sea, is a reference to the tumult of nations that will occur when the god of this world, Satan the Devil, is hurled down to the earth when once Christ begins wielding his mighty kingdom power.
Jesus similarly foretold that during the conclusion of the system the nations would be brought into a terrifying situation from which they would not know the way out, due to the roaring of the sea and its agitation. So, it is clear that God’s pronouncements against Damascus and Israel have prophetic significance far beyond those literal kingdoms of antiquity.
Damascus was one of the oldest cities on earth. (Although there is presently a city called Damascus in Syria, apparently it is not on the same site as the original.) It was in existence when Abram first sojourned through the land after leaving Ur. Due to a mild climate and abundant water from the mountain run-off, the region was agriculturally rich. Its geographic location also destined ancient Damascus to become an important center of trade and commerce. Eventually, it became a powerful military force too and the capital of several Syrian kingdoms. Both the northern kingdom of Israel and Judah were alternatingly allies and enemies of Damascus.
But Jehovah’s decree was that Damascus should become a heap of ruin. The opening words of the prophecy state: ‘“Look! Damascus removed from being a city, and she has become a heap, a decaying ruin. The cities of Aroer that have been left behind become mere places for droves, where they actually lie down, with no one to make them tremble. And the fortified city has been made to cease out of Ephraim, and the kingdom out of Damascus; and those of Syria remaining over will become just like the glory of the sons of Israel,’ is the utterance of Jehovah of armies.”
It is in the context of the overthrow of Damascus that a “harvest” occurs. Isaiah 17:4-6 states: ‘“And it must occur in that day that the glory of Jacob will become lowly, and even the fatness of his flesh will be made lean. And it must occur that when the harvester is gathering the standing grain and his own arm harvests the ears of grain, he must even become like one gleaning ears of grain in the low plain of Rephaim. And there must remain in it a gleaning as when there is a beating off of the olive tree: two or three ripe olives in the top of the branch; four or five on the fruit-bearing boughs thereof,’ is the utterance of Jehovah the God of Israel.”
God had always purposed that he would use Jacob, or Israel alternatively, to produce a righteous people, the Messiah being foremost. But when the Messiah was on earth, because so many of the Jews were faithless, he told them that the kingdom of God was being taken from them and given to a nation producing its fruit. That “nation” is what Paul called “the Israel of God” – Christ’s congregation. And did not Jesus speak of a great harvest that would take place during “a conclusion of a system of things”? So, it is apparent that “Jacob” represents the congregation from which Christ will harvest the faithful.
From the very beginning, when the people congregated at the foot of the mountain while Moses spoke with God, the Israelites have succumbed to idolatry. Beginning with Aaron’s golden calf, to the Baals and Solomon’s glorification of Moloch and Chemosh, the sons of Jacob repeatedly lapsed into idolatry.
That tendency was expressed in the new Israel too, albeit more subtly; evidenced by the situation that existed in the Corinthian congregation, whereby some believers proclaimed themselves to belong to Paul. Others claimed to belong to Apollos.
But idolatry is idolatry, whether it is bowing to some golden calf or claiming to belong to some religious leader. Idolatry is anything that stands in the place reserved for God.
Since sinful humans are inclined to give worshipful honors to creation rather than to the Creator, it should come as no surprise that idolatry will exist in the Christian society when Christ returns to accomplish the harvest. It is the very judgment of Christ that will, once and for all time, disabuse “Jacob” of the idolatrous form of worship he practices. It could be said that God’s intention to destroy idolatry is a sub-theme of the prophecy of Isaiah.
When Jesus commissioned his followers to go make disciples they copied Jesus’ example and walked through the land speaking to people in their homes, shops, on the streets, in market places, in the synagogues and temple. Since handwritten copies of the Scriptures were valuable and rare it is doubtful that very many early Christians even owned a personal copy of any Hebrew scroll.
After Constantine incorporated apostate Christianity into the Roman imperial system the preaching work of the original Christians effectively came to an end. Christendom became the means to keep the truth from the people. Anyone who dared to translate the Bible out of Latin or who preached anything other than that sanctioned by the pope were considered enemies of the Church.
Fortunately, there were those few who dared.
In the 13th century, there was Peter Waldo, whose followers, the Waldensians, were itinerate preachers. In 14th century England there was John Wycliffe and his followers known as the Lollards, who also were preachers.
But because it was not the appointed time for the truth to shine those groups were reabsorbed back into the black hole of Christendom. But the invention of the printing press in the 15th century broke the power of the Church of Rome and London to keep the Bible locked in dying Latin. Jehovah apparently moved capable men to translate the Bible into the common languages of Europeans and with the new technology of the day Bibles could be printed in English, German, French, and Dutch faster than the clergy could burn them.
At the same time, the Bible was becoming available to the common man the age of colonization began and the European colonialists and pilgrims set out with Bible in hand. With the founding of America – far from the reaches of the diabolical Vatican and the Church of England – interest in the Bible flourished. In spite of the newfound religious freedom, though, the new generations of Bible readers were still laboring under centuries of accumulated error heaped upon them by the clergy. But with the appearance of the International Bible Students in the late 19th century the basic truth of the Scriptures began to flicker to life and the work of the kingdom began anew – this in advance of the harvest.
From the humble beginnings of Russell and his followers, the Watchtower Society has become a prominent global institution. It was once reckoned as one of the top 50 corporations in New York City. Its old Brooklyn complex fetched an estimated $1,000,000,000. That is a lot of loose change in the donation box! Thousands of Jehovah’s Witnesses have volunteered, some on a full-time basis, to build Watchtower Society facilities such as assembly halls, branch offices and factories and kingdom halls by the thousands. Every such structure is dedicated to God and undoubtedly has served to advance the all-important preaching work Christ commanded to be done. Because these facilities are an integral part of the worship of Jehovah’s Witnesses they have come to be viewed as indispensable – being reverently viewed as part of Jehovah’s “visible organization.”
DO YOU BELONG TO GOD’S SPIRIT-DIRECTED ORGANIZATION?
The Governing Body has even forced persons who have been baptized in recent decades to publicly declare in their baptismal vow that they recognize themselves to be part of Jehovah’s “spirit-directed organization.” In other words, Christians have been induced to declare themselves to belong to an earthly, human institution – making themselves followers of men!
Still, there is no denying that Jehovah’s Witnesses, under the direction of their Watchtower, have accomplished a great work. But it must also be recognized that God does not need any sort of publishing company. First-century Christians accomplished a great work too, and with much less than Jehovah’s Witnesses have today. Jesus assured us that God could cause lifeless stones to cry out in witness to the truth if he chose to.
But on this matter of the Watchtower Society assuming the role of God’s “spirit-directed organization,” here are a few pertinent questions: Did God’s spirit direct the leadership of the Society to enter into a political partnership with the United Nations – the criteria for which, required Bethel to use a portion of their God-dedicated, publishing resources to promote the programs and activities of the UN?
Are we to believe God’s spirit led the Society’s lawyers to deny that Christian elders have any fiduciary obligation to protect children from being preyed upon by pedophiles in the congregations they oversee? (See blog entry: Do Elders Have a Fiduciary Duty?)
Could God’s spirit of truth possibly be responsible for leading the Watchtower to promote a false parousia since its inception?
Keep in mind that even faithful men whom God once used to lead his people made grave errors of judgment. Moses once took credit to himself for miraculously providing the Israelites with water from a crag. Moses’ act of taking God’s glory to himself cost him the privilege of entering the Promised land. David ill-advisedly ordered a census, which provoked Jehovah into unleashing a plague. King Solomon, who had the privilege of writing three books in the Bible, eventually became apostate, which led to Israel being torn into competing kingdoms.
So it is today, like Moses, the Governing Body has glorified itself as the faithful slave who provides nothing but the choicest fruits of truth direct from God’s mouth. They have required that Jehovah’s Witnesses recognize the organization as being the spirit-directed master of their faith. Similar to Solomon, the Governing Body has had the privilege of publishing Bibles and Bible commentaries and having their words read by millions of people who wish to know God, but from that institution has also come apostasy!
It is in connection with the earthly, visible organization, Jehovah’s Witnesses have built numerous altars, incense stands and sacred poles, as it were. And in the context of the tumult of nations, the next span of verse states: “In that day earthling man will look up to his Maker, and his own eyes will gaze at the Holy One of Israel himself. And he will not look to the altars, the work of his hands; and at what his fingers have made he will not gaze, either at the sacred poles or at the incense stands. In that day his fortress cities will become like a place left entirely in the woodland, even the branch that they have left entirely on account of the sons of Israel; and it must become a desolate waste. For you have forgotten the God of your salvation; and the Rock of your fortress you have not remembered. That is why you plant pleasant plantations, and with the shoot of a stranger you set it. In the day you may carefully fence about the plantation of yours, and in the morning you may cause the seed of yours to sprout, but the harvest will certainly flee in the day of the disease and incurable pain.”
The entire organizational structure, which is the focal point of the activities of Jehovah’s Witnesses, is destined to be abandoned. Kingdom halls, like “fortress cities,” will be left entirely. The “pleasant plantations” (“visible organization”) that Jehovah’s Witnesses have planted, will suddenly become like a desolate waste. The preaching of the good news will unexpectedly cease – “the harvest will certainly flee in the day.”
Because from the beginning the Watchtower has been inseparably tied to the 1914 operation of error, and all of Jehovah’s Witnesses are required to accept their artfully contrived false story of an invisible parousia, it is as though the plantations of truth the Society has carefully cultivated around the world are also set with the “shoot of a stranger” – the man of lawlessness.
Jehovah’s Witnesses have come to trust the Watchtower Society at the expense of Jehovah. For that reason, the sudden collapse of the Society will be the day of “disease and incurable pain.”
With the all-imposing Watchtower (on the faith of Jehovah’s Witnesses) laid low (made lean), earthling man will be forced to look to his Maker – the Holy One of Israel himself. Jehovah will then have accomplished his purpose in connection with the “visible organization.”
Indeed, if the laying low of the Watchtower results in God gaining glory for himself, what true lover of Jehovah would object to such an outcome?