What’s in a name, you ask? Everything— that is, if the name happens to be the personal name of God. While scholars may debate the exact pronunciation of YHWH until the world ends, the simple fact of scripture remains: The biblical deity whom we call Jehovah in English, emphatically states in his word that he will have his personal name declared in all the earth and that he will produce a people who not only call on his name but who themselves are called by his distinctive name.
The question is: Are Jehovah’s Witnesses the people? Before answering that question, let us first consider some of the objections to the idea that Jehovah’s Witnesses are fulfilling the patterns and prophecies by being a people for God’s name.
Ironically, perhaps the most vigorous objection comes from a former Jehovah’s Witness and Governing Body member, Ray Franz (now deceased). In his book entitled In Search of Christian Freedom, an entire chapter devoted to the question of whether Jehovah’s Witnesses are “a people for his name,” as the Watchtower teaches. According to Franz there is only one acceptable biblical designation for Christians —Christians.
While it is true that the Bible says it was by “divine providence” that the followers of Christ came to be known as Christians in the first century; nevertheless, the apostles recognized that people of the nations were also designated by prophecy to be a people for the name of YHWH as well.
The 15th chapter of Acts is a record of how the apostles and older men finally resolved the circumcision issue. On that occasion the apostles issued a public statement based upon the Prophets, quoting specifically from the prophecy of Amos, saying: “Men, brothers, hear me. Symeon has related thoroughly how God for the first time turned his attention to the nations to take out of them a people for his name. And with this the words of the Prophets agree, just as it is written, ‘After these things I shall return and rebuild the booth of David that is fallen down; and I shall rebuild its ruins and erect it again, in order that those who remain of the men may earnestly seek Jehovah, together with people of all the nations, people who are called by my name, says Jehovah, who is doing these things, known from of old.’”
For anyone willing to reason on the matter, it is apparent that Jesus was not “known from of old” in the 1st century. Jesus Christ was a newcomer on the earthly scene back then. However, Jehovah was not unknown! Jehovah was the historical God of the Jews—“known from of old.” Furthermore, God revealed to Moses that the name of Jehovah was a memorial to him forever—“to generation after generation.”
(Those who imagine that YHWH changed his name to Jesus or that God has more than one personal name are simply deluded.)
Still, though, there is no evidence that the original Christians were actually called by the personal name of God in any form of the Tetragrammaton. Yet, the prophecy of Amos indisputably applies the unique name of God to the followers of Christ. How might this apparent discrepancy be resolved? What should be of the utmost interest to us is that the prophecy of Amos lends itself to an application in another time. Because of the importance of this topic, let us now consider the original prophecy more closely.
“In that day I shall raise up the booth of David that is fallen, and I shall certainly repair their breaches. And its ruins I shall raise up, and I shall certainly build it up as in the days of long ago, to the end that they may take possession of what is left remaining of Edom, and all the nations upon whom my name has been called,’ is the utterance of Jehovah, who is doing this.”
The Assyrian empire originally destroyed the 10-tribe kingdom of Israel and later the Judean kingdom was also brought to ruin by Nebuchadnezzar’s Babylonian kingdom. Eventually, Jehovah restored all of the scattered tribes of Israel to their ancestral homeland. But the so-called booth of David was not restored when the repatriated Jews rebuilt Jerusalem. In fact, David’s kingdom was never restored to earthly Jerusalem. That is why the apostles once asked Jesus if he was going to restore the kingdom to Israel at that time. The answer was obviously “no.” However, the booth of David is simply another way of saying the house of David, which is to say the kingdom of David. And since Jesus was a son of David and a rightful heir to the Davidic throne, the booth of David is actually Christ’s kingdom.
Since the apostles applied that prophecy to the newly formed international Christian congregation then, it is apparent that the prophecies that were originally directed to Israel and Judah were at that time transferred so as to apply to a spiritual Israel. That being the case, the ruination and restoration of the booth of David has to do with Christ’s kingdom.
The prophecy of Amos is in harmony with all other prophecies that call for God to judge his organization, effecting a final sifting to remove the faithless and refine the faithful. Amos 9:9 reads:“For, look! I am commanding, and I will jiggle the house of Israel among all the nations, just as one jiggles the sieve, so that not a pebble falls to the earth. By the sword they will die—all the sinners of my people, those who are saying: ‘The calamity will not come near or reach as far as us.’”
However, according to Ray Franz, it is wrong for Jehovah’s Witnesses to suppose that Jehovah has any interest in setting matters straight in the organization today. As for the supposed scriptural backing for his assertion, on page 523 of his In Search of Christian Freedom, Franz writes of the ancient Jews, saying:
No people on earth were more intimately connected with the name represented by the Tetragrammaton (Yahweh or Jehovah) than the Israelite nation, those to whom the words, “You are my witnesses,” were originally addressed. Yet God did not “straighten out” that nation, nor did his Son do so.
Of course, anyone who has ever read the Bible knows that God most definitely did “straighten out that nation,” on numerous occasions. That is why Jehovah disciplined and destroyed Israel and Jerusalem in order to straighten out his erring people. In fact, the very verse in Isaiah Franz cites, where Jehovah says, “You are my witnesses,” has to do with God calling his people to be witnesses of his discipline and subsequent mercies. And, of course, the opening chapter of Isaiah states God’s purpose: ‘“Come, now, you people, and let us set matters straight between us,’ says Jehovah.”
Franz speculates further, saying:
God’s ‘taking out a people for his name’ thus has far greater depth of meaning than merely the application of a nominative word, and our demonstrating ourselves to be among those sanctifying and proclaiming God’s name calls for far more from us than simply the repetitive use of Yahweh or Jehovah or any other single term.
What Franz says is true—being one of Jehovah’s Witnesses does involve far more than just parroting God’s name. But Franz would apparently have the credulous reader believe that Jehovah’s Witnesses merely call upon the name of Jehovah as if it were some Hindu mantra. The truth is – as Franz himself well knows seeing that he helped produce the encyclopedic Aid to Bible Understanding— from the very beginning the Watchtower has always emphasized the character and purposes of the person of Jehovah and not merely his personal name.
One example of how Jehovah’s Witnesses have proclaimed and sanctified God’s name is by overturning the blasphemous Catholic doctrine of eternal damnation in hellfire. Franz insists, however, that Jehovah’s Witnesses have done no more to make God’s name and character known than has the Catholic Church.
In truth anointed Jehovah’s Witnesses have a unique relationship with Jehovah God, both personally and as a congregation because of being in the new covenant. However, as with our Jewish forerunners, being in a covenant with Jehovah God brings with it accountability. For example, the 36th chapter of Ezekiel reads:
“Not for your sakes am I doing it, O house of Israel, but for my holy name, which you have profaned among the nations where you have come in. And I shall certainly sanctify my great name, which was being profaned among the nations, which you profaned in the midst of them; and the nations will have to know that I am Jehovah,’ is the utterance of the Sovereign Lord Jehovah, ‘when I am sanctified among you before their eyes. And I will take you out of the nations and collect you together out of all the lands and bring you in upon your soil.”’
The house of Israel profaned God’s great name by practicing false religion. But their idolatry obligated Jehovah to severely punish his people, which he did by allowing Israel and later Judah to be conquered by the nations. This also caused God’s name to be profaned because it gave the appearance that Jehovah was powerless to protect his people from the idol-worshipping nations. So, after punishing his people Jehovah took action against the nations in order to sanctify his name from their reproach.
Some may be inclined to dismiss prophecies as applying only to the ancient nation of Israel. However, the context of Ezekiel’s prophecy goes on to indicate that it actually applies to Christians living during the return of Christ and the end of the world—what Ezekiel 38:16 calls “the final part of the days.” For instance, Ezekiel 37:25 says that “David” will be the chieftain over God’s regathered people. As mentioned previously, the repatriated Jews never had a descendant of David as their ruler. It is apparent, then, that the prophecy refers to Christians who are under the leadership of Christ, who is called “the Lion of the tribe of Judah and the root of David.” (Rev 5:5) In one of the last verses in Revelation, Christ says of himself: “I am the root and the offspring of David, and the bright morning star.”
Clearly, the detailed judgments in the prophecy of Ezekiel apply to Christians during the time of Christ’s return. Therefore, it is the anointed Christian congregation that “will have to know that I am Jehovah” in a very special way. It is in connection with Christ’s judgment upon the spiritual house of God and the ultimate establishment of spiritual paradise that Jehovah says “you are my witnesses.”
For many reasons it is evident that the leadership of Jehovah’s Witnesses fit the prophetic profile of a people who have profaned the name of Jehovah. This brings us back to the question posed at the onset: Are Jehovah’s Witnesses fulfilling the prophecy of Amos today by serving as a people for Gods name? The answer is no—at least not yet. According to Amos, the people who are called by God’s name are those who become such after the ‘jiggling’ takes place. The jiggling is when Jehovah rocks all the nations during the oncoming tribulation.
The prophecy of Joel similarly foretells of a great earth-wide catastrophe, where we read: “And I will give portents in the heavens and on the earth, blood and fire and columns of smoke. The sun itself will be turned into darkness, and the moon into blood, before the coming of the great and fear-inspiring day of Jehovah.”
Our faith in the saving power of the name of Jehovah will become paramount at that time, as the survivors of the oncoming holocaust will be those who call upon the name of Jehovah. “And it must occur that everyone who calls on the name of Jehovah will get away safe; for in Mount Zion and in Jerusalem there will prove to be the escaped ones, just as Jehovah has said, and in among the survivors, whom Jehovah is calling.”
The prophecy of Malachi likewise foretells how a distinction will be made between the righteous and the wicked; emphasizing the importance of the name of Jehovah in our salvation: “At that time those in fear of Jehovah spoke with one another, each one with his companion, and Jehovah kept paying attention and listening. And a book of remembrance began to be written up before him for those in fear of Jehovah and for those thinking upon his name. ‘And they will certainly become mine,’ Jehovah of armies has said, ‘at the day when I am producing a special property. And I will show compassion upon them, just as a man shows compassion upon his son who is serving him. And you people will again certainly see the distinction between a righteous one and a wicked one, between one serving God and one who has not served him.”
Let the reader please take note of the fact that the prophecy indicates that those who fear the name of Jehovah and who are “thinking upon his name” become the “special property” of Jehovah at thattime. Again, when does that occur? The very next verse in Malachi indicates that Jehovah produces a special property composed of those who fear his name during the tribulation. Malachi 4:1 reads: ‘“For, look! the day is coming that is burning like the furnace, and all the presumptuous ones and all those doing wickedness must become as stubble. And the day that is coming will certainly devour them,’ Jehovah of armies has said, ‘so that it will not leave to them either root or bough. And to you who are in fear of my name the sun of righteousness will certainly shine forth, with healing in its wings; and you will actually go forth and paw the ground like fattened calves.”
So, while the religion known as Jehovah’s Witnesses is not fulfilling the prophecies by being “a people for his name” at this particular time, undoubtedly the core of Jehovah’s Witnesses are in line to become the people for his name in the very near future. Jehovah’s Witnesses have, though, unquestionably served a vital function by laying the groundwork for the judgments soon to follow.
The Scriptures even hint that the nominal name of “Jehovah’s Witnesses” will be discarded and replaced by another name; perhaps based upon God’s own revelation of the exact pronunciation of YHWH. Speaking of his wife-like organization, Isaiah 62:2 foretells: “And you will actually be called by a new name, which the very mouth of Jehovah will designate.”
Be that as it may, the 43rd chapter of Isaiah reveals that those who are destined to be scattered during the tribulation and yet repurchased and gathered from the ends of the earth by the angels, are called by God’s name: ‘“Do not be afraid, for I am with you. From the sunrising I shall bring your seed, and from the sunset I shall collect you together. I shall say to the north, ‘Give up!’ and to the south, ‘Do not keep back. Bring my sons from far off, and my daughters from the extremity of the earth, everyone that is called by my name and that I have created for my own glory, that I have formed, yes, that I have made.’”