As has already been discussed in previous installments of this commentary on Isaiah, Jerusalem typifies Christ’s congregation before it is refined. Although the prophecy is couched in the ancient setting of a vineyard the principles apply in our modern times.
The Watchtower, of course, recognizes the truthfulness of that statement, but invariably they apply its meaning to Christendom or to individual Christians – certainly not the organization as a whole and especially not its leadership. But in view of the fact that Jesus primarily denounced the leaders of the Jews, and in recognition of the clearly established axioms that those whom people put in charge have greater accountability (Luke 12:48) and that teachers will receive a heavier judgment, this portion of the prophecy of Isaiah deserves a second look.
“Woe to the ones joining house to house, and those who annex field to field until there is no more room and you men have been made to dwell all by yourselves in the midst of the land! In my ears Jehovah of armies has sworn that many houses, though great and good, will become an outright object of astonishment, without an inhabitant. For even ten acres of vineyard will produce but one bath measure, and even a homer measure of seed will produce but an ephah measure.”
In recent decades the Watchtower Society has grown to become an international corporation with 101 branches and dozens of publishing facilities operating around the globe. Evidently, at one point during the 90’s the Watchtower Society was actually ranked as one of the biggest construction companies in the world due to its many building projects. It is rumored that the corporation is now planning to build another headquarters in New York State and exit Brooklyn altogether, likely in order to cash out of valuable Brooklyn real estate. The Society has also implemented the closure and consolidation of operations of several Central American branches. Evidently these developments have come about due to financial considerations, amounting to cost-cutting measures because of falling contributions – no doubt due to the economic downturn in recent years.
But what sort of precedent is there in the activities of the original Christians to justify the massive construction projects the Watchtower has sponsored over the years? There is none. The first century Christians did not engage in building temples or cathedrals or meeting places of any kind. Most certainly they did not construct factories, dormitories and office buildings. Jesus merely told his followers to go preach. And that is what they did. Jehovah’s spirit impelled them.
As it stands now, the Watchtower Corporation has filled the land, so to speak, as the prophecy states. There are thousands of kingdom halls all over the developed world (all owned by the Watchtower Society, though built and paid for by hard working rank-and-file contributors). While all credit is given to God, especially on occasions when facilities are officially dedicated to Jehovah, no doubt the men who have engineered the development of the organization consider the organization to be indispensable to the accomplishment of the Christian evangelical work. But is it?
Jesus once said that God could make the stones cry out if men did not fulfill God’s mandate. And as already stated, first century Christians are said to have preached the kingdom message to the entire inhabited earth back then, all without so much as one magazine, tract, book, or anything other than a few tattered scrolls.
In spite of the massive corporation behind the worldwide ministry of Jehovah’s Witnesses today the results have not been particularly impressive, as the growth of Jehovah’s Witnesses in recent years appears to have stagnated. This has prompted the Governing Body to resort to accepting field service reports of 15 minutes and promoting the baptism of younger and younger children. All and all the growth of Jehovah’s Witnesses seems to have merely kept pace with population growth overall.
Could this be the meaning of the prophecy quoted above, wherein 10 acres of vineyard produces a mere bath measure? In other words, without Jehovah’s blessing it doesn’t matter what men do, their success will be limited.
In any case, although it is unthinkable and considered completely out of the realm of possibility in the minds of Jehovah’s Witnesses presently, the “many houses, though great and good,” which are destined to become “an outright object of astonishment, without an inhabitant,” must be the houses of worship and related facilities belonging to the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society. How may that be determined?
All prophecy is harmonious. And this portion of Isaiah harmonizes with the prophecy of Joel, which states in its opening words: “Wake up, you drunkards, and weep; and howl, all you wine drinkers, on account of sweet wine, for it has been cut off from your mouths. For there is a nation that has come up into my land, mighty and without number. Its teeth are the teeth of a lion, and it has the jawbones of a lion. It has set my vine as an object of astonishment, and my fig tree as a stump. It has positively stripped it bare and thrown it away. The twigs of it have become white. Wail, as a virgin girded with sackcloth does over the owner of her youth.”
Just as in Isaiah, in the prophecy of Joel Jehovah likens his earthly nation to a vineyard, the vine of which is made to become an object of astonishment. And just as in Joel, the concluding part of the fifth chapter of Isaiah describes the desolator of the vineyard as a growling lion. The significance of the harmony between the two prophecies is that Joel, although also set in ancient Israel, clearly applies to God’s special possession during the conclusion. (See Chapter 18 – Joel)
By the light of prophecy it is the Watchtower and all of its holdings worldwide that is destined to become an object of astonishment in the very near future!