Starting in paragraph 6 of this week’s Watchtower study article we can see examples of the blurriness that has crept into our teaching of late. (w12 06/15 p. 14-18)
For example, “The Anglo-American World Power waged war with those holy ones. (Rev. 13:3, 7)” If you read those two verses of Revelation chapter 13, you’re likely to believe that the Anglo-American World Power was indeed granted power to wage war on the holy ones. However, if you consider the context, all the intervening scriptures, it becomes clear that the entire Wild Beast, not the one horn, is granted this power. The Wild Beast represents Satan’s entire political organization, not the Anglo-American World Power. (re chap. 39 p. 286, par. 24)
Continuing further in paragraph 6, we have, “During World War I, it oppressed God’s people, banned some of their publications, and threw representatives of the faithful slave class into prison.” While this is essentially true, it gives the distinct impression that all this occurred throughout the period of time that the world war was waged. That is important because it supports statements made further on in this paragraph. However, the fact is that there was virtually no persecution until late in 1917. In other words, for the first three years of the war, there was little to no persecution. Proof of this comes from an unimpeachable source, Judge Rutherford. In the March 1, 1925 Watchtower article “Birth of the Nation” he stated: “ 19 … Be it noted here that from 1874 until 1918 there was little, if any, persecution of those of Zion; that beginning with the Jewish year 1918, to wit, the latter part of 1917 our time, the great suffering came upon the anointed ones, Zion.”
The oppression our study article is referring to would have had to span from December, 1914 until June, 1918 for the interpretation referred to subsequently in this paragraph to have come true. It didn’t, but we cover over that fact by this vague statement that it all occurred during World War I.
Next we have this statement: “The seventh head of the wild beast as much as killed the preaching work for a period of time.” That would seem to be at odds with this statement form the Proclaimers book:
“Nevertheless, according to available records, the number of Bible Students reported as having some share in preaching the good news to others during 1918 decreased by 20 percent worldwide when compared with the report for 1914. “ (jv chap. 22 p. 424)
A 20 percent drop hardly seems like the work was killed. Besides, there was a world war on. It follows that conditions would be tough for both the preachers and the public. Money was tight. Book sales were down. The public was less receptive due to the war. We didn’t have a formal door-to-door work then, but the Colporteurs where the mainstay of the preaching work worldwide, though labelling it worldwide is being generous. They supported themselves from book sales. It would follow that a decrease would happen during wartime. But claiming the work was “as much as killed” seem to be going beyond the facts. Where’s the evidence? Yet we need to believe that is was killed if we’re going to apply the prophecy of the Two Witnesses to that time period as we next claim happened when we state that “Jehovah foresaw this dramatic event and revealed it to John”, referencing Rev. 11:3, 7-11. We’ve covered that Two Witnesses prophecy extensively in this blog, so we won’t go into it further here. (See The Two Witnesses—Is Rev. 11 Pointing to a Future Fulfillment) Suffice it to say that we need to believe that the persecution started late in 1914, not 1917, and we need to believe the preaching work virtually stopped, not decreased by only 20% if we are going to make application of that prophecy to that time period.
Now we get to the crux of the article. Paragraphs 9 to 11 introduce our new understanding of the feet of iron and clay. It opens with, “Jehovah’s servants have long sought to understand the symbolic meaning of the feet of the image.” If you were reading our publications for the first time you’d get the distinct impression from these words that we have only just arrived at this new revelation of truth.
Excuse me, but as far back as 1959 we had sought and found an understanding. (See w59 5/15 p. 313 par. 36) This view was held in print as late as the 2006 printing of the Daniel book, and only changed at the district convention program of last year. So we’ve held a position on this prophecy for 50 years, but the study article makes it sound like we’ve only just arrived at an understanding of a hitherto hidden piece of prophetic symbology. For the record, here’s our previous understanding.
dp chap. 4 pp. 59-60 pars. 27-29 The Rise and Fall of an Immense Image
The ten toes of the image represent all such coexisting powers and governments, for in the Bible the number ten at times signifies earthly completeness.—Compare Exodus 34:28; Matthew 25:1; Revelation 2:10.
28 Now that we are in “the time of the end,” we have reached the feet of the image. Some of the governments pictured by the image’s feet and toes of iron mixed with clay are ironlike—authoritarian or tyrannical. Others are claylike. In what way? Daniel associated the clay with “the offspring of mankind.” (Daniel 2:43) Despite the fragile nature of clay, of which the offspring of mankind are made, traditional ironlike rulerships have been obliged to listen more and more to the common people, who want their say in the governments ruling over them. (Job 10:9) But there is no sticking together of authoritarian rule and the common people—no more than there could be a uniting of iron with clay. At the time of the image’s demise, the world will indeed be politically fragmented!
29 Will the divided condition of the feet and toes cause the entire image to collapse? What will happen to the image?
I find it interesting that no mention is made in this article to any previous understanding of this passage of Scripture. It is as if this past had never happened. Previously we’d introduce a new understanding with words like, “some had thought” or “previously it was thought” or “previously in this publication”. No one was taking responsibility for the past error, but at least we were acknowledging that there was one. Not anymore, it seems. Perhaps this has something to do with our new position on revelations from the Governing Body. Since we are now to accept such “new truth” unquestioningly, it does not bode well for that stand to dwell on any past errors.
There is one small positive item worth mentioning, however. It is interesting that this new understanding moves us a little bit away from our past fascination with numbers, at least with regard to this prophecy of Daniel. Now if we could only extend that to other writings of this prophet, we might just be able to throw off the shackles that have been binding us to 1914.