Getting to Know God Meditations: 22. God of Communication (1)
Heb 1:1.2 In the past God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son
Recap & Purpose: I feel a little bit that there may be a feeling that we have gone full circle when we come to this study, after all in the first block of studies we had, 2. God of Record, 3. God of Self-Disclosure, 4. God of Intervention, 5. God of Gradual Revelation, and 6. God of Interaction, all of which in some way and another are really about God communicating. However in this and the next few studies I want to do three things: first, note the fact of all this communicating in the Old Testament, and then, second, consider God’s ultimate act of communication, His own Son, Jesus Christ, and finally, the acts of ‘hearing’ and then ‘listening’. If God ‘talks’ does it mean that people naturally hear? I don’t think so! So, first of all let’s note the fact of all this communicating and see what we can learn from it.
God who speaks: From the earliest pages of Genesis we see this phenomena – God speaking to human beings, for example, “the Lord God commanded the man, “You are….” (Gen 2:16, the very first instance), then, “the Lord God called to the man, “Where are you?” (Gen 3:9) and so conversation goes on. Later, “Then the Lord said to Cain…” (Gen 4:6), then “So God said to Noah…” (Gen 6:13) then, “Then God blessed Noah and his sons, saying to them….” (Gen 9:1) then, “The Lord had said to Abram” (Gen 12:1) which takes us to the starting point in our earliest studies. Three things to note about these. First, they are all instances of God communicating with specific people using language. Second, some of those references lead on to full conversations. Third, those instances are relatively small amounts of the text, the bulk of which is descriptive about what was going on and why God did or said various things.
In that record of Genesis (and the following four books for that matter) there is a great deal of the record that stretches over hundreds of years that go into explaining how the Hebrew people (later becoming Israel) existed and had interactions with God. It is a reasonable question to ask who wrote these first five books. Later books were written either by key players or recorders who observed the key players, but over this period, who could have written such a coherent series of books?
The best, the most logical and most sensible of all the various answers that scholars come up with, I believe, are those that a number of modern scholars arrive at (who also conform to the ancient Jewish beliefs), that Moses ‘compiled’ these books, certainly having been there and been the key player for the second to fifth of the five books we refer to as the Pentateuch (the five writings) and had formed Genesis through a combination of the accounts passed down through the generations together with clarity and understanding added by God in the many, many hours Moses spent with God in the Tabernacle in the forty years he spent looking after Israel until they were ready to enter the Promised Land.
Ongoing Language: As the Bible goes on, the means of communicating changes and it is important to see how it does. Initially it carries on as we have seen previously, for example, “the Lord said to Joshua,” (Josh 1:1) and then a little later, “And the Lord said to Joshua….” (Josh 3:7) but what is interesting is that Joshua leads Israel in ways that would have required instruction from the Lord but those instructions aren’t given to us; the recorder, I suggest, simply omits them as secondary issues that keep the action flowing. The key issues the recorder does include, for example, “At that time the Lord said to Joshua…” (Josh 5:2) is an instruction to ensure all the males were circumcised. Circumcision had been brought in with Abraham, possibly with health implications, but primarily as a sign and reminder to every Jewish male of their relationship with God. This had been an issue with Moses (see Ex 4:24-26) and was to be an ongoing requirement in Israel. Thus this instance is one of God bringing Israel in line with previously instructed requirements for them. The ‘big’ instructions keep on being recorded, for example, “Then the Lord said to Joshua,” (Josh 6:2) as the Lord instructs Joshua how to take Jericho.
Different Means: As we work our way through these early books picking up on God speaking to the various key players, we probably ought to pick up on the various instances where God or His representatives turn up and speak through human form. Where it is God, theologians refer to these as theophanies (ancient Greek ‘appearance of god’). Otherwise they may be angelic beings in human form (e.g. Judg 6:11,12,22). In Gen 18 ‘three visitors’ turn up to speak to Abraham (Gen 18:1,2) who the text indicates represent God Himself, a theophany. When Joshua was approaching Jericho there is a strange incident when, “he looked up and saw a man standing in front of him with a drawn sword in his hand. Joshua went up to him and asked, “Are you for us or for our enemies?” “Neither,” he replied, “but as commander of the army of the Lord I have now come.” Then Joshua fell facedown to the ground in reverence, and asked him, “What message does my Lord] have for his servant?” The commander of the Lord’s army replied, “Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy.” And Joshua did so.” (Josh 5:13-15) The implication that is usually taken is that this ‘man’ is in fact an angel who appears to give Joshua a more tangible sense, if you like, of the Lord’s presence with him, fighting for him, as he is about to go into the first encounter in the Land.
And so these sorts of verbal encounter continue. When we get to Judges, “Israelites asked the Lord, “Who of us is to go up first to fight against the Canaanites?” The Lord answered, “Judah shall go up; I have given the land into their hands.” (Judg 1:1,2) Judges is a particularly murky book, I tend to feel, full of illustrations of Israel getting it wrong. Perhaps it is because of this that the divine presence seems to step back, to be replaced by angelic interventions (see Judg 2:1, 5:23, 6:11, 13:3,6,9, etc.) The book of Ruth that follows is almost an aside to show how part of the Messianic family tree was filled in, but then come the main historical books.
1 Samuel 1 is the natural historical flow on from Judges. Israel have Eli, an elderly priest presiding, a leader past his best and who eventually dies after his sons are killed on a foolhardy venture with Israel against their nearby enemies, the Philistines (see 1 Sam 4). Before this comes the account of Samuel’s birth and childhood, before he grew into manhood as Israel first prophet (after Moses), and where the Lord “at Shiloh…. revealed himself to Samuel through his word.” (1 Sam 3:21)
From now on there is a mixture of simple speech and, through the prophets that followed, came ‘the word of the Lord’. Our understanding of this, in line with modern prophetic gift, is that the individual suddenly has a sense of a word, a picture or a message that he (or she) is sure comes from the prompting of God. So in the ‘conversation mode’, we still see, for example, “When Samuel caught sight of Saul, the Lord said to him, “This is the man I spoke to you about; he will govern my people.” (1 Sam 9:17) In chapter 10 Samuel gives Saul, who is to be the new, first king of Israel, a prophetic word, or word of knowledge, telling him exactly what was going to happen in the coming hours (see 1 Sam 10:1-8) all of which happened (v.9). It had to be a revelation of God.
The Word of the Lord: This phraseology is first used in Gen 15:1 “After this, the word of the Lord came to Abram in a vision: “Do not be afraid, Abram.” and is then found later in Exo 9:20,21 of those who “feared the word of the Lord,” and who “ignored the word of the Lord” meaning the word from God that Moses had passed on to Pharaoh. It also appears a number of other times in the following narratives, e.g. Num 3:16,51, Deut 5:5, 1 Sam 3:1. In that latter reference it was noted, “In those days the word of the Lord was rare; there were not many visions,” implying that much of the time that which was implied as having come from God came through visions – yet now rarely. A few verses on we read, “Now Samuel did not yet know the Lord: The word of the Lord had not yet been revealed to him,” (1 Sam 3:7) or as a paraphrase version puts it, “Samuel had never had a personal message from God yet.” As the historical narrative continues, and more prophets are in evidence the phrase is used more to indicate they sensed a specific prophetic message (speaking of the future) being given by God through them, e.g. 2 Sam 7:4, 27:11, 1 Kings 13:1, 15:29, 16:1,7,12, 34, 17:2,8,16, 21:28, 22:38, 2 Kings 1:17. In the major Prophets the sense is even stronger, for example in Jeremiah, e.g. Jer 1:2,4,11,13, 2:1,4,31, 6:10, 7:2, 8:9, 9:20, 13:1 etc. etc.
And So: So it is no wonder that the writer to the Hebrews (see the book of that name) declared, “In the past God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets at many times and in various ways,” (Heb 1:1) and then continues with those devastating words, “but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son.” (Heb 1:2) Bizarrely, back at the end of the nineteenth century, liberal German theologians started propagating the idea that the supernatural could not happen, therefore prophecy could not happen, therefore God could not speak. Putting it in the light of what we have been considering in this study, it sounds ludicrous, even though it carried the minds of church leaders in the first third of the 20th century until scholars started rejecting the folly of what was being said, for the Bible is packed full of claims that God has spoken, God is a communicator. You either believe the Bible – for every single book either declares that truth or implies it, it is a universal claim throughout the 66 books – or you don’t. If you don’t you are actually flying in the face of all the evidence. In the next study we will take this on to consider that verse 2 of Heb 1 and in the following one, the other side of this coin – hearing and listening.