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A Speaking God
Reading: Psalm 19
In June 1980 Francis Schaeffer published a book with the title: He is There and He is Not Silent. It was a book about God. In it Schaeffer discussed fundamental questions about God such as who he is and why he matters.
A time may come in our lives we may begin to wonder whether it really is true that God is there. If such a time does come then we are likely to feel it, in part, because he seems to be silent – at least he doesn’t seem to be speaking to us! Perhaps at those times we may simply be listening for the wrong thing!
God Spoke – the fact of it
For the Bible reader that I hope you all are it will come as no surprise that God is a God who speaks and that is precisely what our text in the opening verse of the Letter to the Hebrews tells us:
Heb.1:1 "Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets,"
And when we take the time to look into this just a little bit we find some facts that would enourage us if only we took on board what they actually are all about.
The writer to the Hebrews in this verse is referring to what we commonly call the Old Testament. The OT contains a series of writings that were written over an extended period of time. Genesis, the first book of the entire Bible was probably written some time near 1445BC. Malachi, the last book in our OTs was written getting on for 1,000 years later. In each of the centuries between these two extremes one or more books that go to make up our OTs were written.
The OT didn’t arrive all at once but somewhat piecemeal. During all that time God carried on speaking.
What the author of the Letter to the Hebrews said was quite right!
"Long ago, at many times... God spoke... by the prophets"
When we turn to the OT looking for evidence that what the author of our text wrote was true we find that well known phrase "thus saith the Lord". It is used in the AV where it appears over 440+ times – Jeremiah and Ezekiel both employ it around 150 times each. And these references by no means exhaust the total number of references that there are to the fact that God speaks.
As God continued to speak throughout the OT period we are not to imagine him constantly revising his message, changing it or tearing it up to start all over again, instead he was refining it, he was adding details here and more colour there. By the time the OT was finalised major themes had been extended, developed and progressively clarified. The whole process was dynamic, there was movement but it was not movement from error to truth but from truth to ever more truth. And yet when the OT was finished the main story line and its dominating themes remained fundamentally incomplete. The OT in our Bibles is important, let no-
When we read through the OT by the time we reach the end we find ourselves, if we have read properly, awaiting the decisive act of the play as it were – the scene has been set, the back-
But we mustn’t get too far ahead of ourselves. Let’s stop and think for a bit longer about the ways in which God did speak in days gone by. The writer to the Hebrews spoke of him speaking through prophets which he did but that is by no means the only way in which he spoke:
We read Psalm 19 earlier in the service and this Psalm speaks of God’s voice in creation:
God’s voice was also heard through a series of providential interventions in the world he had made.
Thunder and lightning flashes accompanied his presence on Mt Sinai as he prepared to give his Law to Moses who had led the Israelites out of Egypt. He spoke of his caring direction and protection in the appearance of the fiery cloudy pillar that proceeded the Israelites through their desert wanderings. The provision of quail too along with the regular appearance of manna also spoke of his providential care and provision for his people. The use of unusual means of food supply would not end when the people entered the Promised Land, years later Elijah would be miraculously supplied with food by ravens as God expressed his loving concern for his prophet.
But we’re not to imagine that God could only "speak" through big or miraculous events. Again in Elijah’s life he learnt by experience that God was not limited to being found in the strong winds that blew or the earthquakes that rumbled and thundered – he was present too in the still small voice, that hardly moving breath of wind.
God is not short of ways of communicating with his people when and how he chooses to do so!
However the writer to the Hebrews wants to focus our attention not on these extraordinary ways in which God communicates but in his much more usual manner of doing so – his speaking through his prophets.
We’ve already seen that this took place over an extended period of time and it also took place in a variety of different ways too.
Sometimes God used visions, at others dreams. He would speak with an audible voice from heaven to some but to others he impressed upon their minds and thoughts just what he wanted them to pass on to others.
I think it is probably true to say that most, if not all of God’s prophets had a hard time of it – being called to be God’s mouthpiece was no easy matter. Some were treated by God with high honour while others disappeared from the scene ignominiously:
Abraham is called a prophet and God honoured him by not hiding his plans and purposes from him (cf. Gen.18:17 + Gen.20).
Moses was a great prophet and we are told that he too received special honour – the LORD spoke to him as a friend (Ex.33:11).
Jeremiah on the other hand who faithfully proclaimed "thus saith the Lord" 150 times found that his message was not received and he was taken away against his will to Egypt, the very place he did not want to go to, and was never heard of again.
God Spoke –the variety of it
So far we have illustrated the truthfulness of our text as it referred to God speaking over a long period of time. We have said that God was not limited to using normal voices but could also speak through nature and the natural phenomena of creation. We have also referred to his more usual practice of communicating his message with his people through the mediation of prophets. Now it is time to think a little bit more about how this was done and what it looked like.
You see our God is not a boring or tedious God who has limited means and limited imagination. He is not a God who is forever changing his mind yet he is a God who loves to do a new thing: as Isaiah puts it:
Is.43:19 "Behold, I am doing a new thing;"
And this newness and creativity shows itself in the various literary ways in which God spoke through the prophets – he wasn’t limited to just one style but expressed himself in many including:
Craft and design instructions
The differences mean we have to keep our wits about us – you don’t interpret poetry in the same way as you would laws or statistics!! What a rich variety we have!!
In additional to stylistic differences God speaks also with different intents. If you look quickly with me at the early chapters of Genesis I hope you’ll understand what I’m trying to say.
In Gen.1 over and over again we read: "and God said ‘Let there be’..."
Eg. Gen.1:3 "And God said, "Let there be light," and there was light."
You know that this chapter speaks about the creation of the world and everything that is contained in it. God’s speaking him then is an act of creative power – he speaks in order to make the world, his speech is effective. God speaks powerfully in chapter 1.
In Gen.2 the emphasis shifts somewhat and this time we see God speaking with authority as he gives to Adam (and through Adam to Eve as well) instructions concerning how they are to live in the world he has made:
God acts now as the Master rather than the Creator and he speaks commandingly, and with a confident authority.
In Gen.3 we find God speaking in a variety of different ways:
Firstly he speaks questioningly as the offended friend. Why are Adam and Eve hiding from him? What have they done? Where are they?
It is a means of making Adam and Eve face up to the reality of their sin but it is also an invitation to return to him – sadly he is misunderstood; Adam and Eve won’t repent, all they want to do is to pass the buck and deny their own responsibility for what they have done.
Secondly, God speaks words of judgment: those responsible for sin in his new world are addressed successively: the serpent, Eve and finally Adam hear sentences pronounced – these sentences will be a heavy burden to bear.
Thirdly, happily God has not finished speaking. Judgment will not be his last word. Mankind will be thrust out of paradise and forever unable to re-
How important it will be for us to understand which way God wants to speak to us when we read different portions of his word!
God has a final word to speak
All that had happened "long ago". All the OT revelation had come from God, had been inspired by God, it was all valuable – it still is – but it wasn’t complete in itself. It was the beginning of the story and not the end, certainly not the best bit either!
God had something further he wanted to say. In the past a whole succession of different people had been privileged to transmit his message to a lost world but now with all the preparations done and dusted it was time for the next stage, the best stage, to be done.
There is no contradiction between what had gone before and what was about to come but what was about to come was so much greater, so much more important that it had to be brought about in a fresh and distinct manner.
We are meant to look back to the OT era and be amazed at God’s revelation of himself and his will through his prophets. It was a truly monumental revelation containing wonderful truths and the outline of a wonderful plan of salvation. A wonderful future was predicted for a lost world. And yet we are not meant to get so caught up with this wonderful revelation that we fail to appreciate how much greater in every way is the new in Jesus Christ.
The contrast comes in v.2:
"but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son"
God does not send sinful men and women to reveal the fulfilment of his plan and purpose but instead he sends a family member who from the intimacy of his knowledge of the Godhead would not merely transmit a message but he would be that message himself! If we get excited, as indeed we should with all that God says to us in the OT, we should get so much more excited by the NT revelation of Jesus Christ.
Jesus doesn’t come merely to speak about redemption but to secure it – he is the actor, the prime mover, as God’s plan of salvation is activated and accomplished. With the coming of Jesus we don’t have to wait any longer – he who had been promised has come and come in power to deliver his people from their sins and to present them to his Father!
The wonders of this One who comes as the Message and the Messenger is not like any other who has gone before: the author of this letter to the Hebrews begins to warm to his task and quickly lays out a number of the unique qualities of this Son:
he is the appointed heir of all things
he was the agent of creation
he is the radiance of the glory of God
he is the exact imprint of his nature
he upholds the universe by the word of his power
he has made purification for sins
he has sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high
This is a sevenfold description of the uniqueness and the exalted status of this wonderful One. Seven is the Biblical number of perfection so how appropriate that there should be such a description of the Son and he is our Saviour!
It won’t be long before the author of the letter will outline in some detail how Jesus is superior to every other possible contender for honour and glory – greater than the angel, than Moses and Aaron than Joshua etc etc.
Jesus is God’s final word to us. Don’t think it would so nice to dream a dream, to see a vision, to hear voices – all those things happened by God has now spoken to us by his Son. Listen to Jesus! Thrill to find him in the pages of Holy Scripture – pay heed to hiwhat he says but also pay attention to what he did and does.
May God help us not to take Jesus for granted and grow tired or somehow bored with him – let us delight in him this one who has the name which is above every name – our Saviour.