Wherever the triune Jehovah is mentioned in the Bible, even if the passage does not actually say so, we must remember these two things—
1. GOD’S RULE: He is the sovereign Ruler of the universe.
And as Ruler and King—
– He is in charge of everything that happens in the universe, and
– He is working out His will in everything that happens.
2. GOD’S WORD: He speaks words that show what His will is.
– When He speaks those words, what He wants actually gets done.
In previous chapters, we have already touched on the first idea about God’s rule. And we will now look into the second idea about God’s word.
When we study the second idea (about God’s word), we actually get a better understanding of the first idea (about God’s rule).
This is because—
– We can know how God relates to His world only when we see Him as Sovereign and King, and
– We can know God as Sovereign and King only when we see what the Bible tells us about God’s word.
All kings in the ancient world were absolute rulers of their kingdoms, and as absolute rulers, they would ordinarily speak for two reasons—
Firstly, the ruler would speak to make rules and laws to manage the kingdom and provide the people with the kind of environment he wanted them to live in. These rules could be related to judicial matters, financial matters, or cultural matters.
Secondly, the ruler makes speeches in public to connect with the people, so that they would support him and cooperate with him in what he did.
The Bible shows us that the word of our God—the King—is also spoken for two reasons.
Firstly, God speaks to provide the kind of environment He wants His people to live in. When God speaks for this reason, God’s word takes the form of a sovereign and supreme command: “Let there be. . . ”
Secondly, God’s word comes to us—to engage our minds and hearts. God’s word takes the form of a royal torah. In Hebrew, torah means law, and actually refers to instruction in all its forms.
Torah from God the King has a threefold character:
– Some of it is law (commands, prohibitions—restrictions, and sanctions—penalties/punishments.
– Some of it is promise (favorable or unfavorable, conditional or unconditional).
– Some of it is testimony (information given by God about Himself or about people—and about what they do, why they do it, what kind of people they are, and what would happen to them in the future).
This word that God directs to us is much more than a royal speech by a king. Not only does God use His word to govern His people and make them do what He wants them to do, but He also uses His word to fellowship with them.
For, though God is a great King, He does not want to keep a distance from His people.
Actually it is just the opposite:
In the first place, He created us with the intention of being able to walk together with us forever in a love relationship.
A love relationship can happen only when the parties involved know something about each other.
God, our Maker, knows all about us before we can even say anything.
O Lord, You have searched me and known me!
You know when I sit down and when I rise up;
You discern my thoughts from afar.
You search out my path and my lying down
and are acquainted with all my ways.
Even before a word is on my tongue,
behold, O Lord, You know it altogether. (Ps 139:1-4)
But how can we know anything about God unless He tells us?
So, we can see that when God speaks to His people, He does so not only to make them do what He wants them to do, but also for the reason of fellowship—so that we may get to know Him more. And this would make us love God more.
So, we see that when God sends His word to us, it comes to us as:
– as information—to instruct us and to give us a good idea of what God has done and is doing, and
– as an invitation—to woo us and call us into personal communion with the loving Lord Himself.
The God who speaks
We are introduced to the word of God in the first three chapters of the Bible. And when we do, we see the word of God being spoken for all the reasons we have just seen.
Look first at the story of creation in Genesis 1. The first part of this chapter reassures us that every item in our natural environment has been set there by God.
The opening verse sets the tone, and the rest of the chapter explains it in detail.
In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. (Genesis 1:1)
The second verse gives us the “before” picture, so that we can appreciate the details of the creative work of God.
The verse describes the state of the earth as:
– lying waste,
– being empty of life,
– being dark, and
– being completely waterlogged.
The earth was without form and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters. (Genesis 1:2)
Then verse 3 tells us about how God spoke in the middle of this lifeless and chaotic situation.
God said, “Let there be light.”
Immediately, there was light.
And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. (Genesis 1:3)
God only had to say: “Let there be . . .”
And there was . . .
Seven more times God’s creative “Let there be . . .” was spoken, and step by step everything appeared.
|“Let there be” Statement||Result|
And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. (Genesis 1:3)
|day and night (Genesis 1:5)|
And God said, “Let there be an expanse in the midst of the waters, and let it separate the waters from the waters.” (Genesis 1:6)
|sky and sea (Genesis 1:6)|
And God said, “Let the waters under the heavens be gathered together into one place, and let the dry land appear.” And it was so. (Genesis 1:9)
|sea and land were separated out (Genesis 1:9)|
And God said, “Let the earth sprout vegetation, plants yielding seed, and fruit trees bearing fruit in which is their seed, each according to its kind, on the earth.” And it was so. (Genesis 1:11)
|green vegetation (Genesis 1:12)|
And God said, “Let there be lights in the expanse of the heavens to separate the day from the night. And let them be for signs and for seasons, and for days and years (Genesis 1:14)
|heavenly bodies (Genesis 1:14)|
And God said, “Let the waters swarm with swarms of living creatures, and let birds[g] fly above the earth across the expanse of the heavens.” (Genesis 1:20)
|fish and fowl (Genesis 1:20)|
And God said, “Let the earth bring forth living creatures according to their kinds—livestock and creeping things and beasts of the earth according to their kinds.” And it was so. (Genesis 1:24)
|insects and animals (Genesis 1:24)|
Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.”(Genesis 1:26)
man himself (Genesis 1:26)
All this was done by the word of God. God spoke, and it happened.
By the word of the Lord the heavens were made,
and by the breath of His mouth all their host.
He gathers the waters of the sea as a heap;
He puts the deeps in storehouses.
Let all the earth fear the Lord;
let all the inhabitants of the world stand in awe of Him!
For He spoke, and it came to be;
He commanded, and it stood firm. (Psalm 33:6-9)
By faith we understand that the universe was created by the word of God, so that what is seen was not made out of things that are visible. (Hebrews 11:3)
For they deliberately overlook this fact, that the heavens existed long ago, and the earth was formed out of water and through water by the word of God. (2 Peter 3:5)
But now the story moves to the next stage.
God speaks to the man and woman who He has made. “God. . . said to them. . .” (Genesis 1:28) Here God addresses human beings directly. Fellowship between God and them has started. Note the categories into which God’s word to them falls in the rest of the story.
God’s first word to Adam and Eve is a word of command.
Here, God calls them to fulfill humankind’s mission of ruling over creation.
And God blessed them. And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.” (Genesis 1:28)
God’s second word to Adam and Eve is a word of testimony.
Here, God explains that green plants, crops and fruits have been made for humans and animals to eat.
And God said, “Behold, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is on the face of all the earth, and every tree with seed in its fruit. You shall have them for food. (Genesis 1:29)
God’s third word to Adam and Eve is a word of prohibition—restriction with an attached sanction—penalty/punishment.
but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat of it you will surely die. (Genesis 2:17)
Finally, God’s fourth word to Adam and Eve is a word of promise.
Here, we see how even after the fall, God comes to Adam and Eve and speaks to them again.
This time His words are words of promise, which have both favourable and unfavourable parts to it.
Favourable—God promises them that the woman’s seed will bruise the serpent’s head.
Unfavourable—Eve will suffer in childbirth, Adam’s labour will be frustrating, and both Adam and Eve will face certain death.
I will put enmity between you and the woman,
and between your offspring and her Offspring;
He shall bruise your head,
and you shall bruise His heel.”
To the woman He said, “I will surely multiply your pain in childbearing;
in pain you shall bring forth children.
Your desire shall be contrary to your husband,
but he shall rule over you.”
And to Adam He said,
“Because you have listened to the voice of your wife
and have eaten of the tree
of which I commanded you,
‘You shall not eat of it,’
cursed is the ground because of you;
in pain you shall eat of it all the days of your life;
thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you;
and you shall eat the plants of the field.
By the sweat of your face
you shall eat bread,
till you return to the ground,
for out of it you were taken;
for you are dust,
and to dust you shall return.” (Genesis 3:15-19)
We have seen the various categories under which we can classify the words spoken by God to the world and particularly to the first human beings, Adam and Eve. And all of these words are recorded in the first three chapters of the Bible.
– On one hand, God’s word prepares human beings’ circumstances and environment,
– On the other hand, God’s word commands human beings’ obedience, invites their trust, and shows them the mind of their Maker.
In the rest of the Bible, we see God speaking to human beings often. Whenever this happens—whenever God speaks to people or individuals, His word falls under the same categories that we have just seen. The content and presentation of God’s word in the first three chapters is only strengthened and confirmed.
According to the Bible, both of the following are true:
– God’s word controls and decides everything that happens in the world.
– God’s word comes directly to us in three categories—as law, as promises, and as testimony—just as it did in the Garden of Eden.
God’s word controls and decides everything that happens in the world
The Creator’s all-powerful “Let there be . . .” makes everything happen. Scripture describes this as the fulfilling of God’s word. And this applies to everything from changes in the weather to the rise and fall of nations.
He sends out His command to the earth;
His word runs swiftly.
He gives snow like wool;
He scatters frost like ashes.
He hurls down his crystals of ice like crumbs;
who can stand before His cold?
He sends out his word, and melts them;
He makes His wind blow and the waters flow. (Psalm 147:15-18)
fire and hail, snow and mist,
stormy wind fulfilling his word! (Psalm 148:8)
The first lesson that God taught Jeremiah when He called him to be a prophet was the fact that the word of God really decides and controls world events.
See, I have set you this day over nations and over kingdoms,
to pluck up and to break down,
to destroy and to overthrow,
to build and to plant.”(Jer 1:10)
But how could this be possible?
Jeremiah’s call was not to be a statesman or the emperor of the world, but to be a prophet—God’s messenger boy.
But the Lord said to me,
“Do not say, ‘I am only a youth’;
for to all to whom I send you, you shall go,
and whatever I command you, you shall speak.” (Jeremiah 1:7)
How could a man with no official position, whose only job was to talk, be described as the God-appointed ruler of the nations?
Why, simply because he had the words of the Lord in his mouth. And so, any word that God gave him to speak about the destiny of nations would certainly be fulfilled.
Then the Lord put out his hand and touched my mouth. And the Lord said to me,
“Behold, I have put my words in your mouth. (Jeremiah 1:9)
To fix this in Jeremiah’s mind, God gave him his first vision. Note, that the Hebrew words for ‘almond’ and ‘watching’ sound very similar.
And the word of the Lord came to me, saying, “Jeremiah, what do you see?” And I said, “I see an almond [shaqed] branch.”
Then the Lord said to me, “You have seen well, for I am watching [shoqed] over my word to perform it.” (Jeremiah 1:11-12)
God proclaims the same truth through Isaiah too:
“For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven
and do not return there but water the earth,
making it bring forth and sprout,
giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater,
so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth;
it shall not return to me empty,
but it shall accomplish that which I purpose,
and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it. (Isaiah 55:10-11)
God’s word is the tool that He uses to carry out all matters related to human beings. God’s word is His executive instrument. The whole Bible maintains this and insists on it. What God says will happen. The word of God rules the world and fixes our futunes for us.
God’s word comes directly to us in three categories—as law, as promises, and as testimony—just as it did in the Garden of Eden
Sometimes God’s word comes as law—
– as at Sinai,
– as in many sermons of the prophets,
– as in much of Christ’s teaching, and
– as in the evangelical command to repent and believe on the Lord Jesus Christ.
The times of ignorance God overlooked, but now He commands all people everywhere to repent. (Acts 17:30)
And this is His commandment, that we believe in the name of His Son Jesus Christ and love one another, just as He has commanded us. (1 John 3:23)
Sometimes God’s word comes as promise—
– as in the promise of posterity, and the covenant promise, given to Abraham (Genesis 15:5; 17:1-8),
– as in the promise of redemption from Egypt (Exodus 3:7-10),
– as in the promises of the Messiah (Isaiah 9:6-7; 11:1-2),
– as in the promises of the kingdom of God (Daniel 2:44; 7:14), and
– as in the New Testament promises of justification, resurrection and glorification for believers.
Sometimes God’s word comes as testimony—as divine instruction and teaching about:
– the facts of faith and
– the principles of piety.
And this word of testimony can be in the form of
– historical narration,
– theological reasoning,
– psalmody and
It is very important to remember that the word of God has absolute claim upon our lives.
The word must be received, trusted, and obeyed, because it is the word of God the King.
The characteristic of ungodly people is that they stubornly refuse to hear God’s words.
This evil people, who refuse to hear My words, who stubbornly follow their own heart and have gone after other gods to serve them and worship them, shall be like this loincloth, which is good for nothing. (Jeremiah 13:10)
The mark of true humility and godliness, on the other hand, is they tremble at the word of God.
. . . But this is the one to whom I will look:
he who is humble and contrite in spirit
and trembles at My word.. (Isaiah 66:2)
Why do we have to obey God’s word?
We obviously have to obey God because He is the Creator and King. This means that we are the Creator’s creatures and the King’s subjects. Because of our relationship to God as creatures and subjects, we have to obey—simply because He tells us to.
But there is another reason why we need to listen to God’s word. And this is because what He speaks is true. The author is the God of truth.
Into your hand I entrust my spirit; you have redeemed me, Lord, God of truth. (Psalm 31:5)
so that he who blesses himself in the land
shall bless himself by the God of truth,
and he who takes an oath in the land
shall swear by the God of truth;
because the former troubles are forgotten
and are hidden from my eyes. (Isaiah 65:16)
The Lord passed in front of him and proclaimed: The Lord—the Lord is a compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger and abounding in faithful love and truth. (Exodus 34:6)
because your mercy is higher than the heavens. Your truth reaches the clouds. (Psalm 108:4)
Your love is so great it reaches to the skies.
Your truth reaches to the clouds. (Psalm 57:10)
The entirety of Your word is truth,
and all Your righteous judgments endure forever. (Psalm 119:160)
Lord God, You are God; Your words are true, and You have promised this grace to Your servant. (2 Samuel 7:28)
In the Bible, truth is first a quality that describes individuals. Sometimes the Bible might describe a statement, idea, or words as being true. But first and foremost, it refers to individuals.
The word truth refers to the person’s—
– firmness, and
Such a person is completely—
– realistic, and
God is such a Person. When you apply the word ‘truth’ to God, you are saying:
– Truth is God’s nature.
– God cannot be anything else other than true.
– That is why God cannot lie.
in hope of eternal life, which God, who never lies, promised before the ages began. (Titus 1:2)
God is not man, that He should lie,
or a son of man, that He should change His mind.
Has He said, and will He not do it?
Or has He spoken, and will He not fulfill it? (Numbers 23:19)
And also the Glory of Israel will not lie or have regret, for He is not a man, that He should have regret.” (1 Samuel 15:29)
so that by two unchangeable things, in which it is impossible for God to lie, we who have fled for refuge might have strong encouragement to hold fast to the hope set before us. (Hebrews 6:18)
That is why God’s words to us are true, and cannot be anything other than true.
This means that God’s words are the index of reality, showing us—
– what the present really is,
– what the future really will be for us if we obey God’s words, and
– what the future really will be for us if we do not obey God’s words.
We can understand this better by looking at these two points:
– God’s commands are true
– God’s promises are true
1. God’s commands are true
“All your commands are true” (Ps 119:151)
Why are God’s commands described like this?
First, God’s commands are true, because—
– these commands set out the kind of behaviour God wants to see in human lives
– these commands are stable, permanent, and stay the same for all periods of our history.
Second, God’s commands are true because—
– they tell us the unchanging truth about our own nature.
This is part of the purpose of God’s law (God’s commands):
God’s law defines what true humanity should be like.
It shows us what we were made to be,
It teaches us how to be truly human, and
It warns us against destroying ourselves morally.
This is a very important matter and is very relevant for us in the present time.
We are used to the idea that our bodies are like machines. If they have to run properly, they need—
– the right kind of food taken at the right time and
– sufficient rest and exercise.
We know that our bodies will stop functioning properly and will finally die if we lose our health. And our bodies will become unhealthy if we fill them up with wrong fuel such as alcohol, drugs, or poison.
But we are somewhat slow in understanding that God wants us to think about our souls in the same way.
We are thinking people who bear God’s moral image.
For our souls to “run” efficiently, they need the practice of—
– keeping the law,
– being truthful,
– being honest,
– being disciplined,
– being self-controlled, and
– being of service to God and people.
If we do not practice these things—
– we are guilty before God, and
– we also destroy our own moral souls a little bit at a time.
When we say that we destroy our moral souls, we mean that—
– our conscience wastes away,
– our sense of shame dries up,
– our capacity for truthfulness is gone,
– our sense of loyalty and honesty is eaten away, and
– our character falls apart.
We are desperate and miserable, but it does not stop with that. We become dehumanised little by little. This is one side of spiritual death.
According to Richard Baxter, we have to all chose between becoming a saint or becoming an beast. Sooner or later, consciously or unconsciously, everyone chooses one or the other.
Richard Baxter (12 November 1615 – 8 December 1691) was an English Puritan, who was a church leader, poet, hymnodist, and theologian. His emphasis on the need for repentance and faithfulness make people in the Calvinist tradition uncomfortable, as it seems to them to undermine salvation by faith.
Humanists are people who believe that human needs are more important than religious and moral needs. Some humanists these days do not like the strict sexual morality of the Bible. According to them, this kind of strict morality that the Puritans practiced is not good for human beings. They feel that it will prevent us from reaching true human maturity. According to them, human beings need more license for richer living.
We on the other hand can only say that this kind of sexual license will not make us more human. Instead it will make us more like animals, like brutes. And it tears our soul to pieces.
This is the case when we disobey any of God’s commandments, not just the ones related to sexual morality. On the other hand, the more we work hard to obey God’s commands, the more truly human we become.
2. God’s promises are true
And God’s promises are true, because God keeps His word.
“He who promised is faithful” (Heb 10:23)
When the Bible speaks of God’s faithfulness, it does so using terms that describe the highest level of excellence.
“Your faithfulness [reaches] to the skies” (Ps 36:5)
“your faithfulness continues through all generations” (Ps 119:90)
“great is your faithfulness” (Lam 3:23)
How do we know that God is faithful?
We know that God is faithful, when we see that He always fulfils His promises. He is a covenant-keeping God who never fails those who trust His word. Abraham knew God’s faithfulness first hand, by waiting for a quarter of a century in his old age for
the birth of his promised heir. Since the time of Abraham, millions more have experienced God’s faithfulness.
In the days when churches everywhere agreed that the Bible was God’s written word, people clearly understood that the basis of our life as believers was the promises of God recorded in Scripture. They knew that we stand on the promises of God. They also knew that the way to strengthen our faith is to focus on the promises that apply to the situation we are facing.
Here is a quote from the Samuel Clarke, a latter-day puritan, about the importance of becoming familiar with God’s promises. This is from his introduction to his book A Collection of the Promises of Scripture: Under Their Proper Heads.
When we consistently pay attention to God’s promises and believe in them, we do not become worried and anxious about the cares of this life. If we focus on these promises of God, our minds remain quiet and calm, when changes happen in life. And we do not become depressed when we face different troubles . . . Christians rob themselves of the most dependable comfort available to them, by not believing God’s promises or by forgetting them. No difficuty is so great that suitable promises cannot be found for it—promises that would provide enough relief and more. It is very helpful when we pray, if we know the promises well. Christians are sure that their prayers are heard, when they think of the many times God has promised in scripture to hear their prayers. How comforting this is! Christians are also assured that God will grant their many requests, if they reflect on the Bible texts where those same things are promised. How satisfying it is to pray like this! When Christians are aware of the many gracious promises in scripture that apply to their situation, they are strengthened. How fervently they can pray and with so much faith too!
The Puritans were English Protestants who sought to purify the Church of England of Roman Catholic practices. The Puritan period stretched through the 16th and 17th centuries. Possibly, because Samuel Clarke (1684–1750) lived into the 18th century, Packer describes him as a latter-day puritan.
There was a time when people understood these things. But in our day, because of liberal theology we have lost so much. Liberal theology refuses to accept that the Bible is the word of God. Because of this, we have been robbed of the habit of—
– meditating on the promises, and
– basing our prayers on these promises, and
– setting out every day believing these promises.
Our grandparents used what was called ‘promise boxes,’ which were boxes that had small rolled-up pieces of paper, each with a biblical promise on it. People of our grandparents’ generation would randomly pick out a promise. Then they would meditate on it and pray.
It is not good to laugh at this practice as some do.
It is true that some people may have misused the promises boxes. And yet, the faith our grandparents had in the Bible and the way they regarded prayer was right. This is something we have lost. And we need to recover it.
Believe and Obey
What is a Christian?
Christians can be described in many ways. But from what we have said so far in this chapter, we can cover everything by describing true Christians as people—
– who recognise the word of God and live under it,
– who submit completely to the word of God written in “the Book of Truth” (Dan 10:21),
– who believe its teaching,
– who trust its promises,
– who follow its commands,
– who look on the God of the Bible as their Father, and
– who look on the Christ of the Bible as their Savior.
If you ask them, Christians will tell you that the Word of God has
– convinced them of sin as well as
– assured them of forgiveness.
The consciences of Christians are captive to the word of God, much like Luther’s was when he appeared before the Diet of Worms (This “diet” was a royal assembly in the German city of Worms, and the meeting was called by Emperor Charles V).
“Since your majesty and your lordships desire a simple reply, I will answer without horns and without teeth. Unless I am convicted by scripture and plain reason—I do not accept the authority of popes and councils for they have contradicted each other—my conscience is captive to the word of God. I cannot and I will not recant anything, for to go against conscience is neither right nor safe. Here I stand, I cannot do otherwise, God help me. Amen.” [Martin Luther’s reply, at Worms, on 18 April 1521, when asked to recant]
Christians long to have their whole lives brought into line with the word of God, much like the psalmist.
Oh that my ways may be steadfast in keeping your statutes! (Ps 119:5)
With my whole heart I seek you; let me not wander from your commandments! (Ps 119:10)
When I told of my ways, you answered me; teach me your statutes!
Make me understand the way of your precepts, and I will meditate on your wondrous works. (Ps 119:26-27)
Incline my heart to your testimonies, and not to selfish gain!. (Ps 119:36)
May my heart be blameless in your statutes, that I may not be put to shame! (Ps 119:80)
– the promises in God’s word before them as they pray, and
– the precepts (instructions and rules) of God’s word before them as they go about their daily tasks.
Christians know that God’s word
– has not only spoken directly to them in the Scriptures, but
– has also gone on to create, and control, and order things around them.
Does this worry them?
No, because they know that the scriptures tell them that all things work together for their good. The thought of God being in charge of their circumstances only brings them joy.
Christians are people who cannot be easily influenced. They are independent folks, because the word of God is their yardstick. They will not touch anything unless they are sure that Scripture allows it.
We have just seen what a Christian is. Why does this description fit so few of us who profess to be Christians in these days? Ask your conscience, and let it tell you why. This question deserves some soul searching.