They Know His Voice (part 2 of at least 3)
I'm finally back with part 2 of this topic of hearing the voice of our Shepherd. Many thanks to Michael Rew and ded who responded to the previous post with some further thoughts. It has been fairly noted that charismatic believers often cloud this issue of hearing God's voice by claiming the voice of God dictates everything, whether or not the action really is guided by God. Even more bluntly, this sometimes happens even when the supposed "word" contradicts the teaching of Scripture.
So, how does one hear the voice of God? And if it is true that we, as the sheep belonging to Jesus, know the voice of our Shepherd, what should we expect in the way of hearing Him? Let's first of all look at how God spoke to others as recorded in Scripture. To put it another way, how did people learn what God was trying to communicate to them? This is by no means an exhaustive list, but a representative one.
- God walked with Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden (Genesis 3:8). In the course of walking in the Garden, God spoke to Adam.
- God spoke to Noah (Genesis 6:13). Like with so many other examples that I could give, this passage does not say specifically how God spoke, but with the details of the ark given, it is presumed that God spoke audibly to Noah.
- God spoke to Abraham (actually Abram was his name at the time -- Genesis 12:1). This, again, does not specify the method, but a very specific promise is being given to Abraham, and so again, God presumably spoke audibly to Abraham.
- God spoke to Jacob (Genesis 28:13). In this instance, God spoke to Jacob in a dream. We don't know if this was how God spoke to others mentioned above, but in this case, it is specified.
- God revealed the interpretation of dreams to Joseph (Genesis 40:12). This example is interesting because it doesn't record God speaking at all. According to the narrative, Joseph tells the two men that interpretation of dreams belongs to God, the men tell him their dreams, and Joseph then interprets them. How did Joseph know the interpretation? The same thing happens in Genesis 41 when Joseph appears before Pharoah to interpret his dreams. In this instance, Joseph specifically says, "I cannot do this, but God can." Then he proceeds to speak the interpretation. In these cases, God wasn't so much speaking to Joseph as He was to the ones having the dreams, and He spoke through those dreams and the interpretation spoken by Joseph.
- God spoke to Moses through the burning bush (Exodus 3). In this case, God got the attention of someone supernaturally (a bush was on fire, but did not get consumed by the fire) and then spoke audibly to them.
- God spoke through Moses to the people of Israel (Deuteronomy 5). In this instance, God wanted to speak directly to the Israelites, but the Israelites were fearful, and asked Moses to speak to God for them and relate whatever God said.
- Throughout the remainder of the Old Testament, we have numerous accounts of God speaking to people (individually and as a nation) through prophets. Sometimes the prophets appear to have received an audible word directly from the Lord; other times they had dreams from God that they related to the people.
- God spoke to some through angels (e.g., Gabriel spoke to Mary in Luke 1). These angels delivered God's message verbally to some and in dreams to others.
- God spoke through Jesus (all throughout the Gospels). This one is in a category all by itself, because it represents the One called "God with us". I will address this one more specifically later on because I think it is significant.
- God spoke to Peter through a vision (Acts 10). In this vision, God speaks audibly to Peter.
- In Acts 15, the apostles make mention in a letter to the Gentile believers that it "seemed good" to both the Holy Spirit and to them to communicate freedom from the Law. No mention of God speaking audibly is present here, and yet there is a confidence presented by the apostles that they were discerning the will of God. The fact that they said it seemed good to the Holy Spirit shows this confidence.
- God spoke through the writings of the biblical authors. For example, in 1 Corinthians 11:23, Paul says, "For I received from the Lord what I also passed on to you...."
Many more examples abound, but I wanted to share the above list to make two simple points:
- God speaks
- God speaks in various ways
But beyond that, we are compelled to examine the evidence of Scripture to determine what that means for us in our lives. Not too many of us have had the experience of hearing the audible voice of God. In fact, it's probably safe to guess that almost everyone reading this blog is unfamiliar with that experience. I'm not sure that I could point to a time when I heard the audible voice of God. But, I have heard God in many other ways listed above. There have been times when I dreamed something that I later determined to be God speaking to me. There have been times when others have spoken things to me that I determined to be the words of God. And, like the apostles in Acts, there have been times when it just "seemed right" to move a particular direction or make a particular decision because of the testimony of the Spirit within.
What I find interesting is that, to my mind, there seems to be a progression of how God spoke or communicated, and it is a progression that begins and ends with intimacy. At the beginning of mankind, before sin broke the relationship that Adam and Eve experienced with God, the Bible tells us that God walked in the garden. (It actually references this right after they sinned, but one can safely assume that this was something that had occurred prior because Adam and Eve knew the sound of God "walking".)
From the point of Adam and Eve's sin, God spoke directly to people who found favor with Him (Noah, Abram, etc.) but there seemed to be a quest on God's part to recapture the whole human race in relationship. So, He calls an entire nation to the mountain to meet with Him. Scripture is not overtly clear on this, but I think the overall context seems to indicate that it was not God's desire to speak only through Moses to the people. However, the people refused to come to the mountain out of fear, and so God spoke through Moses.
For a very long time, God spoke through other "spokesmen" who followed in Moses' footsteps, and these spokesmen, in turn, spoke the words of God to the people. To speak to God, the people had to go through a priest, who spoke on their behalf.
As time progressed, I can almost envision God getting more and more frustrated with this situation. The very people to whom He was trying to speak were not listening to Him (or, to be more accurate, they were not listening to the ones speaking on His behalf). So, in a very climactic event in the story, God becomes a man and speaks directly to the people again through the person of Jesus. And we know how that went. But some heard His voice and followed.
When Jesus was leaving this earth, He promised to send the Holy Spirit. This Holy Spirit, He told us in John 16:13 would guide us into all truth and reveal the things yet to come. And we know from John 7:39 that the Spirit is given to those who believe (or place their trust) in Jesus.
So, now that I've laid all that groundwork, what does this mean for our lives today? Quite simply that we now have access to a relationship that is even more intimate than Adam and Eve had with God. God doesn't just walk with us in the garden from time to time. He dwells within us. If we have placed our trust in Jesus as the means of our relationship to the Father, we have the Holy Spirit within us to guide us and lead us and reveal truth to us.
I believe that in this period of history, we will most often hear the voice of God as the Holy Spirit within us. Now, obviously, this raises some really serious questions. As one writer posed on another blog, "How do I know it's God speaking and not just me having an idea?" I'll look at this question and more next time.
Until next time,