Updated: Oct 13
I have had an on-off relationship with the Bible all my life. Sometimes I can spend hours devouring it when a particular theme or question captures my imagination and I find myself chasing down leads and digging deeper than a rabbit on a central Otago farm. Other times I have to go hunting for my Bible because I can’t remember where I left it, and when I do, it’s been so long, I have to brush the dust off it. I wish that image had a mystical romance about it, some kind of Indiana Jones quality that comes from rediscovering an ancient magical text, but the truth is an embarrassing story of neglect and rather bad housekeeping!
The Bible is the epic story of God’s creation and redemption of humanity and the world. It explains how we came to be, what went wrong, how God fixed it, and what comes next. It contains His wisdom, knowledge, beauty, hope, and promise. It is, quite simply, the most remarkable and life-changing work ever held in our hot little hands. It’s also the most confronting and challenging book that asks us to trust in an invisible God, skewer our pride, and do as it says – no wonder it can also feel too hot to handle.
Yet, when I have sat with the Scriptures, I have discovered they also speak to us. Why? Because the Bible is not just any special textbook, but a holy book, containing the sacred words of God Himself.
The Scriptures are God’s revelation of Himself to us. The words He has spoken and the wonders He has done have been recorded by those He commanded to write it down, such as the prophets and priests, so that conversations, decrees, commands and promises would be preserved for generations to follow.
“Go now, write it on a tablet for them, inscribe it on a scroll, that for the days to come it may be an everlasting witness.” (Isaiah 30:8)
“This is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says: ‘Write in a book all the words I have spoken to you.” (Jeremiah 30:2)
For many of us, we have so much information at our fingertips as we scroll our phones and tablets, that we forget how precious and precise are the words that God inscribed with his own fingers on stone tablets.
I once had a dream about my Bible. I was at a checkpoint at the border of two countries, and the one I was about to enter was dangerous for believers, who were persecuted for their faith. I was ready to accept the hardships that were to come and expecting harsh treatment in a freezing country, I suddenly turned and grabbed my feather-down jacket just before we passed through the checkpoint. For some reason, I felt quite clever about this idea, until I was grabbed on the other side and the coat was roughly taken off me. Stripped of everything, I suddenly realised, that I was there to share the gospel, but I had no Bible. I had carelessly left the most valuable possession I had behind. To my utter despair, I realised I didn’t know even enough to carry it with me in my heart. I was now stranded in hostile territory without the hope I had intended to bring to others. I woke up in a panic as the fear of God gripped me. I was filled with holy conviction that I took the Word of God for granted. Smug as I was, I wouldn’t last two seconds without the power of God’s Word secure in my heart.
King David was so convinced of the significance of God’s words to us that he encouraged us to, “Bind them (God’s laws) on your fingers; write them on the tablet of your heart.” (Proverbs 7:3). God declared that the Scriptures wouldn’t just be a ‘how to’ document we referred to occasionally, but that He wanted to ‘put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people.” (Jeremiah 31:33). In other words, we live and breathe God’s words to us. Even Jesus considered God’s words more life-giving than bread (Matthew 4:4) – or a puffer jacket.
God has spoken to us - and someone took notes
The Scriptures are a written collection of the words of God given to us through the prophets and apostles. When we understand how the Scriptures were compiled to form our present-day Bible, we can gain a deeper understanding of what God is saying to us through them.
“I want you to recall the words spoken in the past by the holy prophets and the command given by our Lord and Saviour through your apostles.” (2 Peter 3:2)
Audible spoken words of God
These are the times that God spoke audibly to individuals, for example, Adam and Eve (Genesis 3:8-9), Abraham (Genesis 17:2-4), and Moses (Exodus 3). God also spoke to the entire gathering of the people of Israel where they all heard the voice of God at the same time.
“These are the commandments the Lord proclaimed in a loud voice to your whole assembly there on the mountain from out of the fire, the cloud and the deep darkness.” (Deuteronomy 5:22)
Written words of God
We also have recorded the words God wrote with his own hand. (Actually, twice, because Moses had a temper tantrum when he learned the people had decided to listen to a lump of gold instead (Ex 34)
“The Lord gave me, [Moses], two stone tablets inscribed by the finger of God. On them were all the commandments the Lord proclaimed to you on the mountain out of the fire, on the day of the assembly.” (Deuteronomy 9:10)
God speaking through humans
When God spoke to the Israelites from the mountain, the people were so overwhelmed that they insisted that God stop speaking directly to them and speak through a representative instead. Starting with Moses, the role of the prophet was established. Appointed and anointed by God, the prophet would share whatever God revealed to them (there were strict conditions to preserve the integrity and accuracy of these words).
"The Lord said to [Moses], “Who gave human beings their mouths? Who makes them deaf or mute? Who gives them sight or makes them blind? Is it not I, the Lord? Now go; I will help you speak and will teach you what to say.” (Deuteronomy 4:11-12)
“I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their fellow Israelites, and I will put my words in his mouth. He will tell them everything I command him.” (Deuteronomy 18:18)
Successive prophets, and later the apostles, would receive their revelation from God in various ways:
Dictation e.g. the laws and instructions God gave Moses for the Israelite community
“Whenever [Moses] entered the Lord’s presence to speak with him, he removed the veil until he came out. And when he came out and told the Israelites what he had been commanded.” (Exodus 34:34)
Divine utterance e.g. the prophecies given to Israel regarding their choices, their redemption, and most importantly, the Messiah.
“For prophecy never had its origin in the human will, but prophets, though human, spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.” (2 Peter 1:21)
Dreams and visions e.g. God often revealed future events through visual representation
“To these four young men God gave knowledge and understanding of all kinds of literature and learning. And Daniel could understand visions and dreams of all kinds.” (Daniel 1:17)
God speaking through Jesus
Several times, Jesus makes it clear that his message and teachings come from God himself. For example, Jesus said, “These words you hear are not my own; they belong to the Father who sent me.” (John 14:24).
We have the apostles to thank for recording the words and works of Jesus, the divine Son of God. As eyewitnesses to Jesus’s life, death and resurrection, they provide us with personal accounts of Jesus’ conversations both in public and privately. In addition, they summarise his teaching lessons accompanied with descriptions of the things Jesus did to make his point, which provides us with invaluable context.
What the apostles make clear about all the Scriptures is:
The Words of the Prophets are the divine words of God
All Prophecy and Scripture point to Jesus
The Words of Jesus are the divine words of God
Jesus has fulfilled all Scripture, therefore there is no more to be written
The Holy Spirit’s role
So, what makes the Scriptures so much more than an ancient book? Why do we expect to open its pages and get divine inspiration from printed ink on paper? The Apostle Paul writes to his protegee Timothy, that “all Scripture is God-breathed” (2 Timothy 3:16). Elsewhere, the author of Hebrews states that “the Word of God is alive and active.” (Hebrews 4:12).
This is where we have to acknowledge the invisible and intimate work of the Spirit of God. Without Him, we cannot hear or understand God’s revelation to us. Jesus even explained that the Holy Spirit would only speak what God told Him to; “When he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all the truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come.” (John 16:13)
The Holy Spirit speaks to our own spirit what God has to say to us in our time in history. As we read the ancient Scriptures, he highlights God’s words and superimposes their truth on our hearts in our own day. He opens our ‘eyes to see’ and our ‘ears to hear’, what God is saying to us here and now. He gives us the ‘mind of Christ’, bringing to our thoughts the words spoken in the past to give us direction for our future.
For example, God spoke these words to Hosea: “For I desire mercy, not sacrifice, and acknowledgment of God rather than burnt offerings.” (6:6)
In reading these words, the Holy Spirit may provoke conviction in your heart that you have been striving to do things perfectly, but in doing so, have been harsh with those around you as well as with yourself. Your hard work for his glory is good, but not at the expense of gracious love towards others. The Holy Spirit then gives you ideas for how you can adapt your approach to be more like Jesus’ going forward. Speaking from experience.
The Bible will remain a dry brittle textbook if we don’t have the thirst-quenching flow of living waters, i.e. the Holy Spirit.
A Timeless Word
When we read the Scriptures, we have God’s timeless words to us. Through them, He reveals Himself to us so that we can know Him intimately.
He makes declarations about Himself which contrasts him with other Gods (and why they are inferior in every way).
He expresses his affection and love towards us.
He makes it clear the creative role He has given us and that there is a purpose for each of us to live for.
He tells us what pleases Him and what doesn’t. He tells us what is good for us and what isn’t. And He's kind of got a point.
He introduces us to his Son, announces what the Holy Spirit can do, and hints at a revitalised Kingdom that He will preside over forever.
Some of the most fascinating passages to read are the ones where He says “I AM” (this is an enthralling and enriching study exercise to do). And if we are in any doubt, then we can listen to the words of Jesus who came to back up everything God has already said to us. (Hebrews 1:1)
The words of God recorded in Scripture are as true and powerful for each of us today, as they were at the time He spoke them. They have an eternal quality that doesn’t diminish over time, but reaches into our lives and comes alive through the Holy Spirit. God told Isaiah,
“My word that goes out from my mouth: It will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.” (Isaiah 55:11)
So, when you read the Scriptures, remember God is speaking to you today.
He just started talking long before you were listening!
Read the next article in this series which gives practical tips on how you can read Scripture with an ear to hear its prophetic relevance for you today.
HEAR FROM HINT.HOLLER
Don't miss any new stuff!
Subscribe to get a direct link to future articles.
(I promise not to spam you!)