We can receive from God in two ways – his finger or his mouth. The Bible actually makes a big deal about this. Although, it doesn’t come right out and say it.
The question is, are you living by God’s mouth or his finger?
Exodus 20-23 contain the ten commandments and other laws God gave to Israel while they were wandering through wilderness. Exodus 20.1 says, “And God spoke all these words, saying…”
Who did God speak the words of Exodus 20-23 to?
I think the answer is Moses…alone.
“Now when all the people saw the thunder and the flashes of lightning and the sound of the trumpet and the mountain smoking, the people were afraid and trembled, and they stood afar off and said to Moses, ‘You speak to us, and we will listen; but do not let God to us, lest we die.'” (Exodus 20.18-19)
The people didn’t want to hear from God directly because they were afraid of him. Because they were afraid of God, they stayed far away from him. Instead, they told Moses to hear what God wanted to say and report back to them so they could listen.
So, Exodus 24.2 says, “Moses alone shall come near the Lord, but the others shall not come near, and the people shall not come up with him.”
And, Exodus 24.12 says, “The Lord said to Moses, ‘Come up to me on the mountain and wait there, that I may give you the tablets of stone, with the law and the commandment, which I have written for their instruction.”
How did Israel get the ten commandments and the rest of the law?
Exodus 31.18 says, “And he gave to Moses, when he had finished speaking with him on Mount Sinai, the two tablets of the testimony, tablets of stone, written with the finger of God.”
God spoke to Moses. God wrote those laws and commandments on tablets of stone with his own finger. Moses took the tablets of stone to Israel.
When Jesus was in the wilderness, he was tempted by Satan to turn stones into bread to satisfy his hunger. “But he answered, ‘It is written, “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.”‘” (Matthew 4.4)
Jesus quoted Deuteronomy 8.3. something that was written. But, Jesus quoted what was written to show that man does not live by what was written. In other words, man does not live by what comes from God’s finger. In yet other words, man does live by a book. Rather, man lives by every word that comes from God’s mouth. In other words, man lives by God’s voice. In yet other words, man lives by the word of God that is living and active. (Hebrews 4.12)
Jesus gave the sermon on the mount, his version or interpretation of God’s law, very soon after he said that man lives by every word that comes out of God’s mouth. But, Jesus didn’t go up a mountain by himself to hear from God and write down what God said to give to the people. Matthew 5.1 says, “Seeing the crowds, he went up on the mountain, and when he sat down, his disciples came to him.” Jesus went up a mountain like Moses, but he had a crowd gathered around him. While it does seem that he spoke to just his disciples because the verse says they came to him, we see something different at the end of this sermon. Matthew 7.28, says, “And when Jesus finished these sayings, the crowds were astonished at his teaching.” The crowds heard what Jesus said. So, unlike Moses, Jesus was not alone with God when he received and gave his interpretation of the law.
It is very important to note Matthew 5.2, which says, “And he opened his mouth and taught them, saying…”
Jesus opened his mouth.
The people received these new instructions from Jesus’ mouth, God’s mouth, directly.
The people did not receive these new instructions written down by God’s finger.
Further, in John 10.4, Jesus said, “When he brought out all his own, he goes before them, and the sheep follow him, for they know his voice.” Jesus’ people know his voice and they follow it.
What is the significance of the distinction between following what was written down by God’s finger and following what was spoken by God’s mouth, his voice?
The laws and commandments that came from God’s finger were written in stone. They were set in stone, meaning they were fixed and unchangeable. They could be known only one. There was no room for interpretation. They were to be taken literally.
Further, there was no requirement of intimacy to receive what was written down by God’s finger. The people were afar off, standing far away from God, when Moses received what God wrote down. Therefore, what was written by God’s finger implied a great distance between God and the people.
In contrast, a voice is living. A voice has easily detectable tones and differences. A voice can provide shades of meaning. A voice can mold the teaching to the situation so that it can be followed. To hear one’s voice you must be close enough to hear it in the present moment. Therefore, a voice implies a greater level of intimacy than what is written.
In the new covenant, God says he will write his laws on our hearts and minds. But, this means that God has given us his Spirit. And, the Spirit speaks to us so that we can hear the voice of Jesus moment by moment instead of living by a book of God’s writings from thousands of years ago. Remember Jesus said exactly that in Matthew 4.4.
All of this is why Paul says in 2 Corinthians 3.3-6, “And you show that you are a letter from Christ delivered by us, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts. Such is the confidence that we have through Christ toward God. Not that we are sufficient in ourselves to claim anything as coming from us, but our sufficiency is from God, who has made us sufficient to be ministers of a new covenant, not of the letter but of the Spirit. For the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.”
You can try to live by what is written in book. But, you will be living by God’s finger. You will be living at a distance from God, which means you won’t have the deepest intimacy with God.
Or, you can live by God’s voice, which means you are receiving directly from God’s mouth. This requires us to listen moment by moment. We have to be very intimate and very present with God. To live by God’s mouth requires a continual trusting of God in each and every situation.
Of course, Jesus always says it best. “You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me, yet you refuse to come to me that you may have life.” (John 5.39-40)