TODAY’S READING: DEUTERONOMY 5-8
“The word of the Lord.”
In Deuteronomy 5:4-5, Moses says, “The Lord spoke with you face to face at the mountain, out of the midst of the fire, while I stood between the Lord and you at that time, to declare to you the word of the Lord.”
This phrase occurs 276 times in the Bible. Of the 276 occurrences, “the word of the Lord” is found 262 times in the Old Testament and just 14 times in the New Testament. All but three of the New Testament uses of “the word of the Lord” are found in the book of Acts.
Of the 276 instances of “the word of the Lord,” 109 of them say “the word of the Lord came” to someone. All of these are in the Old Testament.
What is “the word of the Lord?”
Is It just the words that God spoke to a prophet? Is the word of the Lord the writings of Moses and the prophets?
Maybe a better question is – who is “the word of the Lord”?
THE WORD OF THE LORD CAME
The first time we see the phrase “the word of the Lord” is Genesis 15:1, which says, “After these things the word of the Lord came to Abram in a vision.”
Abram had rescued Lot and all his people and possessions from Chedorlaomer. Then, he had an encounter with Melchizedek. It was after these things, that “the word of the Lord came” to Abram.
The word came in Hebrew is hayah. Hayah generally means to come to pass, occur, happen; to be, become, have. But, this simple word is used in many ways, sometimes with much more importance than an event simply happening or taking place.
Perhaps the most extraordinary use of hayah is that is the root word in the name of the Lord given to Moses – I Am That I Am. That alone tells us the word can take on very special meaning.
The Theological Lexicon of the Old Testament has some interesting things to say about hayah. I will quote a few of the more interesting comments.
- “The use of hayah generally gives rise to a more fully packed and dynamic statement concerning the being of a person or a thing, a being expressed in the entity’s actions or deeds, fate, and behavior toward others.”
- “Miracle accounts use numerous verbs of action, but hayah appears at the climax of the narrative to describe the wondrous event…In each case, the report uses hayah to describe not a simple historical process but the reality of the event that intervenes in earthly affairs and manifests the absolute power of Yahweh.”
- “The final literary context of the theological usage of hayah to be treated is that of the covenant formula…Here hayah indicates the mutual behavior of the covenant partners in the present and the future in its active and dynamic character.”
Note how these statements give emphasis to “the word of the Lord came” in Genesis 15:1-18. When the word of the Lord came to someone it was a very special event.
So, that the word of the came to Abram is a significant event. The word of the Lord said to Abram “I am your shield.” The word of the Lord said to Abram “your very own son shall be your heir.” The word of the Lord was making promises to Abram.
After the word of the Lord finished speaking to Abram, Genesis 15:6 says, “And he believed the Lord, and he counted it to him as righteousness.” Now, “the word of the Lord” is equated with the God himself.
Genesis 15:7 says, “And he said to him, ‘I am the Lord who brought you from Ur of the Chaldeans to give you this land to possess.” Now the word of the Lord says he is the Lord.
THE WORD OF THE LORD MADE A COVENANT
As the account continues, we read that it is the word of the Lord that makes a covenant with Abram. Abram brought the animals required for the covenant and cut them in half. But, Genesis 15:12 says that “a deep sleep fell on Abram.” Therefore, Abram did not participate in the actual making of the covenant. The covenant was one-sided, made and fulfilled completely by the word of the Lord.
Except that Genesis 15:18 says, “On that day the Lord made a covenant with Abram.” Here, it is God that made the covenant with Abram. Again, we see an equality, a oneness, between the word of the Lord and God.
The word of the Lord that came and made a one-sided covenant that he completely keeps sounds a lot like Jesus.
In Matthew 26:28, Jesus says, “For this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.” Jesus poured out his blood to make a covenant with us for the forgiveness of sins.
In Jeremiah 31, God says this covenant that Jesus would make is not like the covenant that he made with Israel after he brought them out of Egypt. That covenant had obligations on that needed to be fulfilled by both parties. Basically, if you, Israel, keep these laws and statutes, then I, God, will bless you.
The covenant that Jesus would make would be kept completely by him. It be completed and kept by one party, not two. Jeremiah 31:33-34 says, “For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall me by people. And no longer shall each one teach his neighbor and each his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, declares the Lord. For I will forgive their iniquity and I will remember their sin no more.”
Everything is done by the Lord in this covenant. But, through this covenant, all will know the Lord directly. He will be in their hearts to direct them personally.
Hebrews 13:20-21 says, “Now may the God of peace who brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, the great shepherd of the sheep, by the blood of the eternal covenant, equip you with everything good that you may do his will, working in us that which is pleasing in his sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory forever and ever. Amen.”
Jesus was the word of the Lord that came to Abram to make a one-sided covenant completely fulfilled by him alone. And, Jesus is the one that comes to make a one-sided covenant with us that is completely fulfilled by him. Note that Jesus will “equip you with everything good to do his will.” It is Jesus “working in us that which is pleasing in his sight.”
THE WORD OF THE LORD IS A SHIELD
The first time the word of the Lord appears in scripture in Genesis 15:1 he says to Abram, “Fear not, Abram, I am your shield.” The word of the Lord said this to Abram after he had delivered Lot and all his people and possessions from the enemy.
David wrote Psalm 18 on the day when the Lord delivered him from all his enemies. In Psalm 18:30, David says, “This God – his way is perfect; the word of the Lord proves true; he is a shield for all those who take refuge in him.”
“The word of the Lord proves true.” Jesus is the way. And, Jesus is the truth. But, not only that, Jesus is also our shield.
Hebrews 12:2 says that Jesus is “the founder and perfecter of our faith.” How does Jesus give us this faith? Romans 10:17 says, “So faith comes by hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.” And, Ephesians 6:16 says that “in all circumstances take up the shield of faith.”
So, Jesus both gives and completes our faith. We receive that faith by hearing the word of Christ, that is Jesus himself. And having received faith through the word of Christ, we have the shield of faith we can use in every circumstance.
THE WORD OF THE LORD IN ACTS
The book of Acts contains some very interesting uses of the phrase “the word of the Lord.” Almost all of these show that the phrase means much more than some spoken or written words. Indeed, most of the time “the word of the Lord” in Acts is referring directly to Jesus.
In Acts 11:16, Peter says, “And I remembered the word of the Lord, how he said, ‘John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.'” Peter calls the word of the Lord a he. Peter directly says that the word of the Lord is Jesus because he remembered something that Jesus, the word of the Lord, said.
Acts 13:46-49 says, “And Paul and Barnabas spoke out boldly, saying, ‘It was necessary that the word of God be spoken first to you. Since you thrust it aside and judge yourselves unworthy of eternal life, behold, we are turning to the Gentiles. For so the Lord has commanded us, saying, “I have made you a light for the Gentiles, that you may bring salvation to the ends of the earth.”‘ And when the Gentiles heard this, they began rejoicing and glorifying the word of the Lord, and as many as were appointed to eternal life believed. And the word of the Lord was spreading throughout the whole region.”
In this passage, the word of God spoken to the Jews is linked to the word of the Lord. When the Gentiles heard the word of God was being given to them as a light for salvation, the glorified the word of the Lord. The Gentiles weren’t glorifying the message that Paul and Barnabas brought. They weren’t glorifying the words Paul and Barnabas used. No, they were glorifying Jesus, the word of the Lord.
And, the word of the Lord spread through the whole region. This doesn’t mean that the actual words Paul and Barnabas spoke continued to spread. It doesn’t mean that scriptures of the Bible continued to spread. Writings and books don’t spread. No, Jesus, the word of the Lord continued to spread because each new believer expanded the territory in the earth that his body occupied.
Acts 15:35 says, “But Paul and Barnabas remained in Antioch, teaching and preaching the word of the Lord, with many others also.” This does not mean Paul and Barnabas were teaching the scriptures. It doesn’t mean they were teaching the Bible. The Bible didn’t even exist yet. And, the Bible is not the word of God. No, they were preaching and teaching Jesus, the word of the Lord.
In 1 Corinthians 1:23, Paul says, “we preach Christ crucified.” Paul explains this further in 1 Corinthians 2:2 when he says, “For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.”
THE WORD OF THE LORD IS JESUS
In Acts 13:46-49, we saw the word of the Lord was linked to the word of God. They are one and the same.
John 1:1-2 says, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God.” Here, the Word of God is clearly identified as a he, a person. That person is Jesus Christ.
John 1:14 says, “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.” I find this fascinating because when the Word of God became flesh, when Jesus became flesh, the phrase the word of the Lord was never used.
I don’t know if you noticed, but the phrase the word of the Lord was never used in the gospels. That is, during Jesus’ earthly life in the flesh, the phrase the word of the Lord is never mentioned. But, after he died, was resurrected, and ascended back to heaven, the phrase the word of the Lord returns in the book of Acts. I think this clearly shows that the word of the Lord is the spiritual coming, the spiritual manifestation, of Jesus, the son of God, from heaven. The word of the Lord is the non-flesh-and-blood-as-we-have Jesus.
We must also remember that only those instances were the word of the Lord is doing something that Jesus in the flesh would have done are actually the word of the Lord. Just as not everything attributed to God in the Old Testament is actually an act of God, so too everything attributed to the word of the Lord in the Old Testament is not actually an act of the word of the Lord.
Nevertheless, when we see the phrase the word of the Lord, we need to first think of Jesus. We need remember that this is Jesus acting. Jesus didn’t just start working when he has born in the flesh. He has always been at work in his creation.