1.3.2 The Word: Knowledge & Communication
Volume 1: Foundations—Chapter 3.2
The Word: Knowledge & Communication
If we consider the vast dichotomy of scale, significance, or strength between our Creator and ourselves, it is remarkable—even astonishing—that He might want to communicate with us. Do elephants seek to converse with dust mites? Do humans take a personal interest in what individual bacteria might have to say? Of course not. And yet God, who is infinitely bigger than we are, has from the very beginning sought to communicate with man—as individuals—going so far as to equip us with the ability—unique in His creation—to “host” His eternal Spirit within ourselves. As amazing as it is, it appears (if our eyes are open) that God’s whole purpose in creating us was to share the most intimate sort of fellowship with us. He created us with the ability to think abstractly and communicate complex concepts verbally (also gifts unique to man, apparently) so that we might not only react to what He was doing, but also exchange dialog with Him.
So (as we saw in the previous chapter) Yahweh has made Himself known to those of us who want to know Him—who choose to know Him. To that end, He has manifested Himself in a variety of diminished forms, collectively called “the Word,” that reveal who He is and what He’s like in terms of personal relationship, personal contact. John told us that “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through Him, and without Him was not any thing made that was made. In Him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it…. And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen His glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.” (John 1:1-5, 14)
The word translated “Word” here is the Greek noun logos. The Dictionary of Biblical Languages with Semantic Domains lists ten definitions for logos, all of which have some bearing on Yahweh’s chosen method for revealing Himself to us: “1. Statement (that which is said); 2. Speech (the act of speaking); 3. Gospel (the content of what is preached about Christ); 4. Treatise (a systematic treatment of a subject); 5. Word (Message—a title for Christ); 6. Account (a record of assets and liabilities); 7. Reason (a cause for something); 8. Event (a matter or thing); 9. Appearance (what seems to be); and 10. Accusation (a legal charge of wrongdoing).” It seems that if you wanted to pick a word that communicated the sum total of God’s personal involvement in the collective life of our race, you couldn’t have chosen a better one than logos: Yahweh talks to us; He actively communicates. His “subject matter” is usually the Messiah, for Yahshua is the primary interface between us and His own undiminished existence. The systematic and comprehensive revelation of Yahshua’s mission explains how our spiritual liabilities can be reconciled with Yahweh’s holy assets. This is the reason, the cause, for the singular climactic historical event recorded in scripture—His appearance. The purpose of that appearance was to provide atonement—covering—for the sins with which we were rightly accused. All of that is summarized in the concept of the logos.
Logos appears 330 times in the Greek New Testament. Most of these instances refer to statements that were made—often either uttered by Yahshua personally or quoted from the Old Covenant scriptures, statements that reveal the mind of God. But the exceptions can provide new insight into the depth of the logos concept. For example, “Therefore the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his servants.” (Matthew 18:23) The word translated “accounts” is actually logos. The idea is that of communicating one’s worthiness or unworthiness by examining the evidence: the logos is a statement of what you say and do, and why. (And of course, it’s also a statement of what Yahweh has said and done, and why.) In a similar vein, the Jewish elders demanded to know by what authority Yahshua did and taught as He did (’cause it certainly wasn’t by theirs). “Jesus answered them, “I also will ask you one question, and if you tell me the answer, then I also will tell you by what authority I do these things.” (Matthew 21:24) The word translated “question” is logos. Yahshua was demanding that they account for their unbelief—to identify and communicate the reason for their irrational antagonism.
In Mark 4, Yahshua used the word logos seven times in the “parable of the sower” to explain what was meant by the seed that was being broadcast. “The sower sows the word.” Here, the word is obviously the content of the Good News, the Message of God’s redemption, personified in Yahshua the Messiah. It’s not so much what Yahshua said, though that’s part of it; it’s the sum total of His life and mission, from sacrifice, to the fulfillment of God’s promise of redemption, to glorification—including its effect on those of us who choose to embrace it: reconciliation with Yahweh leading to eternal life in Him. It is this comprehensive view of logos that Yahshua had in mind when He said, “Truly, I say to you, if anyone keeps my word, he will never see death.” (John 8:51)
There is a sobering application of this principle in Acts 8. A man named Simon, formerly a sorcerer, was confronted with the message of Christ and “got religion.” “Even Simon himself believed, and after being baptized he continued with Philip. And seeing signs and great miracles performed, he was amazed.” (Acts 8:13) But then Simon offered to pay for the power of God so he could bestow the Holy Spirit on people. So Peter rebuked him, declaring, “You have neither part nor lot in this matter, for your heart is not right before God. Repent, therefore, of this wickedness of yours, and pray to the Lord that, if possible, the intent of your heart may be forgiven you.” (Acts 8:21-22) The word translated “matter” here is logos. Peter was saying that although Simon intellectually believed the good news of the kingdom of God, the Word had not (as yet) had any effect on his life: in short, he was not saved, redeemed, or reconciled to Yahweh.
But how could this be? The record plainly says that he believed. He had even been baptized. The word translated “believe” is pisteuo, and it basically means: to think something to be true, to be persuaded of its veracity—even to place one’s confidence in it. But it doesn’t necessarily imply anything beyond mere acknowledgment that a thing is factual or that an event has actually occurred. As James put it, “But someone will say, ‘You have faith and I have works.’ Show me your faith apart from your works, and I will show you my faith by my works. You believe [pisteuo] that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe [pisteuo]—and shudder!” (James 2:18-19) Belief—assent to the facts—is a good, even essential, start. But to be reconciled to Yahweh, we must embrace His Word, His logos. It’s not enough to believe that God exists, or even that His Son died on Calvary to pay for our sins. Anybody with a firm grasp on reality can discover these things. We must move beyond belief to acceptance, to reliance. As we read above in John 8:51, we must keep His Word. “Keep” is tereo: to attend carefully; to keep in view, take care of or guard; to obey or observe; to keep on—i.e., to continue—in a state of being. If we do this, we will never see death.
The “Word” isn’t just a Renewed Covenant concept. A Hebrew word with virtually the same meaning as the Greek logos is ubiquitous in the Tanach, appearing 1,439 times. Dabar is a statement, saying, word, speech, or utterance; the act of speaking; an account, treatise, record, or accusation; a happening or event; an act, business, or occupation. If we recognize dabar as presenting the same concept as logos, certain passages jump out and bite us: “Yahweh spoke [dabar] to Moses, saying, ‘Take Aaron and his sons with him, and the garments and the anointing oil and the bull of the sin offering and the two rams and the basket of unleavened bread. And assemble all the congregation at the entrance of the tent of meeting.’ And Moses did as Yahweh commanded him, and the congregation was assembled at the entrance of the tent of meeting. And Moses said to the congregation, ‘This is the thing [dabar] that Yahweh has commanded to be done.’” (Leviticus 8:1-5) There are no fewer than ten Messianic symbols in these few short verses (all of which we’ll cover eventually)—and they’re all collectively described with a single designation: dabar.
And here’s a concept guaranteed to turn a rabbi’s hair white: “Yahweh said to Moses, ‘Write these words [dabar], for in accordance with these words [dabar] I have made a covenant with you and with Israel.’ So he was there with Yahweh forty days and forty nights. He neither ate bread nor drank water. And he wrote on the tablets the words [dabar] of the covenant, the Ten Commandments [dabar].” (Exodus 34:27-28) Follow the train of thought here: both the Law and the vehicle of the Covenant were dabar—God’s “Word.” But dabar is equivalent to logos. The Logos, the One who was with God and who was God, the One who “was made flesh and dwelled among us,” was Yahshua the Messiah. Therefore, the Torah, the commandments, the oracles, precepts, and covenants of Yahweh are all, in effect, Christ Himself!
But wait; it gets better. “Moses assembled all the congregation of the people of Israel and said to them, ‘These are the things [dabar] that Yahweh has commanded you to do. Six days work shall be done, but on the seventh day you shall have a Sabbath of solemn rest, holy to Yahweh. Whoever does any work on it shall be put to death. You shall kindle no fire in all your dwelling places on the Sabbath day.’” (Exodus 35:1-3) Yahshua the Messiah—the Dabar/Logos/Word—is our Sabbath rest. He personifies the conclusion of Yahweh’s plan of redemption. We’ll cover the whole work/rest symbol in detail later, but for now, let’s just tie a few seemingly random facts together:
(1) Creation was described as six days of God’s work followed by one day of rest, establishing what would be scripture’s most prevalent numerical pattern—six-plus-one, adding up to seven. The seven-day week, six days of work followed by the Sabbath day of rest, was instituted to echo God’s creation.
(2) Yahweh is inordinately serious about “keeping” the Sabbath, promising death to anyone who works on the “day of rest.” (Preview: that warning about kindling a fire is a metaphor: fire is symbolic of judgment. There will be no judgment on the ultimate Sabbath day for those who rest in Yahweh.)
(3) II Peter 3:8 equates one day in God’s mind to one thousand years in our experience, meaning (if I’m seeing this correctly) that His plan of redemption, from the fall of Adam to the conclusion of the Millennial Kingdom at the Great White Throne judgment, will span exactly seven thousand years. This means that the Millennial reign of Yahshua (that is, the final thousand-year stage of Yahweh’s seven-thousand-year plan) is the actual “day of rest” of which the weekly Sabbath is a prophetic symbol. (This “Millennium” is right around the corner, by the way.)
(4) Yahshua defined “doing the works of God” as “believing in Him whom He has sent” (see John 6:28-29)—in other words, Himself. To “believe” here is our old friend pisteuo—the “work” we are required to do consists merely of acknowledging the fact that Yahshua is God incarnate, and that He paid the penalty for our sins. Our “work” is for us to recognize that this is true, and to place our confidence in the fact. Our actual salvation, redemption, reconciliation, and sanctification, however, are not our job—they’re Yahweh’s work. It is He who creates new life within us. We have only to let Him do His work and embrace (tereo) the result.
(5) The “rest from our labors” spoken of so eloquently in the observance of the Sabbath, then, is nothing more or less than the state of having allowed Yahweh to redeem us. Our simple pisteuo-belief is all we can achieve on our own. The “rest” (the remainder and the repose) will be brought to fruition by the atoning work of Christ, if we will only allow Him to do so in our lives. The result will be that we are at last able to “keep” (tereo: carefully attend, keep in view, guard, observe, and continue in) His Word.
Although this state of rest is a fait accompli to believers in this life, don’t ignore the eschatological ramifications of the Sabbath. The Kingdom age is approaching like a freight train. People who refuse to “do the work of God” (i.e., assent to the fact of His love and provision, not to mention His existence) in the present age will find themselves prohibited from doing it in the next, for we may not “work” on the Sabbath. Yahshua—who is our Sabbath rest, personified—has already accomplished everything He’s going to. Remember, the Sun of Righteousness arose with healing in Her wings on the fourth day. It is finished.
Another Hebrew word that demonstrates Yahweh’s preoccupation with communication is the verb ’amar. It means to say, speak, utter, declare, tell, ask, answer, or promise. It’s used incessantly, over five thousand times in the Old Covenant, and a goodly percentage of those instances describe Yahweh speaking to someone, somebody reporting what He had said, or someone speaking to Yahweh. Speech—the capacity for communication—is really important to Yahweh. Man is apparently the only species blessed with the ability to communicate abstract concepts verbally, but if we look around us, we see that the entire biosphere is littered with examples of “speech.” And think beyond audible signals like the howling of a wolf or the song of a whale. I’m talking about the myriad of ways our Creator has devised for His creatures to communicate with each other and with their surroundings. Bats and dolphins employ sonar to navigate and locate food. Migratory animals “listen” and respond to the magnetic field of the earth. A spider “hears” vibrations in her web. Insects emit pheromones that impart information to their peers. Mating rituals employ “languages” that are as varied and exclusive as the animals speaking them.
I think Yahweh is trying to tell us through His creation that if we hope to enjoy anything beyond the most rudimentary and temporary existence, we must learn to listen to what He’s telling us. In our first look at Yahweh’s self-portrait, we were instructed to use our eyes to perceive the light of God’s persona. Here, we’re being admonished to open our ears to what He has to say. The Hebrew word shema is used to express this thought. Again, it appears every time you turn around—1,159 occurrences in the Old Covenant scriptures. Perhaps the most well known instance is the viscerally significant passage actually referred to as “The shema” by Orthodox Jews (because it begins with the word): “Hear, O Israel: Yahweh our God, Yahweh is one. You shall love Yahweh your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.” (Deuteronomy 6:4-5) Shema means to hear, to listen, or to receive news—with attention, interest, and understanding. It means to obey, to consent, to give heed, and to agree. There’s nothing optional about the word: it doesn’t mean to merely consider something, to think it over, or “take it under advisement.” It doesn’t allow you to ignore the message or treat it as background noise. We must not listen to God’s Word the same way we “listen” to the music piped into our dentist’s office.
Shema invariably carries with it a warning, admonition, or encouragement. A few verses from Isaiah will demonstrate. First, the bad news for those who refuse to hear God’s word: “Now, go, write it before them on a tablet and inscribe it in a book, that it may be for the time to come as a witness forever. For they are a rebellious people, lying children, children unwilling to hear [shema] the instruction of Yahweh.” (Isaiah 30:8-9) “I will destine you to the sword, and all of you shall bow down to the slaughter, because, when I called, you did not answer; when I spoke [dabar], you did not listen [shema], but you did what was evil in My eyes and chose what I did not delight in.” (Isaiah 65:12) The Hebrew dabar, you’ll recall, is equivalent to the Greek logos. Yahweh is saying, for all intents and purposes, that disaster looms for those who refuse to attentively heed His Messiah—the Word made flesh. On the other hand, there’s good news for those who are receptive to Him: “Listen [shema] to Me, you who know righteousness, the people in whose heart is My law; fear not the reproach of man, nor be dismayed at their revilings. For the moth will eat them up like a garment, and the worm will eat them like wool; but My righteousness will be forever, and My salvation [yâshuw`ah, the Messiah’s name] to all generations.” (Isaiah 51:7-8)
It’s clear, then, that hearing Yahweh—paying heed to what He’s telling us in His Word and through His Spirit—is to be our pursuit. Good things await those who do, and destruction is decreed for those who do not. But our ability to hear God is dependent upon our willingness to do so. Every single one of the seven letters to the seven called-out assemblies of Asia in Revelation 2 and 3 included the phrase, “He who has an ear to hear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches [ekklesia—the called-out].” (e.g. Revelation 3:6) This implies that there are some—even within the ekklesia, who don’t have an ear to hear—they have lost (or abandoned) the ability to discern what Yahweh is telling them.
How could this be? It is instructive to read the instructions given to Isaiah: “And I heard the voice of my Lord [Hebrew: adonay—probably Yahweh (vs. 5) but maybe one of the seraphim (vs. 6)] saying, ‘Whom shall I send, and who will go for Us?’ Then I said, ‘Here am I! Send me.’ And He said, ‘Go, and say to this people: ‘Keep on hearing, but do not understand; keep on seeing, but do not perceive. Make the heart of this people dull, and their ears heavy, and blind their eyes; lest they see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and understand with their hearts, and turn and be healed.” (Isaiah 6:8-10) Israel’s unwillingness to hear and heed Yahweh’s Word would be met with a disability imposed upon them: they would henceforth be unable to discern God’s truth. And this fate is not reserved for Israel alone; it could happen to anyone who refuses to listen to Yahweh.
Paul’s letter to the Romans makes it clear that this spiritual blindness and deafness is a self-imposed malady: the reason evil men don’t hear is that they don’t want to hear—and they don’t want you to hear, either. “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth.” The truth isn’t intrinsically hidden or hard to understand. Rather, men have purposely hidden it. “For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For His invisible attributes, namely, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse....”
All one has to do to perceive the glory of God is to look at His creation. Atheism often seems to be a religion for people with bad math skills—who can’t put two and two together. But nobody is that stupid: this is the purposeful repression of the knowledge of God, perpetrated in the pursuit of unrighteousness. “For although they knew God, they did not honor Him as God or give thanks to Him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and reptiles….” The worship of birds and animals isn’t terribly popular any more (except among environmentalists). These days such primitive paganism has been swept aside and replaced with the more insidious worship of mortal man—an idol every bit as ridiculous. The sad fact is, the vast majority of people today venerate not Yahweh, but false gods, whether overt (like Allah) or covert—counterfeit Christs or cynical substitutes. And don’t kid yourself. Atheistic secular humanism—the worship of man—is a religion in the worst sense of the word, aggressively proselytizing among the world’s apathetic, unaffiliated, and ignorant masses, “suppressing the truth in unrighteousness.”
So we see that as Yahweh reserves the right to withhold sight from those who refuse to see, He’s willing to stop the ears of men who rebel against the Word of truth. Yes, God is very serious about letting us make our own choices. But if we slam the door in His face often enough, He will simply lock it, leaving us to the fate we ourselves have chosen. “And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a debased mind to do what ought not to be done. They were filled with all manner of unrighteousness, evil, covetousness, malice. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, maliciousness. They are gossips, slanderers, haters of God, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, foolish, faithless, heartless, ruthless.” I don’t want to sound like an alarmist, but these evil things characterize our world today as never before. Worse, they are not the result of ignorance or apathy, but the consequence of choice. “Though they know God’s decree that those who practice such things deserve to die, they not only do them but give approval to those who practice them.” (Romans 1:18-23, 28-32) Yahweh makes a distinction between those who merely live in error and those who actively promote it. It’s one thing to choose darkness for yourself; it’s quite another to hide the light from others. Suicide is stupid, but at least it’s your choice; murder, on the other hand, is a crime punishable by death.
Communication is a two-way street: we must not only listen to what Yahweh has to say (and He speaks to us in many different ways), but also speak to Him—respond, answer, converse, even petition. And because nothing is hidden from Him, speaking about Yahweh is pretty much the same thing as speaking to Him: “Come and hear, all you who fear God, and I will tell what He has done for my soul. I cried to Him with my mouth, and high praise was on my tongue. If I had cherished iniquity in my heart, Yahweh would not have listened. But truly God has listened; He has attended to the voice of my prayer. Blessed be God, because He has not rejected my prayer or removed His steadfast love from me!” (Psalm 66:16-20) It’s sobering, of course, to realize that Yahweh pointedly ignores the prayers of those who “cherish iniquity in their hearts.” That doesn’t mean we must be perfect in order for God to hear us, but it does mean that our love must be for Him, not for our sin, if we wish to be heard. “Oh God, help me rob this bank” is a prayer that doesn’t have a prayer.
And here’s a concept that might give one pause: Yahweh eavesdrops. “And Yahweh heard your words, when you spoke to me. And Yahweh said to me, ‘I have heard the words of this people, which they have spoken to you. They are right in all that they have spoken. Oh that they had such a mind as this always, to fear Me and to keep all My commandments, that it might go well with them and with their descendants forever!” (Deuteronomy 5:28-29) Like I said, what we say about Yahweh is heard by Him.
As small children, we were appropriately terrified when daddy raised his voice. So it shouldn’t be too surprising to read about God’s “voice” demonstrating His awesome power or announcing His judgment—dozens of times in scripture. For instance, “The voice of Yahweh is over the waters; the God of glory thunders, Yahweh, over many waters. The voice of Yahweh is powerful; the voice of Yahweh is full of majesty. The voice of Yahweh breaks the cedars; Yahweh breaks the cedars of Lebanon. He makes Lebanon to skip like a calf, and Sirion like a young wild ox. The voice of Yahweh flashes forth flames of fire. The voice of Yahweh shakes the wilderness; Yahweh shakes the wilderness of Kadesh. The voice of Yahweh makes the deer give birth and strips the forests bare, and in His temple all cry, ‘Glory!’” (Psalm 29:3-9) The word translated “voice” here is qowl: a voice (either of man or God), sound, or noise—anything from the music of an instrument to the crash of thunder.
Typical of passages describing God’s voice as a weapon is this vignette of His defense of Zion—probably during the battle of Armageddon. “But the multitude of your [i.e., Jerusalem’s] foreign foes shall be like small dust, and the multitude of the ruthless like passing chaff. And in an instant, suddenly, you will be visited by Yahweh of hosts with thunder and with earthquake and great noise [qowl], with whirlwind and tempest, and the flame of a devouring fire. And the multitude of all the nations that fight against Ariel [literally, the “Lion of God”—Jerusalem], all that fight against her and her stronghold and distress her, shall be like a dream, a vision of the night.” (Isaiah 29:5-7) That’s the “voice” Yahweh’s enemies will hear when He’s angry.
But does He speak to His own children in the same tone? Apparently not. At one point, the prophet Elijah felt like he was the last believer on the face of the earth. In fear and frustration, he fled from Queen Jezebel, hid out in a cave, and cried out to God. We can almost imagine His Fatherly arm around his shoulder as Yahweh asked him, “What are you doing here, Elijah? Go outside and stand before Me.” “And a great and strong wind tore the mountains and broke in pieces the rocks before Yahweh, but Yahweh was not in the wind. And after the wind an earthquake, but Yahweh was not in the earthquake. And after the earthquake a fire, but Yahweh was not in the fire.” It was as if Yahweh was telling his servant that these terrifying manifestations were reserved for His enemies, but His children would not have to be confronted with such awesome display. “And after the fire the sound of a low whisper [qowl].” (I Kings 19:11-12) That’s how Yahweh spoke to His frightened, faithful child—in a still, small, voice.
No, God doesn’t have to “raise His voice” to us. If we’re His children, we’re already listening intently, hungering for knowledge, begging for understanding, and craving close, intimate fellowship with Him. We welcome Yahweh’s communication with us, for we know that when He speaks, His Word brings us that much closer to Him. And we know that He is just as eager to hear from us as we are to hear from Him. But let’s be honest. Sometimes we tune Him out. Or we imagine He’s talking to somebody else. Or we assume that we’ve done as He instructed, when we’ve actually been following our own path, our own traditions. The Torah in particular is neglected by Christians because we think it’s only for our siblings, the Jews. But its lessons are for us. He who has ears to hear, let him hear what the Spirit says!