Thus Said the Lord
Although not unheard of, it is rare that God speaks to us without us first calling out to Him. There are some exceptions to this which can be found throughout the Bible, but as far back as Genesis chapter four it is recorded that men called out to God:
“At that time men began to call on the name of the Lord.” [Genesis 4:26 NIV UK]
My guess is that men began to call upon the Lord’s name because of injustice or failing moral standards. That’s when we tend to call upon God’s name isn’t it? When we feel hard done by or treated unfairly by another. We call upon His name and expected Him to answer us or act.
Of course back in the garden, before the half-eaten fruit had even fallen to the floor of the pristine forest, we believe that God spoke to Adam and Eve face to face. Why wouldn’t He? They were without even the knowledge of sin, and therefore not subject to death. That was how God designed it: open dialogue between creator and created. To enjoy each other in close relationship, sharing in the experience of the surroundings. But, because Adam and Eve decided to trust what the serpent had said over what God had said, all was lost.
With banishment from the garden that particular method of communication was curtailed. And as the race of men fell further and further into depravity, and the effects of sin started to have consequences in the flesh of mankind as well as against each other, people began to call upon the name of God for help and justice.
Fast forward to Noah. We don’t know who opened the dialogue between God and Noah but I would like to suggest that Noah too had witnessed the decline and fall of man because he found favour in the eyes of the Lord (Genesis 6:8). So, that when God spoke to Noah in Genesis 6:13, I like to think that this was a response to Noah’s intercession.
If we fast forward again we find that God also spoke to Abram over the destruction of Sodom. Surely Abram would have been pleading with God over his nephew Lot and his family? Was God answering Abram’s prayers when He negotiated with Abram over Sodom? We don’t know because it doesn’t say. But from that we can see that because it is not explained to us we must accept that was some part of how He talked to us that God wishes to remain a mystery. And because we see no previous account of God speaking in any other method until Genesis chapter 28, we can believe that Jacob was the first to recognise that God spoken through a dream. The delivery system of dreams has continued ever since. Now, not all dreams are of God but some are. From Jacob onwards we see accounts of God speaking through dreams to Joseph, Pharaoh and even Nebuchadnezzar.
And in the midst of these dreams is the account of Moses and the burning bush. Yet another way in which God speaks to His subjects. Just to recap, so far that gives us face to face; dreams and Angels of the Lord in burning bushes as delivery systems for God talking to us.
After the exodus we start to see a more ordered and even religious methodology. Moses was responsible for the establishment of a dwelling place for God on earth in the shape of the tabernacle. God would use this dwelling place as a place to speak to His people. Throughout the 40 years in the Wilderness and following the crossing of the Jordan, God spoke to His people in this way.
Then with the coming of kings and full time prophets God changed-up again, using the prophet as His mouthpiece. This continued even after Solomon had built the first temple to be a permanent home for the Ark. Throughout the lives of the kings and even after the destruction of Jerusalem and the Babylonian exile, God choose His prophets to speak for Him. He put His words into their mouths that they might speak it out. And it appeared to end with Malachi. After that nothing for 400 years. Silence. No recorded prophet, no nothing.
But before we examine what came next, let us press the rewind button a while to a time before kings were kings in the nation of Israel; before a permanent home for the Ark of the Covenant had been found; and to the time of Moses once more.
Read Numbers 22. I shall be working from the New King James Version for the remainder of this study.
Points to consider:
Verse 6 – Balaam clearly has a reputation that stretches 400 miles from his home in Mesopotamia. What he blesses is blessed and what he curses is cursed. Balak, the King of Moab sends for him, knowing that he knows the secrets of the power of words.
Verse 7 – The diviners fee. Clearly this was a common practice with pre-defined fees. Balaam was a ‘mouth for hire’, so to speak.
Verse 8 – Balaam knows who God is, implying that he has spoken with Him before. In this verse Balaam says His name as YHWH or the Self-Existent and Eternal God. So, despite being (presumably) a gentile from Mesopotamia, Balaam was able to somehow tap into communication with the God of Israel.
Verse 12 – God makes it clear to Balaam that Israel is already blessed and cannot be cursed. We would do well these days to remember that for ourselves – we are blessed by God; we are His children and no curse spoken against us will prosper.
Verse 13 – Balaam takes this as a ‘no’ from God and sends Balak’s envoy away (400 miles – almost a month’s journey on foot!)
Verses 15-17 – Balaam’s reputation must have been fearsome. Balak could have easily routed the Israelites with a coalition of surrounding nations who were also threatened by the Jews. And yet, he persisted with Balaam who was some 400 miles away.
Verse 18 – Balaam clearly knows that there would be consequences for overstepping the mark with God, saying money makes no odds because it is impossible for him to do anything less or more than what God allows. This is very important. We need to learn this.
Now we get to the nitty-gritty of the account. We have established that Balaam obviously had some kind of relationship with God because he knew what God would allow and what He wouldn’t. Getting to know someone in this way suggests relationship. When Balak’s envoy returns Balaam decides to seek God again (verse 19) and it says:
“And God came to Balaam at night and said to him, “If the men come to call you, rise and go with them; but only the word which I speak to you – that you shall do.”” [Numbers 22:20]
I have often wondered why God became angry with Balaam as we see in verse 22. It wasn’t until I started to prepare for this study that I saw it. I have read the account many times and, at one point, even felt slightly sorry for Balaam. But what Balaam did roused God’s anger. Why? Because he didn’t follow the instructions.
God came to Balaam at night. We don’t know if this was in person or in a dream. My guess it was a dream and that is why the time of day is even mentioned. We know what God said to Balaam because it is recorded here. But what appears to have happened is that all Balaam actually heard was “Go”…
“So Balaam rose in the morning, saddled his donkey, and went with the princes of Moab.” [Numbers 22:21]
No mention of the men coming to Balaam to call him. He just took what God had said as a yes. How often have I done that? Not followed God’s instruction to the letter and found myself in a heap of trouble. Just as Balaam did. As you read on from verse 22 we see the famous account of the talking donkey. In this situation God intervened because Balaam hadn’t followed the instructions correctly. Sometimes we might find ourselves acting out what we believe God has said to us only to find opposition and resistance to what we are doing. Balaam couldn’t see the angel so he beat the donkey. How often have we done the same? It might not have been a talking donkey but that doesn’t mean that God didn’t send an angel just the same to stop us.
I wasn’t entirely sure why I had to use this particular example of how God speaks when I was preparing this study. Perhaps it was for God to ‘speak’ to me. I have certainly learnt something important from studying it. And that is what God is like isn’t it? Like Balaam we keep encountering resistance and beating the donkey, when all we need is our eyes opened. So, in future when I think that God has spoken to me, I am going to purpose to ask Him to open my eyes to what He has said first.
That covers an example of how God spoke back then, after the garden. We have also touched on the apparent 400 year silence after Malachi. But what happened to God speaking then?
Jesus came teaching a new way. A better way. He taught that the Kingdom of God was at hand – that is all around us and open to us. He taught that we no longer needed sacrifice and priests and a temple to hear from God. We could talk to God at any time and in any place we chose. He taught that God could be addressed as our Father and we could speak to him in the same way we would our earthly fathers. He taught that it was once more, just like the garden, based upon relationship.
And with the coming of the Holy Spirit He taught us that the temple of God – the dwelling place of God is now in our hearts. This meant a deeper relationship with the person of the Holy Spirit Himself. We believe in God and are filled with His Holy Spirit, who is our helper; our counsellor. No sacrifice required – it was already provided. We can approach the throne of God boldly because of that sacrifice, and speak directly to Him once again.
Does God still speak today? Yes. He still uses dreams and visions; He still sends us His word through prophets (and sometimes through donkeys too!); He still uses angels to declare His will; but now the focus is on what He says to us on the inside – in our hearts, where He dwells. He wants us to have that deep, close, heart to heart relationship that Adam and Eve had with Him.
Somebody said to me recently that what Jesus did on the cross was like ‘rebooting the system’ – like resetting it back to the way it was in the garden; Like pressing CTRL+ALT+DEL and hitting ‘restart’. When Jesus said ‘It is finished’, this somebody suggested that Jesus was letting us know that He has reset the system and we can operate just like they did in the garden…I think they might be right.