When God speaks, we should listen. That is, after all, the prudent thing to do. However, my own experience is littered with countless occasions when God has indeed spoken to me and I have chosen not to listen, or decided to do it my way. Now, I should add that my experience of God speaking has only involved an audible voice on one occasion and then only one word was spoken – my name. Nothing else. But, just because we don’t always hear an audible voice, it doesn’t mean that He doesn’t speak loudly to us. He does. He speaks through situations; through relationships; through tribulations; through love; through nature; through just about anything you can imagine. Not unlike Balaam, He once spoke to me through someone I considered to be a right donkey.
It is likely that His most common method of speaking to us is through His written word. In the pages of the Bible we can find more about the person and nature of God than through perhaps any other method. If you want to get to know Him, the Bible is the best place to start. If we just take the Tanakh (that is the Old Testament) as an example, we find Him there in every chapter. He teaches us first from those pages. In the accounts of the giants of faith and of those early settlers in the land of Canaan we learn how He is in His dealings with people. We come face to face with the expectations He has upon us. We see His love, and His anger. It’s all there in those pages. And, of course, we know that He never changes. He has never changed, and He never will. He is consistent in all things. This consistency is laid out for us in the pages of the Old Testament, in particular. From the very beginning, when He brought everything into existence by His very word, He has used speech to get His message to us. Sometimes He spoke directly to people, at other times His Holy Spirit provided inspiration by which words were recorded. Everything that has been written down in those pages is for the benefit of those who read it.
It should come as no suprise, therefore, that as fallen creatures who are programmed to make mistakes, that one of God’s main intentions of allowing the preservation of His written word should be to enable us to learn from the mistakes made by the people to whom He spoke.
The Old Testament is filled to the brim with accounts of God speaking and the people to whom He had spoken failing to follow His instructions. Each of these accounts are multi-faceted. As well as being historical records of how the nation of Isra’el was called out of Egypt to the land which was promised to them, they frequently have a prophetic meaning for a future event, and often, a metaphorical significance for both individuals and groups of people, such as the church.
A good example of this might be that of Joseph revealing himself to his brothers on their second time of coming to Egypt to buy grain. They fail to recognise Joseph. Finally Joseph reveals himself to them and a reunion ensues. You can find the account in Genesis 45. Whilst it clearly records an historical event in the birth of the nation of Isra’el, it is also a prophetic picture of Yeshua coming to the Hebrews the first time when they failed to recognise Him. Like Joseph, it will take a second coming before His true identity is revealed to them. And, the account is filled with metaphors from which countless preachers in the church have been able to draw upon over the centuries.
Sometimes, however, there are simply just some great examples which God has ensured we have written down that we might learn lessons from without having to endure the suffering that the stories contain. I would like to draw your attention to three such accounts from Isra’el’s rich history. The first takes us on a journey back to around 1500 BC and the failure of Moses to do what He had heard God say:
The scene is set in the wilderness of modern day northern Saudi Arabia, at a place known as Kadesh. It is after the giving of the Ten Commandments and the sending of the spies into Canaan. Moses and Aaron had a sister, Miriam, who had just died and they came, once more, to a place with no water. Previously, shortly after crossing the Red Sea, they had experienced a similar problem. Then, the Hebrews started to complain to Moses. Moses complained to God and God told him to strike a particular rock with his rod and water gushed out. Enough to satisfy all of the people and livestock. Now at Kadesh, the Hebrews complained to Moses and Aaron again. Here’s Moses’ account of what happened from the book of Numbers:
“So Moses and Aaron went from the presence of the assembly to the door of the tabernacle of meeting, and they fell on their faces. And the glory of Yehovah appeared to them.
Then Yehovah spoke to Moses, saying,
“Take the rod; you and your brother Aaron gather the congregation together. Speak to the rock before their eyes, and it will yield its water; thus you shall bring water for them out of the rock, and give drink to the congregation and their animals.”
So Moses took the rod from before Yehovah as He commanded him.
And Moses and Aaron gathered the assembly together before the rock; and he said to them, “Hear now, you rebels! Must we bring water for you out of this rock?”
Then Moses lifted his hand and struck the rock twice with his rod; and water came out abundantly, and the congregation and their animals drank.
Then Yehovah spoke to Moses and Aaron. “Because you did not believe Me, to hallow Me in the eyes of the children of Isra’el, therefore you shall not bring this assembly into the land which I have given them.” ” [Numbers 20:6-12]
It is fairly easy to spot Moses’ mistake – God told him to speak to the rock; he chose, instead, to hit it with the rod. The consequences, however, were anything but easy. Because he failed to do exactly what God had told him to do, Moses would never see the Promised Land, except from the top of a mountain on the east side of the Jordan. In that moment, when he doubted what God had said, and chose instead to do what worked last time, he failed to ‘hallow’ God. The word hallow simply means, in this instance, to honour God. God still caused the water to flow but Moses’ failure to follow instructions meant that he would never set foot in the very place which God had raised him up in order to lead the Hebrews to. You might be thinking that God’s punishment was a little harsh. It might seem that way but that is only your flesh talking. The truth is, if God had allowed that seed of disobedience to be carried across the Jordan into the Promised Land then Moses’ example would have been justification for all Isra’el to do the same when God spoke to them.
However, it wasn’t long after crossing the Jordan before Isra’el started to follow Moses’ example by not being obedient to what God had said to them. After the death of Moses, the task of getting Isra’el into the land of Canaan fell to Joshua. Their first set of instructions from Yehovah after crossing the Jordan was for all the males to be circumcised, which they carried out without incident. God then set about giving precise instructions for the taking of the city of Jericho. When you read the account (found in Joshua chapter 6) you will see that by following the instructions carefully, the city fell with very little effort from themselves. The people of Jericho were already scared of the Hebrew’s reputation because of the stories of God’s power which preceded them. God’s final set of commands before they entered the city was this:
“And you, by all means abstain from the accursed things, lest you become accursed when you take of the accursed things, and make the camp of Isra’el a curse, and trouble it.
But all the silver and gold, and vessels of bronze and iron, are consecrated to Yehovah; they shall come into the treasury of Yehovah.” [Joshua 6:18-19]
So we’re clear about what God said to the Hebrews, by accursed things, God was referring to the articles used by the people of Jericho in their acts of pagan worship. However, all the items which were made of the metals He mentioned would be made clean or purified and to be stored with the other items of precious metal in God’s own treasury. Simple enough really.
The trouble was that when the walls of Jericho fell and the Hebrews put the city to the sword, not everyone followed the instructions regarding the accursed items nor the precious metals. The disobedience isn’t uncovered immediately. God allows the people to continue for a while before revealing the disobedience. In fact, the consequences were seen before the sin was uncovered when the Hebrews tried to take the city of Ai they were heavily defeated.
So, in the face of that defeat Joshua attempts to take God to task by asking if God had brought them out of Egypt just to destroy them. Here’s God’s response:
“So Yehovah said to Joshua: “Get up! Why do you lie thus on your face? Isra’el has sinned, and they have also transgressed My covenant which I commanded them. For they have even taken some of the accursed things, and have both stolen and deceived; and they have also put it amongst their own stuff. Therefore the children of Isra’el could not stand before their enemies, but turned their backs before their enemies, because they have become doomed to destruction. Neither will I be with you anymore, unless you destroy the accursed from among you.” ” [Joshua 7:10-12]
You see, God simply couldn’t allow any hint of pagan religion creeping in. It was bad seed. He had to nip it in the bud before it took root. Achan, who had taken for his own, a Babylonian priestly garment, as well as silver and gold, was guilty of breaking the covenant by way of coveting things which neither belonged to him, nor glorified God, but he also failed to act upon what God has said. He died for his sins – stoned to death and burned with fire, along with the accursed item. Isra’el were cleansed again and the soil was once more ready to receive the seed of God’s word.
The third example I would like to draw your attention to comes from the account of Saul, first king of all Isra’el. By this time (around 1100 BC), Isra’el was well established in parts of Canaan but was surrounded on all sides by its enemies. Just as it is today. After a lengthy period when Isra’el had been ruled by a series of judges, God raised up Samuel to be His prophet. The prophet’s job was to stand in the gap between God and the people of Isra’el and ensure that God’s message was heard and carried out. Samuel had anointed Saul as king as instructed by God. The power went to Saul’s head early on, much to Samuel’s frustration.
One of the biggest problems for Isra’el was the amount of nations which they had failed to drive out of Canaan when they entered. God had ordered them to do so but they never quite did it as they should have. God had a real axe to grind with one particular nation, the Amalekites. They had attacked Isra’el when they came up out of Egypt and, because Isra’el were walking faithfully before God, God decided it was time for the Amalekites to be utterly destroyed. He told Samuel to tell Saul to go and utterly destroy them and all that they had. The instructions were very clear – let none survive. Do not spare anyone including women and children, and do not let any of their livestock survive. All must be killed. No exception.
However, Saul thought he knew better. He spared Agag, king of Amalek, as well as the choicest livestock. God spoke to Samuel and told him that Saul had turned his back on God and failed to carry out His commandments. Meanwhile, Saul had decided to set up a monument to himself for all to see to celebrate destroying the Amalekites. Samuel goes and finds him at Gigal. We pick the text up there:
“Then Samuel went to Saul, and Saul said to him, “Blessed are you of Yehovah! I have performed the commandment of Yehovah.”
But Samuel said, “What then is this bleating of the sheep in my ears, and the lowing of the oxen which I hear?”
And Saul said, “They have brought them from the Amalekites; for the people spared the best of the sheep and the oxen, to sacrifice to Yehovah your God; and the rest we have utterly destroyed.”
Then Samuel said to Saul, “Be quiet! And I will tell you what Yehovah said to me last night.” And he said to him, “Speak on.”
So Samuel said, “When you were little in your own eyes, were you not head of the tribes of Isra’el? And did not Yehovah anoint you king over Isra’el? Now Yehovah sent you on a mission, and said, ‘Go, and utterly destroy the sinners, the Amalekites, and fight against them until they are consumed.’ Why then did you not obey the voice of Yehovah? Why did you swoop down on the spoil, and do evil in the sight of Yehovah?”
And Saul said to Samuel, “But I have obeyed the voice of Yehovah, and gone on the mission on which Yehovah sent me, and brought back Agag king of Amalek; I have utterly destroyed the Amalekites. But the people took of the plunder, sheep and oxen, the best of the things which should have been utterly destroyed, to sacrifice to Yehovah your God in Gilgal.”
So Samuel said:
“Has Yehovah as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices, as in obeying the voice of Yehovah?
Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to heed than the fat of rams. For rebellion is as the sin of witchcraft, and stubbornness is as iniquity and idolatry. Because you have rejected the word of Yehovah, He also has rejected you from being king.” ” [1st Samuel 15:13-23]
Despite Saul repenting and asking for another chance, he didn’t get one. God couldn’t have his king disobeying Him. It is clear from what Samuel pronounced over Saul that God’s view is that obedience trumps everything. Take note that it is the small details which we must obey. To fail to carry God’s instructions is rebellion. It is clear that God counts that the same as He counts witchcraft. Think about that for a moment. Witchcraft. Who of you reading this would believe that they could partake in witchcraft and get away with it?
I don’t need to make a big speech about these three examples – God’s word is far more sufficient to do that for itself. The lessons which others have had to learn are there so that we don’t have to make the same mistakes. It is vital that each of us learn to hear what God (and God alone) is saying to each of us. Then we must act, exactly as He instructs us to do so. When God speaks to you in the future and you consider, even for a moment, doing it your way or allowing doubt’s voice to be heard over His, then remind yourself of Moses, and of Achan, and of Saul. It might well save your life.
In the next part of this series we shall move forward to the coming of Isra’el’s promised Messiah, for He is God’s word made into flesh.