The People of Israel and the Word of God

The People of Israel and the Word of God

In continuation of the series on preaching, I believe it’s essential to examine the centrality of God’s Word in the life of the Israel.  In the previous post in this series, I pointed out the priority of Scripture in the life of Israel from Exodus 19-20.  In continuation of the series, I want to point out how Israel viewed the Word of God as sufficient, a guiding light, and a necessity for life and worship.

The Sufficient Word – Psalm 19

John MacArthur writes, “The Reformation principle of sola Scriptura has to do with the sufficiency of Scripture as your supreme authority in all spiritual matters.  Sola Scriptura simply means that all truth necessary for our salvation and spiritual life is taught either explicitly or implicitly in Scripture.”[1] As God gave the Israelites the law at Mount Sinai through Moses, they learned what God expected in a more clear fashion and they also saw the character of God revealed in the law.  Moses started writing (Exod 24:4), and although God continued to speak through prophets to the people, they were also receiving the unfolding of God’s divine Word as He inspired the canon of Scripture.  God continued to use others to write down and record His message of truth for His people.

Psalm 19 was written through the hand of King David.  David was called a man after God’s own heart, but he was also a man who walked a path of disobedience where he received the chastening hand of God.  In Psalm 19, we are provided a glimpse into David’s hunger for God’s Word.  In the days of Moses, God gathered the people around His Word.  In the days of David, the people of God continued to need God’s Word.  Psalm 19:7-14 is a testimony of the sufficiency of God’s Word for God’s people.  This beautiful Psalm reveals the sufficiency of God’s Word that transcends time and culture.  David had walked with God closely, experienced distance from God because of his sin, and he had likewise experienced the sweetness of a restored fellowship between himself and God.  It is in this text that David records the sufficiency and the nourishment of God’s Word in the lives of His people.

The children of God have received specific instructions of how to live their lives.  God has supplied the answers in His Word – and it alone remains sufficient.  From Psalm 19, we see that David makes reference to key areas of life and points out the sufficiency of God’s Word.  From the knowledge of God and His saving plan through Christ to the daily choices we make – the Word of God is capable of guiding us and instructing us in our journey of faith.  The Bible and the Bible alone (Sola Scriptura) is sufficient to provide us with all truth essential for salvation. Whether explicitly or implicitly, everything necessary for faith and life can be found in Scripture.[2] The people of Israel seemed to grasp this truth at times, and like our present culture, they also walked away from God while trusting in their own way of life and worship.  That cycle would continue to unfold all throughout Israel’s history, and although God would chasten them for disobedience, He would always remain true to His covenant, which was recorded in His sufficient Word.

David declared that the Law of the LORD is perfect and it converts the soul.  The word “perfect” used here by David is the Hebrew word תָּמִים, which literally means to be complete.  As David examined the Word of God, he noticed that it lacked in nothing.  It was a complete testimony of God and His saving plan.  The Word of the LORD, according to David, was not insufficient in any area of life or worship.  The only source available to man whereby he can see himself, his sin, his need, his inability, and the sweet salvation that comes through Jesus Christ is the Word of God.  It is the Law of God that reveals man’s inability and points to the Christ, the One who has fully completed the Law of God in ways that Adam nor any other man is capable.

The Word of God as Guiding Light to Israel – Psalm 119

Psalm 119 is the longest psalm in our Bible and has been called the longest “chapter” in the entire Bible as well.  The lengthy psalm is rich and full of great truths that demonstrate the importance of God’s Word for the nation of Israel.  John Phillips points out, “The psalmist uses eight synonyms for the Word of God…He uses the word Torah (‘law’ or ‘instruction’) 24 times; Edoth (‘testimonies’) 19 times; Mitsoth (‘commandments’) 22 times; (‘judgments,’ ‘decisions,’ or ‘appointments’) 22 times; Debar (‘Word’) 22 times; and Imrath (‘word,’ ‘promise,’ or ‘saying’) 20 times.”[3] In fact, they cherished the righteous rules and commands of the LORD God of Israel.  This psalm reveals the insight of someone who loves God and as a result – loves His commandments.  This psalm points out the connection between the love for God and the love for His Word.

For the children of Israel, the Word of God was a light to lead them through the dark paths of this sinful world.  God had provided His lamp to His people, and they viewed it as a treasure.  The psalmist writes, in Psalm 119:105, “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.”  The psalmist was pointing out that the Word of God is profitable to guide him along the dark path in order to prevent his feet from falling.  In Psalm 119:130, the psalmist writes, “The unfolding of your words gives light; it imparts understanding to the simple.”  The point the psalmist was making about the Word is that it gives light and imparts understanding.  That point was referenced by John Newton in his famous hymn, Amazing Grace, as he said, “I once was lost, but now am found, was blind, but now I see.”  God’s Word gives light and enables the spiritually blind man to see and understand the gospel.

Psalm 119 is an acrostic consisting of 22 stanzas, each containing eight verses.  It was originally composed in this format for the purpose of memorization.  The Israelites loved the Word, and they spent much time internalizing it in order that they would be able to recall it in decision making moments of their individual lives.  They placed much priority upon the Word and viewed it as a lamp for their lives.  The law of God is emphasized in this psalm, and one of the overarching purposes of the law is to reveal the guilt and inability of man to reconcile himself to God the Father.  Through the lamp of God’s Word, the Israelites were led to reconciliation and given the knowledge of God that is valuable for their practical and spiritual lives (Ps 119:107-112). The psalmist points out in Psalm 119:160 that the Word of God is “truth” and “endures forever.”  Unlike a lamp that burns for a short time and then fades away, the lamp of God’s Word burns bright with an everlasting light that leads, guides, convicts, stirs the heart of man, and lifts people to the heights of praise. Psalm 119 provides a clear testimony regarding the importance of God’s Word in the life of the Israelite people.  Commenting on Psalm 119:105, John Calvin writes, “Let us, then, be assured that an unerring light is to be found there, provided we open our eyes to behold it.  The Apostle Peter (2 Epist. i.19) has more plainly expressed the same sentiment, when he commends the faithful for taking heed to the word of prophecy, ‘as unto a light that shineth in a dark place.’”[4]

The Dependence of Israel upon God’s Word – Nehemiah 8

The way people respond to God’s Word often demonstrates the level of importance that God’s Word has in their lives.  A survey of Nehemiah 8 provides a clear picture of how Israel reverenced God’s Word, but a closer examination demonstrates the reverence, respect, and careful handling of God’s Word by the leaders.  When people gather with expectancy for God’s Word it shows their hunger for God.  The way people explain God’s Word shows their respect for God.  In this chapter, the people are hungry for God and leaders reverence God, and the whole scene provides important information for us as we gather for the Word of God each week. “The whole community, v 2 emphasizes, gathered to hear it; they anticipated the reading with a sense of reverent expectancy (6); and they listened attentively throughout the lengthy exposition (3). As the sequel shows, such an attitude allows God’s word to have its maximum impact on the hearers.”[5]

All people, both men and women, and all who could understand gathered in the square before the Water Gate to hear the book of the Law of Moses.  The text explains that they all listened from “early morning until midday” as the Word was explained.  The people listened attentively as they expected to hear from God.  If a congregation will not listen with an expository ear, the best expositors in the world will not be able to effectively feed them the truth.  Skill in explaining the Word is necessary for God’s people to receive the truth, but it is also extremely important for the congregation to have attentive and expository ears for God’s Word.  The people of God in Nehemiah’s day had ears that were ready to listen to God speak as they gathered in the square to hear Ezra read from God’s Word.

As the priests assisted Ezra in the explanation of the Word of God, the people were given the ability to understand (discern) the meaning of the Word of God.  The general law of God had been made fresh and personally applicable by the explanation of the priests.  The account goes on to describe the priests reading the law of God clearly so that they “gave the sense” and caused the people to understand.  The phrase, “gave the sense” is one single Hebrew word, שֵׂכֶל, which means “to give insight.”  It becomes clear that the priests were doing more than reading, they were explaining the Word to the people.  The task given to these men in Nehemiah 8 is strikingly similar to the task of the modern preacher who stands up before people with the task of explaining it each week.  In fact, one of the distinguishable qualifications for the pastor is that he is able to teach the Word.  This refers to explaining the text in much the same way as the priests did in this Old Testament setting.

This chapter provides us with a fresh reminder of the importance of God’s Word for the people of Israel.  It should be just as important for the modern church congregation who gathers each week to hear God speak.  It does not matter if you are a Levite priest in the days of Nehemiah standing on a “platform of wood” built especially for the occasion of speaking for God or if you are a modern day pastor who stands up before crowds of people in a modern sanctuary with track lighting and a glass podium, the task of preaching has not changed.  John Stott has rightly described the job of the preacher by saying, “Our task is to enable God’s revealed truth to flow out of the Scriptures into the lives of the men and women of today.”[6]

Pastor Josh Buice


[1]John MacArthur, “The Sufficiency of the Written Word” in Sola Scriptura (Lake Mary, FL: Reformation Trust, 2009), 79.

[2]Storms, Sam. “Authority and Method in Theology. http://www.enjoyinggodministries.com/article/authority-and-method-in-theology (accessed February 4, 2012).

[3]John Phillips, Exploring Psalms, vol. 2, An Expository Commentary (Grand Rapids: Kregel, 1988), 261.

[4]John Calvin, Commentary Upon the Book of the Psalms, trans. and ed. James Anderson, vol. 6 of Calvin’s Commentaries (reprint, Grand Rapids:  Baker, 2009), 480.

[5]D. A. Carson, “Nehemiah.” In New Bible Commentary. 4th ed. Downers Grove, IL: Intervarsity Press, 1994. Intervarsity Press, 1994.  Logos Bible Software.

[6]John Stott, Between Two Worlds (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1982), 138.

 

No TweetBacks yet. (Be the first to Tweet this post)

Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>