God Speaks to His People

“God, who at sundry times and in divers manners spake in time past unto the fathers by the prophets, hath in these last days spoken unto us by his Son.” —Hebrews 1:1,2

THE very thought of hearing the voice of God is staggering, yet the Scriptures reveal that throughout the ages the people of God have heard his voice. We are told that Adam and Eve “heard the voice of the Lord God walking in the garden in the cool of the day.” (Gen. 3:8) We need not suppose that the great Creator of the universe personally visited our first parents in Eden. Other scriptures indicate that God frequently used one or more of his holy angels to communicate the desired information, and it would not be unreasonable to conclude that this was the method used by God in the Garden of Eden and on many other occasions where he is referred to as speaking to his people.

The Scriptures inform us that God spoke to his servant Abraham, and in some instances we are distinctly told that the message was conveyed by “the angel of the Lord.” The record indicates that prior to the giving of the Law and the availability of the written messages of the inspired prophets, God often spoke directly to his servants, and probably the angels were the “ministering spirits” used. But with the coming into existence of the inspired writings of the prophets, along with the teachings of Jesus and his inspired twelve apostles, God has no longer used the angels in the very personal way he formerly did.

Our text indicates that beginning with the first advent of Jesus, God’s beloved Son has been his main spokesman in conveying to his people an understanding of his will through the divine plan of the ages. In prayer Jesus said of his apostles, “I have given unto them the words which thou gayest me.” Again, “I have given them thy word,” and, “Sanctify them through thy truth: thy word is truth. As thou hast sent me into the world, even so have I also sent them into the world.”—John 17:8,14,17,18

While all consecrated followers of the Master are commissioned to proclaim the Gospel throughout the world, Jesus, in this prayer, was speaking of his apostles to whom he had specially conveyed God’s Word, and whom he would still further enlighten when the Holy Spirit would come upon them. These were to be “the twelve apostles of the Lamb,” with Paul later taking the place of Judas. Through these infallible servants, the message of truth as given by Jesus was to be expanded and, where need be, interpreted.

While Jesus became the Father’s chief exponent of truth, it should be remembered that his teachings were based upon the writing of the Old Testament Scriptures. Even a casual reading of the four Gospel accounts of Jesus’ ministry will impress us with the extent to which Jesus drew upon the Old Testament in presenting the Gospel of the kingdom. And later the infallible apostles did the same, and in doing this both Jesus and the apostles furnished valuable clues and keys for unlocking those inspired words which the Father gave unto the fathers through the prophets.

By noting the many New Testament references to the Old Testament Scriptures we come to realize that the whole of the divine plan had been recorded by the prophets, not in an orderly and sequential way but, as Paul explains, “at sundry times and in divers manners.” However, the “fathers” did not understand the meaning of those prophetic messages—except those intermingling of details pertaining to their local situations at the time. Even the prophets themselves did not comprehend the meaning of what they wrote pertaining to the divine plan. Peter wrote concerning the prophets, “Unto whom it was revealed, that not unto themselves, but unto us they did minister the things, which are now reported unto you by them that have preached the Gospel unto you with the Holy Spirit sent down from heaven; which things the angels desire to look into.”—I Pet. 1:12

The Heavens Opened

When, at the beginning of his ministry Jesus was baptized, the “heavens were opened unto him.” This suggests an opening of the mind to understand the precious truths of the divine plan which he had come to carry out. Jesus had come to do all that had been written of him “in the volume of the book,” and now the Heavenly Father revealed to him through the enlightening power of the Holy Spirit the full meaning of that which had been written. (Ps. 40:7) With the coming of the Holy Spirit upon Jesus he was equipped to carry on his ministry, being guided in all that he said and did by that which had been written in “the volume of the book.”

Jesus imparted to his apostles all the information concerning the plan of God which they were able to receive at that time, but he said to them, “I have yet many things to say unto you, but ye cannot bear them now.” (John 16:12) To this Jesus added, “Howbeit when he, the Spirit of truth, is come, he will guide you into all truth: for he shall not speak of himself; but whatsoever he shall hear, that shall he speak: and he will show you things to come.”—John 16:13

This promise of the coming of the Holy Spirit was fulfilled at Pentecost, and while the Spirit came upon all the waiting disciples at that time, the apostles were the only ones to whom it was a miraculous, revealing power, calling to remembrance for them the many things Jesus had said, and enabling them to grasp their true meaning. Thus it is that through their writings and sermons we have Jesus’ unfolding of the plan of God supplemented. We could say that Jesus speaks to us through his inspired Twelve, and what he speaks is the voice of God.

The Old Testament Foundation

As we have noted, the Old Testament contains the plan of God, but until the coming of Jesus this plan remained sealed. Even its simpler and most meaningful passages were obscure in meaning until the light of the New Testament was brought to bear upon them. Take, for example that wonderful promise of Isaiah 35:10: “The ransomed of the Lord shall return, and come to Zion with songs and everlasting joy upon their heads: they shall obtain joy and gladness, and sorrow and sighing shall flee away.”

Who could the ransomed of the Lord be? From where will they return? What is implied by their coming to Zion? What will be the source of the joy and gladness they will then receive? Through Jesus and the apostles we are given the information which unlocks this eloquent promise. We learn about the death of Jesus, who gave himself a “ransom for all.” We learn that upon the basis of this “ransom for all” the dead world of mankind will by divine power be caused to “return” from death. We have learned that “Zion” is one of the names given to the ruling Christ, and that when the dead return they will indeed “come to Zion,” for in Zion they will find the life-giving blessings guaranteed to them through the “ransom for all.” Naturally this will result in the fleeing away of sorrow and sighing.


In a sermon delivered by the inspired Apostle Peter, he explained that following the second coming of Christ there would be the “restitution of all things,” and said that this great future blessing for mankind had been spoken “by the mouth of all his [God’s] holy prophets since the world began.” (Acts 3:19-21) This is one of the New Testament keys to one of the prominent teachings of the Old Testament, a teaching that was not understood until the coming of Jesus. But how wonderful are the promises of restitution when unlocked by the inspired statement of Peter!

Now we know the meaning of those promises which speak of blind eyes being opened, and of deaf ears being unstopped. We know also what the Lord meant when, through the Prophet Isaiah, he promised that he would “swallow up death in victory and … wipe away tears from off all faces.” (Isa. 25:8) We might go on and on citing God’s promises of restitution blessings; but it was not until the coming of Christ, and the fact that God spoke to the people through him, that we have been able to understand what they mean. The “sundry times and divers manners” in which the prophets recorded the thoughts of God pertaining to restitution awaited the coming of his beloved Son to be unlocked and understood.

The Messianic Promises

The Jewish people did gain a glimmer of hope from the many Old Testament promises concerning the coming of a great Messiah and King, but even these were surrounded in a large measure by mystery and misunderstanding. In the Jewish mind, the Messiah was to establish a literal throne in Jerusalem, and through the force of arms deliver Israel from the Roman yoke, and impose his governmental control over all nations. The apostles, before they received the Holy Spirit, believed this, and were greatly perplexed when Jesus surrendered to his enemies and allowed them to put him to death.

Two of the disciples expressed their sadness over the unexpected death of their Master to a “stranger” on the road to Emmaus—a stranger who was in reality the resurrected Christ. Among other things Jesus said to them, “O fools, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken: ought not Christ to have suffered these things, and to enter into his glory?” (Luke 24:25,26) The disciples had not understood prior to this that the Messiah must suffer and die to redeem mankind from death before it would be the due time for his glorious reign.

Thus again we are reminded that only through New Testament interpretations are we able to get the full understanding of Old Testament teachings so far as the doctrines of the divine plan are concerned. The Old Testament had clearly foretold the suffering and death of Jesus. Isaiah wrote concerning him, “He is despised and rejected of men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief: and we hid as it were our faces from him; he was despised, and we esteemed him not. Surely he hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows: yet we did esteem him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted.”—Isa. 53:3,4

This passage of Scripture is clearly understood by the Lord’s people today. We know that it applies to Jesus in the days of his humiliation and suffering. But prior to the first advent of Jesus the Lord’s people could not understand it. It remained for God to speak through his Son, and through his twelve infallible ambassadors, to explain this and similar passages in the Old Testament giving their true meaning and setting in the divine plan.

The Christ Company

Nor was it known prior to the coming of Christ and the Holy Spirit, that the promised Messiah foretold in the Old Testament would consist of a company of people, of which Jesus would be the Head. One of the original promises of the Messiah refers to the Messiah as a “Seed,” the seed of Abraham through whom all the families of the earth would be blessed. But the Israelites did not understand the true meaning of this promise.

It was the Apostle Paul, writing under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, who said, “Now to Abraham and his seed were the promises made. He saith not, And to seeds, as of many; but as of one, And to thy seed, which is Christ.” (Gal. 3:16) Later in the same chapter Paul wrote, “As many of you [Christians] as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ. … And if ye be Christ’s, then are ye Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.”—Gal. 3:27,29

What depth of meaning Paul thus gives to that wonderful promise God made to Abraham! This is an explanation which could come only through the power of the Holy Spirit which Jesus shed forth upon his apostles at Pentecost; and Paul, of course, received that same inspiration later by a special dispensation of the Lord. And associated with this basic truth concerning the Messiah company, is that other great truth, that in order to prove worthy of a share with Jesus in the ruling phase of his kingdom it is necessary to suffer and to die with him.—II Tim. 2:11,12

The sacrificial work of Jesus and his faithful followers was depicted in the Old Testament through the tabernacle and its services, but the significance of these “shadows” could not be understood until after Jesus came. How grateful we are for Paul’s ministry along this line through the Book of Hebrews. These tabernacle “shadows,” as Paul calls them, help us to realize more fully than would otherwise be possible just what the sacrificial work of the Christian really is; that it is a matter of presenting our bodies living sacrifices, with the assurance that such sacrifices are made acceptable to God through the merit of Jesus’ shed blood.

All the Doctrines

Beginning with the creation of man, and his fall into sin and death, and reaching to the restitution of all things, the ministry of Jesus and the twelve apostles was needed to make the doctrines plain, although these doctrines had previously been set forth in the Old Testament—“at sundry times and in divers manners.” Besides this, the Old Testament contains other valuable material for the guidance and blessing of the Christian.

Again we turn to Paul for guidance. Speaking of the shortcomings of the Israelites, he wrote, “Now these things were our examples, to the intent we should not lust after evil things, as they also lusted. Neither be ye idolaters, as were some of them; as it is written. … Neither let us commit fornication, as some of them committed, and fell in one day three and twenty thousand. Neither let us tempt Christ, as some of them also tempted, and were destroyed of serpents. Neither murmur ye, as some of them also murmured, and were destroyed of the destroyer. Now all these things happened unto them for ensamples: and they are written for our admonition, upon whom the ends of the world are come.” (I Cor. 10:6-11) What a valuable lesson Paul thus draws from the sins of Israel!

Devotional Truths

How wonderful and reassuring are the devotional truths of the Old Testament, and the more so in the light of the New Testament. By devotional truths we mean those teachings pertaining to God’s care of his people, of his guidance, his strength in time of need, and his forgiveness. David’s words, “The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want,” were and are understandable and precious to every “Israelite indeed,” whether he be an Israelite after the flesh or a spiritual Israelite of the Gospel Age.

Note the inspiring lessons the apostle draws from the experiences of those faithful ones of the past, as set forth in the 11th chapter of Hebrews. What blessings are derived from reading of God’s overruling providences in relation to the Ancient Worthies as they served Jehovah under the severest of circumstances. There is the case of Elijah challenging the priests of Baal; Daniel in the lions’ den, and the three Hebrews in the fiery furnace, to mention a few. A spirit-begotten follower of the Master reading these thrilling accounts has his faith strengthened and his determination to continue on in the narrow way increased. We do not need to make “types” of the experiences of the Ancient Worthies, but we can and should be inspired by the marvelous manner in which God dealt with them. Note some of the precious promises contained in the Old Testament:

To Joshua: “There shall not any man be able to stand before thee all the days of thy life: as I was with Moses, so I will be with thee: I will not fail thee, nor forsake thee.” (Joshua 1:5) Surely the Lord will not fail any of his people!

“Hast thou not known? hast thou not heard, that the everlasting God, the Lord, the Creator of the ends of the earth, fainteth not, neither is weary? there is no searching of his understanding. He giveth power to the faint; and to them that have no might he increaseth strength. … But they that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; and they shall walk and not faint.”—Isa. 40:28-31

“It is of the Lord’s mercies that we are not consumed, because his compassions fail not. They are new every morning: great is thy faithfulness. The Lord is my portion, saith my soul; therefore will I hope in him. The Lord is good unto them that wait for him, to the soul that seeketh him.”—Lam. 3:22-25

“Let the righteous be glad; let them rejoice before God: yea, let them exceedingly rejoice.”—Ps. 68:3

“Blessed be the Lord, who daily loadeth us with benefits, even the God of our salvation.”—Ps. 68:19

“The Lord is good, a stronghold in the day of trouble; and he knoweth them that trust in him.”—Nahum 1:7

“My flesh and my heart faileth; but God is the strength of my heart, and my portion forever.”—Ps. 73:26

“I will say of the Lord, He is my refuge and fortress: my God; in him will I trust.”—Ps. 91:2

“He shall cover thee with his feathers, and under his wings shalt thou trust: his truth shall be thy shield and buckler.”—Ps. 91:4

“Like as a father piteth his children, so the Lord pitieth them that fear him. For he knoweth our frame; he remembereth that we are dust.”—Ps. 103:13,14

“Fear thou not; for I am with thee: be not dismayed; for I am thy God: I will strengthen thee; yea, I will help thee; yea, I will uphold thee with the right hand of my righteousness.”—Isa. 41:10

“And they shall be mine, saith the Lord of hosts, in that day when I make up my jewels; and I will spare them, as a man spareth his own son that serveth him.”—Mal. 3:17

Precious indeed are these promises, and there are hundreds of them throughout the Old Testament, as well as the New. They were a comfort to the people of God in ancient times, and they are a comfort to us today. It is essential to remember that our Heavenly Father is dealing with us as new creatures in Christ Jesus, and therefore that the Old Testament promises assuring us that the Lord will provide all our needs do not necessarily apply to our material needs, but certainly to our spiritual needs. Here is one of the ways in which we need to “rightly divide the word of truth.”—II Tim. 2:15

Historical aspects of both the Old and New Testaments contain many helpful lessons for the Lord’s people in addition to presenting records which are related directly or indirectly to the outworking of God’s plan. It was important that the genealogical line of Jesus from Adam on down should be established, and one of the links in that chain was Boaz, and his wife Ruth. Ruth was a Moabitish woman, and instead of simply stating this as a historical fact, in the providence of God this truth is brought out in one of the sweetest stories ever told.

Thousands of the Lord’s people have been blessed, and encouraged to greater love for him and for his people by those famous words of Ruth to her mother-in-law Naomi, who was an Israelitish woman. Naomi suggested that Ruth return to the land of Moab to be with her people, but she declined, saying, “Entreat me not to leave thee, or to return from following after thee: for whither thou goest, I will go; and where thou lodgest, I will lodge: thy people shall be my people, and thy God my God: where thou diest, will I die, and there will I be buried: the Lord do so to me, and more also, if ought but death part thee and me.”—Ruth 1:16,17

Into Egypt

In God’s providence, and for a purpose known fully to him, God permitted his people to become slaves to Pharaoh in Egypt. But how did they get into Egypt? God could have caused one of his servants to give us this information in a few sentences, but instead he favored us with another interesting and inspirational historical account—the story of Joseph’s being sold into Egypt as a slave by his brethren, of his ultimate exaltation to the position of food administrator during seven years of famine, and his final reunion with his brethren.

In this account we have examples of Joseph’s courage in the face of discouragement; of integrity; and of mercy and compassion toward his brethren who had thought to do him harm. Besides, we have a lesson of God’s providences on behalf of his people in that Joseph’s position in Egypt enabled him to supply his kinsmen with food at a time when they might well have otherwise perished.

The only mention of Ruth in the Bible outside of the Book of Ruth is the appearance of her name in Matthew 1:5, where we are told of her place in the genealogical chain leading to Jesus. Joseph is briefly mentioned by Paul as one of the heroes of faith among the Ancient Worthies, in Hebrews 11. But the accounts of the faithfulness of these two servants of God speak for themselves, and their examples continue to be a refreshing stimulus to the faith of all who would know and do the Lord’s will more faithfully.

The personal faithfulness of the Old Testament prophets speaks to us of God’s keeping power in their lives. James wrote, “Take, my brethren, the prophets, who have spoken in the name of the Lord, for an example of suffering affliction, and of patience. Behold, we count them happy which endure. Ye have heard of the patience of Job, and have seen the end of the Lord; that the Lord is very pitiful, and of tender mercy.”—James 5:10,11

We might go on and on recalling one after another of God’s faithful servants of ancient times who are speaking to us today by their lives of enduring faithfulness. Paul refers to these, saying, “Wherefore seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us. Looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith; who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God.”—Heb. 12:1,2

And it is this Jesus through whom God is specially speaking to his people during the Gospel Age. How thankful we should be that through his personal ministry, and the ministry of those whom he specially commissioned to represent him, the prophetic testimony of the Old Testament has come alive with meaning; and that we also have those wonderful examples of faithfulness of ancient times to encourage us as we press on toward the goal held out to us in the plan of God, even a share in the rulership phase of the wonderful millennial kingdom. Yes, we can hear the voice of God as he continues to speak to us through his beloved Son, and our hearts rejoice.

Dawn Bible Students Association
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