God’s Writing 3: Revelation
So far in this series I have written about God’s ‘writing’ in creation (biologically through DNA and morally through the conscience) and in providence (His foreseeing of our lives). We have seen that God created the cosmos and that He continues to be actively involved in its unfolding story. The question this raises is how we can recognise where He is at work and how we can know what He is like. The answer is that God has revealed Himself to us. The great religions of the world can be broadly categorised into two types. The religions of East and South Asia can be described as ‘mystical’ – they originated in the reflections of individuals on the nature of human existence and ultimate reality. In China Confucius and Laozi and in India the Buddha and various Hindu sages developed theories about the basic problem with human existence and its solution through reason or meditation. Their philosophies often display considerable uncertainty about the precise nature of ultimate reality. In contrast, the three religions that originated in Western Asia among the Semitic peoples can be called ‘prophetic’. Judaism, Christianity and Islam claim to have originated with prophets who spoke words given to them by God. This one true God revealed Himself in words which were then recorded in holy scriptures. Ultimate reality can be known because He already knows us and has made Himself known!
Divine revelation is evident in the nature of Creation – this can be called ‘general revelation’ because it is available to everyone. It is enough to lead us to consider the existence of God and to make us morally accountable. It is not, however, enough for us to know the character and attributes of God clearly or to enter into a trusting relationship with Him. Within the Christian worldview, human nature and the operation of the cosmos are not reliable guides to knowing God perfectly because they are damaged by sin. The human mind is capable of amazing rationality, but it is also darkened by our rebellion against God and incapable of reliably discerning truth from falsehood. For this we need words. There are those who claim that the Bible is simply a collection of the ideas of people of faith about the God whose actions they believed they were observing. The basic idea is that people saw amazing things that they couldn’t explain, that they attributed these to the action of an unseen God and that they then theorised about what that God is like. This is not how the Bible itself describes what was going on. The human writers of the books which constitute our Bible clearly claimed to be recording more than their ideas about God – they claimed that what they wrote were the very words of God. If this was not the case, then there is a serious issue with the trustworthiness of the Bible. It would be more honest to reject the Bible than to continue to treat it as somehow sacred while believing that its writers were presenting their own ideas in the guise of God’s word.
The first person in the biblical narrative to be told to write down words that God had given him was Moses. Exodus 34:27 says:
And the Lord said to Moses, “Write these words, for in accordance with these words I have made a covenant with you and with Israel.”
Traditionally Christians and Jews have believed that the first five books of the Bible were recorded by Moses, with the events of Genesis, which predated him, being based on oral traditions passed down through the generations. The testimony of Exodus that Moses was commanded to record God’s words supports this traditional view, although it is also possible that there were some written records of the events of Genesis dating from the time of the characters within it, especially of Joseph, who rose to a high position in the Egyptian state. Moses occupies a foundational position within the Old Testament. He was the original recipient of the Law and of the covenant with national Israel which God made on the basis of His earlier covenant with Abraham. God spoke to Moses in a special way, “face to face” (Exodus 33:11). This was different from how God normally communicated to prophets – a more direct means that set Moses in a league of his own. No prophet within Israel after Moses had the same direct connection with God that Moses had (Deuteronomy 34:10). In this sense, the later prophets were all calling God’s people back to faithfulness to what had been revealed through Moses.
Great as Moses was, however, He was not the one who wrote the most foundational element of the Old Covenant. The Ten Commandments were written on stone tablets not by Moses, but by God Himself (Exodus 32:16):
The tablets were the work of God, and the writing was the writing of God, engraved on the tablets.
This is the only part of the Bible that God wrote Himself rather than causing others to write the words He gave them. The ten laws recorded on stone are testimony to God’s character and His will for mankind. They stand as a supreme revelation of the moral principles underpinning our existence. This is not to say that they have authority greater than other parts of the Bible. We understand that those who wrote all 66 books were carried along by the Spirit (2 Peter 1:20-21), so that the words they wrote can be said to be breathed out by God and authoritative for all aspects of belief and behaviour (2 Timothy 3:16-17). At the heart of the nation of Israel, however, was the Tabernacle, where God met with His people, at the centre of which was the ark of the covenant in which the tablets of stone were kept.
Moses was the foundational recipient of the Old Covenant, but he was inferior to the One to whom that covenant led, the Lord Jesus, just as a servant in a great house is inferior to the Son (Hebrews 3:1-6). Jesus is the supreme revelation of God (Hebrews 1:1-3), the Word become flesh revealing the glory of God’s grace and truth (John 1:14). Of course, with one exception (see part 5 of this series), Jesus did not write down His teaching. We are dependent in our access to the person and words of Jesus on the apostles He appointed to be His official representatives. Their writings carry the same authority as the Old Testament Scriptures and the New Testament is a faithful account of the life of Jesus and its significance. We can trust it as a faithful guide to knowing and serving God. God may continue to speak to His people today – we should expect to hear His guidance and to gain insights from His Spirit into truth and wisdom – but just as the prophets in the Old Testament always called people back to faithfulness to the foundational words given through Moses, so our need today is to be brought back to the foundational revelation of the New covenant, the person of Jesus Christ. The gospel, the good news message of Jesus crucified for our sins and risen victorious as Lord (1 Corinthians 15:1-11) is the foundation of our faith. The Scriptures find their true centre in the person of Christ. The written Word of God is a faithful record of the gospel Word of God, which testifies to the incarnate Word of God. God has revealed Himself in words: true words; trustworthy words; powerful words. We must listen and obey.