Have you ever had that experience of not seeing or knowing something, but then as we sometimes say, “the light goes on”? When our children were babies they could not process how their mom or dad were gone one moment but there the next during peek-a-boo. This was because their brains were still developing spatial recognition. But then one day they could comprehend. When I was a young Christian, Hebrews 1:1–2 was one of those texts that one day turned all the lights on for me. I read that “God spoke to our fathers,” but then the light turned on for me: “but in these last days he has spoken to us.”
God has spoken. This means Christianity is a religion of revelation. Revelation is an unveiling of something previously hidden. For example, in Ephesians 3 Paul speaks about “the mystery of Christ, which was not made known to the sons of men in other generations as it has now been revealed to his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit” (Eph. 3:4–5). The great overarching wonder of our religion is that man does not find God, but that God finds us—and speaks to us.
We believe that the Scriptures are the revelation of God. In them God opens His own mind and heart and expresses Himself to us in spoken and written words. I want to ask three questions from Hebrews 1:1–2, which this text gives the answers.
Who Is the God Who Speaks?
We read, “Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son.” The first question is this: Who is the God who speaks?
Of course the text says He is “God,” but the fact that He “spoke” in the past through prophets and through the Son means that our God is a personal God. We have a God who speaks and who speaks in words we can understand. This is rooted in the fact that our God is tri-personal: He is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. And as a Holy Trinity they have communicated and conversed from all eternity. And now He has spoken to us!
If you look in Genesis 1 you’ll see this personalness of God. In the six days of creation we read of God speaking and then something comes into being. But with the creation of humanity, we read in Genesis 1:28 that God pauses and has a conversation as a tri-personal God. The very creation of man was a personal act. Then we read that after God made Adam, God then revealed His will to Adam (Gen. 2:16). The important truth to take away from this is that if revelation was necessary for humanity before the fall into sin, how much more so now after the fall into sin with all its effects upon our knowledge of God?
This truth is also taught to us in Romans 1, where Paul speaks of the revelation of God in the creation. In the creation God reveals His power, though not His redeeming grace; He reveals that He is the Creator but not that He is the Redeemer. This means that something more is needed for the knowledge of salvation. That something else is the revealed Word of God. One of our theological forefathers, Francis Turretin, once said this about Scripture: “Without it the Church could not now stand. So God indeed was not bound to the Scriptures, but he has bound us to them.”1 Like a father or mother communicates to their children first in words and then in writing, so too God first spoke to His people and then had His words passed down in writing.
To Whom Does God Speak?
The second question is To whom does God speak? “God spoke to our fathers . . . he has spoken to us.” As we read in the Scriptures, He did so in various ways. He spoke in theophanies, that is, in revelations of Himself in the forms of humans (e.g., Gen. 18). He spoke through angels, delivering the message of salvation (e.g., Matt. 1). He spoke through a voice from heaven (e.g., Exod. 19). He spoke through visions to prophets like Isaiah (e.g., Isa. 6). He spoke through dreams (e.g., Num. 12). He spoke through supernatural handwriting (e.g., Exod. 31; Dan. 5).
And God has spoken to us in the New Covenant. Let me state the obvious: He speaks to us sinners. But let me state the stupendous: He speaks to sinners! Don’t forget that because we are sinners our knowledge of God is not as it should be. The Canons of Dort say:
Man was originally formed after the image of God. His understanding was adorned with a true and saving knowledge of his Creator, and of spiritual things; his heart and will were upright, all his affections pure, and the whole man was holy. But, revolting from God by the instigation of the devil and by his own free will, he forfeited these excellent gifts; and in the place thereof became involved in blindness of mind, horrible darkness, vanity, and perverseness of judgment; became wicked, rebellious, and obdurate in heart and will, and impure in his affections. (3/4.1)
But when God accomplishes His good pleasure in His elect, or works in them true conversion, He not only causes the gospel to be externally preached to them, and powerfully illuminates their minds by His Holy Spirit, that they may rightly understand and discern the things of the Spirit of God; but by the efficacy of the same regenerating Spirit He pervades the inmost recesses of man; He opens the closed and softens the hardened heart, and circumcises that which was uncircumcised; infuses new qualities into the will, which, though heretofore dead, He quickens; from being evil, disobedient, and refractory, He renders it good, obedient, and pliable; actuates and strengthens it, that like a good tree, it may bring forth the fruits of good actions. (3/4/.11)
The Holy Spirit is the light to blind sinners. For us to understand the Word we need the Spirit of God to illumine our darkened understanding even as believers (1 Cor. 2).
Why Does God Speak?
Our final question is this: Why does God speak? When we read Hebrews 1:1–2 along with Hebrews 1:14, which speaks of inheriting salvation, and Hebrews 2:3, which speaks of our having a great salvation, it becomes clear why God spoke to our fathers and why He spoke to us in words and writing: to bring us into a saving relationship with Him. J. I. Packer said it like this: “He speaks to us simply to fulfill the purpose for which we were made; that is, to bring into being a relationship in which He is a friend to us, and we to Him, He finding His joy in giving us gifts and we finding ours in giving Him thanks.”2
We see this expressed in another of our doctrinal statements, the Belgic Confession, which says of the Word of God: “afterwards [that is, after the prophets and apostles spoke] God, from a special care which He has for us and our salvation, commanded His servants, the prophets and apostles, to commit His revealed word to writing” (art. 3). God has come down to our level and spoken to us in our weakness in His immeasurable care and concern for us. Like parents making cooing sounds and eating some baby food before giving it to their children, God has accommodated Himself to us in language we can understand in the written Word. As John Calvin said, since the revelation of God in the creation is insufficient to bring us to God, “we need another and better assistance . . . the light of his word, to make himself known unto salvation, and hath honoured with this privilege those whom he intended to unite in a more close and familiar connection with himself.”3
To be friends, there must be communication between two people. There must be conversation. With God and us, now the words between Him to us are mediated through paper and ink, but one day the words will be communicated directly face to face (1 Cor. 13:12; Rev. 22:4). When I was a kid my favorite baseball player was Reggie Jackson when he was on the Angels. I knew everything about him I could find out from his baseball cards (there was no Google or Wikipedia!). I had a poster of him. I listened to him being interviewed on the radio as I listened to games. I even remember that one year our little league was allowed to walk on the field before a game. As we walked past the dugout, there he was. I tried to yell out, “Reggie,” but he must not have heard me. Then during the pre-game warm-ups I crowded along the outfield wall yelling out to him for an autograph, for him to toss me a ball, anything. What did I get in return? Nothing.
Conclusion: “I have found the Book!”
Let me conclude by saying that God has revealed Himself to us in His written Word. When we realize this, the light should go on in our minds and hearts. Think about the story of the great and godly king of Judah, Josiah. In 2 Kings 22–23 we read of his reforms in the life of the people of God. Why did he repent? Why did he change the church’s course of action and affection? We read in 2 Kings 22:8 that when the temple was being repaired from its ruinous state, Hilkiah the high priest found a copy of the law of Moses in the temple. His exact words were this: “I have found the Book of the Law.”
When we realize that what we have in what we call the Word of God are the very words of God, what our forefathers called ipsissima verba Dei, then everything begins to change for us. We begin to repent when we read His laws. We begin to rejoice when we read His gospel.
1. Turretin, Institutes, 57.
2. J. I. Packer, God Has Spoken (1965; rev. ed., London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1979), 28–50.
3. Calvin, Institutes, 1.6.1.
Rev. Daniel Hyde is the pastor of the Oceanside United Reformed Church in Carlsbad/Oceanside, CA.