In Genesis 1, the Triune God speaks the world into existence as His Spirit hovers over the surface of the waters. King David brings the Creation account into sharper focus, declaring, “by the word of the Lord the heavens were made, and by the breath of His mouth all their host” (Ps. 33:6).
I’ve written already about the breath of God. But we can’t get far in the Bible without considering what was also there in the beginning, the Word.
What we know as ‘word’ in English occurs in the Hebrew Bible (דבר, davar) over 900 times and nearly 300 times in the Greek Bible (λόγος, logos). Where to begin? One place is Genesis 15:1, where we meet the first of 102 instances in the Bible of a most magical and mysterious phrase: The Word of the Lord came.
After these things, the word of the Lord came to Abram in a vision, saying, “Do not fear, Abram, I am a shield to you; Your reward shall be very great.”
First, look where we first encounter this phrase. Its introduction in the Bible comes at a pivotal moment in Biblical history, when God promises Abram a son. “Now look toward the heavens,” He tells Abram, “and count the stars, if you are able to count them.” And God said to him, “So shall your descendants be.” The text says that Abram believed the Word, and God reckoned it to him as righteousness.
As God’s story of Himself unfolded, the word of the Lord came also to Samuel, Nathan, to the prophet Gad, to Solomon, Jehu, Elijah, Isaiah, to Shemaiah the man of God, to Jeremiah, Ezekiel (50 times!), Jonah, by the prophet Haggai, and to Zechariah.
God’s promise of a son to Abraham, carried in language like this, repeated over 100x in the Hebrew Bible, indicates the Word’s presence with and movement ever closer towards Israel, throughout their history.
To give materiality to God’s promise and presence in a time when His face was hidden, He offered His people a series of physical signs. Fire and a cloud, and words from their midst. From the fire, they heard the sound of words, but saw no form—only a voice (Deut. 4:12). So truly, as the people journeyed on through the wilderness, the Word of God was a lamp to their feet and a light to their path (Ps. 119:105).
God would command yet more signs to communicate the nearness of the Word. Specifically, He would record them in writing. To Moses, God said,
“Write down these words,
for in accordance with these words
I have made a covenant with you and with Israel.”
Once Moses had engraved God’s covenant words on rock (see Job 19: 23-27), he was to place them in the ark of the covenant, together with a pot of bread from heaven and Aaron’s rod that budded (Deut. 10:2, Heb. 9:4). This is the ark that would pass before the people across the Jordan river, as they entered the Promised Land (Josh. 3:6). The same ark the Israelites would carry around Jericho before shouting victory to heaven (Josh. 6:7) and lay to rest in Solomon’s Temple (2 Chron. 35:3).
I have talked now about the first place “the Word of the Lord came” appears in the Hebrew Bible, and here is the last. In Zechariah 7, the Word comes again with a rebuke and reminder in summary of the Law given to Moses,
“Dispense true justice and practice kindness and compassion each to his brother; and do not oppress the widow or the orphan, the stranger or the poor; and do not devise evil in your hearts against one another.”
God’s people refused to pay attention, turned a stubborn shoulder and stopped their ears from hearing. Yet even though they made their hearts like flint so that they could not hear the Word sent by the Spirit through the former prophets. Even as great wrath came from the Lord of hosts, God’s Word would come again, bringing the same Promise and Presence of “joy, gladness, and cheerful feasts for the house of Judah” (Zech. 8: 18-19).
What we see as we read God’s Word written down is that the Word is not just the voice of God. It conveys His presence, His covenant, His power. In and through the Word, God’s will is done. This is wrapped up in the Hebrew davar, which means more than language. It is both promise and action at once. The Word is a performative; in saying, it also acts. This is why the Israelites and now we too are commanded *not* to add to the Word nor take anything away (Deut. 4:2, Rev. 22:19).
“For this commandment which I command you today is not too difficult for you, nor is it out of reach.
12 It is not in heaven, that you should say, ‘Who will go up to heaven for us to get it for us and make us hear it, that we may observe it?’
13 Nor is it beyond the sea, that you should say, ‘Who will cross the sea for us to get it for us and make us hear it, that we may observe it?’
14 But the word is very near you, in your mouth and in your heart, that you may observe it” (Deut. 13:11-14).
No doubt your mind, like mine, has already gone to John 1:1. Here is where the covenant presence of God’s Word, held near in His people’s mouths and in our hearts our entire history, became flesh and dwelt among us. And we saw His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth.
Jesus Christ is the embodied Word of the Lord who came to Abraham and every prophet after, the fulfillment of God’s promise of a Son and of descendants whose number would be as many as the stars. He is the One who was there as the world began, there in the voice of God to His people in the wilderness, in the earthly land of promise and in exile. Jesus Christ in His Body, what He spoke, and in His actions, He is the Word made flesh (Rev. 19:13). Moses had carved the Word of God onto two stone tablets. And at Jesus’s crucifixion, the Word was engraved with iron upon His hands, a witness of God’s davar, now carved into the Rock of Ages (Job 19: 23-27).
As news of the Incarnate Word spread throughout all the land in Jesus’ days on earth (Matt. 9:26), just as the Word carried on spreading after He ascended to heaven (Acts 6:7). So now we too, the Body of Christ, carry the Word with us in our hearts, on our lips and in our hands, by His Spirit, to the ends of the earth. Until the Word of the Lord comes again, when we will see our Saviour again, not only in letters written down but face to face. The Lamp of the Incarnate Word will guide our feet. And our eyes will see the glory of the Lord (2 John 1:12).
23 “Oh that my words were written!
Oh that they were inscribed in a book!
24 “That with an iron stylus and lead
They were engraved in the rock forever!
25 “As for me, I know that my Redeemer lives,
And at the last He will take His stand on the earth.
26 “Even after my skin is destroyed,
Yet from my flesh I shall see God;
27 Whom I myself shall behold,
And whom my eyes will see and not another.
Job 19: 23-27