HE ALWAYS HAS.
HE ALWAYS WILL.
As Christians, we know the Bible is God’s Word. We can “hear” God’s voice as we read His Word. But how did people hear from God before His Word was inspired, transmitted orally, written down, canonized, and bound in the easy-to-carry leather-bound version we have today (or the app version we scroll through on our phone)?
God has always spoken to His supreme creation—humankind. Before His Word was available in written form or even as oral tradition, God spoke through two primary methods: prophets and direct conversation. Let’s take a look, first, at how He used prophets.
A PROPHETIC ANNOUNCEMENT
Prophecy comes from a mixture of words that mean, “to speak forth,” “to proclaim,” or “to announce.” But what is being spoken, proclaimed, and announced? The Baker Encyclopedia of the Bible explains that in biblical Greek, “these terms always carry the connotation of speaking, proclaiming, or announcing something under the influence of divine inspiration.” Divine means “of God.” Inspired means “breathed in.” So, in the Bible, prophecies are words that were breathed into by God and given to a person to speak to others.
The Bible warns time and time again about false prophets—they were even commanded to be put to death (Deuteronomy 13:5, Ezekiel 13:3, 2 Peter 2:1)! False prophets aside, God’s prophets received His words typically through visions, dreams, or sometimes other types of direct revelation. There are slight differences between visions and dreams—one of the most obvious being whether the person received it while awake or while asleep.
DREAM A LITTLE DREAM: JOSEPH
There are 116 references to dreams in the Old Testament (Baker Encyclopedia of the Bible, 1988). Nearly half of those (52) are found in Genesis. One of the most well known stories about God using dreams is found in Genesis 37 with God’s servant, Joseph. Now, Joseph’s brothers were already pretty fed up with him. Then he had this dream about sheaves in the field bowing down. Joseph shared his dream with his irritable brothers, making them even angrier. As if that wasn’t enough, Joseph shared his next dream with them—about the sun, moon, and stars all bowing down to him. Well, that was enough to throw him in a pit, fake his death, and sell him to slaves!
Why would God give a dream to one of His precious children when He knew it would result in slavery? Because God is good. Yes, you heard that right! God is good. If He had not given those dreams to Joseph, perhaps his brothers would never have sold him into slavery. If he hadn’t been sold, Joseph would likely never have ended up in Egypt. If he hadn’t ended up in Egypt and eventually in a position of power, when his family was affected by the severe famine, he wouldn’t have been able to help them. Joseph told his brothers—the same ones who sold him to slaves—“It was not you who sent me here, but God” (Genesis 45:8a, NIV).
God is always good—including in how He used His prophets. Dreams in the Old Testament were used to protect His people, reveal Himself in a specific way, provide guidance, and warn about future situations to avoid or be prepared for.
SIGNIFICANT SIGHT: AMOS
Similarly, God gave visions to people in order to proclaim something to individuals or to groups of people. Sometimes they are called “symbolical perception,” which, as the Baker Encyclopedia of the Bible puts it, is when “a prophet sees an ordinary object which is part of the natural world, but sees it with a heightened significance beyond the normal.” An example of this is found in one of the books by the minor prophets— Amos. In chapter eight, we read about Amos looking at a basket of ripe fruit. God then explains to him a spiritual message using that basket as symbolism. In this case, He wanted His prophet to warn the people of Israel that time was up due to their lack of obedience to God.
God provided visions and dreams to many more people than those already mentioned, including Jacob (Genesis 46), Daniel (Daniel 8), Isaiah (Isaiah 1), Jeremiah (Jeremiah 13), and John (the Book of Revelation). Sometimes He even gave them to people not serving Him whatsoever, as seen in the case of Nebuchadnezzar (Daniel 4). The difference, however, is those not serving Him always needed one of His servants to interpret the vision or dream (as seen with Pharaoh and Joseph).
FACE TO FACE: MOSES
God also chose to speak directly to people in normal conversation—not only through prophets. You’re probably familiar with the story of Adam and Eve in the garden. Even after sin entered the picture, God still chose to speak directly with them, as we can see in Genesis 3.
One outstanding example of God speaking directly with His servants is seen in the life of Moses. In Numbers, God distinguishes Moses specifically: “When there is a prophet among you, I, the Lord, reveal Myself to them in visions, I speak to them in dreams. But this is not true of My servant Moses; he is faithful in all My house. With him I speak face to face, clearly and not in riddles; he sees the form of the Lord” (12:6-8a, NIV).
However, God’s voice wasn’t always so loud and clear. Elijah is a great example. Elijah, a godly servant and prophet, had done the Lord’s work on Mount Carmel, proving that Baal was a false god, but that he served the one, true God. Word got to the evil queen (yes, there are evil queens in the Bible!), and he had to flee for his
life. He hid and prayed, and then received word that the presence of the Lord was about to pass by. We read in 1 Kings 19:11-12, “Then a great and powerful wind tore the mountains apart and shattered the rocks before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake. After the earthquake came a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire came a gentle whisper” (NIV). And that is when and how God spoke, instructing Elijah what to do next and how to stay alive among his enemies. Once again, we see God’s goodness to His children.
“So what?,” you may be thinking. “God spoke to people thousands of years ago through dreams, visions, conversations, and whispers. What’s that got to do with me?” The common thread here is…God. God does the initiating. He speaks to the faithful and unfaithful alike according to His will. He speaks through the method He chooses. We cannot craft the perfect circumstances or make demands to hear His voice.
As His servants, though, we can cry out to Him. We can remain obedient. We can be prepared for Him to speak in unexpected and unusual ways. In all of these examples, we find people who were in a situation where their heart was tuned to hear from God. It’s always about God’s message, God’s method, and God’s goodness. Are you tuned to Him?
Joseph, Amos, and Moses are examples of how God spoke through a dream, a vision, and a conversation. But, how do you know if it’s really God speaking to you?
- ASK HIM!
If you’re not sure it’s God speaking to you, ask Him to confirm it. Remember that God’s voice will never contradict His character.
- GOD’S WORD
Ask God to confirm what He’s saying to you in His Word. God’s Word is living and active, and His voice can be heard on every page. Write down the verse or passage God gives you, and claim it.
- GOD’S PEOPLE
God will often speak through His people—people who love Him and are committed to obeying Him. Be ready for God to use someone who loves Him to speak a word that confirms what He’s already told you.
- THINK OUTSIDE THE BOX
God may confirm what He’s saying to you in a new way! Be open to hear from God in dreams, a vision, a song, or even a movie! God will speak in ways that you will listen.
- GODLY MENTOR
However God chooses to confirm His voice to you, share what He says with a Godly mentor—someone who loves God and is dedicated to following Him. Ask them to pray with you and seek God together to discern His voice.
— Cari Arias, Curriculum Writer/Editor