Lesson 1 - Introduction to Hearing God's Voice - Old Testament 1:
We will begin with a skim through the Old and New Testament as the basis for our believing that God does speak today, that he does want people to know what is on his heart and especially wants his children to hear and obey.
The Genesis account of creation and God's relationship with Adam and Eve before their disobedience shows clearly that God intended that humans would be in communion with him. The creation account was communicated to Moses by God. Numbers 12:8 tells us that God spoke to him face to face. In Genesis 1:26 the creation of man in "our image" tells us that the Godhead is corporate. We too are made for relationship, with other humans, but also with our triune Creator.
Humans were given authority over all the created world. God gave the names, 'Day', 'Night', 'Sky', 'Land', 'Seas' to the created universe but saved the task of naming all livestock, the birds and beasts for Adam. He told Adam what he could and couldn't do and gave him a suitable companion to share the responsibility of caring for the garden. We have no idea of the time frame between the end of chapter 2 and chapter 3, but can assume that Adam and Eve worked together and God was involved with them taking care of their perfect world. I imagine that the Lord God walked in the garden with them before that dreadful day mentioned in chapter 3.
When we come to Genesis 3 we discover the first example of inaccurate communication of what God has said. In 2:16, "And the Lord God commanded the man, 'You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat of it you will surely die.'" Adam must have told Eve about the tree, because when the serpent comes and asks her what God really said, she replies, "We may eat fruit from the trees in the garden, but God did say, 'You must not eat fruit from the tree that is in the middle of the garden, and you must not touch it, or you will die.'" (Gen 3:3).
Maybe Adam added the embellishment, "and you must not touch it", when he told Eve about that special tree, to emphasise the importance of obeying what God had said. Or maybe Eve added it when conversing with the serpent. Either way, it was not true and formed a basis for the maligning of God and a further twisting of what he had said. Mis-communication, partial communication and false communication about God and what he has said has been happening ever since. In fact, communication difficulties are at the heart of most broken personal and societal relationships. The serpent is still sowing his seeds of doubt, mistrust, half-truths, lies and deceit. Accurate hearing of God's voice is critical if we are going to live fully as his co-workers in bringing his kingdom back on earth.
The disobedience to God's command resulted in expulsion from his immediate presence. All the sons of Adam were created in his own image, tainted by sin (Genesis 4:3). However, God expected obedience of Cain and Abel, and warned Cain that his anger would lead to sin. His descendent Lamech had two wives, although God had spoken of one man and one woman in Gen 2:24. Within only a few generations the likeness of rebellious Adam had multiplied to people of great wickedness (Genesis 5:5,1-12). In Genesis 4:26 it says, "At that time (the time of Enosh son of Seth) men began to call on the name of the Lord", but only a few walked with God like Enoch, so that in Noah's time God decided to limit the length of human life to 120 years and planned the flood to destroy the wicked from the earth. In spite of all this God continued to speak to individuals until he found one ready to listen and obey.
Abram's response to God's command resulted in a great nation and great blessing to all nations as God promised. All the way through the Old Testament God spoke in different ways to those who would listen. Predominantly it was a spoken word as we understand it. I did a word count on some common phrases using the International Version of the Bible. The phrase, "God said" occurs 45 times in the Old Testament, "The word of the Lord" 219 times, "The word of the Lord came to ..." 103 times, "The Lord says" 185 times; "This is what the Lord says" 167 times, "This is what the Lord Almighty says" 44 times, "This is what the Sovereign Lord says" 131 times, "The Lord spoke" 23 times, "declares the Lord" 162 times, "declares the Lord Almighty" 21 times, "Hear the word of the Lord" 30 times. The word 'oracle', used 38 times, denotes a particular word given in response to a petition to God or is a specific authoritative word, often of judgement, as found in Isaiah.
God rebuked Miriam and Aaron because they criticised Moses. "Has the LORD spoken only through Moses?" they asked. "Hasn't he also spoken through us?" He said, "Listen to my words: 'When a prophet of the LORD is among you, I reveal myself to him in visions, I speak to him 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 . Why then were you not afraid to speak against my servant Moses?'" (Numbers 12:2,6-8).
So speaking is God's primary way of communicating in the Old Testament. Resource Sheet 1 - Hearing God's Voice gives examples of other ways God spoke in the Old Testament. Abram received the word of the Lord in a vision (Genesis 15:1). Apart from Joseph and Daniel who are famous for their dreams, Abimelech was warned in a dream that Sarah was already married to Abraham (Genesis 20:3). In a dream God revealed himself to Jacob (Genesis 28:12-13) and gave him promises. Later God told Jacob to return to Bethel to build an altar to him (Genesis 35:1). Angels bring God's message to many different people. The angel of the Lord was sent to the Israelites at Bokim to tell the consequences of their failure to drive out the inhabitants of the promised land. (Judges 2:1-3). The birth of Samson was announced by an angel and Judges 13 recounts the conversations between Manoah and his wife and the angel of the Lord. Elijah heard a gentle whisper (1 Kings 19:12-13), God spoke out of the storm to Job (Job 38:1), while the Lord spoke to Isaiah with his strong hand upon him (Isaiah 8:11). Balaam couldn't see the angel God had sent so his donkey spoke (Numbers 22:28).
Lesson 1 - Introduction to Hearing God's Voice - Old Testament 2:
The children of Israel had become used to God speaking to them because 1 Samuel 3:1 tells us, "The boy Samuel ministered before the LORD under Eli. In those days the word of the LORD was rare; there were not many visions." The priesthood was corrupt so God chose not to speak through them. A man of God told Eli what would happen to his family line because of the wickedness of his sons. God was preparing a new priest and called the young Samuel with an audible voice. He didn't recognise the voice as the Lord's. 1 Samuel 3:7-21 tells us some important things about hearing God's voice.
Now Samuel did not yet know the LORD : The word of the LORD had not yet been revealed to him. The LORD called Samuel a third time, and Samuel got up and went to Eli and said, "Here I am; you called me."
Then Eli realized that the LORD was calling the boy. So Eli told Samuel, "Go and lie down, and if he calls you, say, 'Speak, LORD , for your servant is listening.' " So Samuel went and lay down in his place. The LORD came and stood there, calling as at the other times, "Samuel! Samuel!" Then Samuel said, "Speak, for your servant is listening."
And the LORD said to Samuel: "See, I am about to do something in Israel that will make the ears of everyone who hears of it tingle. At that time I will carry out against Eli everything I spoke against his family-from beginning to end. For I told him that I would judge his family forever because of the sin he knew about; his sons made themselves contemptible, and he failed to restrain them. Therefore, I swore to the house of Eli, 'The guilt of Eli's house will never be atoned for by sacrifice or offering.' "
Samuel lay down until morning and then opened the doors of the house of the LORD . He was afraid to tell Eli the vision, but Eli called him and said, "Samuel, my son." Samuel answered, "Here I am." "What was it he said to you?" Eli asked. "Do not hide it from me. May God deal with you, be it ever so severely, if you hide from me anything he told you." So Samuel told him everything, hiding nothing from him. Then Eli said, "He is the LORD ; let him do what is good in his eyes."
The LORD was with Samuel as he grew up, and he let none of his words fall to the ground. And all Israel from Dan to Beersheba recognized that Samuel was attested as a prophet of the LORD. The LORD continued to appear at Shiloh, and there he revealed himself to Samuel through his word.
There are some important principles to see here. Personal prophecy given to someone for another person is usually a confirmation of what the Lord has already said to the person. You should be wary of acting on a 'word from the Lord' from someone else without doing what Manoah did - praying for God to confirm or clarify what has been said. It is possible to grow up in the Lord's house and not recognise the Lord's voice when he speaks. Those who recognise the Lord's voice have the responsibility to help others grow in this. Eli did not presume that the Lord would speak again but guided Samuel in what to do to prepare himself and what to say, "if he calls you". Samuel showed respect and obedience to Eli. His response, "Speak, for your servant is listening." is the one we should have if we are serious about hearing God's voice.
Not all words from the Lord are comfortable or easy to share, and not all people will respond as well as Eli did to the very hard word of judgement. We know of an ocassion some years ago when the Lord gave a leader a morning Bible reading which he shared with his wife. They both read it as encouraging and hopeful, although it also held a warning. He felt that it was for their church. He didn't want to mention it but they asked God for wisdom about if and when to say anything. They gathered for prayer before the Sunday service and within a very short time one of the leaders said, "I think you have a word from the Lord this morning." With that invitation he felt OK to read the parable which they had felt held a positive word for the church. However, the leader heard just the warning and criticised him. "Words from the Lord should encourage, not condemn. Because I feel condemned this isn't a word from the Lord." He rejected the word, and the eventual result for him was trouble, because the word was true.
God will sometimes reveal negative things to us so that we might intercede. It is not a word to be shared but a word of knowledge given to us so we might 'stand in the gap'. The person or situation is to be brought to the Lord in repentance and intercession, pleading for God's mercy and forgiveness. This is what often happens when we are interceding for someone in prayer ministry. We record only the positive revelations on the sheet given to the person but enter into spiritual warfare for the negative things. Pastors sometimes have a hard time when intercessors run around telling people the things that have been given to them for prayer not for sharing. More of this in our course on Intercession and Spiritual Warfare.
Back to Samuel. As he grew up the Lord was with him. It became known in Israel that when Samuel spoke what he said happened - the test of a true prophet. He was a prophet of the Lord who grew in this gift of receiving the word of the Lord. He was obedient and God revealed himself to Samuel through his word (v.21). "And Samuel's word came to all Israel." (1 Samuel 4:1). Rats and tumours were sent as signs of God's displeasure when the ark of God was captured by the Philistines shortly after (1 Samuel 5-6). When Samuel anointed Saul as the first king of Israel he told him several things would happen on his way home (1 Samuel 10:6-7,9). "The Spirit of the LORD will come upon you in power, and you will prophesy with them; and you will be changed into a different person. Once these signs are fulfilled, do whatever your hand finds to do, for God is with you. As Saul turned to leave Samuel, God changed Saul's heart, and all these signs were fulfilled that day."
The prophets of course brought messages from the Lord in both word and deed. Isaiah was told to go around stripped and barefoot as a picture of what would happen when God's judgement came to Egypt and Cush (Isaiah 20:2-4). Jeremiah was told to buy a field to symbolise the promise God had given of restoration after captivity (Jeremiah 32). Hosea was told to marry a prostitute as a picture of the adultery of his people who had departed from the Lord (Hosea 1:2). The Psalms records further ways in which God speaks: the creative word (33:6); through nature (19:1,68:33,); the pillar of cloud (99:7); signs and wonders (105:27-36); he guides through the written word (119:105,130); and personal instruction (32:8); answered prayer for deliverance (22:4-5); healing (107:20)
He spoke to believers and followers as well as pagan kings. The Holy Spirit was given to specific people for particular tasks, but was not loose in the world as would happen later. God was always speaking but not all would listen. This is as true today as then.