Give Us the Word This Christmas

The Word of the LORD in Jeremiah 

While studying and teaching the book of the prophet Jeremiah early this year in the student ministry, I discovered a little volume entitled A Mouth Full of Fire: The Word of God in the Words of Jeremiah by Andrew G. Shead. It was quite the read. Shead set out to examine every instance in the book in which a reference to the “word of God” was made, and then he proposed  a theology for the word of God in Jeremiah and to some extent compared this a theology for the word of God in the whole of the biblical narrative. In Jeremiah, the word of God is a, if not the, primary theme. Just consider here the frequency of use demonstrated in the following chart:

דְבַריְהוָהַ or “Word of the LORD” in the Prophets

 

Total Hits

Hits per 1000 Words

Isaiah

12

0.47

Jeremiah

63

1.89

Ezekiel

57

1.89

Daniel

1

0.10

Hosea

3

0.83

Joel

1

0.69

Amos

3

0.99

Obadiah

0

0.00

Jonah

3

2.77

Micah

2

0.94

Nahum-Habakkuk

0

0.00

Zephaniah

2

1.76

Haggai

5

5.42

Zechariah

13

2.68

Malachi

1

0.76

The chart demonstrates that the “word of the LORD” construction makes frequent appearances in the writings of the OT prophets (there are also other phrases that could be examined, but were not included here for the sake of brevity). The top five frequencies are found in Haggai, Jonah, Zechariah, Jeremiah and Ezekiel, and lastly Zephaniah. It would be interesting to do theology of the “word of the LORD” for each of the prophets in order to discover the similarities and unique traits throughout the prophets. Daniel’s one use of the construction is interesting to this study as it refers to “the word of the LORD to Jeremiah the prophet” (Daniel 9:2).

To summarize Shead—and hopefully do justice to his good exegetical work—the phrase “word of the LORD” is specifically the message of God, which is found in the words of Jeremiah (Jeremiah 1:1; 26:20; 36:10; 51:64). The “words of Jeremiah” are also “the words of God” (1:9; 15:16); however, when the singular is used in the phrase “word of the LORD,” a specific message with a powerful purpose is indicated. At times in the prophet’s writing, it is as if the “word of the LORD” becomes a person and accomplishes his purpose. It is not too much to say that the “word of the LORD” is the main character of the book of Jeremiah.

The prophet “consumes” the words of God (15:16), and they become to him his delight and joy. The words of God, which contain the message of God, sustain Jeremiah in his lonely, lonely work as the prophet to whom no one would listen. It sustains him so deeply that he could say, “I have not run away from being your shepherd, not have I desired the day of sickness. You know what came out of my lips; it was before your face” (Jeremiah 17:16). Isn’t it true? Judgment was coming upon the people of Judah; they would not listen. Jeremiah had the message of God; yet, he was alone in listening to it. Although he wept at the hard-heartedness of his own people, the word of God sustained him. The message of God became the anchor of his soul, his delight, his joy. Further, although true listeners, like his friend Baruch, were few and far between, he had to proclaim the message. In Jeremiah 20:9, he says, “If I say, ‘I will not mention him, or speak any more in his name,’ there is in my heart as it were a burning fire shut up in my bones, and I am weary with holding it in, and I cannot.” He could not suppress or stuff the message of God deep inside so that it never came out of his mouth; he says it was like a fire, burning him up from the inside—he had to open his mouth so that the “flames” could exit and fulfill the purpose of the message of God.

It is to this I would like to turn our attention—the purpose of the message of God in the book of Jeremiah. I find this very powerful, and again, I credit Shead for setting me on the path to discover this insight. Remember that I said earlier, it is as if the “word of the LORD” is a person, the main character, in the book of Jeremiah. I may say further that it is a warrior, sword in hand, to either tear down what needs to be destroyed and/or to build up what must be sustained or rebuilt. The “word of the LORD” is fierce and entirely sovereign in its ability to accomplish this destruction or construction. No one could stop it. No one could prevent it. We are informed of this purpose very early in the book, at the calling of Jeremiah, “Then the LORD put out his hand and touched my mouth. And the LORD said to me, ‘Behold, I have put my words in your mouth. See, I have set you this day over nations and over kingdoms, to pluck up and to break down, to destroy and to overthrow, to build and to plant’” (Jeremiah 1:9–10; cf. 31:28 ESV). The prophet Jeremiah would speak the words of God to the people of Judah, from the greatest to the least, and through these words the message of God would destroy and/or strengthen.

The Word of the LORD beyond Jeremiah

Now, let us take what we have learned about the “word of the LORD” or the message of God from the prophet Jeremiah, and consider the rest of Scripture. For example, think about the creation of the world. Do you remember how it was that God created the world?

And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. And God saw that the light was good. And God separated the light from the darkness. God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And there was evening and there was morning, the first day. And God said, “Let there be an expanse in the midst of the waters, and let it separate the waters from the waters.” And God made the expanse and separated the waters that were under the expanse from the waters that were above the expanse. And it was so. And God called the expanse Heaven. And there was evening and there was morning, the second day.  And God said, “Let the waters under the heavens be gathered together into one place, and let the dry land appear.” And it was so. God called the dry land Earth, and the waters that were gathered together he called Seas. And God saw that it was good. And God said, “Let the earth sprout vegetation, plants yielding seed, and fruit trees bearing fruit in which is their seed, each according to its kind, on the earth.” And it was so. The earth brought forth vegetation, plants yielding seed according to their own kinds, and trees bearing fruit in which is their seed, each according to its kind. And God saw that it was good. And there was evening and there was morning, the third day. And God said, “Let there be lights in the expanse of the heavens to separate the day from the night. And let them be for signs and for seasons, and for days and years, and let them be lights in the expanse of the heavens to give light upon the earth.” And it was so. And God made the two great lights—the greater light to rule the day and the lesser light to rule the night—and the stars. And God set them in the expanse of the heavens to give light on the earth, to rule over the day and over the night, and to separate the light from the darkness. And God saw that it was good. And there was evening and there was morning, the fourth day.  And God said, “Let the waters swarm with swarms of living creatures, and let birds fly above the earth across the expanse of the heavens.” So God created the great sea creatures and every living creature that moves, with which the waters swarm, according to their kinds, and every winged bird according to its kind. And God saw that it was good. And God blessed them, saying, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the waters in the seas, and let birds multiply on the earth.” And there was evening and there was morning, the fifth day.  And God said, “Let the earth bring forth living creatures according to their kinds—livestock and creeping things and beasts of the earth according to their kinds.” And it was so. And God made the beasts of the earth according to their kinds and the livestock according to their kinds, and everything that creeps on the ground according to its kind. And God saw that it was good. Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.” So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. And God blessed them. And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.” And God said, “Behold, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is on the face of all the earth, and every tree with seed in its fruit. You shall have them for food. And to every beast of the earth and to every bird of the heavens and to everything that creeps on the earth, everything that has the breath of life, I have given every green plant for food.” And it was so. And God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good. And there was evening and there was morning, the sixth day. Thus the heavens and the earth were finished, and all the host of them. And on the seventh day God finished his work that he had done, and he rested on the seventh day from all his work that he had done. So God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it God rested from all his work that he had done in creation” (Genesis 1:3–2:3 ESV).

God created all things by the power of his word. His word “built up” the creation. Perhaps there are some differences between the theology of the word here in Genesis and what we observed in Jeremiah; however, I think it is a mistake to miss the similarity that where the words of God are found, the message of either destruction or construction is also found. Consider the sheer power of the word of God. His word has the power to brings new things into existence, to give life. In light of this, consider the potential power of the word of God in your life. Are you submitting yourself to the destroying and constructing power of the message of God? To the preaching, to the study, to the reading, to the internalizing of the word of the LORD? Surely, we all have things in our lives that need to be destroyed by the message of God. Surely, we all have things that need to be built or strengthened in our lives.

The Word of the LORD Incarnate

Now, Christmas is fast approaching. It is the time of year during which we often think afresh about the incarnation of the Lord Jesus Christ. May I suggest to you that at the incarnation the “word of the LORD” truly and actually becomes a person? Consider the words of the apostle John, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it” (John 1:1–5 ESV). And again, “The true light, which gives light to everyone, was coming into the world. He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him. He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him. But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God . . . And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:9–14 ESV). The same word that spoke the creation into existence, from which came all of life, and the same word that speaks to the people of God throughout the history in order to tear down and to build up, this same word has now become a person. John writing later in his first epistle teach us that, “The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil” (1 John 3:8). He came to destroy sin and death, and he accomplished this through his cross. He also came to build. He is building his church, and as the Creator and now Savior, he builds new life through his resurrection, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come” (2 Corinthians 5:17). Ironically, the personified Word, Jesus Christ, who came to destroy and to build up would accomplish these ministries of the “word of the LORD” by he himself being destroyed and built up, “Jesus answered them, ‘Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up . . . But he was speaking about the temple of his body. When therefore he was raised from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this, and they believed the Scripture and the word that Jesus had spoken” (John 2:19, 21–22).

Father, Give Us the Word This Christmas

Dear Christian—are you believing the “word that Jesus had spoken”? Dear sinner—have you submitted yourself to the destroying and building power of the message of God in the holy Scriptures and in the person of Jesus Christ? Are you in the word and in the Word? Everyday, we must allow the message of God in the gospel to be preached to us that our hard heartedness may be destroyed and that new life and obedience may be strengthened and built up. This word is the most powerful thing there is; we must subject ourselves to it. I pray that this Christmas season would be a reminder to you of the great lengths to which God has gone in his love and glory to engage the world with the power of his word.

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