Words. They are the bricks that construct thoughts. Without them, we can’t communicate deeply. Words are needed in any society to cooperate, exchange, and empathize. In order to survive in the world, children expend great effort in order to learn how to recognize and understand words. Words are types of passports allowing us to travel into other people’s worlds. Since humanity began, we’ve had words. What is written down has recorded, molded, and protected human history. Words illuminate. They create light in darkness. They place ideas where there were none. They reveal something previously unrevealed, and shape their hearers in the process.
Let’s see some of the ways that the term “word” functions in the Bible.
1. Words Promised
In the story of the Bible, Yahweh, the Maker of the universe, creates a good world, placing his co-rulers — Adam and Eve — in it to grow it and foster its growth. Words begin the story of the world as God’s instrument in making everything (Psalm 33:6, Hebrews 11:3). Humanity is given the glorious task of growing God’s character in the world through their effort. God instructs humans how to accomplish this task face-to-face, through words (Genesis 1:28-30, 2:16-17). God’s speech provided the crucial means for rightly being in the world.
When Yahweh begins to create a family of people marked by his goodness, he gives Abram promises through divine speech. God promises land, descendants, and influence to Abram and these particular words become the foundation for God’s people’s identity (Genesis 15:1). By repeatedly reminding themselves of them, these promised words of Yahweh are the sustaining food of his people as the journey through growth, slavery, and new homes. The very words of God give his people an identity as a family moving towards a new land in hope (Josh 1:13). And as the words reach levels of fulfillment, Israel’s trust in God increases — like in Joshua’s words, “You know in your hearts and souls, all of you, that not one word has failed of all the good things that Yahweh your God promised concerning you. All have come to pass for you; not one of them has failed (Joshua 23:14, also see Lamentations 2:17). As God makes good on his promised words, his people grow in hope.
2. Words Provided
God’s words not only gave his people direction and identity, but they also provided them with the means necessary to sustain fellowship. When Israel whole-heartedly abandoned Yahweh, he primarily displayed his grace and faithfulness in the presence of his words through his spokesmen. The presence of God’s word proved that he hadn’t abandoned his people, and was still working among them for his purposes (Jeremiah 1:4, Ezekiel 1:3, Hosea 1:1, Joel 1:1, Jonah 1:1, Micah 1:1, Zephaniah 1:1, Haggai 1:3, Zechariah 1:1, Malachi 1:1).
The ideal relationship between God and his people is a return to the face-to-face communication that was bitterly lost in the Garden. In the Prophets, a day is longed for when at last the word of God is continually spreading and continually known by all peoples of the earth (Isaiah 2:3, Micah 4:2). But, the reality for Israel is that they repetitively broke Yahweh’s words (especially the ten given in Exodus 20). Again, God mercifully illumines a path for his people to live with a right posture towards him. His words become Israel’s life (Deuteronomy 8:3), energy (Deuteronomy 30:14), and light to live in a way that pleases him (Deuteronomy 32:47).
God’s words are crucial for his people’s existence and preservation. Displaying both his presence and his faithfulness, the words of God are a mediator between the unrevealed and the revealed. They mercifully give light into life-sustaining, fellowship-maintaining knowledge that they’d never know otherwise — a guide for a right relationship with Yahweh (Psalm 119:105). Without his word, we are lost.
3. The Word Personified
In Psalm 54, David is captured and worried. His cry goes to Yahweh for deliverance as he expresses the pains of his tossings and tears induced by his lurking enemies. Despite the danger than surrounds him, David makes resolutions to trust Yahweh (56:3), know his favor (56:9), and express devotion to him alone (56:4, 8, 10-12), since he knows that men cannot truly harm him (56:4, 11). Twice, David directs his rejoicing to “God, whose word I praise” (56:4, 10). Here in Psalm 54, the word of God takes on a type of personification as the object of David’s praise. Yahweh is so closely tied to his word that David directs his worship to Yahweh and his word which reminds him of Yahweh’s merciful, loving character in the midst of his personal struggle.
Is it any wonder, then, that the silence in God’s speech after Israel’s exile is definitively broken as God’s Word becomes man and lives among humanity (John 1:14). All of the words that God promised and provided to his people are completed in the incarnate Son of God: the Messiah Jesus — God’s presence perfectly personified. After Jesus returned to Heaven, the Apostles understood Jesus’ continued presence among them as his word — the term that becomes synonymous with God’s presence (1 John 1:10, 2:14 — a New Covenant promise fulfilled). God and his word are forever linked as what brings salvation (1 Peter 1:23), giving his new people direction and identity as they live in sustained fellowship with the One who is clothed in a robe dipped in blood, and the name by which he is called is The Word of God (Revelation 19:13).