When God gave the Ten Commandments at Mount Sinai, even Moses was trembling with fear. And the people said to Moses, “You speak to us, and we will listen; but do not let God speak to us, lest we die” (Exodus 20:19). So God spoke to Moses, and Moses spoke the words of God to the people. This was the ministry of the Old Testament prophets.
People who are given positions of power often begin to feel that they are somehow beyond the rules that apply to others. That’s how it was for David. One day the king saw a married woman by the name of Bathsheba. David had the power to get what he wanted, so he ignored God’s law and took the woman.
David loved the Lord, but even a heart that loves God can harbor some strange affections. David’s feelings for Bathsheba were utterly offensive to God, but they were also very powerful and he gave way to them.
When David found that Bathsheba was pregnant, he scrambled to cover his tracks. David ordered that the woman’s husband, Uriah, be sent home from the battlefield under the guise of bringing news from the army. If Uriah spent a few nights at home with his wife, he would be identified as the father of the child.
But it didn’t work. Uriah was a conscientious soldier, and he did not feel that he should be at home with his wife while others were risking their lives on the field of battle. So David had to resort to more desperate measures. He ordered that Uriah be put on the front lines, making his death inevitable (2 Samuel 11:5–17).
A short time later, David took the recently widowed Bathsheba to be his wife. The whole thing happened without a trace of public knowledge. It was the ultimate cover-up. Except for one thing: “The thing that David had done displeased the LORD” (11:27). God saw what was done, and He did not remain silent.
Speaking the Word of God
David thought that his cover-up of the scandal had been successful, until Nathan the prophet arrived at the palace. Using a clever parable, Nathan told David about a rich man who stole a poor man’s lamb. As David listened to the story, he was filled with anger at what this man had done. He wanted to know who the man was so that he could see him brought to justice.
Notice that what angered David was a reflection of his own sin. The rich man took what belonged to, and was dearly loved by, another person. This was what David had done. And when he saw his sin in someone else, he hated it and condemned it.
When someone else’s sin makes you angry, here’s what you can do: depersonalize it and write down what it is. This is greed. This is pride. This is lust. This is deception. This is idolatry. Then ask God to show you where in your life you might be guilty of the same thing. What makes you most angry in others may be hiding in your own heart.
God opened David’s eyes to the sin hiding in his heart when Nathan said, “You are the man!” (12:7). David’s defenses were ripped wide open. But this was God’s grace in action. David had moved into the darkness, and God sent a prophet to bring him back.
Down through the centuries, God spoke His Word through the prophets. But in the fullness of time, God sent His Son (see Hebrews 1:1–2): “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us” (John 1:14).
The prophets heard the Word of God, but Jesus is the Word of God. The words He spoke were given to Him by the Father: “I have not spoken on my own authority, but the Father who sent me has himself given me a commandment—what to say and what to speak… What I say, therefore, I say as the Father has told me” (John 12:49–50).
But Jesus is more than a prophet. He claimed what no other prophet would dare to say: “I and the Father are one” and “Whoever has seen me has seen the Father” (John 10:30; 14:9).
Standing in a Prophet’s Shoes
What was it like for a prophet to receive the Word of God? The apostle Peter tells us about this in the New Testament: “No prophecy of Scripture comes from someone’s own interpretation. For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit” (2 Peter 1:20–21)
The best way to grasp what Peter is saying here is through a story in the book of Acts. Paul was under arrest, and he was being taken by ship as a prisoner to Rome. Luke records: “A tempestuous wind, called the northeaster, struck down from the land. And when the ship was caught and could not face the wind, we gave way to it and were driven along” (Acts 27:14–15).
The word Luke used for the ship being “driven along” by the wind is the same word Peter used for the prophets being “carried along” by the Holy Spirit. How much control do you have when you are in a ship being carried along in a storm? Not much. The direction of the boat is controlled by the wind. The message of the prophets was controlled by the Spirit.
The words of the prophets came from God. These men “spoke from God” (2 Peter 1:21). They did not control the message; the message controlled them. It came to them from God like a mighty wind, and they were carried along so that what they wrote was exactly what God wanted them to say.
How do we know who God is? How do we know what truth is? The answer is that God speaks. The prophets were given the unique privilege of standing in the presence of God and hearing the voice of God, so that they could speak the words of God to the people. If God had not made Himself known, all we would have is the sum of human experience, much of which is immensely painful. In a world of opinion, God has given us revelation.
This is how the prophets could speak about things that otherwise could not have been known. Isaiah spoke about a virgin who would conceive and give birth to a son (Isaiah 7:14). Zechariah spoke about a king who would come to Jerusalem riding on a donkey (Zechariah 9:9). The only way prophets could have known these things was that God told them.
How did Nathan know about David’s adultery? God told him! God spoke to Nathan and blew David’s cover apart.
Responding to the Word of God
When God confronted David through Nathan, the king said, “I have sinned against the LORD” (2 Samuel 12:13). David could have said, “Nathan, you don’t understand. My marriage has been dead for years.” That may have been true. Or David might have said, “Nathan, I know that I’ve done wrong, but other leaders have done the same thing or worse.” That also would have been true. But David made no excuses. He said, “I have sinned against the LORD.” Would you have said that? How you respond to the Word of God when your sin is revealed will say a great deal about you.
David found that honest confession led to forgiveness from God. The pain of his suppressed conscience was released, and the joy of his salvation was restored.
A thousand years later, God confronted another king named Herod through a prophet whose name was John the Baptist. Herod was very interested in spiritual things, and he liked listening to John’s preaching.
One day God gave John words to speak to Herod about his illicit relationship with his brother’s wife. The king didn’t want to hear it, and in the end, he ordered that the head of John the Baptist be brought to him on a plate.
Despite this atrocity, Herod was interested in meeting Jesus. And when he had the opportunity, he plied him with many questions, but Jesus refused to answer (Luke 23:9). Herod had refused God’s word to him through John the Baptist. He had hardened his heart, and now the Savior had nothing more to say to him.
As far as we can tell, the next time God spoke to Herod it was without a prophet and without a Savior. The next time he heard the Word of God, he was in the presence of God.
David made a better choice than Herod. He listened to the Word of God even when it exposed him, and he responded with faith and repentance. God restored David, and He did it through His Word.
If you have ever wished that God would speak to you, you need to know that He does. God speaks through His Word and by His Spirit. When His Word is opened, His voice is heard.
As you study the Bible and hear it proclaimed, you will find that God says some things that can be hard to take. Hearing the truth about your sins will make you uncomfortable. But whenever God speaks, it is a sign of His grace. His purpose is always to restore and to bless. When you open the Bible, you are reading the Word of God and you can trust all that God says.