Wednesday, 1 August 2018
God, who at various times and in various ways spoke in time past to the fathers by the prophets, Hebrews 1:1
Rather than opening with a greeting, or an appeal for blessing upon the reader, the epistle to the Hebrews begins with an outright statement of theological truth. Rendered in its original order, and in a literal translation, it reads, “Variously (in parts), and variously (in ways), formerly the God having spoken to the fathers in the prophets.”
In this, a contrast is going to be made between what God has done, and what He will now do. This is the first half of that contrast. There is a revelation of God through the prophetic word, just as there is a revelation of God in His creation. They differ though. Creation speaks of God’s revelation in a general way (general revelation). We can know He is there, and we can deduce things about Him from creation. However, unless He specifically reveals certain things, we could never deduce them. His name is a good example of this. As His name reflects His being, we are left with a void in our understanding of many things about God without knowing His name. That is only one of a countless host of things that we could never deduce without Him revealing the information to us.
However, God does reveal Himself to us in a special way (special revelation). That is through His spoken word. And so the author says that God, “at various times and in various ways spoke.”
“At various times” speaks of God’s progressive revelation of Himself. He reveals what He wishes when He wishes to reveal it. There is a logical, orderly succession of revelations which are leading to a fuller and fuller understanding of who He is, what He expects, how He will fix what happened at the fall, and so on. A good example of progressive revelation is when He spoke to Moses with the words –
God chose, at a particular time, and for a particular reason, to reveal His name to Moses. He also chose to conceal what He would do in the church. The Jews had no idea what was coming in Christ, and how he would establish the church. This is spoken of by Paul. He calls it a “mystery” in Ephesians 3:8-13. Elsewhere, this term “mystery” is used to explain other things that had never been previously revealed by God, but which were revealed at exactly the right moment in order to effect His purposes and to reveal His hidden knowledge to the people of the world. This was even alluded to in all the way back in Deuteronomy –
“The secret things belong to the Lord our God, but those things which are revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may do all the words of this law.” Deuteronomy 29:29
Several of the various ways that God spoke are noted in the Old Testament. Job hints at some of them –
“For God may speak in one way, or in another,
Yet man does not perceive it.
15 In a dream, in a vision of the night,
When deep sleep falls upon men,
While slumbering on their beds,
16 Then He opens the ears of men,
And seals their instruction.” Job 33:14-16
There are times when the Lord spoke directly to an individual, Moses for example. There are other times where He would speak through an individual, such as is recorded in 1 Chronicles 12:18.
Further, God would increase the sophistication of His revelation based on the maturity of the audience, and even within a particular concept – going from elementary revelation of an issue to a more developed and spiritual understanding of that issue. The sacrificial system is a good example of this. At first, the people were instructed to simply obey the sacrificial laws in a prescribed manner. However, it was later revealed that sacrifices without an accompanying heart that was right before the Lord were unacceptable (e.g. see Isaiah 1:11).
These are some of the various times and ways God “spoke in time past to the fathers by the prophets.” The Greek word for “in time past” is an adverb which signifies “formerly.” We could say, “of old.” It is the way God once spoke, but no longer does. God gave revelation in these times and ways, but that way is now over. The contrasting way will be explained in the next verse. This can be fully understood in Jesus’ words about John the Baptist. In Matthew 11:13, Jesus says, “For all the prophets and the law prophesied until John.” Now, something new has come about.
God spoke to the fathers through the prophets. He did it in that way in the past, and He did it at various times and in various ways. However, all things were leading to something greater. Our author will next reveal that to us.
Life application: Hebrews is going to be an involved study. It will contain as much instruction as a technical manual, and it will hold as much doctrine as any in-depth work needed to obtain a doctoral dissertation (and more); but one verse at a time, and each verse in its proper context, and we will get through it all the wiser in the things of God. Let us be patient, meticulous, and willing to see this book through until the end.
Lord God, what an absolute treasure Your word is. Thank You for the many levels of understanding which can be drawn out of it. A child can hear the simple message of Jesus and come to an understanding of his need for Him, and the greatest scholarly mind ever can come away astonished at the depth of information he has learned from a careful study of a particular doctrine found in it. There is abundant wealth in Your word. Thank You for the riches we receive from it! Amen.