God’s Actions Correspond To His Words (Pt. 1)

Introduction

Modern biblical hermeneutics has become increasingly sophisticated and complex. Yet with all of the subtlety of the “science of hermeneutics” it is easy to forget that the Bible is its own best interpreter. I do not advocate throwing contemporary hermeneutics manuals into the trash; I have benefit from many of them, but I do believe that we can blindly follow these manuals and not take thought for some of the simple lessons which Scripture presents us with. I think this is true because we all have a tendency to ignore the obvious (or what should be obvious), and to think that when we are getting more intricate and using more brain cells we are getting closer to the truth. But I suspect that quite often the opposite is true. The truth is staring us in the face. Indeed, although good things have been gleaned, we have perhaps been traveling interpretive paths which we have forged for ourselves only to discover that we are in the thick of the weeds, stickers and brambles of contradictory ideas and uncertain fads.

One Christian philosopher has well stated,

“Hermeneutics as a discipline is as wild and woolly as it has ever been, and its future shape and even its existence are impossible to predict.” – Greg Clark, “Contemporary Hermeneutics,” in Scot McKnight & Grant Osbourne, editors, The Face of New Testament Studies, (Apollos, 2004), 115.

I completely agree with that estimate. I have previously presented some work I have done in classifying the relationships between doctrines and their supporting texts (see The Rules of Affinity), where I demonstrated that, among other things, the fundamental doctrines of Christianity all possess strong affinity with the texts of Scripture that are commonly used to support them. The favored doctrines of different theological “cliques”, not so much.

But there is an important fact about the words of God Himself in Scripture that deserves a great deal more reflection and analysis. It is this:

God’s Actions Always Follow His Words

It may seem almost too basic for some people to swallow, but the God who tells us “Let your ‘yes’ be ‘yes’ and your ‘no’ be ‘no'” (Matt. 5:36; Jam. 5:12), actually practices what He preaches.  More than that, with rare exceptions owing to a show of repentance (like in the case of Ahab or in the book of Jonah), if God says He will do something then He does it.  This can be sampled in any number pf places.  I’ll start things off in Genesis 1, but before I do I want to present a basic hermeneutical triad:   

A Theistic Interpretive Triad:

GOD SAYS – GOD DOES: God announces what He will do, then He does what He says.  His thoughts equate to his words, and His words equate to His works

GOD SAID – GOD DID: God predicted something, and He brought to pass what He predicted

GOD VOWED – GOD OBLIGATES HIMSELF TO DO: God covenanted something, and later writers still say He is covenanted to fulfill the specific terms of the covenant  

OLD TESTAMENT – The Early Chapters of Genesis

N.B. Please be sure to READ these passages so that my point hits home.  

Then God said, “Let there be light”; and there was light (Gen 1:3 NAS)

Simple isn’t it?  Too simple?  One thing’s for certain, modern hermeneutics books would be totally pointless in creation week.  

Let me drive it home:

Then 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 which were below the expanse from the waters which were above the expanse; and it was so (Gen 1:6-7 NAS)

Then God said, “Let the earth sprout vegetation, plants yielding seed, and fruit trees bearing fruit after their kind, with seed in them, on the earth”; and it was so.  And the earth brought forth vegetation, plants yielding seed after their kind, and trees bearing fruit, with seed in them, after their kind; and God saw that it was good.  (Gen 1:11-12 NAS)

Then 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 for lights in the expanse of the heavens to give light on the earth”; and it was so.  And God made the two great lights, the greater light to govern the day, and the lesser light to govern the night; He made the stars also. (Gen 1:14-16 NAS).

All through creation week this is the way God operates.  He states His intention and then He carries it out to the letter.  Now the creation of everything according to God’s will is no trifling matter, but this pattern of God doing what He said He would do is repeated all through the first chapter of the Bible.    

The same pattern continues in Genesis 2 and 3.  God commands man not to eat from the forbidden tree.  When he does he dies (in the real sense of being alienated from his Maker).  Then he signals His intent to make a companion for the man:

Then the LORD God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone; I will make him a helper suitable for him. (Gen 2:18 NAS)

And what did He do?

And the LORD God fashioned into a woman the rib which He had taken from the man, and brought her to the man. (Gen 2:22 NAS)

What about Noah and the flood?

And the LORD said, “I will blot out man whom I have created from the face of the land, from man to animals to creeping things and to birds of the sky; for I am sorry that I have made them.”  But Noah found favor in the eyes of the LORD (Gen 6:7-8 NAS)

Notice that the “But Noah” clause makes no sense unless the Lord  really meant to do what He threatened to do.  Well, did God destroy all life from the face of the earth except for Noah and those in the Ark?  That would be a yes.  What about the Ark itself?  Noah could not have had anything approaching the experience that the Lord predicted to him, and the construction of such a huge craft on the basis of what God said was a real act of faith (Heb. 11:7).   

Make for yourself an ark of gopher wood; you shall make the ark with rooms, and shall cover it inside and out with pitch.  “And this is how you shall make it: the length of the ark three hundred cubits, its breadth fifty cubits, and its height thirty cubits.  “You shall make a window for the ark, and finish it to a cubit from the top; and set the door of the ark in the side of it; you shall make it with lower, second, and third decks.  “And behold, I, even I am bringing the flood of water upon the earth, to destroy all flesh in which is the breath of life, from under heaven; everything that is on the earth shall perish.  “But I will establish My covenant with you; and you shall enter the ark– you and your sons and your wife, and your sons’ wives with you. (Gen 6:14-18 NAS)

If God is not in the habit of meaning precisely what He says Noah would have had cause to question God about how literally he ought to take His words.  After all, there was a great deal at stake! 

Other Old Testament Examples

I could cite many more examples from the Pentateuch, but let me move on to other books.  Here’s one involving Elijah:

God’s word:

But the angel of the LORD said to Elijah the Tishbite, “Arise, go up to meet the messengers of the king of Samaria and say to them, ‘Is it because there is no God in Israel that you are going to inquire of Baal-zebub, the god of Ekron?’  Now therefore thus says the LORD, ‘You shall not come down from the bed where you have gone up, but you shall surely die.’” Then Elijah departed. – 2 Kings 1:3-4

God’s action:

Then he said to him, “Thus says the LORD, ‘Because you have sent messengers to inquire of Baal-zebub, the god of Ekron—is it because there is no God in Israel to inquire of His word?—therefore you shall not come down from the bed where you have gone up, but shall surely die.’”  So Ahaziah died according to the word of the LORD which Elijah had spoken. – 2 Kings 1:16-17

There would be little point in God giving a word to a prophet and then not following up on it.  Hence with Elisha’s instructions to Naaman (see 2 Kings 5:10, 14).  

We will continue with this pattern next time.  In the meantime I encourage you to do this for yourself.  Find a place where God says He will do such and such (e.g. bring the Assyrians or Chaldeans), and then find the fulfillment of God’s words.  You will see this pattern of God’s actions equaling God’s words.    

Sometimes the profoundest truths don’t dawn on us because we fail to meditate sufficiently upon them. 

10 thoughts on “God’s Actions Correspond To His Words (Pt. 1)”

  1. Could you look at Isajah 38 and in context of Your post and help me to understend it properly. Several times I talked with people showing me that God changed His will and decision in this text. God said through Izaiah “Set thine house in order: for thou shalt die, and not live.” but Hezekiah prayed and this was changed.

    1. Yes Tomek,

      Like I said, “with rare exceptions owing to a show of repentance (like in the case of Ahab or in the book of Jonah).”

      Hezekiah’s recovery is another one. None of these impact the basic thesis since these things would have happened just as God had said but for the Lord’s willingness to respond to repentance. However, the main point is that God means what He says. If He permits alterations to the original statement He is at liberty to do that, but there is never any spiritualizing of the words.

      Did God change His will? As expressed in His words Yes, but notice that it is in situations where repentance is possible. There is no repentance possible in the examples I have given and will give. Moreover, God’s prophetic word regarding world history (e.g. Dan. 2 & 9; Jer. 31 & 33), is usually bound by an oath, and is not conditioned in the same way.

  2. Great stuff, look forward to further posts in this series.

    Thinking afresh about this principle (that what God says will happen, happens) as demonstrated in the first two chapters of scripture, and how the resulting universe must have run like precision clockwork according to its Maker’s Will- it’s just struck me again as if for the first time how monstrous the events in chapter 3 really were. Humankind carrying out actions in contradiction of that Will!

  3. In missions to unreached people groups who do not know of God/ Jesus/ the Bible, our mission starts teaching with God before the beginning of time to establish his greatness by the principles presented in this series and thereby to establish God’s credibility. God being the owner of all things, has the right and authority to expect man to know and obey God at his word. Showing them the history of man’s rebellion and God’s warnings being fulfilled through the Old Testament helps these people to realize that YHWH will not tolerate their sinful disobedience, that he does not give empty threats, but upholds his promise to punish wickedness. I like to say that the Old Testament gets people good and lost before the New Testament provides the answer in salvation. God’s promise to send the redeemer is then much more readily received knowing that God does what he says and that we can really have hope in the promise of his second coming. God always does what he says he will do regardless of how long we have to wait. That is where faith comes in. Relying on God to keep his promises and walking through life with confidence that what he says he has and will continue to do. Blessings.

  4. God’s actions are not in line with his characterizations of himself many times, though. He says that he is slow to anger, while still striking some down without warning (Leviticus 10) and meting out great punishments (Moses not entering Canaan, David’s plague, the kingdom being fated to civil war, for moral lapses with almost no prior warning, if any.
    And while saying that he’s changed his mind about filial punishment for paternal sins, original sin is still very much alive. And despite Jesus saying the ignorant will have fewer stripes, they still burn in hell for infinite duration because God is too holy to love those who do not hide behind Jesus’s flesh.
    All our theologians explain these cases away as just or add unbiblical chances to repent, but then shift gears when the pentant have a chance to survive and take it.

    1. This is a bit of a scrambled rant, but it raises a good question. The answer, however, is not difficult. The fact of the matter is that God told people about punishments way ahead of meting them out. The sons of Levi were well aware that they were forbidden to offer “strange fire” to the Lord. Moses knew that as God’s chosen mouthpiece he could not contradict God’s word without denying his calling. David knew He should have trusted in God rather than men (he even wrote about it). God’s law always said that the children are not liable for the sins of their parents, although saying that is different than requiring that He ignore His own foreknowledge of the influence of the parents teachings on their offspring (e.g. lasciviousness, idolatry, etc.).

      As for your remark about God being too holy to love those who do not hide behind Jesus’ flesh, well, this tells me that you are an unbeliever and a poor theologian. That’s alright. I am not judging you, but you misunderstand the Gospel. We are all sinners. We inherit original sin and we act on it all the time. Thus, we are guilty. We need to be holy but we are not. Jesus became a man to bear our sins and give us His righteousness so that God could justly declare us righteous (holy – i.e. saints) before Him. Those who refuse the offer of the Gospel are yet under God’s wrath. Those who have never heard the Gospel are dealt with in Romans 1. I do not understand your last sentence at all.

  5. There are a couple of instances in which clear statements of God don’t seem to play out, that have always puzzled me a little:
    -in 1 Kings 19:15-18 God gives Elijah a small list of instructions and predictions:
    “And the Lord said to him, “Go, return on your way to the wilderness of Damascus. And when you arrive, you shall anoint Hazael to be king over Syria. And Jehu the son of Nimshi you shall anoint to be king over Israel, and Elisha the son of Shaphat of Abel-meholah you shall anoint to be prophet in your place. And the one who escapes from the sword of Hazael shall Jehu put to death, and the one who escapes from the sword of Jehu shall Elisha put to death. ”
    However with the exception of anointing Elisha, Elijah does none of this, and nothing else seems to pan out exactly as stated either (cf. 2 Kings 8, 9)?
    -In the latter part of Jeremiah 42, God spells out to the small remnant in Judah in no uncertain terms the dire consequences of going to Egypt if they so choose. However they ignore God’s warnings and go- but in the end didn’t they establish quite a thriving Jewish community there, at Elephantine?

    1. The warnings against going to Egypt aren’t limited to Ch. 42 actually. For example Ch44:
      Therefore hear the word of the Lord, all you of Judah who dwell in the land of Egypt: Behold, I have sworn by my great name, says the Lord, that my name shall no more be invoked by the mouth of any man of Judah in all the land of Egypt, saying, ‘As the Lord God lives.’ 27 Behold, I am watching over them for disaster and not for good. All the men of Judah who are in the land of Egypt shall be consumed by the sword and by famine, until there is an end of them. 28 And those who escape the sword shall return from the land of Egypt to the land of Judah, few in number; and all the remnant of Judah, who came to the land of Egypt to live, shall know whose word will stand, mine or theirs. 29 This shall be the sign to you, declares the Lord, that I will punish you in this place, in order that you may know that my words will surely stand against you for harm: 30 Thus says the Lord, Behold, I will give Pharaoh Hophra king of Egypt into the hand of his enemies and into the hand of those who seek his life, as I gave Zedekiah king of Judah into the hand of Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon, who was his enemy and sought his life.”

  6. Bart,

    These are excellent observations! I recognize that these kinds of passages provide challenges to my thesis. Let me try to address them:
    1. In the case of Elijah’s 3 tasks it is clear that Elisha’s servant anointed Jehu (2 Ki. 9:1-3), although Elisha commissioned him. H also announced it to him (2 Ki. 8:13). My understanding of all this is because Elisha had the spirit of Elijah and was therefore Elijah’s representative (and by extension so was Elisha’s servant), there is continuity in the prophecy. Because Elijah understood God’s word in the way he did he went and found Elisha his replacement first. Therefore, there is a good case for the scenario I just described.

    2. As for Jeremiah 42 and 44 I don’t see a problem. Even if it was these particular people (well, some of them) who established a community at Elephantine, where does it say that these calamities did not come upon them? .

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