"The words of Jeremiah...to whom the word of the LORD came in the days of Josiah the son of Amon king ofJudah, in the thirteenth year of his reign. It came also in the days of Jehoiakim, the son of Josiah, king of Judah, unto the end of the eleventh year of Zedekiah...when the people of Jerusalem went into exile." (Jeremiah 1:1-3)
So begins the Biblical book of Jeremiah. He continues with, "The word of the LORD came tome, saying, "Before I formed you in the womb I knew you. Before you were born I set you apart; I appointed you as a prophet to the nations."
I've often wondered how this all transpired. From Moses to Hosea, the prophets of God thundered the words, "Thus saith the LORD," invoking divine authority for their proclamations, but how did that happen? Did they hear an audible voice? Did God's word come in the form of inner impressions? We usually assume the former, but I wonder. According to the text, Jeremiah knew the difference between God's words and his own, and knew that God's word came to him at certain times but not others. Reading through his writings, I get the impression that he needed the assurance of verse four to hold him together through the difficulties God's Word would bring him. Later on (verses 17-19), God would warn him of the opposition he would encounter, perhaps causing him to question whether God had really called him or not.
We tend to see God's word as affirmative. In 29:11 we read words we love to hear: "I know the plans I have for you; plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future." But we distance ourselves from the words of condemnation and judgment. People today, preachers especially, like to authenticate their words with declarations similar to the Biblical "thus saith the LORD," but usually such claims fall short, and we are back to wondering exactly how God's word comes to people. I've found three ways.
First is Scripture. Some things are spelled out pretty clearly, while we are given freedom on many other areas of life. We always have to ask what the Scripture means, and have the often difficult task of sorting out just how to apply it, but generally it's not as difficult as some would have us believe. The Gospel is for ordinary people; God doesn't give the educated and sophisticated a corner on the market of truth. In fact, he has hidden truth from those too stuck on themselves to come to him in humble faith.
The second way I hear God's voice is when it sounds a lot like my wife's voice. I think he gave her to me to keep me from being stupid and foolish all the time. I still manage to go there often enough, but I would homestead in the land of foolishness if it weren't for her. The Scripture says God intended the woman to be the man's helper, but if the man isn't listening to his wife, he misses the help God intends him to receive. It's pretty simple, if somewhat humbling.
The third way I hear God's voice is suggested by a story I once heard from Leonard Sweet. He says that when Spielberg was filming the animated "Prince of Egypt," he was pondering how God's voice should sound. Should it be a thundering basso a la "The Ten Commandments" by Cecil B. DeMille? He consulted some Christian and Jewish Biblical scholars, one of whom told him that in Jewish tradition, God's voice sounds a lot like our own. So Val Kilmer, who was the voice of Joseph, also did the voice of God.
I find that story helpful. I've never heard God speak as DeMille had it thundering to Charlton Heston, but I have heard my own voice pondering and often coming to conclusions that I knew didn't come from within me and my puny wisdom. Listening to my own musings has often brought insight that I believe came only from God himself. And for that, I am thankful tonight.