God Executing His Word
By J.P. Thackway
And the LORD shall utter his voice before his army: for his camp is very great: for he is strong that executeth his word: for the day of the LORD is great and very terrible; and who can abide it? Joel 2:11
In the prophet Joel’s day, God warned Israel about their sin. Jehu’s purges of Baal in the northern kingdom had not recovered the people to godliness and right worship. Neither had the reforms in the south under Jehoiada and King Joash. To arouse His people, the Lord sent a plague of locusts that swarmed over the land. This is called in our verse, “his army … his camp is very great.” Jehovah is the Commander-in-chief of these creatures. As obedient soldiers they fulfil His will.
More than six centuries earlier, He had sent locusts against Pharaoh and the Egyptians as one of the ten plagues. That army devastated their land. This was for Israel’s sake, toward their final deliverance from Egypt. Now the locusts come against His people, to bring them to repentance. What a sad difference!
The lesson is clear: when we are pleasing God, He deals with our enemies; when we are not, He deals with us. In the one, He restrains or converts them (Proverbs 16:7), in the other, He chastens us for our recovery (Hebrews 12:6). This latter is movingly described in Joel 2:12-14. What an incentive to walk closely with our God! As Proverbs 10:9 says, “He that walketh uprightly walketh surely: but he that perverteth his ways shall be known.”
Joel describes God as One who “is strong that executeth his word.” That is, the Lord commands these locusts – they obey what He says – they do what He tells them. And notice that God’s strength is with regard to His word. It is a way of saying that by His word His omnipotence is known: He always accomplishes what He pleases – He “executes” His word.
There is great encouragement in this for us as we think about the Bible itself, preaching the word, witnessing for Christ, divine Providence and all His gracious dealings with us. His word is supreme in these things, and though we are weak, He is strong. His executive power makes His word effectual for us. Let us explore this a little.
This is true concerning the Bible itself.
“He is strong that executeth his word.” Here, God and His word are closely identified. Paul in 2 Timothy 3:16 confirms this in saying that all scripture is “given by inspiration of God” – the phrase translates one word in the Greek (theopneustos), literally “God-breathed.” Scripture, therefore, is an extension of God, breathed out by Him. He originates scripture; it goes forth from Him as words on the breath of his mouth (2 Thessalonians 2:8).
He first spoke it in creation.
The word “executeth” is the same as Genesis 1:7 “God made the firmament.” Over those six literal days, God spoke into existence “the heavens and the earth … and all the host of them” (Genesis 2:1). The ease with which He worked is marvellous, merely speaking! Afterwards the Psalmist glories in this, “For he spake, and it was done; he commanded, and it stood fast” (Psalm 33:9). All God has to do to make everything out of nothing is to speak!
Then He spoke it through prophets and apostles.
Those inspired messengers were the very mouthpiece of God, as Peter tells us, “For the prophecy came not in old time by the will of man: but holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost” (2 Peter 1:21). “Thus saith the Lord” came from their lips as they spoke in His name. Peter reminds us that “the Holy Ghost by the mouth of David spake …” (Acts 1:16).
Then He committed it to writing.
Which is “a more sure word of prophesy” (2 Peter 1:19) – that is, more permanent and available. Much of what inspired prophets and apostles spoke became written scripture. God did not write “all scripture” Himself, like the Ten Commandments on tablets of stone. However, He did the equivalent through forty human penmen over 2,000 years to give us every word He wanted us to read. These chosen penmen were like the finger of God on the writing material.
One of these penmen, the apostle Paul, could appeal to this at Corinth. In 1 Corinthians 14:37 he declared, “If any man think himself to be a prophet, or spiritual, let him acknowledge that the things that I write unto you are the commandments of the Lord.” This makes every word of the Bible invested, not only with deity, but also with every attribute unique to deity, including omnipotence. Scripture carries divine authority because of its Author, God. Its truth and veracity is unquestioned because it is the product of the “God that cannot lie” (Titus 1:2).
John Wesley expressed the value of knowing that the Bible is of God: “I want to know one thing, the way to heaven; how to land safe on that happy shore. God Himself has condescended to teach the way; for this end He came from heaven. He hath written it down in a book. Give me that book! At any price give me the Book of God!”
It needs to be translated
“Bless God for the translation of the Scriptures,” wrote William Gurnall, “The Word is our sword; by being translated, the sword is drawn out of its scabbard.” This being so, the question of its translation from the original Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek into other languages is a crucial one. Given that the scriptures are a precise and written revelation from God, 666666666y6u the agent of His power, how it is turned into the receptor languages matters supremely. Translation philosophy is something that must be determined by our view of scripture.
The word-for-word, “exact equivalence” employed by the Authorised Version men reflected the highest view of what they were translating. Though differing over other matters, they were united in revering scripture. Therefore they saw it as their solemn task to provide a translation that conveyed the original as exactly as possible into the best English possible.
The Trinitarian Bible Society has on its web site an excellent definition of this translation philosophy. It calls it “Formal equivalence: The principle of translation that accepts every word of Holy Scripture as being of divine origin and therefore takes into account every word in the original language to ensure that as far as possible the grammar, the form, the vocabulary and the syntax of the Hebrew and Greek are followed in the translation (‘As literal as possible, as free as necessary’). The Society believes this is the only acceptable method of translation.”
Sadly, the translation philosophy popular today is “dynamic equivalence.” This is where the original is translated in order to give the impact of the Bible’s message, rendering the thoughts and meaning of the writers into its receptor language. It therefore means a looser rendering, often slipping into paraphrase and interpretation. It is a series of steps away from the original scriptures and interposes man’s words between God’s word and the reader.
A serious consequence of this can be seen in the New International Version. When this watershed translation appeared in 1978 many Christians saw at last a reason to move away from the AV to another trustworthy Bible, but in readable English. However, many have come to realise that dynamic equivalence features in the NIV. One example is in 1 Corinthians 16:13 where in the AV it reads,
Watch ye, stand fast in the faith, quit you like men, be strong.
The NIV renders it,
Be on your guard; stand firm in the faith; be courageous; be strong.
The significant difference is that “quit you like men” (andrizomai) is translated “be courageous” – omitting the element of manly courage clearly behind Paul’s exhortation. The AV translation is necessary because andrizomai has the Greek for “man” in it: anayr. Why, then, does the NIV avoid the reference to “men”? The reason may be more sinister than we realise. It is now known that Dr. Virginia Mollencott, the radical feminist and lesbian was employed as a literary critic and consultant to the NIV committee! Not evidence of a high view of scripture.
However, worse was to come. In 2005, a revised NIV appeared in the form of Today’s New International Version. This translation is “gender inclusive” – that is, it mutes the references to male gender. In it, 1 Corinthians 16:13 stays the same, “be courageous.” However, where “brethren” or “brothers” appears, TNIV changes it to “brothers and sisters” (see Romans 1:13 and many other places). There is a host of unwarranted changes of this kind. These are documented in Alan Macgregor’s critique in the Bible League Quarterly, January-March 2006.
This cavalier approach to sacred scripture has outraged many, including those who favour the modern translations. It shows that dynamic equivalence can be an arrogant disrespect for the oracles of God. In the case of the TNIV, it shows more concern to please feminists than to please and glorify God. One day there may even be a “gay-friendly” version, with the translation skewed to suit the “gay Christian” lobby. Dynamic equivalence can be a dangerous and slippery slope.
The shortcomings of the NIV (especially in the light of the TNIV) has led many of its former supporters to change to the English Standard Version – more literal, but based on the critical Greek text and a revamp of the Revised Standard Version. For a critique of both the NIV and the ESV, see our book Three Modern Versions by Alan Macgregor, available on the Bible League web site.
We are thankful to know that in the Authorised Version, we have an accurate, trustworthy and excellent translation of God’s word.
This is also true of how the Bible comes to us.
We meet it savingly when we are converted.
In the gospel, the Lord shows Himself stronger than our rebellion, unbelief, sin and slavery to Satan. In executing His word, He makes the gospel the instrument of new birth and becoming “wise unto salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus” (2 Timothy 3:15). How does the Holy Spirit use the word as the “word of life” and the instrument of our conversion?
The American theologian W.G.T. Shedd has expressed this helpfully when he wrote,
The efficacy of the word is from the Holy Spirit applying it. The Spirit does not operate upon the truth, but upon the soul … In using the word, the Divine Spirit … produces two effects: (a) The understanding is enlightened and enabled to perceive the truth spiritually. (b) The will is renewed and inclined towards it. The aversion of the heart to truth is overcome.
In other words, in converting grace, the Spirit opens the way for the word to come to us. We receive it and the Saviour whom it proclaims. The Spirit enters us when the Lord speaks to us (Ezekiel 2:2). Without this, the gospel remains “in word only” – which is how it must at first come to everybody. However, when the Holy Spirit quickens us to believe, it comes “in power also, in the Holy Ghost, and in much assurance” (1 Thessalonians 1:5).
James says the same: “Of his own will begat he us with the word of truth” (James 1:178). This a work that is like the original creation, where God speaks and it is done (2 Corinthians 4:6; 5:17). Let us earnestly beseech the Lord that preachers in our day may be His messengers “with the Holy Ghost sent down from heaven” (1 Peter 1:12). We feel our weakness in these things, but we can just as surely feel the strength of His Spirit-borne and executive word.
The word is the instrument of our every blessing as Christians.
As William Gurnall puts it, “The Christian is bred by the Word, and he must be fed by it.” The testimony of godly George Müller is typical,
The vigour of our spiritual life will be in exact proportion to the place held by the Bible in our life and thoughts. I solemnly state this from the experience of fifty-four years. The first three years after conversion I neglected the word of God. Since I began to search it diligently the blessing has been wonderful. Great has been the blessing from consecutive, diligent, daily study. I look upon it as a lost day when I have not had a good time over the word of God.
But we need the strong, executive power of God to apply His word to us. Without this, the Scriptures will not profit us. James Smith said, “The Scriptures without God are a light without heat.”
This is true particularly concerning the promises. Scattered up and down the pages of holy writ are God’s invitations to trust Him for what we need. They are specific because He has anticipated our needs. In them He raises our expectations and encourages us to plead them, showing Him His own handwriting.
Do we need the Lord to provide? “my God shall supply all your need according to his riches in glory by Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:19; cf Genesis 22:14). Do we need particular help? “Fear thou not; for I am with thee: be not dismayed; for I am thy God: I will strengthen thee; yea, I will help thee; yea, I will uphold thee with the right hand of my righteousness” (Isaiah 41:10; cf 41:13). Comfort? “As one whom his mother comforteth, so will I comfort you; and ye shall be comforted in Jerusalem” (Isaiah 66:13). Guidance? “I will instruct thee and teach thee in the way which thou shalt go: I will guide thee with mine eye” (Psalm 32:8). Wisdom? “If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him” (James 1:5; cf 3:17). That unsolvable problem? “and the cause that is too hard for you, bring it unto me, and I will hear it” (Deuteronomy 1:17).
We know the difference between reading or hearing the promises, and feeling their comfort and seeing their fulfilment. Too often they are as an unclaimed inheritance. However, the Lord can make these good to us. There is no unwillingness of inability with the God of the promises. They are “yea and amen in Christ.” He can easily “execute” the gracious words that bind Him to do us good. Timothy Cruso wrote: “The being of God may as well fail as the promise of God.”
His every word of grace is strong
As that which built the skies;
The voice that rolls the stars along
Speaks all the promises.
Let us, then, have the highest view of the word of God because the God of the word is strong who executes it. Pray for a soft heart, a teachable spirit and a submissive will. Let us revere the Bible, believe it, love it, humble ourselves before it, and obey it. For if locusts obey Him, how much more should we. Let us walk out His truth and prove what the Puritan Thomas Adams said, “True obedience hath no lead at its heels.”