Digression 2: The Word And Trial
There are a number of passages which indicate that the effect of both physical and spiritual trials can be similar to that of the word, and that the word is opened to us by our correct reaction to such trials. The prime mover in this relationship between the word and trial must be the word; its influence upon us makes us respond acceptably to trial, which in turn heightens our sensitivity to the word- resulting, theoretically at least, in our daily experience of life generating an upward spiral of spiritual development (see Digression 7)- as long as we continue to apply ourselves to the word.
The following are examples of this parallel between the action of the word upon a man and the effect of trials:
- "Chastening...yieldeth the peaceable fruit of righteousness unto them which are exercised thereby" (Heb.12:11). "The word of righteousness...strong meat" leads to Bible students "by reason of use (having) their senses exercised to discern both good and evil" (Heb.5:13,14); and the word abiding in us also yields the fruits of righteousness (Jn.15:4,7).
- Ez.24:12 describes God's efforts to purge Jerusalem from their sins in terms of boiling her with a fierce fire: "She hath wearied herself with lies, and her great scum went not forth from out of her: her scum shall be in the fire". The wearying with lies suggests that it was due to their listening to false prophets rather than the true word of God that the fire did not cleanse them. Thus fire is a symbol both of physical trial and also the word (cp. Jer.20:9), exemplified in Ezekiel's context by Jerusalem being literally burned by the Babylonians as an opportunity to purge Israel's sin; the words of the prophets calling for repentance at this time were also a fire.
- There are clear connections between the rod and the word of God. Ez.21:9,10 equates the sword with the rod of Christ: " A sword is sharpened...it is the rod of My Son" (AVmg.). The sword is a clear symbol of the word (Eph.6:17; Heb.4:12; Rev.19:21). Is.11:4 confirms this link between Christ's word and His rod: "He shall smite the earth with the rod of His mouth, and with the breath of His lips shall He slay the wicked". Ps.2:9 shows the power of this word/rod: "Thou shalt break them with a rod of iron; thou shalt dash them in pieces like a potter's vessel". Similarly "feed Thy people with thy rod" (Mic.7:14) must refer to Christ's instruction of Israel- when He will "feed you with knowledge and understanding" (Jer.3:15). Ps.110:2 describes the rod of Christ's strength being sent out of Zion to enable Him to rule the world; Is.2:3 describes the word of the Lord going out from Zion. However, in all these cases the rod does not just mean spoken words and mental understanding, but also refers to the physical punishments to be seen in the last days. Thus Micah pleads with Israel to see that God's Hand was behind their present distresses, which were effectively God's word spoken to them: "The Lord's voice crieth unto the city...hear ye the rod, and who hath appointed it" (Mic.6:9). Christ warned Pergamos that unless they repented- i.e. obeyed His word- He would "come unto thee quickly, and will fight against them with the sword of my mouth" (Rev.2:16). This fighting was not just verbal reasoning but by physical distress (cp. Rev.2:22,23).
- "As the sufferings of Christ abound in us, so our consolation also aboundeth by Christ" (2 Cor.1:5). "Consolation" is the same word translated "Comforter" in Jn.14-16; and the Spirit power of the Comforter is largely available to us through the word. Thus the more we suffer, the more the word's comfort should be revealed to us. Yet this relationship between trials and the word depends upon a basic love of the word initially- "unless Thy law had been my delights, I should then have perished in mine affliction" (Ps.119:92). Elihu, speaking on God's behalf, said the same: "He delivereth (spiritually?) the poor in his affliction, and openeth their ears in oppression" (Job 36:15)- exactly as happened to Job ("now mine eye seeth thee", Job 42:5). It is understandable, therefore, that the Hebrew for "instructed" in Ps.2:10 concerning the instruction by the word/rod of Christ's mouth is also translated "chastened".
- Heb.12:10 shows that our chastening by God is so "that we might be partakers of His holiness". The ideas of sanctification and holiness are parallel (e.g. "sanctify yourselves...for I am holy", Lev.11:44). It is the word that sanctifies (Jn.17:17), thus enabling us to be partakers of God's holiness. Again the effects of the word and God's chastening are parallel.
- It is through the power of the word that we become sons of God (James 1:18; 1 Pet.1:23); yet Heb.12:8 says that the scourging of our Heavenly Father is a sure sign that we are His children, showing that the word and our trials work in tandem to make us sons of God.
- A comparison of Dt.8:2 and 16 shows that the purpose of Israel's difficult wilderness journey was the same as why they were given manna: "Thou shalt remember all the (difficult) way which the Lord thy God led thee these forty years in the wilderness, to humble thee, and to prove thee, know what was in thine heart, whether thou wouldest keep his commandments, or no...who fed thee in the wilderness with manna...that He might humble thee, and that He might prove thee". The Lord reasoned in Jn.6 that the manna represented the word- their reliance on the manna provided by the word of command from God (Dt.8:3) taught them the same lessons and revealed their real spiritual state, every bit as much as their response to the various trials of the journey.
- Joseph's physical trials in prison and the trials brought about by God's word are equated in Ps.105:18,19: "Whose feet they hurt with fetters: he was laid in iron...the word of the Lord tried him".
- Our whole reasoning is summed up in Ps.94:12: "Blessed is the man whom Thou chastenest, O Lord, and teachest him (thereby) out of Thy law".