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TREMBLING AT GOD’S WORD
by Philip Owen

            Twice in the final chapter of Isaiah’s prophecy we find the prophet using a word associated with the response of God’s people to His Word that much of the modern church would find strange.  The first is contained in a promise, the second in a command:  “But to this one I will look, To him who is humble and contrite of spirit, and who trembles at My word”; and, “Hear the word of the Lord, you who tremble at His word” (66:2b, 5a).

            The strange word.  Tremble—Gesenius defines the word literally as “fearful, trembling, afraid.”  With respect to God, he defines it as “reverent.”  That sort of response to God and to His Word is a concept largely missing from the modern experience.  God’s Word is mentioned or used casually; it is often abused in contemporary music; it is misquoted or misapplied to lend credence to an errant doctrine or practice; it is used almost like a magic incantation or a talisman or chanted like a mantra.  However, it is little believed and even less obeyed. 

            But a signal mark of the believer is that he trembles at God’s Word.  As a boy, I trembled at my father’s word.  I paid attention to what he said because I knew he meant what he said.  Obeying his instructions brought positive consequences; disobeying brought negative consequences.  Both were certain I knew that and responded in accord with his words (much of the time).  In a similar fashion, believers should be listening to the literal instructions of the Word and responding obediently.  But the fear they experience is not so much the terror of punishment but the concern not to disappoint the One Who loved them and gave Himself for them.  The trembling they experience betokens an earnest desire not to disappoint the Lord but to please Him—to truly revere Him in thought, word, and deed.

            The promise.  “But to this one I will look.”  Those who revere the Word of God, steadfastly believing and sincerely obeying it, are promised a “look” from God.  God is not promising a casual glance, a curious perusal, or even careful scrutiny.  It is, rather, a promise that the Lord will consider the trembler in order that He might bless him.  “Look upon my affliction, and rescue me,” the psalmist prays (119:153).  To receive the gaze of the Lord assures the recipient of all the grace and mercy at God’s disposal.  With His attention comes His blessing.  When He looks upon one of His own who trembles at His Word, it is with an eye to aiding, delivering, strengthening, encouraging, comforting, and restoring him.  He is not looking for cause to censure but occasion to grace.

            The command.  “Hear the word of the Lord.”  It is interesting to realize that the apparent command given to those who tremble at His word is as much blessing as the promise.  Since this instruction is given to those who have already demonstrated their reverence through faith and obedience, the command is not so much directed to their voluntary will (i.e., “Pay attention!”) as it is to their inner self.  He is saying, in effect, “Because you have trembled at my word, I will give you ears to hear what I have to say further.  I will enable you to understand and to respond wisely to what I am now saying.”  Those who reject the Word soon find their hearts and minds closed to the truth of its instruction, but those who tremble receive supernatural aid to hear and heed the words of God.  Neither the natural man nor the carnal man receives the things that belong to God.  Both wish to live on a natural plane and reap the fruit of that life.  But God pours out the eternal riches of heavenly wisdom and understanding on those who tremble at His Word.  How foolish are those who stop their ears; how wise (and blessed) are those who tremble.

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