God, who at various times and in various ways spoke in time past to the fathers by the prophets,
Traditions play a large part of our lives and we oftentimes have a tremendous amount of difficulty making decisions outside of our preconceived teachings that we are accustomed to. When we are taught something from our youth it is remarkable how difficult it is to let it go! To go against these traditions, which have marked our lives, brings discomfort and ambiguity to our current state and oftentimes leads to trials. The writer of Hebrews certainly would have understood this concept and was sympathetic to his reader’s physical and emotional sufferings. His approach at the opening of this chapter is to relate back to something they would have been familiar in their lives in order to bring some comfort to a difficult situation.
The writer thus begins by attempting to establish a common ground between himself and his reader. This is something that is quite common throughout the letter and has in its goal to bring a sense of progression to his argument. It is better to be gentle in our approach than to strike someone with full force right away! The writer would have been familiar enough with his audience to know that they would have recognized the fact that Jehovah had spoken in the past and would have been mindful of the words which were spoken before by the holy prophets (2 Peter 3:2). This would assuredly have carried much weight seeing that no prophecy of Scripture is of any private interpretation, for prophecy never came by the will of man, but holy men of God spoke as they were moved by the Holy Spirit. (2 Peter 1:20-21)
He begins by expressing his agreement with the reader as well as those who would have been attempting to force the return of the reader to their former religious system. His opening words affirm his accord with the truth of the divine inspiration of the Old Testament Canon. It is God who spoke hence He is the primary source and author of these writings. There is no doubt that there is a human agency to the production of these inspired text and we would point out as well that scripture is, in effect, a mark of a compatibalism[i] between God and the prophets that He chose. God chose the prophets throughout the history of Israel as His mouthpiece and it would have been well-known to the reader that God has spoken by the mouth of all His holy prophets since the world began (Acts 3:21) even Moses was directed by Jehovah to “speak all that I command you” (Exodus 7:2). A prophet was one who revealed the thoughts of God and there was always a purpose in when and who was chosen to speak on His behalf. These were not foretellers of future events per say in this particular instance as much as the God-breathed purposes of the Heavenly king.
The next portion demonstrates that it was a meticulous people that He spoke to. God did not become audible with just any group of individuals. He has spoken to “the fathers” whom Luke defines as “ He spoke to our fathers, To Abraham and to his seed forever” (Luke 1:55). They were the same fathers who ate the manna (John 6:58), who were given the circumcision (John 7:22) and the ones who were given the oracles of God (Romans 3:2). The words of special revelation of the Almighty were intended for His people and their descendants. This was not meant for each and every individual who ever lives but was for the chosen people which would have been clearly defined by the ancestry of the readers.
The means by which the Holy One manifested His purposes and will to the fathers is expressed in the expression “at various times and in various ways”. The Greek[ii] seems to express unique periods when Jehovah revealed Himself. Each time was determined by His Sovereign plan to which today we, in these times, have been blessed to see in its fullness. The writer uses another Greek term[iii] to express the different means by which God has communicated. W.E.Vines explains these two terms as:
The two phrases translate the adverbs polumeros, in many parts, and polutropos (lit. much turning), in many ways. The former expressed the matter of the communications, the latter the manner. The ideas are distinct and are chosen to bring into the more striking contrast the means about to be mentioned.[iv]
Apologist Robert Morey continues:
The author of Hebrews stated in 1:1,2 that God spoke to the fathers through the prophets in bits and pieces and in many different ways. The entirety of God’s revelation was not given to humanity in a single instant but was dispersed in different ways to different people over several thousand years. Each new revelation was like a piece of the cosmic puzzle. Even when the last of the Old Testament prophets had all the pieces which were given to those before him, he still could not understand the total picture. It was only after the coming of Christ that the last remaining pieces were supplied and the puzzle was complete.[v]
The very truth and authenticity of Jehovah over and above any other god is found in His active communication and revelation. It demonstrates that he is a personal God and the living God who is not left silent. How wonderful is it that our God, who created personal beings who have the ability and means to communicate, is active in His expression especially of Himself. One can only imagine the ramifications of God keeping silent in a world full of sin. The only grounds we can find to explain why God would have ever spoken to His people is summed up in one word: GRACE. Many today don’t take this beautiful truth into perspective since in many circles the scriptures have been reduced to a self-help book which has as its primary function to help people with their finances and self-esteem. Let it be well documented here that the reason for the existence of the word of God is the revelation of the being and will of God Almighty!
[i] There will be objections from the beginning as to the terminology I have employed since many will argue that the term “compatibalism” or “compatibalistic freedom” is not found in scripture however let me point out that even though the term doesn’t appear explicitly in scripture it is certainly found implicitly as we will see! I derive the term from the English expression “compatible” which denotes the thought of “being able to coexist…capable of being used in combination” (Canadian Oxford Dictionary, Oxford University Press, Page 312). It is the thought that one thing can be attuned to another even though most would see it as a contradiction. It is the thought that our wills are attuned to the will of God in that an action can have two wills. As we will see, the scriptures point to many particular circumstances where God has chosen for Good what man has chosen for evil. This all within one event or action. To go one step further, It is the theological idea that if God has willed for something to happen, does man have the power or option to will against it? It is the idea that only one could have caused it to happen! It tackles the very center of the intentions of the heart versus the Sovereignty of God. (Genesis 50:19-20, Isaiah 10, Acts 4:27-28)
[ii] The term used is polumeros (polumerwV) which is explained “the word is made up of polus “many”, and meros “parts”, the total meaning being “by many parts”. (Word Studies in the New Testament, K. Wuest, Eerdmans, Page. 31)
[iii] Polutropos (polutropwV):This refers to the difference of the various revelations in contents and form. Not the different ways in which God imparted his revelations to the prophets, but the different ways in which he spoke by the prophets to the fathers: in one way through Moses, in another through Elijah, in others through Isaiah, Ezekiel, etc. (Vincent’s Word Studies in the New Testament, M. Vincent, Hendrickson Publishers, Page 377)
[iv] The Collective writings of W.E. Vines, W.E. Vines, Thomas Nelson Publishers, Page. 253
[v] Death and the Afterlife, Robert Morey, Bethany House Publishers, Page 24