Trembling at God's Word - Part 1 of 3

by J. D. Watson

"Thus saith the Lord, The heaven is my throne, and the earth is my footstool: where is the house that ye build unto me? and where is the place of my rest? For all those things hath mine hand made, and all those things have been, saith the Lord: but to this man will I look, even to him that is poor and of a contrite spirit, and trembleth at my word" (Isa. 66:1-2).

St. Paul's Cathedral in London is an unbelievable sight to behold, a monument to the Church of England. The present cathedral-there have been four since the first in 640-was designed by the court architect, Sir Christopher Wren, and built between 1675 and 1710, after its predecessor was destroyed in the Great Fire of London. The five monarchs who oversaw its construction felt that it should be as beautiful and imposing as their private palaces, and its architecture and artistry certainly reflect that.

But are such structures (both past and present) what God demands? Is that what is necessary for proper worship? We find a very different picture in Isaiah 66, which continues Isaiah's prophecy concerning the glorious future. He begins, however, by contrasting the true and faithful servant of God with the apostate and worldly character of most of the nation. He declares in verses 1-2 that there are only two places where God dwells: first in heaven and second in the contrite heart of the person who trembles at His Word. He tells them that God is not looking for a temple made of stone or sacrifices made without thought. He is concerned rather with what is in the heart, specifically, what our attitude is toward His Word.

God is looking for hearts in which He can dwell. Even more specifically, He is looking for hearts that are not concerned with externals such as rituals, monuments, and sacrifices. God is looking for hearts that take His Word seriously, that tremble at His Word.

What does it mean to tremble at God's Word? What does it involve? What drives us to tremble? Having been deeply affected and fed by Puritans such as Jeremiah Burroughs (from whose sermon, "A Heart That Trembles at God's Word Is Precious in God's Eyes," I've adapted some of what follows), I would like to encourage you with three aspects of the great statement before us: its meaning, manner, and motivation.

I. The Meaning of Trembling at God's Word

The Hebrew behind "trembleth" is chréd. We find it, for example, in Judges 7:3, where God tells Gideon to limit the number of soldiers by observing who was afraid, which sent 22,000 back home. It appears also in 1 Samuel 4:13, where because the Ark of the Covenant was in danger of being captured by the Philistines, Eli sat "by the wayside watching: for his heart trembled for the ark." Eli feared what would become of the Ark.

In Ezra 9, we read that many of the Israelites had again intermarried with pagans around them, in direct violation of God's Law (Deut. 7:2-3). Such intermarriage would most certainly bring idolatry into the next generation. Ezra was deeply burdened and gathered around him the godly people who remained: "Then were assembled unto me every one that trembled at the words of the God of Israel, because of the transgression of those that had been carried away; and I sat astonished" (v. 4). Oh, would to God that we were astonished at sin! Would that we were appalled at those who claim to love God but disregard His clear Word!

Ezra writes again: "Now therefore let us make a covenant with our God to put away all the wives, and such as are born of them, according to the counsel of my lord, and of those that tremble at the commandment of our God; and let it be done according to the law" (10:3). Would that we throw out what contradicts the Word of God, that which violates the principles and precepts of His Truth!

What, then, does it mean to tremble at God's Word?

First, it means to take His Word seriously, especially when it speaks of judgment. Most Christians simply do not tremble at God's Word. They're not even taught to do so by most pastors. Scripture is often taken lightly, if it is even preached at all, and we certainly don't want to talk about judgment and wrath. "Oh, those subjects are Old Testament images," it is taught; "we want to hear about the Jesus of love, peace, and unity in the New Testament." Ignored by such false teachers, of course, is the fact that there is more about God's judgment in the New Testament than in the Old.

Second, it means to believe without doubt that Scripture says what it means and means what it says. We don't look at Scripture allegorically or mystically, unless the context clearly indicates it. Rather, we look at exactly what it says and know that that is what God means.

Third, it means that our hearts are broken and contrite before the Almighty God of the universe. We humble ourselves before Him and repent of the sin of violating His Word.

Fourth, it means that our hearts are tender to His Word, that we stand in absolute awe of it and are just waiting for what He has to say so that we can do it without delay. Our Lord could not have been clearer when He declared: "If a man love me, he will keep my words: and my Father will love him, and we will come unto him, and make our abode with him. He that loveth me not keepeth not my sayings: and the word which ye hear is not mine, but the Father's which sent me" (John 14:23-24).

Oh, how many people there are today who say they love God but have nothing to do with His Word. In today's thinking, church is a place to have our needs addressed, to get what we want. What unmitigated gall to think for a single instant that the church is a place to come for me! Nevertheless, countless people have bought into this philosophy of ministry and church building.

No, what God is looking for are those who will tremble at His Word. The church, then, is the place for us to come and sit in humble anticipation for what His Word says. Our Lord says, without any ambiguity: "those who love Me keep My words; those who do not keep My words do not love Me." He declares again in 14:21: "He that hath my commandments, and keepeth them, he it is that loveth me: and he that loveth me shall be loved of my Father, and I will love him, and will manifest myself to him."

The only way to know God, the only way to know the Lord Jesus, is through His Word. Jesus' words struck the Apostle John so profoundly that not only does he quote them here in his Gospel, but he builds upon them in his first Epistle: "Whoso keepeth his word, in him verily is the love of God perfected: hereby know we that we are in him" (1 John 2:5). In other words, we know we are Christians, we have assurance of salvation, only if we keep Gods Word.

We will continue these thoughts in Part 2.

J. D. Watson is pastor-teacher of Grace Bible Church in Meeker, Colorado and author of
A Word for the Day: Key Words from the New Testament. (AMG Publishers)

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