Skip to main content

Lessons for Today from the Old Testament: Listening to God

Johan Smulders has a . B.A, B.ED and M.A in Education, Theology and Counselling. Works as an evangelist and counsellor.


Listening to God's message is important but doing what God says is more so!

In any introduction to the Old Testament of the Bible the first point that is usually made is that God has communicated with people in three different ages. Firstly, the Patriarchal Age, then the Mosaic age and finally the Prophetic Age. The first age is then found in the book that preceded the law (Genesis) followed by the coming of the law in Exodus and then followed by the books of the Law themselves, and then by the books of the Prophets. These include the Major and Minor prophets.

In the Old Testament there are also historical books and wisdom literature that make up the 39 books of the Old Testament Bible, as we know it. These books however, overlap in what and when they were recorded, and also in their aims. One fact that stands out clearly is that in every age it is always good to listen to what God communicates and to do what he says. There are no exceptions to this basic principle. God, our creator, knows what is best and communicates it clearly in every age. So we can cite the examples of Adam and Eve, Noah, Abraham, Moses and in the times of the Judges and Kings.

The example of David, as he begins his rule as the King of Israel, is a good illustration of the way that God communicates with his people and what happen when they hear his voice and do what he says. In 2 Samuel 7, God sends the prophet Nathan to David with a message. The writer of 2 Samuel writes; “That night the word of the Lord came to Nathan saying: ‘go and tell my servant David, this is what the Lord says; Are you the one to build me a house to dwell in?”’ (vs.4, 5 NIV translation - used with permission).

The issue was who would build a permanent place for God to dwell in? Nathan tells David, who wanted to do this that it was not his commission but that his son would do it. David was a good listener and obeyed God in this matter. Later Nathan would come to David again to confront him with the sin that David had committed with Bathsheba and the murder of her husband Uriah. Here David had sinned against the Law of Moses and the law of common decency that is written in every persons heart (Romans 2:15). Sadly he then faced the consequences of choosing not to obey the voice of God.

This is a good example of all three stages of communication overlapping. David, like Joseph when tempted by Potiphar’s wife, knew what was right and what was wrong, but unlike Joseph chose the wrong path. The Law given to Moses clearly spelt it out in the Ten Commandments which he must have learned as a young Israelite. He also knew in his heart that what he was doing was not right (2 Samuel 11, 12). David however, when confronted by Nathan with his sin, repented of those sins, but at the same time had to face the consequences. Sin does that! It can be forgiven but its results often live on.

In the book of Hebrews the writer explains an important fact about the Old Testament revelation and brings it forcefully into today’s world. “In the past God spoke to our forefathers through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he has appointed heir of all things...(Hebrews 1:1,2).

When reading the Old Testament, the principle of listening to the voice of God as it comes into the world is always important. Many chose not to listen and faced the terrible consequences of that decision. Saul, the first King of Israel is a good example as he fell on his own sword in battle and lost the succession of the throne for his family ( 1 Samuel 31:4-6). Over and over listening to God’s voice and obeying it resulted in reward. Rejecting God’s word led to disaster.

What about today? It still does. Few will argue that sin brings good results. At the same time hearing the voice of God and the promises that come through his Son is much more than avoiding sin. It promises what Jesus called “the abundant life” (John 10:10) with all its rewards in this life and in the future. It brings forgiveness of sin, hope of a better today and an even better tomorrow. It brings what the Apostle Paul describes as “peace that passes understanding”.

How does God speak to us today? “In these last days he has spoken to us by his Son”. Jesus delivered the message in his teaching and example, and finally in his sacrifice on the cross. All Old Testament prophesies point to Jesus and the fulfilment of God’s promises. To hear this voice from God and ignore it seems unwise, it has always has been so. God is speaking in many different ways to each one of us today. He is calling you and me home today! What do we hear! But more important, what do we do?


Scriptures taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION, Copyright 1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan Publishing House. All rights reserved.

The "NIV" and "New International Version" trademarks are registered in the United States Patent and Trademark Office by International Bible Society. Use of either trademark requires the permission of International Bible Society.

Related Articles