What is your mouth? What is my mouth? Sometimes when I think of my mouth I consider it to be just a hole in my face, surrounded by lips. It is such a hole, but it is not just a hole. Our mouths are so much more than moist caverns that open and close at our command.
We use our mouths to eat, drink, speak, shout, whisper, sing, laugh, kiss, make funny faces and, if necessary, to breathe.
Inside every adult’s mouth are, among other things, a set of 32 teeth, four curved sections of gums, a tongue, a throat, vocal cords, pads of soft flesh that form the insides of the cheeks, and a hard palate at the roof of the mouth.
God, who made such a remarkable mechanism as the human mouth, also has a mouth. His is very different from ours, of course, because God’s mouth is not physical.
The scriptures tell us several things about God’s mouth, the most notable being that he uses it—in harmony with his whole being—to communicate with and providentially guide his creation.
God created the universe by his mouth: “By the word of the LORD the heavens were made, their starry host by the breath of his mouth” (Ps. 33:6). He gives his law with his mouth (Ps. 119:13, 72, 88) and makes promises with his mouth (Ps. 40:3-5). In addition, with his mouth God teaches (Deut. 8:3), pronounces judgment (Isa. 1:20) and destroys (Ps. 18:8)—sometimes with a sword in his mouth (Rev. 2:16; 19:15).
One of the most powerful and awe-inspiring sayings in the Bible—“for the mouth of the Lord has spoken”—is used after some statements to emphasize the non-negotiable truth of God’s words. These are sometimes words of great comfort (Isa. 40:5; 58:14) and sometimes words of both comfort and warning:
you will eat the good things of the land;
you will be devoured by the sword.
For the remainder of this discussion I would like to focus on the voice of God—the most important aspect of his mouth. And I can think of no better place in the Bible to demonstrate the truth about God’s voice then the 10th chapter of John’s gospel. Here we find the words of Jesus concerning the shepherd and his sheep.
The one who enters by the gate is the shepherd of the sheep… and the sheep listen to his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought out all his own, he goes on ahead of them, and his sheep follow him because they know his voice. But they will never follow a stranger; in fact they will run away from him because they do not recognize a stranger’s voice” (vss. 2-5).
In this remarkable paragraph Jesus tells of a flock of sheep and how they relate to the voice of their shepherd. (From the rest of the chapter it is clear that he is speaking of himself as the good shepherd, with those who know him being the sheep.) Implicit in the words of Jesus are four phases or steps that the sheep (and we) may move through.
First, before the shepherd even speaks to them at a certain moment, they already know his voice. They have spent so much time together with him and have heard him so often that, even when he is not speaking, they have a built-in sense of his distinctive voice. They know how he will sound because their ears are so attuned to his special way of communicating with them.
Second, they recognize his voice. Whether the shepherd speaks softly to them in a quiet pasture, or calls to them from the midst of a busy marketplace, they recognize his voice immediately. Because they have already come to know his voice in their minds they are able to detect his presence at once. After knowing the sound of their shepherd’s voice, and after hearing and recognizing it, the sheep then listen to his voice. In order to hear well—in such a way that blocks out the surrounding noises and voices—the sheep tune in intently to their shepherd’s unique voice and sounds.
Finally, after these three phases of communication (which, in some cases, may occur almost simultaneously), the sheep follow the shepherd. Because they have come to know and trust him so well they will go wherever he leads. If the sheep could speak, each might repeat these words from the most beloved of all psalms: “The LORD is my shepherd,….He guides me along the right paths for his name’s sake” (Psalm 23:1-3).
We are God’s flock, and when the voice of our Great Shepherd comes to us in our need it is full of wisdom and comfort, and sometimes correction and rebuke (Isaiah 30: 19-21). But he always speaks and guides us from his heart of love for us.
Our responsibilities, then, as God’s precious sheep, are to know his voice within us at all times, recognize it and listen to it at special times, and follow it immediately with confidence and joy in his sovereign care. Moses reminded ancient Israel, and Jesus repeated, “man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of the LORD” (Deuteronomy 8:3; Matthew 4:4).
If we nourish ourselves from the scriptures regularly, we will be able to say with Job, even in the midst of the most severe sufferings:
when he has tested me, I will
come forth as gold. …
commands of his lips;
his mouth more than
my daily bread (Job 23:10-12).